8mm Review: ‘Happy Cleaners’

Happy Cleaners (2019)
Hyanghwa Lim, Charles Ryu, Yun Jeong, Yeena Sung. Written by
Kat Kim, Julian Kim, and Peter S. Lee. Directed by Julian Kim and Peter S. Lee

If it seems (and it does) that new Asian American filmmakers keep making the same film about generational tension, cultural identity, and familial values, I suppose it’s because we continue to deal with these issues, or because there are as many ways to work through them as there are immigrant families: my half-Japanese experience in Honolulu isn’t like someone else’s Taiwanese experience in Southern California, and they are both stories worth telling.

For these reasons, I came away from Happy Cleaners encouraged, because if nothing else, the film’s familiar conflicts for new generations of Asian Americans mean we’re still coming over, still adding color and flavor to a country that appears alternately to have come a long way in embracing us and to have regressed so we’re not being embraced at all.

Happy Cleaners is owned by the Choi family in Flushing, New York, and despite the family’s hard work, the struggling dry cleaner may find itself without a lease in a few months, thanks to a weasely new landlord from the Weasely Caucasian Landlord multipack they must sell at Movieland Costco. Daughter Hyunny is some kind of medical professional, and college-aged son Kevin (backward baseball cap, one earring in each lobe) works in a food truck with aspirations of opening his own truck on the West Coast.

Arguments abound. Kevin fights with Hyunny. Hyunny fights with her boyfriend Danny. Dad fights with Mom, and Mom fights with everyone. Chances are you’ve seen this all before, if not in a movie then for sure in real life. Graduate from college first and then you can do whatever you want. My family will never accept you if you continue to work as a janitor. Do you want to end up like me, married to someone who can barely support his family?

I admit I said, “Oh, this again” more than once during the first act of the movie, but the film won me over with very good acting by all four principals and solid filmmaking everywhere else. There are a few self-aware shots, but mostly the camera work is well done. Lighting and sound quality put this well above most other Asian American indie films I’ve seen. Mostly, the directors don’t overdirect, the actors don’t overact, the writers don’t overwrite, and the soundtrack doesn’t oversoundtrack, although the Food Network style sound effects and cutting-board close-ups get a little out of hand more than once.

The use of language in this film sets it apart even from other Korean American movies. I appreciate the writers’ willingness to give us full-on Korean through much of the film, including what the movie’s Kickstarter page calls “a mix of Korean and English … we warmly label ‘Konglish’.” There’s nothing wrong with the Korean-accented English dialogue we usually get (it’s one of my favorite accents), but it’s great to hear the family speak the language these families speak.

I am most impressed by the writers’ delicate touch with conflict resolution. The fights themselves may be pyrotechnic at times, but the make-up scenes are gentle, sympathetic, and utterly believable. One-on-one, characters share a beer, or a bite of rice, or a whole meal, looking right at each other without overdoing the apologies, or sitting alongside each other, or nudging one another with a gentle toe. Physical proximity is an act of love, strong enough to heal the casual wounds of being in a family, something I’ve not seen much of in popular media. And props to the actors for not overdoing these excellent scenes. Shout-outs go especially to Charles Ryu as Dad and Yeena Sung as Hyunny.

Happy Cleaners is a well-made movie, a slight improvement on what seems to have become a genre: the Asian American Generations Movie. Despite my jadedness, I got teary at least twice, so everyone’s doing something right. A fraction of a bonus point for being set in Flushing, where a good chunk of the German-Italian-Irish side of my family lived.

7 out of 10. Check it out.

Happy Cleaners screens at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Wednesday, May 8 at 9:15 p.m. The filmmakers will be in attendance.

It also screens at CAAMFest Saturday, May 11 at 2:40 p.m. and Monday, May 13 at 9:10 p.m. Director Julian Kim is scheduled to attend the May 11 screening.

‘Fresh off the Boat’ Episode Review: “Mo’ Chinese Mo’ Problems”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 5, Episode 5: “Mo’ Chinese Mo’ Problems”
Original airdate November 9, 2018.

The ladies will kick it:  While going door to door as a U.S. Census volunteer, Evan discovers there’s another Chinese family in the neighborhood (Reggie Lee, Ming-Na Wen, and Jimmy O. Yang).  The Huangs and the Lees are overjoyed, but Louis feels his new buddy moving in on his friendship with Marvin, and Jessica becomes disillusioned when Elaine turns out not to be the role model she hopes.

Eddie and Emery, inspired by Evan, pose as Census volunteers in order to find out which neighbors have their own swimming pools and when during the day nobody’s home.

The rhyme that is wicked:  I’m not going to lie.  I’m totally here for anything Ming-Na is in (okay, except Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), so I was going to like this episode almost no matter what.  Add Jimmy O. Yang, this year’s runner up (to Awkwafina) for Summer of ________ status, and I’m willing to forgive almost anything.  I love the decision to play Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First” when Elaine saunters up to the mural wearing her low-rider jeans.  Everyone bows to Ming-Na.

There’s an interesting and almost surely deliberate irony when Jessica twice, in the company only of Louis and the Lees, utters stereotypes of Chinese people and Jewish men in an episode where she protests the stereotypical portrayal of Asians in a school mural.  I am not smart enough to break it down, so somebody please do it in the comments!

Deirdre is hilarious in this episode.

Lines I enjoyed:

“You always find fresh ways to be boring.” (Eddie)

“I’m usually four times more beautiful than this.” (Elaine)

“My oldest son’s middle name is Elvis.” (Louis)

“I hate racism and I love a trap.”  (Jessica)

“Betrayed by my beautiful face.” (Jessica)

“Maybe turn you into a sausage man.” (Marvin)

Those who don’t know how to be pros:  

I said I’d be willing to forgive just about anything.  Among “anything” are tons of overacting by all the principals including the guest stars (but not including Yang).

Is “whale tale” an anachronism?

FOB moment:  The Huangs welcome the Lees with a fruiting lemon tree.

Soundtrack flashback:  “Ladies First” by Queen Latifah (1989).  If you haven’t heard the early Latifah stuff, I recommend it highly.

Get evicted: The episode is rescued from a C by the end, with Horace’s redo of the We Are the World mural, plus of course the guest cast, whom I adore.  B.

 

‘Fresh Off the Boat’ Episode Review: “Workin’ the ‘Ween”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 5, Episode 3: “Workin’ the ‘Ween”
Original airdate October 20, 2018.

It’s the heart afraid of breaking

Marvin and Honey ask Louis and Jessica to be their baby’s godparents.  Jessica eagerly agrees, mostly so Marvin and Honey can have a date night, leaving the Huangs to babysit on Halloween night, and shutting down Louis’s efforts to persuade Jessica to dress in a couples costume with him.

Jessica and Louis are alarmed to discover that they aren’t the naturally talented parents they thought.  Their claim that Eddie was weaned from the pacifier with no problems is a deception by Louis; their claim that Emery’s weaning was even easier is a deception by Jessica.

Eddie gets a job selling mattresses (his boss is played by George Wendt) and works Halloween night to prove he has what it takes.  Trent comes by to help, but he’s much more of a hindrance.

Evan and Emery, dressed as Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, get to hand out candy at the front door, where they have a problem with a girl who shows up repeatedly, each time in a different costume.

That never learns to dance

Another silly but mildly entertaining Halloween episode.  The costumes are great, and it’s nice to see the continued development of Eddie’s character (in two separate plots!).  There’s a moment at the end of the teaser where Louis gives his dejected face.  That face is some excellent Randall Park acting.  My favorite costume in the episode is Grandma as Freddy Krueger.

Despite this being a really meh episode, the tag at the end is completely unexpected, perfectly in character (which is a brilliant paradox), terrific character development for Eddie, and genuinely sweet.  Sweet Eddie is the best!  Eddie made Evan!

Lines I enjoyed: “Alf was a puppet?” (Jessica).  “You love black dresses and putting words into my mouth” (Louis).  “Not being wise is being dumb.  You make me dumb” (Jessica).  “Damn you, perfect Evan!” (Louis).

It’s the dream afraid of waking

Trevor Larcom as Trent was, last season, regularly the best actor among the young men who play Eddie’s friends. He has an off episode here, and it may not be his fault.  Trent’s part in this episode is idiotic.  Hudson Yang as Eddie feels pretty off as well, although he has a few good moments in the mattress store.  All three plots feel like something out of the sitcom plot handbook.

FOB moment:  “A Japanese man saved my father’s life once, so you’re hired.”

Soundtrack flashback: “The Rose” by Bette Midler (1979) and the theme from The X-Files by Mark Snow.

That never takes a chance: The wonderful final few seconds of the episode give it a boost, but not much of a boost.  B-.

 

‘Fresh Off the Boat” Episode Review: “The Hand That Sits the Cradle”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 5, Episode 2: “The Hand That Sits the Cradle”
Original airdate October 12, 2018.

I’m goin’ out tonight: Jessica volunteers to take care of Honey’s zuo yue zi (“sitting the month,” which I just learned is a thousand-year-old tradition).  Her insistence on Honey’s taking it easy makes Honey suspicious, overheated, and wine-deprived.  She has a feeling Jessica is compensating for something.  Louis takes advantage of Jessica’s being at Honey’s house for a month by trying to bond with Evan, who’s much more interested in doing his own thing until Jessica returns home.  His own thing includes reading Churchill: Lad to Legend.  Eddie and Emery are inspired by Pumping Iron to get into bodybuilding, mostly because they “just want to get stronger than Grandma.”

I’m feelin’ all right: There’s something endearing about Jessica’s not knowing how to deal with (or talk about) the failure of her novel, A Case of a Knife to the Brain.  She seems humbled in a way she’s completely unprepared to understand, and rather than lash out or muscle her will into being, she wanders.  I love this Jessica, and Constance Wu does some wonderful acting in the scene where Honey calls her out.  I also will not complain about any Honey-heavy episode that’s not baby-centric.

Eddie-Emery partnerships are almost always interesting, and Louis going too far while being focused on someone else is one of the best Louises.

Some lines I enjoyed: “I sleep on her failure every night” (Grandma).  “There’s no such thing as quality time.  There’s just time” (Jessica).

Gonna let it all hang out: I have no real complaints about this episode.  Even Marvin is charming (especially when he says he’s hit his pre-baby weight: before Nicole, who’s 18).  But this is the second episode of the season, so it’s apparent that there is no Roseanne joke coming.  Come on, FOtB writers.  The door is wide open for a very funny joke about Roseanne Connor throwing the Huangs under the boat and then finding herself written out of existence.  It doesn’t have to be cruel; it can just be pointed.

FOB moment:  I learned something about sitting the month.  There’s also something cultural in “There’s no such thing as quality time; there’s just time,” right?

Soundtrack flashback:  “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” by Shania Twain (1997).

Final grade, this episode: An altogether pleasant episode that doesn’t distinguish itself from the rest of the utterly competent episodes making up most of the corpus. B.

Non-Spoiler ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ Episode Review: “Fresh Off the RV”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 5, Episode 1: “Fresh Off the RV” (season premiere)
Airs tonight, October 5, 2018 at 8:00.

It’s the end of summer, 1998 in Fresh Off the Boat time, and it’s time for Honey to have her child, and it’s time for Marvin to give up his sports car, and it’s time for Jessica’s novel A Case of a Knife to the Brain to finally see its release.  Nicole and Eddie have some Saturn Time: Nicole’s got some big news for her best friend.

The official summary from ABC gives more details than I would, so skip this paragraph if you’re very sensitive about spoilers.

While Honey and Marvin celebrate the birth of their baby, Jessica’s book is finally released, and she’s optimistically looking forward to a book store reading that’s been set up by her publisher to help boost sales. Louis is so excited to promote the book across the country that he buys an RV from Los Angeles Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who owns an RV dealership which is managed by underappreciated Calvin (Jaleel White, “Family Matters”). Meanwhile, Emery and Evan are concerned about Eddie after Nicole tells him that she’s moving to New York, and he seems completely unfazed about losing his best friend.

It feels like the show is slipping into its groove.  All the characters feel familiar, and there’s even a celebrity cameo in the RV sales lot across the street from Shaq Motors.  It has a few surprises and laugh-aloud moments, and everyone looks great.  Especially Jessica.  I’ll comment on a couple of disappointments in my review of episode 2 next week.

Part of the plot is suspect.  People line up for a certain novel published in the U.S. on September 1, 1998, but I don’t think it was quite the phenomenon its successors were in following years.

Soundtrack flashback: “Everywhere You Look” by Jesse Frederick, the opening theme for Full  House.  “Back in the Day” by Ahmad (1994).

My grade for this episode: B.

8mm Review: ‘A Simple Favor’

A Simple Favor (2018)
Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding.  Written by Jessica Sharzer (based on the novel by Darcey Bell).  Directed by Paul Feig.

A Simple Favor is being marketed as a thriller, but it’s really more of a mystery, so if you’re put off by thrillers (as I am), be assured that it’s not very scary and not very violent, and it doesn’t have edge-of-your-seat moments the way thrillers usually do.

Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, a widowed mother who puts her name next to three jobs for her young son’s class party sign-up sheet while the other parents say mean things about her behind her back.  When she’s not volunteering for class mom activities, she produces a vlog for other moms.

She meets Emily, the beautiful mother of her son’s classmate.  Stephanie and Emily become friends, but for Stephanie it’s a very uneasy friendship.  Emily is wealthier, more successful, and more adventurous than she is, and where Stephanie is eager to please and quick to apologize, Emily seems to disdain any attitude that doesn’t begin with oneself.  She admonishes Stephanie for saying “I’m sorry,” and threatens to punch her in the face if Stephanie ever says it again.

Emily disappears a week after she befriends Stephanie, and the rest of the film involves finding out what happened to her.

It’s fun in the way a good puzzle mystery is fun, engaging all the way and difficult to predict.  Every character seems at times likeable and despicable, with nice performances by Kendrick, Lively, and Henry Golding as Sean, Stephanie’s husband.

Early promo materials (including trailers) featured only Kendrick and Lively, but the success of Crazy Rich Asians, which stars Golding, had the studio releasing new promos highlighting all three principal actors.  This is not meaningless: there’s no way to tell if it’s lasting, but there has already been a Crazy Rich Asians diversity effect even on films already completed before its release.

Anna Kendrick is my second-favorite actress over the past several years, so there’s a huge bias here, but if you also find her charming, you’ll want to see this film.  If not, deduct a few points and see it anyway for a good two hours of engaging escapism.

Rating: 79/100

8Tracks Review: ‘Love Yourself: Answer’ by BTS

Love Yourself: Answer by BTS
Big Hit Entertainment 2018

The new BTS compilation album (with 7 new tracks!) dropped August 24, and if you know even one person who’s a BTS fan, you knew about it probably a couple of weeks in advance because BTSers could not shut up.  I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure anticipation of the new album even brought one of my friends out of Twitter hibernation.

Fake love

Until a few years ago, I was a high-school teacher, so I’ve seen boy-band crazes come and go, but there has never been anything like this BTS thing.  Among those in my life who can’t stop are a retired middle-school teacher, the esteemed restaurant critic of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and one of my college friends who took her daughter (or daughters? I’m a bad friend) to Los Angeles to see the group in concert.  I’m in my late 40s, and each of these women is in that neighborhood, something I only mention to highlight the fact that something very unusual is going on here.  This did not happen with N*Sync.

I’ve heard snippets, you know?  Never a whole song, but little bits of music in people’s Instagram stories, and nothing stood out for me.  It was K-pop and it sounded like K-pop and it didn’t sound to me any better or worse than any other K-pop.

I get it.  For those unfamiliar with a genre, it all sounds the same.  I’m a metalhead and I realize that to casual observers, all my favorite metal bands sound the same (that is, mostly terrible) when nothing could be further from the truth.

These are people whose opinions I value on wide ranges of topics including music and art.  One early-30s blogger I’ve become online acquaintances with turned me on to emo-screamo band Thursday, and I dig a lot of the music she likes, but now she’s all about BTS.

(l to r) the cute one, the smart one, the quiet one, the rambunctious one, the ladies’ man, the kind one, the animal lover, the future televangelist

Two weekends ago I made a commitment to give it the fairest shot I could.  I was going to listen to Love Yourself: Answer all weekend long, and only this album.

And I didn’t care for it, but by the end of the weekend, I could name (and even sing along with) a couple of tracks I actually like, and most of the time the rest of the songs weren’t bad.

Continue reading “8Tracks Review: ‘Love Yourself: Answer’ by BTS”

8Tracks Review: ‘Six Evolutions — Bach: Cello Suites’ by Yo-Yo Ma

Six Evolutions — Bach: Cello Suites by Yo-Yo Ma
Sony Classical, 2018

And cello to you, too

Yo-Yo Ma’s latest album dropped August 17, and it would have been great to review it then, but you know.  Crazy Rich Asians.  And then Mitski.

The master cellist writes on his website:

Bach’s Cello Suites have been my constant musical companions. For almost six decades, they have given me sustenance, comfort, and joy during times of stress, celebration, and loss. What power does this music possess that even today, after three hundred years, it continues to help us navigate through troubled times? Now that I’m in my sixties, I realize that my sense of time has changed, both in life and in music, at once expanded and compressed. Music, like all of culture, helps us to understand our environment, each other, and ourselves. Culture helps us to imagine a better future. Culture helps turn ‘them’ into ‘us.’ And these things have never been more important.

Suite!

Rather than list the tracks, I’ll quickly explain what this is, in case it’s confusing.  I just learned some of this stuff this past week in preparation to write this review, so please, if I get any of it wrong, let me know in the comments!

There are six Bach cello suites:
Suite no. 1 in G Major
Suite no. 2 in D Minor
Suite no. 3 in C Major
Suite no. 4 in E-Flat Major
Suite no. 5 in C Minor
Suite no. 6 in D Major.

The tracklists include the Bach catalogue number for each suite, abbreviated BWV 107 through BWV 112.  BWV stands for Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, or “Bach works catalogue.”

Each suite is made of six movements: a prelude, and then five movements based on types of baroque dances.  So all six suites go prelude, allemande, courante, sarabande, two minuets, gigue.

This all makes for suuuuuuper long and confusing track titles.  Track 5, for example, is “Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: V. Menuets I & II.”  For some reason the tracks on Amazon music are nearly twice as long, repeating the “Unaccomanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007” part!  Still despite this crazy nomenclature, with the info here, everything makes a lot more sense!

Major!

I’m not smart enough about this music to say much more than that it’s just beautiful.  My record library includes music featuring a lot of cello, including the neo-bluegrass group Crooked Still, the Scottish dance music of Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, and the heavy metal of Apocalyptica.  But as much as that music makes my heart swoon, none of it makes it want to leap up and explode like the playing of Yo-Yo Ma.  I cannot tell you why.  His Japanese Melodies album was in constant rotation in my red pickup truck when I was in college, and his Hush album with Bobby McFerrin can sometimes make me cry.

This album is better than those.  No, I can’t explain it.  And I can’t recognize any of the individual movements without looking at the tracklist.  And I can’t tell you anything about why these are masterworks other than they are Bach compositions.  I can just say it’s beautiful.

9/10

Coda

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Here’s Yo-Yo Ma on The Late Show with David Letterman in 1994.  The first part of this is the gigue from Bach Cello Suite No. 3 (track 18 on disc one of this album!).  I had this on VHS and watched it like a million times.  This video is my upload.

 

8Tracks Review: ‘Be the Cowboy’ by Mitski

Be the Cowboy by Mitski
Dead Oceans, 2018

I haven’t told anyone

Mitzki (Miyawaki)’s new album dropped August 17 and I planned to review it last week, but you know.  Crazy Rich Asians.  This one got a ton of advance buzz, partly because of a couple of advance singles but also because it feels like it’s time for everyone who doesn’t know Mitski to get on.

That pretty friend is finally yours

    1. Geyser (2:23)
    2. Why Didn’t You Stop Me? (2:21)
    3. Old Friend (1:52)
    4. A Pearl (2:36)
    5. Lonesome Love (1:50)
    6. Remember My Name (2:15)
    7. Me and My Husband (2:17)
    8. Come into the Water (1:32)
    9. Nobody (3:13)
    10. Pink in the Night (2:16)
    11. A Horse Named Cold Air (2:03)
    12. Washing Machine Heart (2:08)
    13. Blue Light (1:43)
    14. Two Slow Dancers (3:59)

Someone who loves me now

The songs are short: at 3:59, “Two Slow Dancers” is the longest by far, and most songs stay around the two-minute mark.  This makes the album move quickly, almost frantically, yet they’re varied enough that each song sticks out in a way I wouldn’t have predicted.  I want to drive around the entire island of Oahu with the top down and this album on repeat.

Be the Cowboy‘s sound is indie as heck.  It’s going to remind you a bit of the Duke Spirit, a bit of the Raveonettes, and in the less rocking songs, a lot of Zooey Deschanel in She & Him.  There’s a lot of great retro rock organ with distant, singing in a shower, reverberating vocal production with a lot of muted drumming on what sounds sometimes like a three-piece kit.

I imagine many will disagree with me, but Mitski’s at her best when she’s rocking out.  “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” and “A Pearl” stand out this way.

Although it’s probably not for everyone, this is some good stuff, and it would be a shame to let it fly under the radar, which it could easily do.

I’ll take anything you want to give me

Best song: “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?”
Second-best song: “Remember My Name”
Fourteenth-best song: “Two Slow Dancers”
Best moment: Oh man, I love the electric guitar on “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” which has a really cool downward bend that sounds like a spaceship giving up.  This is tied with the sigh Mitski opens “Me and My Husband” with.
Best lyric: It seems like too easy a choice, but I keep going back to “Nobody butters me up like you / and nobody f*cks me like me,” in “Lonesome Love,” one of the Zooey-sounding songs.  The repeated “Why am I lonely for lonesome love?” to end the song may be in a twelve-way tie for second.
Song to make you text your ex (don’t do it!):  “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?”
Song to make you write song lyrics out of something you put in your Xanga when you were 16 (do it!):  “Lonesome Love.”

Rating: 8/10

 

The city where you’re from

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8Tracks Review: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Crazy Rich Asians (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
WaterTower Music, 2018

(no movie spoilers)

Look how they shine for you

Almost nobody discusses Crazy Rich Asians (the film) without mentioning the movie’s soundtrack, which is pretty cool, because how often does this happen anymore?  Soundtrack albums used to be huge marketing tools for films, but unless the film is a musical, nowadays you seldom hear people talk about soundtracks.  I suspect the persistent conversation means the soundtrack in CRA is especially effective. Its first few spins took me immediately to specific places they appear in the movie, which may also be a sign of its effectiveness.

I wrote a song for you

  1. Waiting for Your Return (Jasmine Chen) (2:58)
  2. Money (That’s What I Want) (Cheryl K) (3:12)
  3. Wo Yao Ni De Ai (I Want Your Love — I Want You  to Be My Baby) (Grace Chang) (2:41)
  4. My New Swag (VaVa featuring Ty and Nina Wang) (4:05)
  5. Give Me a Kiss (Jasmine Chen) (3:01)
  6. Ren Sheng Jiu Shi Xi (Yao Lee) (3:02)
  7. Ni Dong Bu Dong (Do You Understand) (Lilian Chen) (2:32)
  8. Wo Yao Fei Shang Qing Tian (Grace Chang) (3:17)
  9. Material Girl (200 Du) (4:25)
  10. Can’t Help Falling in Love (Kina Grannis) (3:21)
  11. Wo Yao Ne De Ai (I Want Y our Love — I Want You to Be My Baby (Jasmine Chen) (2:04)
  12. Yellow (Katherine Ho) (4:08)
  13. Vote (Miguel) (3:22)
  14. Money (That’s What I Want) (Cheryl K featuring Awkwafina) (3:12)

Turn into something beautiful

I’m pretty sensitive to the way music is used in film, and I dislike most soundtracks and most movie scores.  This one impressed me beginning with the opening swing of “Waiting for Your Return,” then it surprised me with interesting Chinese-language covers of familiar songs.  I didn’t know anything about the soundtrack before going in, so covers of “Material Girl,” and “Yellow” caught me off guard and really work with the moods of their scenes and the context of the film’s plot.

I had one moment where the song choice took me out of the movie for about nine seconds, when I recognized Kina Grannis’s cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and couldn’t understand how it existed in the film right when it did, but then it all made sense.  You’ll see what I mean either when you see the movie or when you look at the acting credits.

That’s really about the movie, not about this album, and this is what I’m talking about. Listening to the soundtrack is remembering the movie, which perhaps makes it a great soundtrack, but I wonder if it makes it not as good an album. Because Crazy Rich Asians is a good movie, I’m going to dismiss this possibility; yet if it had been a terrible movie, and if the soundtrack album kept reminding you of scenes in this terrible movie, would it be a terrible soundtrack, no matter how good the songs?

A moot consideration in this case.

It seems a sequel film is in the works, and I have to say I’m here for it and really interested in what’ll be on the soundtrack.

Your skin and bones

Best song: Yeah, I’m going with the crowd on this.  “Yellow.”
Second best song: The closing credits version of “Money,” the one with Awkwafina’s raps.
Surprise: “Vote” by Miguel. It’s the first interesting thing I’ve ever heard from him. I really like this.
Song to make you want to call your mom (do it!): “Yellow.”
Song to make you want to text your ex (don’t do it!): “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
Song to make you go “Wha?”: “Material Girl.”

And all the things you do

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also this video of Katherine Ho singing her “PB&J”

8Tracks Review: ‘Expectations’ by Hayley Kiyoko

Expectations by Hayley Kiyoko
Atlantic Records, 2018

Breathe her in

Hayley Kiyoko’s debut album dropped March 30.  I’ve been vaguely aware of her for a long time, knew she was an actress but haven’t seen her work, knew she was a singer but haven’t heard her music.  It’s mostly because my tastes just don’t lean this way, so please keep this in mind here.

She said on Facebook:

MY DEBUT ALBUM. OUT NOW EVERYWHERE.
Promise me you will listen to it in order, from beginning to end, like it was intended. I set the setting and tone, but this is your personal journey to take what you will.
BUY IT. DOWNLOAD IT. STREAM IT. SHARE IT. I couldn’t be prouder of this album….BLAST THAT BABY 😭😭😭😭😭😭💿💿💿💿💿💿💿

If you’re ’round come get it

  1. Expectations (Overture) (1:52)
  2. Feelings (3:36)
  3. What I Need (featuring Kehlani) (3:39)
  4. Sleepover (3:53)
  5. Mercy / Gatekeeper (5:44)
  6. Under the Blue / Take Me In (5:37)
  7. Curious (3:03)
  8. xx (:51)
  9. Wanna Be Missed (3:15)
  10. He’ll Never Love You (HNLY) (3:51)
  11. Palm Dreams (5:14)
  12. Molecules (4:10)
  13. Let It Be (3:41)

Never felt nothing like that

I gave Expectations a few spins because her Wikipedia article tags her as dream pop and synth pop, and I do enjoy some pretty dream pop.  The album’s opening got me excited: “Expectations (Overture)” does have a nice dream-poppy vibe.  However, it becomes clear very quickly that this is a much dancier album, heavily synth pop with a hundred dance and R&B intentions.  Honestly, it’s the same music I mostly steer clear of, not because it isn’t any good but because it doesn’t engage me.

I wanted to be engaged because Hayley makes it clear that this is a very personal album, and a flight through the lyrics attests to it.  I appreciate that a gay songwriter is singing intimately about the longing these personae feel for the the women they’re missing.  I just can’t connect to the music, and I really tried.

Every style can’t be for every listener, and this style’s not for me.  I share my thoughts here because I suspect that the album is rather well done for its format.  The production is very clean, almost shimmery in its presentation, and Hayley does have a pretty voice.  The lyrics are interesting (I especially like “Sleepover,” about a woman who can’t be with the person she desires, so she’s left with only her imagining of this person).  The beats feel standard at best, which might be okay with me if they just didn’t dominate the entire sound.

If your pop sensibilities lean toward good club vibes and heavy beats, you may find this an outstanding album.  My barbaric ears find it to be very, very long.  I give it a one-point bump for interesting lyrics, but that still puts it around 5/10 for me: not bad but not good.

Got all these hearts in line

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8Tracks Review: ‘5OKI’ EP by Steve Aoki

Steve Aoki’s new EP 5OKI dropped April 27.  I’m only getting to it now because I’m pretty clueless about EDM.

Tracks

  1. Anthem (featuring Kriss Kiss); Hardwell and Steve Aoki (2:43)
  2. Mayhem; Steve Aoki & Quintino (2:37)
  3. It’s Time (featuring Bruce Buffer); Steve Aoki & Laidback Luke (3:18)
  4. Pika Pika; Steve Aoki & LOOPERS (2:24)
  5. Moshi Moshi (featuring Mama Aoki); Steve Aoki & Vini Vici (4:17)

Thoughts

If my look-back at the Jets last week didn’t convict me as being too old to talk about current music, this confession probably will: I don’t get electronic dance music.  It pains me to say it, too, because I taught high-schoolers for sixteen years, and could usually find some musical connection with my students, some common ground on which we could establish good, casual communication.  Even if I didn’t like what they liked, I got it well enough to talk about it with them.  I remember what it was like to be fifteen and to be obsessed with the music in my Walkman earbuds.

I don’t dislike most of the EDM I’ve listened to.  As a tech-head (and tech teacher), the computer aspects of the music’s creation intrigue me, but beyond cool beats and interesting mixes, I don’t find much to latch onto.  Which is weird because I once listened to a lengthy radio interview with Aoki on a sports talk radio show and he was engaging and funny and fascinating.

I’ve spun 5OKI seven times and I like it.  I can even identify each track by its opening beats without looking at the tracklist.  The opening track, “Anthem,” sounds like the music they play when they introduce the starting lineups at NBA games: “Aaaaaaaaand now, yooooooooooooooour Miami Heeeeeeeeeeeeat!” There’s a nice little bit of dubstep wobble in this track too.

“It’s Time” has a similar feel; it even has voice samples (or vocal tracks; I can’t tell!) clearly meant to mimic the hype music before a boxing match or basketball game.

“Pika Pika” is my favorite because it has interesting sounds I don’t often hear in dance music, including something sounding like bamboo being hit with other bamboo, then run through a couple of effects.  It also has a moment where the groove reminds me of 80s Genesis (the band).

I’m utterly unequipped to give this any kind of rating, but I like it even if I don’t think I get it.  Check out the “Pika Pika” video here and let me know what you think.

Links

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