Tag Archives: indie rock

Capsule drama reviews: Pinocchio, Nineteen, etc.

‘Mary Stayed Out All Night’ (aka ‘Marry Me, Mary!’)
Starring: Moon Geun-young, Jang Keun-suk and Kim Jae-wook
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Episodes: 16

mary

Photo courtesy of ACC Korea.

The bad news first: “Mary Stayed Out All Night” has the worst soundtrack. The show is supposed to be about indie rock, but all of the music is just terrible. The songs keep getting worse as the story progresses. If I had to listen to “My Precious” one more time, I was going to freak out. But the good news: Kang Mu-gyul looks really cute singing them. He looks really cute doing everything. He is the cutest. So I somehow managed to endure the soundtrack — even though that chorus of “She’s Mine” (“My woman, she loves me so very much! / My woman, she says I’m the greatest man she’s ever met!”) continues to haunt me.

The story follows Wi Mae-ri, who is out partying with her friends in Hongdae when she accidentally runs Mu-gyul (the stylish lead singer for a local indie band called Absolute Perfection) over with her car. They decide to get extremely drunk together and become fast friends, as you do when someone runs you over with their car. However, Mae-ri’s horrible deadbeat father has secretly arranged for her to marry a wealthy family friend, Byun Jung-in, and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. So, Mae-ri enlists Mu-gyul’s help to pretend that she is already married — just until her father calls off the nuptials. As you can expect, hijinks ensue.

The first half of “Mary Stayed Out All Night” is much better than the second. I enjoyed the fashion and the bohemian aesthetic; I enjoyed the growing chemistry between Moon Geun-young and Jang Keun-suk; I enjoyed looking at Jang Keun-suk a lot. But the show became more frustrating as it went on: Jung-in was never fully fleshed out as a character, Mae-ri’s father never showed any redeeming qualities, and I was just sick of everybody’s inability to communicate. Ultimately, though, I still thought this was a really good find. But that awful music…

‘Nineteen’
Release Date:
Nov. 12, 2009
Director: Jang Yong-woo
Starring: Choi Seung-hyun, Lee Seung-hyun and Huh E-jae
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated

nineteen

Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

“Nineteen” just so perfectly captures what it’s like to be 19 — the first of many years spent in the limbo between childhood and adulthood. It’s beautiful.

The movie focuses on three 19-year-olds from different walks of life. Seo Jung-hoon is kind of a slacker, satisfied with living at his parents’ house and working at a café. Park Min-seo is the meek rich boy who has a hard time interacting with other people and feels like he’s failed to live up to his parents’ expectations by not getting into a top college. Cha Eun-young just lost the hair stylist job she was using to support herself and her terminally ill mother in the hospital. The three of them are brought into the police station for questioning when a mutual acquaintance is found dead. They all feel as though the police aren’t listening and aren’t taking them seriously and are treating them like kids, so they miraculously escape police custody at the same time on go on the run together across South Korea.

It’s a fun adventure, and it’s infinitely relatable. What do you do when you’re on the run from the law? Compete in a rap battle and spend all your money on flamboyant sunglasses? Well, yeah, when you’re 19. It’s a pretty silly movie, but, at the same time, it speaks to the Millennials’ anxieties of growing up and finding a place in the world. And T.O.P performs a couple of goofy raps, so there’s that.

‘Pinocchio’
Starring:
Park Shin-hye, Lee Jong-suk and Kim Young-kwang
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama
Episodes: 20

pinocchio

I laughed really hard at this scene on the bus. Photo courtesy of iHQ.

“Pinocchio” is a romantic drama with a very heavy-handed overarching message about truth. Sort of like an Ethics in Journalism class with a romantic subplot.

For allegorical purposes, the story takes place in a world where a “Pinocchio syndrome” exists that makes those afflicted hiccup when they lie. Choi Dal-po and Choi In-ha are adopted siblings (more or less) who both aspire to become TV news reporters for different reasons. In-ha — a Pinocchio herself — wants to follow in the footsteps of her estranged mother who has a reputation for being a heartless but powerful news anchor. Dal-po wants to get revenge on the reporter who destroyed his birth family by spreading a sensationalized story that blamed his firefighter father for the deaths of many of his colleagues.

The drawn-out, Hamlet-style revenge-seeking and uncovering of the past was the most intriguing part of “Pinocchio.” The actual romance was neither exciting nor really charming. Although, I do believe I am the only viewer who is in strong opposition to Dal-po and In-ha as the endgame “darling couple.” I was really rooting for Seo Beom-jo —the spoiled rich boy who actually showed tremendous character growth and was one of my favorites throughout. He learned so much, and, although he struggled with it, he was always a good guy at the end of the day. And he was not related to In-ha at all, which is a plus.

‘Flower Boy Ramen Shop’
Starring:
Lee Chung-ah, Jung Il-woo and Lee Ki-woo
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Episodes: 16

flowerboys

Photo courtesy of tvN.

“Flower Boy Ramen Shop” is part one of the three-part “flower boy” series of dramas that also includes “Shut Up Flower Boy Band” and “Flower Boys Next Door.” This one is okay. I wasn’t that into it, but then I began to find Jung Il-woo very endearing, so I had to finish it.

It takes a while to even get to the ramen. At first, Yang Eun-bi is studying to become a teacher, but she quits after her father dies and leaves his ramen shop to her and some mysterious narcoleptic stranger he apparently wanted her to marry. Which she figures is just as well because teaching was getting weird considering the strange affair she was carrying on with one of her high school students, Cha Chi-soo, who is also (naturally) an extremely wealthy heir whose family controls the school. At the ramen shop, she and the creepy stranger who inserts himself into her life take a group of cute misfits from the high school under their wing to revamp the restaurant’s image.

First of all, I find it very annoying that Eun-bi just lets Choi Kang-hyuk burst into her life and make himself at home, despite all of the Very Binding Legal Documents That Are Clearly Written In Crayon he produces to prove his ownership. It’s not a very well-made drama, the acting isn’t that great, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. Nonetheless, I guess I must be a sucker for cute rich boys learning the harsh realities of the world or something, because I still really wanted to observe Chi-soo’s personal growth and ensure that he and Eun-bi lived happily ever after.

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I was a seat-filler at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards

Conan O'Brien

It’s possible that I am in this picture. Via AP Images/Invision

“Come with me, right now!” our wrangler commands, one hand on her walkie-talkie, before she takes off into the auditorium.

A voice announces over loudspeakers that the show will resume taping in a few moments.

I try to keep the wrangler in my line of vision as I hurry after her over the uneven flooring — hastily-laid carpet covering clusters of wires and power cords, some sort of plywood functioning as speed bumps, and a very sharp incline. I am hyper-aware that if I trip over my six-inch heels and faceplant, I will be doing so directly in front of Channing Tatum.

I was a seat-filler for the 2014 MTV Movie Awards on April 13.

Seat-fillers exist to fill in gaps when a guest gets up to perform onstage, hang out at the bar, use the bathroom or go home because they’re bored, so there are no empty seats when the show is aired on TV. I am well-suited to this particularly glamorous Hollywood job because filling seats is basically my strongest talent. I’ve been training my entire life, and I was really excited for the opportunity to finally take sitting in chairs to the professional level.

Here’s how it went down:

My day as a seat-filler began at 10 a.m., when I had to assemble the red carpet look I was going to wear that day (by “red carpet,” I mean the Metro Red Line I would take from Hollywood to Downtown Los Angeles, where the event was taking place inside the Nokia Theatre).

Our meeting location was outside of a parking structure underneath the Santa Monica Freeway. There, they separated us into three groups: the “pit fans” (who stood for the duration of the event closest to the stage), the “red carpet fans” (who sat in bleachers to watch the procession) and the seat-fillers.

We weren’t allowed to bring our cellphones along, so we had no way to judge the passing of time. I can only estimate that we stood around approximately forever, and then we moved to another waiting area where we sat down forever.

Finally, we made the long trek across LA Live toward the venue in rows of four, passing Lakers fans and tourists shooting confused stares at the parade of weirdos looking ready for a long night of clubbing in our “hip and trendy” best in broad daylight. Once we passed through a security checkpoint and were finally inside the Nokia Theatre, we got to, well, stand around some more before they brought us to the holding areas on either side of the stage.

From there, we were moved around a lot. If someone returned to their seat, the seat-filler had to go back to the holding area for their next assignment. This resulted in a lot of sprinting across the room at a moment’s notice and, in one fantastic instance, a fellow seat-filler getting stuck crouching on the floor between two seats when someone came to sit down after the show had already resumed.

Here are the coolest parts:

When seat-fillers are not filling important celebrity seats, they fill significantly less important regular ol’ seats in a holding area at the very front of the auditorium. My holding area was in the path leading from the auditorium to the backstage area, where everyone was entering carrying popcorn and champagne. I didn’t get to partake — in fact, I didn’t get to eat or drink anything all day because I’d been busy with all that standing around I was doing. But I did get to watch a lot of people make their entrance: Max Joseph and Nev Schulman from “Catfish,” the entire cast of “Teen Wolf,” Snooki and JWoww, etc. And that is how I learned that Nicki Minaj is incredibly tiny – she’s apparently only 5’2”! Who knew!

Zac Efron took off his shirt onstage. Actually, Rita Ora forcibly removed his shirt onstage, but the result was achieved. And I was in the same room as that.

Being in the front row for the musical performances was not a bad time. Twenty One Pilots, an all-Christian kind of indie rock-rap group, started off with the song “Car Radio.” About two seconds before they began, lead singer Tyler Joseph passed masks into the audience and gave everyone an incredibly speedy rundown of the complicated choreography we were supposed to perform. It turned out alright, though, and the song and performance were both great. I also enjoyed being in the front row for Eminem and Rihanna’s “Monster” duet because that’s a situation I can’t imagine I would find myself in under any other circumstance.

Here are the worst parts:

I ended up sitting a short distance behind Grumpy Cat, who was slumped over in her chair (a front row seat) in what looked like a heavily-sedated stupor, living a pretty crummy life as a newly-minted feline celebrity. I disagree with cats-as-celebrities anyway because that’s ridiculous, but after seeing Grumpy Cat in action at one of her many public events, I just felt really bad for her.

She barely moved, aside from her head lolling lethargically as she was grabbed, petted and held up for photos with nearly every guest in attendance. Otherwise, she was kept in her seat and subjected to pyrotechnics, loud music, explosions, flashing lights and fog machines, which I’m sure she loved because cats love being famous. Everybody knows that.

Also, no one seemed to know what they were doing. Amanda Seyfried couldn’t read her lines. Chris Pratt didn’t get a microphone when he went onstage. Someone promoted the upcoming “Godzilla” movie (an actor, probably), but nobody could see him through the excessively thick fog from the fog machine. It was a bit of a mess, but, to be fair, it’s just the MTV Movie Awards. I don’t think anyone was watching anyway.

Afterwards:

As the show ended, I awkwardly realized that I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with myself. I was lost in the crowd: Shailene Woodley was trying to squeeze past me toward the exit and Holland Roden was leaning onto my chair to take a selfie. I figured my job was complete. I sat like a pro. I was proud. I headed off into the night.

My feet hurt, and I deeply regret not trying harder to sneak into an after-party. But will I sit again professionally? I really, really hope so.

Live: Astronautalis at The Satellite

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Astronautalis performs at The Satellite in Silver Lake. SCREAMfmLondon

The first time I saw Astronautalis, I was well underage. I had to get to the venue — a dive bar on Second Street in Reno, Nev. next to the Triumph tattoo parlor — early enough to talk my way past the bouncer guarding the front door, and then I tried to stand inconspicuously off to the side until the show started.

To this day, that concert remains one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen, and one of the few that has completely blown me away, changed everything. I went home and downloaded the first two Astronautalis albums, knowing that I would be going to see him perform as long as he was willing to play.

On March 22, Astronautalis headlined at the Satellite on Silver Lake Boulevard alongside Playdough, Transit and the Dead Men.

Quite a lot of time has passed since my initial introduction to his music, and a lot has changed. But a lot has not. Astronautalis started as a one-man act with only his laptop full of beats and his own manic energy to accompany him onstage. He’s now backed by a guitarist and drummer. He’s grown a beard. But he’s still effortlessly charming. His music is still a high-energy, lyrically-challenging combination of hip-hop, talkin’ blues and indie rock. A live Astronautalis show is still a vivid experience to be had, and I’m still here.

I valiantly suffered through the abysmal opening acts preceding the Astronautalis set, and to say they were abysmal is not at all an exaggeration. The first group, LA transplants calling themselves the Dead Men, had some good instrumentalists (a harmonica player and keyboardist, in particular), but the songs were so badly written it was almost funny to hear them singing the praises of “Orthodox Jew porn” and violently hurting women. Almost funny.

I hoped the evening would improve when Canadian rapper Transit took to the stage next, but it did not. I remember that he is Canadian because he told the same joke about “sweating maple syrup” roughly 146 times, whenever he wasn’t trying to name-drop someone successful he had once interacted with, including Gene Simmons, who he allegedly turned down for a record deal, opting instead to maintain his artistic integrity and sell CDs in the back room of the Satellite for five dollars. As for his artistic integrity: well, he sang an entire song called “Friend Zone” about a woman who (for some reason) valued his company, but it still pissed him off that she wouldn’t sleep with him.

The final opener, Playdough, had the best stage presence of the three, and being able to command a room is like 60 percent of the battle. Some of his set was amusing, but most of it was pedestrian. He gave an excessively long speech about how great he is at freestyle and how much he loves to do it. Despite the grandiose build-up, his delivery was amateurish. Think “Fox in Socks,” only not as clever.

And, finally, Astronautalis came onstage, sipping whiskey and wearing neatly cuffed jeans over black combat boots. He is so uniquely talented that he easily and consistently blows away his opening acts; he also far outperforms his own band. The fast-moving set included many tracks from his most recent full-length release, 2011’s “This is Our Science,” including “Thomas Jefferson” and “Contrails.”

Astronautalis — a Minnesota native — told the crowd how he made the most of his afternoon in Silver Lake with a picnic and some kite-flying in the balmy spring weather before launching into “Midday Moon.” Through a smirk, he sang the song’s second verse: “It was a windy day, / The kind that makes me hate LA / ‘Cause God gave them a perfect sun, and they think gangs and smog were hardly a fair trade.”

Highlights from Astronautalis’ live set included a few new takes on some of his best-known songs, including a remix of “Dimitri Mendeleev” that he describes as less aggro and more dance-y than the original, as well as an up-tempo, rock-driven reboot of “The Trouble Hunters.” “The Trouble Hunters,” a rousing fight song about the Battle of Trenton, is always a climactic moment at Astronautalis shows, and the song is so great that it deserves to be a huge hit, if we lived in the kind of society that allowed for songs about the American Revolutionary War to top the Billboard charts.

Additionally, the band played a few new songs that are being readied for the next album release, and to my delight, they included “This City Ain’t Just a Skyline,” a previously-unreleased outtake from “This is Our Science.” The track was uploaded to SoundCloud on Feb. 22, and its melodic synth beats against Astronautalis’ jaunty vocals immediately cemented it as one of my favorite new singles of 2014.

One of the staples of an Astronautalis set is his freestyle segment, during which he takes topic suggestions from the audience (can’t be anything he’s ever rapped about before, i.e. nothing about US history) and combines them into one epic impromptu song. The difference between Playdough’s freestyle and Astronautalis’ is stark: Astronautalis doesn’t go on about it, but instead brings an unparalleled frame of reference and incomparably sharp wit in order to deliver a memorable, one-of-a-kind freestyle that speaks for itself.

The most fun topics are those provided by the drunks who have no idea what’s going on but really enjoy shouting, rather than the premeditated topics prepared by the hipsters trying to look smart (the guy who suggested the international rules governing the conduct of submarine warfare as a freestyle topic, I’m looking at you). Back in Reno all those years ago, I remember a wayward frat boy slurring his suggestion of “T-Shirt on Your Head Tuesdays,” and then I remember watching with stars in my eyes as Astronautalis actually rapped eloquently and hilariously about whatever the hell that means.

And that’s the amazing thing about Astronautalis’ live performances: each one is so distinctive. I feel like I always learn something valuable at an Astronautalis concert, in the sense that hanging around truly interesting people makes you want to better yourself. Can’t say that about too many musicians, can you?