4 films that define you…go.

This made the rounds on Twitter earlier today, and it seemed like a fun thing to do. The challenge was to name four films that define you, in celebration of “the personal nature of cinema.” A worthy endeavor. It kind of evolved into people just posting four images or screencaps from their chosen movies, which is what I ended up doing too:

Pretty sure I’ve blabbed about each of these at some point on this blog, but here’s a summary.

Lost in Translation (2003)

The mood and music of Lost in Translation is basically my entire aesthetic. I love how Sofia Coppola captured the feeling of being anonymous in a big city, and the uncertainty of relationships caught in limbo, and the bittersweetness of not quite knowing what to do with your life. Also, Bill Murray is a national treasure.

Annie Hall (1977)

Liking Woody Allen movies is problematic these days, but that won’t stop me from considering Annie Hall one of the best films ever made. This movie assured me that being neurotic and awkward was ok, as long as I could find someone else equally neurotic and awkward to talk about it with (Annie Hall was one of the first things Alex and I bonded over when we met). Plus, it’s so packed with memorable scenes that I regularly forget that Paul Simon is in it, which is quite a feat.

Easy Rider (1969)

Easy Rider is the 1960s—my spirit decade—in movie form. It’s basically an extended road trip montage backed by an amazing soundtrack. And because the 60s weren’t all peace and love, it also gets pretty dark, a true period piece if ever there was one. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper are great, but Jack Nicholson most definitely steals the show. I quote this film probably once a week at minimum.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

I was having a hard time choosing between this and a Chaplin/Keaton film, but went with Sunset Boulevard because it celebrates the silent era while also embodying the Hollywood of the 1950s, in all its noir splendor. And because glorifying the past is one of my favorite things to do. Me and Norma Desmond have a lot in common, as it turns out.

Putting this together made me realize that setting plays a huge role in all of my favorite movies. Tokyo, New York City, the American Southwest, Los Angeles…I have a personal connection with all of these places, and undoubtedly they are part of the reason I love each of these films so much.

For funsies, here are my runners-up:

A Hard Day’s Night (1964) – This movie changed my life (or more accurately, the people in it changed my life). It was a tough one to leave out of the top 4.
Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995) – Sigh. Mr. Holland’s Opus will always hold a special place in my heart for starting me on my journey to band geekdom.
Amadeus (1984) – I loooove the set design, and I looooove Mozart.
Sherlock Jr. (1924) – Ahhh, so many good visual tricks in this one. This one doesn’t really define me in any way; I wanted to include a silent film as a reminder that movies were on a completely different (and in many ways, more creative) level in the 1910s and 1920s.

Anyone else? Share your 4 films with meeeeee.

GP: The Grievous Angel

For years I’ve been wanting to go to Joshua Tree National Park: 1) because it’s an amazing place, and 2) to pay tribute to country rock legend Gram Parsons.


I can’t remember when I first learned about Gram, but I’m pretty sure it was through one of the many Keith Richards interviews/memoirs I’ve read over the years, seeing as Gram and Keef were BFFs. As a result, Gram was a big influence on the Rolling Stones’ country-flavored stuff in the early 70s (some of the best music of all time, IMO).

A little history: Gram Parsons started off playing folk and rock guitar, but his real bag was country. After dropping out of Harvard, he went to LA and joined the Byrds in 1968, sticking around just long enough to tour a bit and make Sweetheart of the Rodeo (I’m not huge on the Byrds, but that album is one of my favorites). Then he and Chris Hillman went on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers:

(Gram is the one in the hat and Nudie suit, hamming it up for the camera.)

After that, he spent some time hanging out with the Stones, living with Keith during the recording of Exile on Main Street, another one of my favorite albums of all time. It was around this time Gram heard Emmylou Harris perform in a club in DC, and invited her to sing on his first solo album, GP. He and Emmylou toured for a bit, but never really got much of a following. I’m devastated there are no good videos of them performing live, because their voices together were magical.


As any country rock outlaw would, Gram loved Joshua Tree (you can see the Burrito Bros. hanging out in the park in the video above). He went there alone, he went there with Keef, he went there whenever he could. As the story goes, in July 1973, when bandmate Clarence White was killed in an accident, Gram told his friend/manager Phil Kaufman that he wanted to be cremated and his ashes scattered in Joshua Tree in the event of his death.

Sadly, Kaufman had to make good on that deal just a few months later. Gram OD’d at the Joshua Tree Inn on September 18, 1973. His body was taken to LAX to be flown back to New Orleans at his stepfather’s request, but in order to fulfill Gram’s wishes, Phil Kaufman and another buddy Michael Martin drunkenly stole the casket in a hearse and drove it out to Joshua Tree. They stopped at a rock formation off the main road, doused the casket in gasoline, threw in a match, then drove away.

How Kaufman and Martin were found by the police is a story in itself, but they were eventually arrested, released, and fined just a few hundred dollars for stealing the casket (not the body, because there weren’t any laws about that). The not-quite-cremated body of Gram Parsons was found by some campers and was eventually transported back to Louisiana, but fans have been going to Joshua Tree for decades to pay tribute at the place he loved most.

This past weekend, I finally made it to Joshua Tree. While driving to the park, we listened to GP as I told Alex the story of Gram’s death and botched cremation. I made us stop for a photo op outside the Joshua Tree Inn (the actual motel is fenced off, but guests can still stay in Room 8 where Gram died). I had vague understanding about a makeshift memorial in the park, but didn’t know where it was. A quick Google search before entering the park placed it at Cap Rock, the site where Kaufman and Martin unsuccessfully tried to cremate Gram’s body that night.

While I’m sure there are detailed instructions somewhere on how to find the memorial, all we had was the general location (Cap Rock wasn’t even on the park map we were given), so we hiked around a few different rock formations until Alex finally spotted it: an unassuming alcove in the shade of a big boulder, right next to the main road. On the underside of the boulder were some song lyrics written in charcoal, and on a nearby rock, someone had drawn a cross next to the initials GP. A handful of guitar picks and other trinkets were arranged on a little ledge above. It would be pretty easy to miss if we weren’t looking for it.

No one else was around, so we quietly snapped some pictures and went on our way. Park rangers periodically “clean up” the site, so I have no idea if this was a few days or months’ worth of tribute.

Somewhere in my classic rock adventures I’ve become particularly fond of 60s/70s country rock, no doubt thanks to Gram, Keef, and Nez (who I recently saw in concert! another post on that later, maybe). Songs about the desert and the highway—even if they’re about loneliness and heartbreak—always bring back happy memories of childhood road trips through the Southwest. So basically what I’m saying is, Gram’s music holds a special place in my heart, and even though his flame burned out too soon, it’s nice to know his spirit is very much alive in Joshua Tree.

Soundtracks of the Southwest

Oh, hey. If it seems like there’s been a relatively long gap since my last post, it’s because I’ve been out kicking it with the cowboy angels on Route 66 (in other words, on a road trip).

Alex and I are getting pretty good at this big-spontaneous-trip thing. The decision to hit the road was 75% spurred by the timing of my dad visiting his hometown in Kansas, and 25% inspired by watching True Stories one night and wanting a change of scenery. There was hardly enough time to make a proper itinerary, which turned out for the best. We camped when the weather was good, followed signs to roadside diners, and used maps when there was no cell phone reception. I loved every minute of it. And we got our much-needed change of scenery: from podunk little towns like Beaver, Oklahoma (Home of the World Champion Cow Chip Throw) and Delta, Utah (a tiny oasis along the Loneliest Road in America) to the staggering cliff faces of Bandelier National Monument and creepy rock formations of Goblin Valley, Utah. I grew up taking these road trips but there’s still so much to see!

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So it was me and Alex and a Prius, with 3,500 miles and 60+ hours of driving ahead of us. As you might imagine, all that time in a car meant a lot of 20 Questions, podcast episodes, and music. I had a Southwest Road Trip mix ready to go, packed with country rock and songs from Easy Rider. But of course, musical preferences change by the minute, and instead we listened to whatever we fancied (which, admittedly, was a lot of MBMBaM). Podcasts aside, here’s a taste of what our road trip sounded like:

Raised on Robbery – Joni Mitchell // Of all Joni songs, of course I pick the one that sounds most rock ‘n roll. We spent the first drive from SF to Anaheim listening to Court and Spark (good call, Lauren & Nick!).
Nothing But Flowers – Talking Heads // My favorite post-apocalyptic song. Kept me up while driving at night.
Midnight Cruiser – Steely Dan // With Alex’s help, I’m becoming a bonafide Dan fan. Our go-to album is Aja, but we’ve also been listening to Katy Lied and Can’t Buy a Thrill.
Mother and Child Reunion – Paul Simon // I got the Paul Simon itch somewhere around Texas or Oklahoma…no road trip is complete without some PS!
The World is Waiting for the Sunrise – Les Paul & Mary Ford // Maybe it’s because all the old Route 66 towns seem stuck in time, but Les & Mary songs seemed to fit perfectly with the drive.
Harlem Airshaft – Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra // Much like I know the entire Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack by heart, Alex can call out every kick drum hit and name every soloist on this album (let’s just say he had slightly more advanced musical tastes in high school than me).
Pet Sounds – Beach Boys // Pet Sounds got us through the Rockies, a perfect accompaniment to snow-capped mountains and the Colorado River.
Blue Boy – Mac DeMarco // Our attempt to stay calm through Sacramento traffic was actually successful, thanks to good ol’ Mac.
Return of the Grievous Angel – Gram Parsons // Open stretches of Arizona desert = perfect Gram Parsons scenery. Ending the playlist with this one because it’s probably my favorite road trip song of all time.

Supplementary reading material/stuff that inspired me on this trip:
David Byrne only made one movie, but it’s one nobody else could have made. Nathan Rabin, The Dissolve.
‘Big Roads’: From Tire-Killing Paths To Superhighways. NPR. (book by Earl Swift)
Cadillac Ranch’s crazy colors through the years. Austin Coop, Roadtrippers.

Btw, Roadtrippers was a really fun way to organize our trip. I don’t have any affiliation with them at all; just consider this a recommendation if you ever want to find cool things along your travel route. :)

Record stores of Amsterdam (a new travel hobby)

What better way to combat jet lag than writing a blog post at 4am? I’m sure I’ll be coming back to edit this one once I “wake up”…

Anyway, I’m back from my trip and it would appear that I’ve fallen in love with Amsterdam.

The city is beautiful (even in cold weather), and the people are a wonderful, eclectic bunch. In addition to cruising canals, observing cat art, and partying with D’Angelo at the Paradiso, we spent a good amount of our trip doing what we do best: perusing rows of used records at hole-in-the-wall shops. I had no idea until we’d spent a few days there, but Amsterdam has A LOT of record stores. We went to eight(!) different places within walking distance from where we were staying, and there were still at least five more that we didn’t get to. With the limited space I had in my suitcase, I settled on four albums:

Astral Weeks – Van Morrison (Dutch pressing). After making this purchase, we went down the street to this bar (“brown cafe”). The bartender saw the bag and asked “Is that a long-playing record?” and then when we showed him, gleefully remarked, “Ooh, it’s a retro record!” I love the Dutch.
Rain Dogs – Tom Waits (German pressing). I couldn’t pass it up. My dad was awesome enough to give me a (his only?) copy of this album, after I’d searched for an original version for a year. Turns out I just needed to go to Amsterdam to find it! Dad, want a “made in West Germany” version of Rain Dogs?
Fear of Music – Talking Heads (Dutch pressing). My musical theme of this trip was definitely Talking Heads, so I was pretty excited to find a new album to add to the collection, made in Holland no less!
77 – Talking Heads (Japan pressing). I was just trying to get any old version of this record, and the one I happened to find was from Japan! Pretty awesome:

IMG_2182 copy

It was interesting to note the slight differences between US and foreign (in this case, Dutch) record stores. Like, Mike Nesmith has his own divider in several of these stores, even the tiny ones (is he a bigger deal in the Netherlands?) and Kraftwerk is everywhere.

So if you’re ever in the area and, you know, want to look for second hand vinyl, I can highly recommend the following:

– RecordFriend Elpees – Cool selection, good prices, plus I love the name. :) There were cute signs in the entrance saying things like “I’m a record friend.” RECORDFRIEND! This is where I got the two Talking Heads albums.
– Record Palace – Great place by Paradiso and Museumplein. I wish I knew more about “Nederbeat,” because there was a lot of it here. This is where we bought Astral Weeks.
– The others: Concerto (tons of new and used vinyl, plus CDs, books, DVDs), Distortion Records (tiny, cluttered, and awesome), City Records (really friendly owner, and also where I got Rain Dogs), Waxwell Records, Velvet Music, and Second Life Music (the three of which were about a 5-minute walk from each other).

Conclusion: besides the fact that Amsterdam has beautiful canals and lots of friendly cats, I would go back just for the record stores.

IMG_2087LP’s, ???, & more…

Land of temples and towers

Recently, I went to Japan.


I don’t usually use this as a personal blog-type thing, but I feel the need to write about how much I absolutely loved this trip.

Tokyo is an amazing city, the kind of place where you can get lost and not even mind, because everywhere you go there is something incredible to see.

It’s also the only place I’ve ever wanted to explore more at night than during the day, which says a lot because I am not a nightlife person at all. But I had so much fun walking through the neon-illuminated streets of Shinjuku and drinking sake out of funky glasses and admiring the red glow of Tokyo Tower from 52 floors up. These are the things I’m going to look forward to when I go back someday.

We took small trips to Kamakura (a beach town kind of like the Santa Cruz of Tokyo) and Kyoto, which is full of historic temples and monuments and also full of schoolchildren on field trips. One of my favorite parts was when we were asked (twice) by groups of kids if we could take a picture with them. They were genuinely excited to meet Americans, for some reason! Some of the kids were practicing English for school, and had a list of questions that they had written out to ask us. One of the questions was, “What do you like about Japan?” My immediate response was “It’s beautiful!” (an answer I certainly stand by), but I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and wanted to share a few more reasons…

Reasons Nikki loves Japan:

  1. I’m half Japanese so…I love it by default.
  2. It’s so clean. I love clean places. There is zero litter and people sweep their doorsteps and wipe down their windowsills every day.
  3. It’s safe. Being a tourist usually means guarding your belongings with your life and constantly avoiding peddlers who try to take advantage of you. Not here. I felt like I could trust everybody.
  4. There are Japanese traditions that have been around for centuries, which are still upheld in everyday life, even in a huge metropolis like Tokyo.
  5. Getting around is so easy. Wherever you want to go, there is always a subway, bus, or train that will take you right there. And when you find yourself accidentally in the wrong car of a train, or your ticket doesn’t have enough money on it, you will be helped rather than reprimanded. Little things like that make a difference when you’re unfamiliar with a place. Along those same lines…
  6. The people in Japan are the most polite, helpful, and respectful I have ever met.

And in order to (kind of) relate this back to my blog, here are a couple of pre-made playlists that were the soundtrack of my trip. You know, in case you want to hear a little time capsule of what I was listening to in May of 2014 (let’s be real, I’m the only one who’s ever going to listen to these):

If you can’t fall in love in San Francisco….

First of all, thank you Woody Allen, for making Blue Jasmine.

Thank you for highlighting the most dysfunctional of human relationships.

Thank you for making me laugh and cringe at the same time.

Thank you for putting some of my favorite people on the screen together.

But most of all,
Thank you for making a film set in San Francisco. No one uses city settings better than you. And the fact that I watched the movie in SF’s 103-year-old Clay Theater made it even sweeter.

Although for the record, I could’ve used more sweeping panoramas of the bay and inside references (Cate Blanchett’s snooty character uttering the address “305 South Van Ness” was enough to make everyone in the theater laugh).

I’m too lazy for any kind of formal review, so have my pluses and minuses and just go see it:

I liked:
+Louis CK. Not just liked, loved him in this. I wish he was in more scenes. I also wish…another thing that I won’t say because of spoilers.
+Long shots. Ok so I didn’t realize this until reading some articles after watching the movie, but I know it’s something that Woody is famous for. There are certain scenes which were shot continuously (versus cutting back and forth between characters), which really add to the flow and in this case, tension of the scene.
+Cate Blanchett is super convincing as a socialite spiraling into madness. There’s one scene where she confronts her cheating husband and starts having a panic attack so legitimate that I felt like I was having a panic attack of my own. Admirable, if not kinda scary.
+The fact that it’s a modern Streetcar Named Desire.
+Dat clarinet.

-I’m sure it was intentional to have so much arguing to heighten the feelings of stress/anxiety, but man, there was so. much. arguing. in this movie. Also, arguments are a hard thing to make seem genuine, and sometimes I have this problem of imagining everything the characters are saying as a script in front of me.  So maybe it’s just me, but I thought the arguments were kind of predictable.
-Everyone having east coast accents, even the so-called west coasters.
-The sentence that starts out with “When we were making love last night…” If anyone actually talks like that in real life, I hope I never meet them.
-The dentist.

A documentary worth watching

Note: This post is a slight deviation from my normal fangirly endeavors, so bear with me.

Tonight I watched a very interesting documentary called Happy.

It taught meamong many other thingsthat Denmark has the happiest people in the world per capita (reasons for this could be free education and health care for life, as well as co-housing, which creates communities through shared land and facilities). It also taught me that Okinawa, Japan is basically a paradise where old Asian grandmas live and I want to go to there:

Seriously, maybe I’m biased, but old Japanese ladies are just the best.

Okinawa is a surprising contrast to the unhappy culture of many other parts of Japan, where so many people die of work-related stress that there’s actually a word for it (“karoshi” – how terrifying).

By talking with people from all over the world, the filmmakers pointed out that the factors which measure happiness vary immensely from country to country. For example, a rickshaw puller in India explained how grateful he was to have a house that kept out the rain and neighbors he could talk to, whereas the average American with a steady income and 3 bedroom house might report being depressed or unsatisfied.

Perspective, dawg.

Anyway, Happy is an inspiring documentary. I imagine it’d be hard to make a film like this without crossing the boundary into “cheesy, sentimental” territory, but for the most part, Happy managed a good balance between the educational and the emotional (I still cried at parts, but whatevs). If you have Netflix Instant Watch, I would definitely recommend saving it to watch sometime. 

Streets of India

Since I wasn’t able to get any videos that truly capture the essence of India traffic while I was there, here’s a compilation of videos taken from YouTube that hopefully show how insane the driving is there (yet somehow it works).

Also note, no one wears seatbelts in India. They don’t even exist.

Crossing a street in Hyderabad (Alex and I had to do this – maybe this exact same street – several times, and it was terrifying. Feels pretty awesome after you accomplish it, though):

Haha, especially 1:15 and 1:52:

No lanes

Also, check out the Metro in Delhi (I had to squeeze in the middle of all this before realizing there was a separate car for women):

Midcentury Awesome

Thanks to an organization called Pacific Standard Time, admission at dozens of LA museums was free today! To take advantage, the boy and I decided to go to both the Museum of Natural History in Exposition Park and LACMA in the Miracle Mile District. Besides the fact that the Museum of Natural History was swarming with kids and we had to park 5 blocks away from LACMA, it was totally worth it. We both thought the dinosaur skeletons, crawly insects, and gigantic taxidermied animals were pretty sweet, but I have to admit that I was most excited by the California Design exhibition at LACMA (cue nerdiness). It was a whole exhibition about midcentury modern architecture(!!!) and interior design, exactly my cup o’ tea. :)

Below are some photos of the exhibit, from the LACMA blog:




SO. PERFECT. I especially loved how they re-created the entire Eames living room.

For more midcentury goodness, check out some photos of the Stahl House, probably the most famous Case Study House in LA. I’ve always loved this breathtaking picture: