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  • Audrey Cleo

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    Riding the new music nostalgia train.

    I have a confession to make: I still listen to terrestrial radio. At least I’m not alone. Yes, I know that sounds awfully old school of me in this age of Spotify, Pandora, last.fm and Sirius, but then again, I’ve been known to even buy (gasp!) CDs once in awhile.

    Music decision fatigue for me is a real thing; I’d rather let someone else do the choosing rather than having to sift through a bunch of genre lists or “stations,” or spend the time constructing my own to play in the car. I’m, more or less, perfectly content to turn up the radio and switch stations when an aurally-offensive song comes on. Trust me, it’s a different story when I’m in front of my laptop where I’ve spent years perfecting a “writing background music” playlist on Spotify.

    I bring up my love for radio because in middle school and for a chunk of high school, it made up of a considerable portion of my new music discovery. I traded mix tapes and CDs loaded with old Blink-182, Operation Ivy, Rancid and assorted ska/punk bands with my friends, but in the car on the drive to school, it was all about turning up terrestrial radio for “new music Tuesday” and at night, falling asleep to Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew on Loveline on the stereo in my room. Thankfully, the same artists I was car-singing to are still churning out new music. Below, a few of my latest favorites.

    Foo Fighters – “Something from Nothing.” It’s the new single released after the premiere of Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways on HBO, a docu-series tracking the band’s eight-city U.S. historical music tour and the making of their new (eight-track, haha!) album. If you’re a pop culture history geek, music history buff or just love the Foos, this show is definitely worth checking out. Personally, I’m obsessed.

     

    Gwen Stefani – “Baby Don’t Lie.” Lady G is at it again this time with more trippy motion graphics and no silly Harajuku back-up dancers.

    Bush – “The Only Way is Through.” A new one from Mr. Gwen Stefani and friends. I don’t mind the overt pop rockiness the Bush sound has become but part of me still kind of misses the Razorblade Suitcase-era Bush.

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    Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty.

    Trying to make myself a few apples taller.

    Trying to make myself a few apples taller.

    I would like to think that I don’t adhere to most of the stereotypes about Asian-American women (keyword: most), except when it comes to that undeniably kawaii mouthless creature named Hello Kitty. I love her; I’m convinced it’s in my DNA to buy totally ridiculous things for no other reason than because her likeness is emblazoned on them. There is an undeniable nostalgia I have for the entire Sanrio universe, really. One of my first bath towels ever was a My Melody one, and I have very fond memories of bi-weekly trips to Rainbow Gate, the Japanese tchotchke shop at my local mall, with my mom and younger sister to buy Keroppi erasers and tin Badtz-Maru pencil cases. Much to my dismay – but probably to the delight of my wallet – Rainbow Gate closed years ago and has since been replaced by a store that sells trucker hats or something.

    The most famous star in the Sanrio universe turns the big 4-0 this year, and to celebrate, the Japanese American National Museum is doing a sprawling retrospective of her entitled Hello! The Supercute World of Hello Kitty, which I had a chance to see this past weekend. It’s exhaustive and impressive with about every item you could imagine Hello Kitty being on on display, as well as insight into her history as an international cultural icon. Indeed, it’s not unreasonable to call Hello Kitty a global pop cultural diplomat: her message of happiness and friendship is (conspicuously) consumed all over the world. While the exhibit doesn’t go into the intricacies of any controversies surrounding Hello Kitty, it does touch on distinct east vs. west cultural interpretations of her image: “For some Western critics, Hello Kitty’s mouthlessness symbolizes powerlessness. But Japanese people understand things differently. They assume Hello Kitty’s design to be an abstraction. A typical Japanese comment: “Hello Kitty has no mouth? I never noticed.””

    I left the exhibit a little nostalgic, a lot charmed and appreciative of the fact that my Hello Kitty fandom is shared by so many others. Hello Kitty for pop culture president of everything.

    Hello! The Supercute World of Hello Kitty runs through April 2015; $20 for non-JANM members.

     

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    Watch: The adorable stars of DisneyXD’s “Kirby Buckets” take me on a tour of their set!

    DisneyXD’s new show, “Kirby Buckets,” is about creative kid Kirby (Jacob Bertrand) and his sometimes-animated adventures with his pals. And when I dropped by the set for a tour, naturally, my sense of humor vibed perfectly with the show’s stars – boys aged 11-14 – who share my love fart jokes. I also learned the super-not-so-secret Kirby crew cheer and got girly with the ladies of the show, Olivia Stuck and Tiffany Espensen, in the wardrobe department!

    “Kirby Buckets” premieres tonight, 8 pm ET/PT, on DisneyXD.

    Hangin' in the S&P Market with Kirby (Jacob Betrand) and friends.

    Hangin’ in the S&P Market with Kirby (Jacob Betrand) and friends.

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    Crab dumplings and crusty chopsticks.

     

    Shanghai is regarded as China’s financial center. In the center of that center, in an area called “the Bund” located along the Huangpu River, is a shopper’s paradise. Malls and mini-malls, multiple stories high, interspersed with the bricks-and-mortars of international brands line Nanjing Road, making this consumer mecca one of the busiest shopping districts in the world.

    It’s mid-May, and you and Boyfriend thought it would be a good idea to take an afternoon stroll, perhaps stop for a pre-dinner snack. But the gray portent of the clouds and that Pacific Rim humidity should have given it away – rain is coming, and soon enough, the two of you are caught in a storm that’s soaked the cobblestones of Nanjing Road as well as your pair of TOMS. In a moment of desperation, you take shelter, ducking into the nearest mini-mall that will have you.

    As happenstance would have it, the entire ground floor is a food emporium, a wall-to-wall organized mess of foodstuffs, mostly in packages and boxes with clear plastic lids: dried-up dates, glutinous mochi sprinkled with coconut flakes and powdered sugar, Chinese candies of all sorts, many of which are probably not very sweet or tasty. You tell yourself that you’re allowed to jump to such a prejudiced conclusion. After all, you’re Chinese, too.

    After bumping shoulders with fellow customers, you drag Boyfriend by the hand and fight your way to the escalator, determined to find something more appetizing. Second floor is housewares, third floor is clothing, but the fourth floor is exactly what you were looking for: eateries. Several petite restaurants make up the mall’s food court, many of them dingy with aging pale pink banquettes and cracking linoleum floors. Everything takes on a subtly yellow-gray hue, as though you are seeing the world through a filter called “Slightly Depressing.” You decide that you’ll take anything that’s hot and cooked and forsake anything raw as to minimize the likelihood of loose stools and emergency Imodium-popping later in the evening.

    So you settle on a modest – well, they’re all modest – establishment, one where you order first and ask questions later. A woman with a severe bowl cut and several fine hairs blanketing her upper lip hands you a laminated menu with pictures of their offerings with English translations below each dish, written very deliberately in a scrawl that looks like they were traced: “Crab dumpling,” “Hot wonton noodle.” Apparently, you only get one of any dish; there are no plurals to be found. Through the conversational Mandarin that was your first language and careful pointing, you indicate to Madam Bowl Cut your choices, and she snatches the menu from your hands in exchange for the can of Pepsi you requested. It’s warm.

    After seating yourselves at a small table, you and Boyfriend sift through the tableside caddy for clean chopsticks, a rarity at this joint. Every other one is gray and crusted with a hardened particulate that does not wash away easily by pouring some of the boiling tea Bowl Cut has set down for you. You hear your mother’s voice warning you to pack disposable wooden chopsticks before you left. Finally, you find two pair clean enough and hope that the heat from the wonton soup you ordered will take care of the rest. You squirt a silver-dollar-sized dollop of hand sanitizer into your hands and rub vigorously, just to be safe.

    There are only two other patrons besides you, your significant other, Bowl Cut and her minion, presumably the chef. To your right, a father cradles doughy wontons in a soup spoon before devouring them in big slurps, while his daughter – a girl of about five or six with a pink hoodie and laceless Dora the Explorer sneakers – shovels generous helpings of chow mein into her mouth. They don’t talk but occasionally exchange bits of food from each other’s plates, mostly father to daughter. You are reminded that that’s how Chinese people show their love. In American culture, “I love yous” and hugs are the currency of parental affection. In Chinese culture, food – having it, sharing it, letting you know when you look like you’ve had too much or too little of it – is often the medium through which parents do this. Instead of kisses and coos, it’s a morsel of the most tender part of the steamed fish at dinner that lands at the corner of your bowl or an extra soy sauce pickle in your porridge at breakfast, one more off-white scallop or sliver of beef from the fresh plate of chow mein that makes its way onto your plate.

    Madam Bowl Cut has arrived with two steaming hot bowls and one small plate of love. More specifically, she has brought your wonton noodle soups and four dense crab dumplings. The wontons are small but generous, packed in tightly with ground pork and scallions and boiled just so such that their skins are almost transparent. The noodles, the wontons’ pool mates, are scraggly and chewy so as to not compete with the voluptuousness of their culinary bedfellows, and cooked to al dente. The hot broth they swim in is oily and savory with a base of indeterminate origin but one that is, decidedly, not chicken. You and Boyfriend look for napkins on the table to sop up droplets of broth from the sides of your mouths and remember that it isn’t customary for restaurants in China to offer napery. No matter. You move onto the crab dumplings, which you dip into an improvised mélange of spicy garlic chili paste and dark, salty soy sauce. They are juicy and briny, bursting when you bite into their tender, flaky meat. You and Boyfriend don’t talk much for you’re too busy diving in heartily. He looks up on occasion and drops a wonton into your bowl and smiles.

    More cups of tea are drunk, the last sips of tepid Pepsi gulped, and it’s time to settle the bill, of which Bowl Cut looks relieved, like the dearth of your presence will finally let her to go back to not tweezing her mustache. You and Boyfriend gather up your belongings, and your TOMS have dried by now – just in time for them to be soaked once again, as the storm outside has only gotten worse. Hand-in-hand, the two of you exit into the rainy bluster, a little full, a little more loved. He pauses in his tracks, turns to you and asks, “So, where should we go for dinner?”

    An Exercise in Obits (RIP Robin Williams).

    I wrote an obituary for Robin Williams as an exercise for one of my courses. Williams was a particularly difficult subject for me to write about since Hollywood is still feeling his sudden passing and because I have a deep affection for his work. I think anybody, no matter the age, can point to a pop cultural touchstone of which he was a part. Here it is, reproduced below, written as though it were the day after his passing:

    A Clown for All Ages: ROBIN WILLIAMS

    ROBIN WILLIAMS, comedian, film/TV actor and philanthropist, died yesterday at his home in Paradise Cay, California of an apparent suicide by asphyxiation. He was 63 years old.

    An actor who appeared on the small screen, silver screen and stage, Williams cultivated a career that spanned 30 years and multiple genres, mediums and generations of audiences. He was known for his frenetic style of improvisational comedy, penchant for celebrity impressions and creation of vivid, memorable characters, a brand of funny that has influenced both younger comedians like Jimmy Fallon and Jim Carrey and his contemporaries alike, including David Letterman. He was featured in over 100 films and television shows in roles that ranged from the quirky and comedic to nuanced and serious. It was Williams’s range that earned critical acclaim and industry accolades, notably four Oscar nominations and one win for his turn as an earnest psychology professor in 1997’s “Good Will Hunting.”

    “I want to thank my father, up there, the man who when I said I wanted to be an actor, he said, ‘Wonderful. Just have a back-up profession like welding,’” Williams joked during his acceptance speech.

    He didn’t need the welding.

    Williams’s distinct style established his presence on the stand-up comedy circuit, first in San Francisco and later in Los Angeles during the 1970s and 1980s, honing his craft at Hollywood institutions like the Improv, the Roxy and the Laugh Factory, which  dedicated its marquee to its alum yesterday: “Make God Laugh,” it read. Fellow up-and-comers of the era recognized Williams’s unique command of the stage. “Holy crap, there goes my chance in show business,” Letterman recalled last night on his late-night talk show of his first reaction to seeing Williams perform.

    He landed his first regular network series role in “Mork and Mindy” (1978-1982). In the sitcom, Williams starred as the titular Mork, an alien sent to Earth from the planet Ork to observe human behavior, oftentimes at the exasperation of his human friend, Mindy. Williams improvised most of his lines and showcased his skills later in his break-out film role as a Vietnam War-era radio DJ in comedy “Good Morning Vietnam” (1987), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA Award. He veered sharply away from comedy—one of many detours throughout his career—as an unorthodox English teacher at an all-boys prep school in 1989’s “Dead Poets Society,” earning a second Oscar nod and cementing lines from a Walt Whitman poem into movie quote history: “O Captain! My captain!”

    He regularly returned to his stand-up comedy roots after transitioning into television and film, touring, performing at clubs and recording multiple comedy albums which would earn him four Grammy Awards. Starting in 1986, with fellow comics Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, Williams combined comedy and philanthropy through Comic Relief USA televised specials that benefited the homeless. He continued to set tour records as recently as the early 2000s, sometimes selling out tickets in 30 minutes.

    His routines touched on issues including gender, sex, life and death, and his own drug and alcohol addictions often in rapid succession and with the employment of various accents. Moving in all directions on-stage, Williams’s comedy was known for its physicality as much as its sometimes off-color and controversial jokes. In a review of one of his early routines, the New York Times noted that his “improvisational method seemed tinged with madness.”

    Sometimes, the criticism came from world leaders. After referring to Australians as “English rednecks” in 2010, Williams drew the ire of then-Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd. Rudd suggested that Williams “go and spend a bit of time in Alabama before he frames comments about anyone being particularly redneck.” Williams responded on an Australian radio show: “Please let me come back to Australia without a cavity search, and if not, I’d love to go to a strip club with you in New York.”

    Robin McLaurin Williams was born in Chicago on July 21, 1951, and he grew up there and in Detroit before his family settled in the Bay Area’s Marin County. He credited his quirky comedic style to a lonely childhood and was voted “Most Likely Not to Succeed” and “Funniest” by his Redwood High School classmates upon graduation in 1969.

    A short stint studying political science at Claremont Men’s College followed before he dropped out to pursue acting, eventually winning a full scholarship to the Julliard School in 1973. He was one of two students admitted into an advanced program. His fellow admittee, the late actor Christopher Reeve, noted Williams’s energetic presence: “He was like an untied balloon that had been inflated and immediately released… To say that he was “on” would be a major understatement.” At the suggestion of an instructor, Williams left the program before graduating but later established a scholarship at the school, a recipient of which includes Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain.

    Reeve and Williams remained close friends after Williams dropped out. In 1995, when Reeve suffered a horse-riding accident that left him a quadriplegic, it was his Julliard classmate who would pay him surprise hospital visits posing as a Russian proctologist ready to perform a rectal exam, an accent for which was one of many Williams would slip into and out of with aplomb throughout his career.

    His command of accents, mimicry and celebrity impersonations was showcased in numerous late-night appearances and in animated films including Disney’s “Aladdin” (1992) where he played a singing genie and in the “Happy Feet” franchise in which he voiced multiple penguins. Among his more Earth-bound roles, Williams notably balanced the screwball with sensitivity as a divorced father who morphs into a cross-dressing British housekeeper in an effort to see his children in “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993). “Comedy,” he once said, “is acting out optimism.”

    Williams battled drug and alcohol addictions and bouts of depression throughout his career, topics he did not shy away from in his routines. He attributed an early career cocaine addiction to the stresses of stand-up life and claimed to give up the substance after the death of his friend, John Belushi, and the birth of his first child, Zachary, in 1983. He would later turn to cycling as an outlet. He completed multiple stints in rehab, most recently last month.

    In his performances, he approached his struggles with candor. In his 2009 special, “Weapons of Self-Destruction,” Williams observed, “Some people say, ‘Well, Robin I’m a functioning alcoholic,’ which you can be one. It’s like being a paraplegic lap dancer. You can do it, just not as well as the others really.” He made a reference to suicide in the same program: “There’s a voice that tells alcoholics we can drink. It’s the same voice you hear if you can go up to the top of a very large building, you look over the side, and it’s a little voice that goes, ‘Jump. You can fly.’ Even though your asshole is going, ‘No, no you can’t.’”

    He married three times; rumors of extramarital affairs swirled around each union. His second marriage to Marsha Garces – his son Zachary’s nanny – resulted in two more children, Zelda and Cody, and culminated in a highly-publicized divorce after 18 years. He wed his third wife, graphic designer Susan Schneider, in 2011.

    She mourned his loss in a statement released yesterday saying, “As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.” Williams’s Hollywood colleagues also posted messages via social media network Twitter, including longtime friend, Billy Crystal: “No words.” Comedian Joel McHale, who co-stars with Williams in the yet-to-be-released film “Merry Friggin’ Christmas” added, “You were one of the best that ever was. You were one of my heroes.”

    In 1991’s “Hook,” Williams played an adult Peter Pan – “the boy who never grows up” – who returns to Never Neverland to face down his pirate nemesis. While the film was largely panned by critics, it was perhaps a most-appropriate canvas for Williams, the forever man-boy with his rubbery face, the boy who never grew up because multiple generations – Millennials and Boomers alike – got to grow up with him. His Never Neverland has always been the screen and stage. It will continue to be: He will be featured in four films planned for release later this year and in 2015.

    “You’re only given one little spark of madness,” he said. “You musn’t lose it.” It is a spark that made him a clown for all ages.

    He is survived by his three children Zak, Zelda and Cody and his wife Susan.

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    Yes, go see “Gone Girl.” A spoiler-free review.

    gone-girl-affleck-pike-fincher-photo

    Perhaps one of the worst things about fairy tales and their movie incarnations, rom-coms, is their insidiousness: Fairy tales and rom-coms deal in the currency of happy endings, not after-endings. They prematurely obfuscate the ennui, the infidelity and the sort of general complications and disappointments that come after the handsome on-screen couple reunites – in the rain, no less – and decides to give love a shot. They leave out what happens next because it isn’t always very sexy or happy, because what happens next are the micro-schisms that shift the plate tectonics of long-term unions, leading to the deep crevasses that ultimately break them apart permanently. Thankfully, Gone Girl, based on Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel with a screenplay penned by the author, is no rom-com and deals in whatever comes after the “ever after.”

    Ben Affleck stars as Nick, an out-of-work journalist who moves back to his Missouri hometown to begin life anew with his wife Amy, a cooly sophisticated Manhattanite and fellow writer played by the stunning Rosamund Pike. On the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing, and Nick becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance. And that’s all I’m going to say about the main plot.

    I’ve always appreciated director David Fincher’s ability to build stories, not just tell them. He’s famously detailed, doing up to 50 takes, if not more, of a single scene. Exhausted actors or not, the guy knows what he’s doing; after all, he made a biopic of a website interesting. And that’s what he does in Gone Girl - build, layer upon layer, emotional brick by brick the pieces of the house that love built and comes crashing down.

    Flashbacks, Amy’s diary entries and Nick’s real-time drama collectively piece together a story of a boy and a girl, yes, but one that’s as much a reflection of the times – the Great Recession – as it is of that timeless problem of two people totally stressed out and growing apart. Nick and Amy are pushed out of their jobs because of downsizing and structural changes in the print journalism world. We see an Architectural Digest cover-worthy couple go from happier times to unhappier times, from a chic, hardwood-floored condo in NYC to a, well, hardwood-floored manse in the Midwestern suburbs but which for citygirl Amy is like going to a generously square-footed jail.

    Affleck is both a charming oaf and an unlikeable lightweight-lout whose cleft chin is like an exclamation point in the sentence of his smug mug, just begging to be hated by a witch-hunting media. He’s handsomely hungover-bloated and appropriately terrified when the situation calls for it. You don’t have to like him; you’re not supposed to, and that in itself is kind of refreshing, a leading man you’re allowed to not like.

    Coon is the grounding force as Affleck’s salty-tongued twin sister, delivering snappy one-liners and the unconditional love that we all find in that one family member. And then there’s Pike who tackles Amy with throaty calculation and is surely the British actress’s breakout role. One of my favorite parts from the book is Amy’s famous “Cool Girl” rant (if you haven’t read it, here it is out of context as to not spoil anything) which Pike does a truncated version of with just the right amount of resentment.

    And speaking of the book, if you’re trying to decide whether to read it before seeing the movie or not, do yourself a favor: don’t.

    There is a common understanding that bad books make good movies and good books made bad movies; Gone Girl might be the exception to this unofficial rule. Both are twisty and satisfying. I devoured Flynn’s book with a voracity that I usually reserve for a Vegas buffet, but part of me regrets it after observing the audience members around me and their reactions to the story’s dramatic pivot, which it does well. Very well. Having read it already, though, I had subjected myself to a bevy of spoilers I would have elected not to have.

    Gone Girl is a moody meditation on relationships, love, the media, the economy and the fragility of that thin line between love and hate. It’s smart and sexy, just like its titular “girl,” and there’s not a lot to hate about that… is there?

    [watch] Ben McKenzie chats “Gotham” with me, takes an economics quiz.

    He’s currently starring as a young Commissioner Gordon (actually Detective Gordon) on Fox’s Gotham – and he’s pretty smart, too. Ben McKenzie chats with me about slamming into walls on-set, losing Gordon’s ‘stache, and how he went from getting a degree in foreign relations and economics to playing one of the most iconic roles in comic book history.

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