June 2009

Guess it’s about time I actually filed a NYAFF report! Which thus far has been pretty amazing; I know I say that every year, but each edition simply manages to top itself. And I’m saying this now with the fest not over yet, along with a few clunkers under it’s belt. So happens the really good movies have been REALLY good, some of the finest movies I’ve seriously seen in years. Unfortunately, all this movie watching has left me precious little time to collect my thoughts, so instead of writing about 12 movies all at once (with plenty more to come) how about just the first couple for now…

Gehara: The Long-Haird Giant Monster/Monster X Strikes Back: Attack The G8 Summit

To kick things off, a kaiju double-header! First up we have the seventeen-minute long Gehara, which was originally produced for Japanese television earlier this year and directed by an up and comer who?s insanely young (I think he’s like in mid twenties or something crazy like that). Long story short… literally… is about a giant monster that first appears in the ocean and takes out boats and tourists by the seaside, becoming an instant point of fascination for the Japanese public, including a savvy news reporter who senses the story of the year, provided he can get the inside scoop. But once he comes to tear shit up on the mainland, that wonder turns into fear as everyone starts running for their lives, especially when all attempts at taking him down are completely futile. With the biggest problem being it’s long locks of hair; aside from providing protection, whenever anything combustible hits it, a noxious gas is released. So basically, the smell of burnt hair but about a million times worse.

If most of what I described seems standard fare, aside from the longhair part of course, well, it is. And that’s the point; it’s every single beat and trope from every single giant monster movie from Japan, boiled down to it’s purest essential. In other words, Godzilla/Gamaera/wahtever: the cliff notes version. Why bother with some long-winded scientistic explanation, just flat out state that the monster is the result of man’s ignorance towards and abuse of the environment without the details and simply get it over with? It honestly makes you wonder why every single big monster movie, especially the crappier ones, simply can’t be so to the point. Though certainly helping things out here is the stellar cast and stellar special f/x; there’s a tinge hinge of CGI here and there, but for the most part, it’s a guy in a suit stomping on models, the way God intended it to be.

Next we have the feature presentation, Monster X Strikes Back, directed by Minoru Kawasaki, whose past body of work includes Calamari Wrestler, Crab Goalkeeper, and Executive Koala, and anyone familiar with those will know precisely what to expect: wacky! The story goes something like this: a gigantic monster crash-lands in Japan and starting wrecking havoc, naturally. Coincidentally, the G8 summit is also taking place at the same time, but instead of putting the proceedings on hold and heading back home where it’s safe and sound as it’s been advised, all the leaders of the mightiest nations on earth decide to stick around and figure out a way to end this menace from outer space. Because, aside from saving Japan and potentially the world, which is important and all, whomever has the winning plan will become a God among men (or women) back home, politically speaking. And thus we have the bulk of the film, all the world leaders trying to figuring out their plans of attacks and occasionally throwing jabs at each other, most of which are on a racist and hilarious side. Everyone except for Japan, whose leader is painted as a flat-out pacifistic coward, and who also ends up bowing out early on due stomach issues. Also, the leader of France can’t be bothered, since he’s too busy trying to lay his translator.

I can’t comment on the non-Japanese actors that portray the leaders of the free world as a whole, but I will say that those that speak English, specifically the heads of America, Canadian, and the UK are not exactly the greatest actors in the world, just random dudes in Japan that happen to speak English and who were available for dirt cheap I’m guessing (though you’d think that they’d at least be able to find someone who could attempt to fake a British accent for the prime minister role). Yet they are not without their charm; the dude who plays the American president personifies much of everyone loves, and hates, about the 50 states, and despite being an idiot, was charming nonetheless (due in part to how he wasn’t a complete moron) and I actually found myself rooting for the guy! Though as one might expect, none of their plans work, and each progressively makes the situation worse, by either making Monster X (otherwise known as Guilala, a name coined by a kid who literally appears from out of nowhere, and that the adults adopt of course) stronger or just more aggressive. Midway through the film, the former Japanese prime minister, whom everyone loves more than his successor shows up, and everyone’s happy, till he suggests an option that shocks the hell out of everyone, at least considering Japan’s sordid past. But… and not to give anything away, but this isn’t Citizen Kane or anything, plus the following is actually given away in the official trailer for the NYAFF… turn out, it’s not the former Japanese head of state that everyone knows and respect but the crackpot leader of North Korea that we all know and love in disguise! Meanwhile, during all this, there’s a subplot involving two reporters trying to get the inside scoop, since the government has decided to strictly control all flow of information regarding the incident. Eventually it’s revealed that there’s this small village in the mountain that worships a great warrior in the sky who alone has the power to abolish Guilala, which leads into one of the more inventive cinematic cameos of all time. Anyhow, similar to Gehara, Monster X Strikes Back is yet another loving tribute to the big, bad monster movies from Japan’s golden age of cinema. The featured kaiju here is actually from The X From Outer Space, originally filmed in 1967 (even some of the footage from the first movie is recycled), and might be the most ridiculous looking giant rubber monster in cinematic history. Which is why it’s so awesome; you basically kinda have to be a hardcore fan of such stuff to really enjoy yourself, but it’s still a nice, little goofy ride for everyone else.

… Afterward, a guy from Media Blasters said a few words, who will be releasing Monster X Strikes Back under their Tokyo Shock imprint in the coming month. He also came to discuss other projects, specifically Death Kappa, another rubber suited kaiju flick that’s currently being filmed; it’s being directed by Tomoo Haraguchi, who is considered the Rick Baker of Japan, and we all got to watch a brief behind the scenes clip, including a few words from the director. The monster is based upon the cute little turtle dude that has a shell on the top of his head, for those of you familiar with Japanese mythology and ghosts. Well, this time he’s huge and evil and is going to crush all of Japan in model form. Looked promising! The representative also answered a few questions, which led to a few interesting revelations, like how sequels to The Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police are in the works! As well as how a lot of what’s been incorporated in those movies thus far have been designed to appeal to Western tastes (which has obviously worked since they’ve proven to be such big hits), such as ninjas and schoolgirl outfits (the Japanese also have a thing for school girls, but they could honestly give a rat’s ass about ninjas as a whole). It was also mentioned that they’re re-releasing Ichii the Killer on Blu-ray, along with various Shaw Brothers classics, in glorious high-definition, plus there’s even a store in New Jersey where assorted props from Tokyo Gore Police are on-hand, including the pussy chair! Gotta make a trip out one of these days…

Ip Man

Pop quiz: who?s the most influential and famous face of martial arts of all time? Easily, Bruce Lee. Okay, whose right behind him? Ip Man (pronounced Yip Man btw) of course, the grand master of Wing Chung martial arts, and Bruce Lee’s mentor. And here we have a bio-pic that traces his early years in China, before venturing forth to Hong Kong to teach his ways to students and transforming the world of kung fu forever. Some important details right up front: Yi Man stars Donnie Yen, noted martial arts actor, producer, director, and fight choreographer, though we have the equally talented and esteemed Sammo Hung taking care of that last part for this particular movie. On paper at least, it would seem that Yi Man is practically the perfect martial arts spectacular, right? Thankfully the final product manages to not only meet one’s high expectations, but exceed them magnificently; things kick off in the city of Foshan, located in Mainland China, circa the 1930s. The local economy is thriving thanks to the kung fu craze that has swept the nation, with numerous martial arts “clubs” offering to teach people the ultimate way of the fist, though everyone knows that there’s only truly grand master in town and it’s Ip Man. But instead of running a school, he simply chooses to lounge around his lush estate all day long, drinking tea and eating snacks, as well as hanging out with his wife and young son (it’s never really explained how he came to be so rich, but he clearly has money to burn when his brother shows up asking for seed money towards a cotton mill, which he receives without hesitation). Though every once in a while someone will stop by to test their skills against his, which Ip Man is always more than happy to oblige; early on some out of town ruffian arrives and beats the crap out of every teacher from every school in the city, to prove to everyone that he’s the top dog, so when said tough guy eventually opens his own school, the list of students should be nice and long. Eventually, the locals implore Ip Man to help redeem the good name of Foshen, even the head of the police; it’s established near the beginning that this guy absolutely loathes martial artists since he feels it’s an old and barbaric means of handling conflict, whereas he’s a thoroughly modern, 20th Century fellow.

But the good times don’t last forever, as WW2 spills into the happy little town and the Japanese wreck havoc; Ip Man and his family lose it all and effectively become homeless, much like everyone else in town. Eventually he has to get a job, which lands him a gig shoveling coal (the dude running the operation has a soft spot for martial artists, btw), and despite the harsh fall from grace, Ip Man remains resilient and optimistic since he at least still has his family. Though that policeman from before makes a return appearance with a bunch of Japanese officers as their translator and explains that anyone who wishes to demonstrate their fighting acumen to their overlords will earn one bag of rice, which is a good amount of food. Yet Ip Man couldn’t be bothered, until a friend who accepted the offer doesn’t return the next day. We discover that there’s this fighting tournament organized by a Japanese top dog to demonstrate how Japanese martial arts is supposedly superior to Chinese martial arts. Unfortunately the Chinese martial artists are no match for their Japanese opponents, except for Ip Man of course, who at one point, out of anger over the untimely death of said pal, decides to take on ten Japanese at once. I’m sure you’ve all seen a movie where one guy takes on an army all by himself and it’s generally on the silly side, whereas here it’s never been so extremely plausible and realistic. Perhaps it should come to little surprise that the Japanese general is supremely impressed and wants Ip Man to share his secrets, as to make Japan the ultimate martial arts army, but he ain’t having any of that, so Ip Man goes into hiding. Meanwhile, we also discover that he’s brother’s cotton plant is still operational, but they’re being terrorized by a gang, led by the hooligan from before, and it’s up to Ip Man to teach everyone how to defend themselves, despite the fact that he’s never been a actual teacher. As his brother points out, it was one thing to deny people such knowledge during peaceful times, but with the entire nation of China’s back against the walls… Many valuable lessons like that one are learned throughout the film, and Ip Man is in many ways a bit on the formulaic side; the movie doesn’t break any new narrative ground, nor are there any fancy/wacky new kung fu moves or maneuvers introduced to the world either, but that’s totally fine. The whole thing is simply a textbook example of how to do a martial arts movie properly. And much of it’s awesomeness is primarily due to Donnie Yen; I’ve always liked the guy, but he’s always been a bit on the stiff side in everything I’ve seen (though I have yet to catch the one where he plays some wacky breakdancing cop I’m afraid), though in Ip Man he exhibits the absolute perfect mix of bad ass-ness and heart to make the legend seem very much real (even if much of the life story told here is apparently somewhat exaggerated) as well extremely likable. Can’t wait for the sequel, which is in production this very moment! Not only will it feature his star pupil, Bruce Lee, but Sammo Hung will have an onscreen role as a bad guy of some sort. Which will be shown at next year’s festival, hopefully.

… Unfortunately, the screening I went was not without incident; the film broke at least twice, maybe three times. And hey, that happens, but for some stupid reason, the people in the audience were all whiny bitches about it, especially this one asshole who acted like someone had peed in his hair. One of the Subway Cinema guys did his best to keep everyone nice and calm by talking about the movie plus answering questions (actually, it was mostly just me asking stuff to help kill time), while things were being taken care off. The deal is, these movies all get passed around from one film fest to the next, and whomever that had it before did not spool the film reel properly. So it totally wasn’t the Subway Cinema or IFC Center’s fault at all. Eventually the manager came out offering a full refund to anyone that wanted it AND two free courtesy passes, which was not just awesome but super generous, yet some people then became disgruntled over how the movie was getting close to being fixed and how they weren’t going to get their free passes. Jesus Christ, people sometimes. Anyhow, Ip Man should be coming out soon on DVD, via Dragon Dynasty I believe…

Crush And Blush

Not to go off topic, but speaking as a half Korean, I’ve never gone wild for Korean women, despite the fact that they are, imho, the most attractive of all the Asian girls out there (perhaps I’m biased, though I do believe they win in the “cute” category… yes, even beating out Japanese girls whom everyone generally believes are the cutest). Why? Because they’re nuts, and movies from Korea seem to constantly reinforce this negative, yet unfortunately truthful stereotype (which btw was first introduced into my head as a small child by my mother, who was also pretty insane herself). Crush And Blush, which was helmed by a first time woman director, is yet another fine cinematic example of how a girl’s worst enemy is other girls; the tale centers on Me-Sook, this extremely awkward girl who becomes so infatuated with a teacher from high school that she eventually becomes one herself, just to be around him as much as possible. Never mind that he’s already married. Me-Sook commands just as little respect as a teacher as her days as a student, mostly because she’s one piss poor excuse of an English instructor. Though it’s her face that turns bright red whenever she becomes angry, frustrated, or paranoid (which happens at the drop of a hat) that’s been the primary basis of all her woes. Anyway, the story kicks into high gear almost immediately when Me-Sook discovers that the man she’s wanted to swoon for such a long time is actually having an affair with another teacher, whose both a ditz and a player (she’s stringing along several other fellow employees). Oddly enough, Me-Sook finds an ally in a student, that being the daughter of the man she’s in love with. Upset over her family being torn apart, she gladly accepts Me-Sook’s offer to take this home wrecking bitch down, though she’s also obviously unaware of Me-Sook’s own feelings for her father. And they’re not exactly best buds since she also regards Me-Sook as a loser, which is a bit ironic considering that she herself is way down on the social rung among other students as well.

From there, the film runs at about hundred plus an hour and never slows down nor bats at eye; my favorite part would have to when both Me-Sook and accomplice decide to pose as the man of one’s dreams and dad online respectively, to initiate cyber sex with the ditz. Which already is pretty insane and creepy. Despite the fact that there’s an attraction, they have yet to seal the deal, so they figure that coming on hard and heavy would scare the harlot who still has yet to spread her legs and likes to act all virginal. Makes total sense, no? Unfortunately, the plan backfires and cybering ends up becoming a necessity to keep the charade going, but at least comedy also ensues! A million other things happen, like Me-Sook taking the wife’s belly dancing class to spy on her, or Me-Sook and daughter working on a routine for the school festival. Not that I’ve seen every stalker movie out there, but the best part about Crush And Blush is how it both defies convention, with either stuff happening well before you expect it or stuff that you just never saw coming, as well as how consistent the characters are portrayed. Me-Sook and the people around here are fairly reprehensible, and the film never shies away from this fact; when it comes to love and lust, people just do f’d up things, period. It’s by far one of the most uncomfortable yet extremely satisfying comedies to come in a long while, plus it’s a chick flick that I was actually able to tolerate, which I normally cannot. It plays again this Thursday, late in the afternoon, so catch it if you can.

… On a side note, Katie went to this particular screening with me, and considering how disappointing the ones that she attended last year ended up being, at least for her, I was more than a little revealed by how good Crush And Blush turned out. Then again, it still totally bites how her (and most everyone else) were not able to catch The Shadow Spirit back then. Also, it was at this movie that I won one of the pre-screening prizes! An autograph of actress Kong Hyo-Jin, who played Me-Sook, and that was pretty neat.

House

Before the movie began, two Japanese directors took the stage, though neither of them were associated with it whatsoever: Yoshihiro Nishimura, director of Tokyo Gore Police, and Noboru Iguchi, director of The Machine Girl. Both had just arrived from the very long flight from Japan and were dead tired, or so they claimed. Because one could hardly tell; each simply had to see their favorite film from their childhoods on the big screen, digitally restored, and acted like giddy little school children at a candy store by the very prospect, swapping their favorite anecdotes related to the subject at hand. Here’s the thing: I pride myself for knowing a lot about Asian cinema, but I had NEVER heard of House before the festival, and same goes for the rest of America, where it’s an absolute mystery (can’t recall any of my film fanatic buds ever making mention of it either). But in Japan, it’s this long kept secret, a favorite among virtually every single contemporary filmmaker over there, like these two guys, who have each seen the movie like a million times and which remains endless source of inspiration and fascinating to this very day, or so it was eluded.

Afterward was a series of classic Japanese commercials that the director of House was responsible for, highlighted by a few of those Mandom ads starring Charles Bronson that some might already be familiar with via YouTube. The story behind the movie goes something like this: the Japanese film industry was facing some tough times in the 70s, especially for studio Toho, so they offered new guy Nobuhiko Obayashi, based purely on the strength of his aforementioned television work alone (as well as his more experimental stuff that he did in 8 mm beforehand), the chance to make a feature directorial debut. And to whom did he turn towards for a script? His seven-year-old daughter at the time, naturally. The film itself stars a bright and pretty Japanese schoolgirl who doesn’t feel like spending vacation with dad and his new girlfriend, soon to be her new mom. Instead, she writes a letter to her aunt, the sister of her deceased mother, whom she hasn’t seen in ages. The aunt loves the idea and said girl decides to bring all of her friends along. Who one by one gets tortured and maimed as events progress. But it’s more than that, SO much more. I don’t even know where to begin; despite the fact that, sadly, most people will unfortunately never get the chance to experience this groundbreaking work (at least at this point, from what I’ve been told), I’m not going to bother to detail the plot, since nothing I state could ever do it justice. All I can say is House is seriously one of the amazing films I have ever witnessed, period. Same goes for Hilary; literally every two minutes, we had to look at each and repeat the same thing, over and over again: “Oh. My. God. This is the greatest thing. Ever. Greatest thing ever.”

Generally speaking, I always quietly roll my eyes whenever such and such film is touted as something you’ve ever seen before, but never once before has such a phrase been so scarily accurate. The real funny thing is how this one movie was so way ahead of the curve, doing genuinely inventive and groundbreaking things when it comes to narrative, camerawork, art direction, sound design, color, editing… basically EVERYTHING, many years, even decades before anyone else even thought of them, yet no one has seen this flick, let alone heard of it. Which is so wrong, and hopefully it’ll find it’s way on DVD or Blu-ray someday; the restoration was handled by the people at Janus Film/Criterion Collection, though when I asked, a home release was by no means a guarantee I was told (though now the question must be asked is truly unknown House really is, since I find it hard to believe that it wasn’t at least somewhat of an inspiration for countless filmmakers that we all know today, from Sam Raimi to Robert Rodriguez to even Quentin Tarantino). The screening that Hilary and I went to was sold out, so they added a second one, for this upcoming Thursday near midnight. Seriously, if you’re in the NYC area, screw whatever plans you had that evening, especially if you find yourself also not giving a damn what’s playing at the AMC 25… not because you’re some foreign film snob but because everything there just looks dreadfully boring… make it a mission to get your ass there. You do NOT want to miss this one.

3 comments

06/29/2009

Seven Random Things From The Past Five Days

by Matthew Hawkins

I realize that a report on the New York Asian Film Fest (which thus far has been nothing short of amazing) is well overdue, but first… a few odds and ends since last time.

1. Two Crappy Cell Phones, Passing Each Other In The Broad Daylight

Remember that Nokia N97 event I mentioned the tail end of last time? It blew. Hardly a shock; sh*t party for a sh*t phone. Long story short, I was supposed to meet my buddy Josh in front of the club at start time, to help get my ass inside since he was the dude who had taken care of the RSVP, but because I got there late (thanks to the MTA, of course) Josh was no where to be found, so tried calling him (dude actually has a N97 already) under the assumption that he was already inside, but my iPhone wouldn’t let me. The reason? AT&T of course, which chose yet another fine opportunity to epically fail. Turned out, no one with AT&T could send or receive any messages, including Josh, so I didn’t get his voicemails or texts either, who had tried giving me the head’s up that he too was running late. Okay, so the header above is a bit misleading; the iPhone doesn’t really suck, it’s actually a pretty damn good phone, but there’s one thing that will keep it from achieving true greatness, and that’s AT&T. I could seriously go for like 70,000 words on how badly they blow and how much I would rather deal with Verizon, who also suck hardcore but hey at least their customers get coverage everywhere, period. Let’s just say that the only reason why I’m not bothering with the iPhone 3G S is how I refuse to give AT&T the additional business. In other words, I’m not eligible for an early upgrade, but that’s okay since the 3G plain is totally fine, and I’m not one of those brain-dead Apple fanboys who can’t seem to understand how the business of cell phones work, plus by the time I’m actually eligible, the next version will be out and you just know it’ll be that much better.

But even if the network was up and running, there’s no telling if Josh would have gotten my messages in a timely manner anyway; the N97′s hardware is decent enough, though still woefully late to the party, as well as crazy expensive (then again, pretty much every single smart phone is going to cost $700 without the help of a carrier to absorb the bulk of the cost, something that those aforementioned whiny, entitled Apple douchebags have not been able to comprehend). Though it’s the software that’s the biggest problem, and the biggest total joke; I know 98% of you out there could give a rat’s ass about Nokia, but the Symbian OS seriously needs to be put out to pasture. Aside from the occasional experimental/adult game from Norway or whatever (as also mentioned somewhere in here) what the hell is it good for? Especially for a touchscreen interface. Unfortunately, open source is only truly meaningful if everyone is doing something with it. Why do I even care, BTW? I guess the N81′s charm was enough to make me a fan of Nokia for a tiny bit there, and ever since I’ve been amazed how they’ve manage to continually fumble around as the rest of the cell phone world passes them by. I’m honestly shocked that they’re still in business, though I guess someone has to provide mobile handsets to third world nations. And the N97 is the ultimate embodiment of just how seriously Nokia simply doesn’t get it. Though it doesn’t matter since Nokia will release yet another wannabe iPhone killer in two weeks, which will be just close yet different enough from the previous phone to confuse and annoy their increasingly diminishing fan base. Seriously, why bother to release both the N97 and the N86 at the same exact time? Is anyone still reading?

Anyhow, because I had spent the previous hour plus in limbo thanks to the MTA and AT&T, Josh wisely surmised that I hadn’t heard the big news. Which of course was how the King (of Pop) was dead. Once inside, it was insanely crowded; an open bar is cool and all, but sometimes a crowd can be big and annoying enough to make one not mind paying for beer or liquor. Meanwhile, the DJ was pumping the best of Michael Jackson, so those who had knew about the bad news became seriously bummed out, while those who hadn’t began wondering why the in hell was only MJ songs were being played. It wasn’t long before myself, Josh, and his brother decided to head out, but right before doing so, they began calling out raffle ticket numbers, and wouldn’t you know, Josh’s bro won himself a N97!

… I’d be jealous if not for the fact that it seriously blows. Both Josh and myself advised him to just sell it on eBay for a quick hundred of dollars (I’ll admit, that’s the sole reason why I wanted to win one as well). Afterwards we hailed a cab to head to another bar uptown, where we began to question of the news about the big death was for real or not. So while both Josh and I tried to go online via our phones, I got the following message…

2. “MJ totally DEAD”

… from Hilary. Guess it was true. And since then, I’ve been more than a little surprised, even shocked, by the outpouring of emotion. At least, I too find it hilarious how everyone who were all gaga over the stuff going down in Iran on Twitter has been completely replaced by this new thing for silly white people to go on about (sorry, but people whose definition of being politically active goes as far as turning their avatar green is one of the reasons why I weep for this generation). Then again, MJ was like the biggest thing ever during a good part of the 80s, the closest equivalent to Elivs to my generation I suppose, and at the end of the day, the guy did make some killer tunes. Plus you know what they say… the key to the ultimate comeback is not some hawt new album or the like, but simply dying. And I say this in all sincerity, as someone who has enjoyed his work and contributions to the world of music and pop culture, it’s perhaps best he’s passed on cuz that guy has been miserable for the longest time imaginable.

So have I been listening to his collection of greatest hits non-stop since his untimely demise like the rest of the nation? Ummm… nope. Though on my way to meet Hilary that evening at the NYAFF, I was happy that that the soundtrack to Sonic 3 was pre-loaded. And later on in the weekend, while we were at some bar in the West Village, she fired up Black & White on the jukebox. Anyhow, in his honor, I once again present Michael Quest!

3. History Becomes Complicated

The very next day, a special package arrived from Japan! My shipment of Yujin’s Shooting Game Historica volume 3! As also mentioned in my last entry, the person I bought the set from on eBay ended up being a reader of this site, who was pleased as punch that I had become his customer, so he decided to throw in some goodies just for me! Like this gigantic stack of Japanese game flyers!

… Man, do I ever love me some game flyers. Then there’s this Tokyo Game Show DVD from Capcom!

And here we have a Storm Trooper Bearbrick and a MGS4… I think it’s a cell phone screen cleaner?

Finally, here’s all the Shooting Historica figures, nicely packed…

… I was originally planning on passing along a pic of all the ships fully assembled, but unfortunately, there’s a bit of a problem. I’m kinda stumped at the moment; the Raiden MK-II has so many parts that I honestly don’t know what goes into what, and I accidently broke the stand for Star Soldier’s Ceaser. Problem is, the better they make them, the more intricate and therefore delicate they become. But once I figure them out, I’ll take pics of all the ships in collection in one nice big group shot. Once again, thanks Grizzle!

4. Got Called A White Devil By Some Angry Old Black Dude In Washington Square Park

… Again. This past Saturday afternoon, while killing some time between NYAFF screenings and while soaking in the nice weather. I was sitting there on a bench, just minding my own business; to my left was this crusty African American gentleman, who I had previously noticed was drawing with crayola magic markers, and some also old-ish white guy to my right, reading the paper I think. I had been there for five minutes, without incident, when this family came walking by, also black. Among them was this cute little girl who was barely four that waved at each of us as she passed. We all in turn returned salutations warmly, and it seemed like a wonderful scene at the park for everyone concerned, until I heard the following…

“You better remember that lil sister’s face, white devils. Because that’s the face that’s gonna grow up and slice open both your throats and your dicks off. The white man’s reigns of power is coming to its end. It is over. Hear that? It is OVER. Brothers and sisters are finally going to get their f*cking shit together and mobilize and learn from their mistakes and yours and turn the power structure on its knees…”

… And so on. I forget the rest, but you get the idea. The look on the face of the white guy was total classic; he literally had smoke coming out of his nose as he responded with “You talking to ME?!?!” I on the other-hand, perhaps because I’m so used to such nonsense, could only respond with “That’s half white devil, half gook to you, sir!” and “Nice hat, lol!” Did I mention the silly looking baret he was also wearing? As for his drawing skills, just a bunch of squiggly lines, nothing special. But the love for one’s fellow human being didn’t stop there!

5. Then You Had My Travis Bickle-esque Taxi Driver

After spending a greater part of my Saturday afternoon and evening at the IFC Center, I was quite eager to head back home around 2 am, which meant splurging on a cab. Unfortunately, finding an available one was really hard, harder than usual. Finally spotted a possible ride about a half a block away, waiting at a red light, and quickly ran toward it. Once nearby, I asked the driver if he was available, which in retrospect was a stupid question, since there wasn’t anybody in the backseat and his availability light was on. Still, an answer would have been nice. Dude gave me this non-plussed look instead; he was clearly less than thrilled that I had with me a drink and half eaten hot dog from Gray’s Papaya, like I was going to turn the back of his car into a garbage dump.

Most of the ride was on the quiet side; sometimes cabbies like to chit-chat, and generally speaking, I love to talk back, mostly since I enjoy hearing about wherever that particular driver is from (most are very hard working individuals that barely make a living and virtually everything that is earned gets sent back home so their families can hopefully have a better life thanks to the power of the American dollar, which is still worth something in many parts of the world). But this particular evening, maybe because of the extreme tiredness, I just wasn’t into the mood for dialogue. So when after ten minutes of enjoyable silence, I was not looking forward to his follow up of “I’ve got a question for you…” The conversation goes as follows…

“Yes, what is it?”

“Is the subways dangerous tonight?”

“I… don’t know. Don’t think so. Guess everyone just doesn’t feel like dealing with the late night trains, like myself. Though I must say, it was really tough getting a cab tonight. Never had this much trouble, at least for this time of night…”

“Because the trains are becoming dangerous again. Because of the lesbians.”

“Excuse me?”

“The lesbians. They always fight.”

“…”

“Last night, I was on train, and there were three lesbian fights, right in front of me. I almost got hit.”

“That’s… pretty rough.”

“I do not understand, why they are so violent. Always yell, always fight, always the alcohol.”

“Well, if you get any group of folks loaded or high, there’s gonna be trouble, regardless.”

“That is not true. The gay men, they cause no problems. Sure, they get loud too, but that is it. Last year, lesbian almost kicked in my windshield!”

… And thus the conversation ended. It’s also worth noting that his guy was driving like a total maniac. Granted, all cabbies drive well above the speed limit, but we were seriously going over a hundred on the West Side Highway. At least he got me home in no time flat, which was appreciated, since the very next morning was…

6. The NYC Zine Fest!

So, how was it? In a word, awesome! Seriously awesome! Much like the zine show the previous weekend, both Katie and I had zero expectations going in, but this one was not a train-wreck and actually a great time. And not to brag, but it was also the most money I’ve ever made at a show! Granted, I’ve never had such expensive items for sale, but still! Though I only bring it up because I haven’t done so swell in past shows, so I seriously needed the ego boost. And I hate to constantly bring up the MoCCA Art Fest, but it was impossible to not make comparisons (plus we weren’t the only ones, that’s for damn sure). Here are just a few of the reasons why yesterday’s show blew that over-bloated monster out of the water…

Cheaper Tables Meant Less Pressure
It’s funny how it finally took MoCCA for many indie comics to finally admit that no one’s paying the rent with the mini comics they make. And given how next year’s tables are going to be an astronomical $400, you’re going to find even less people claim that they managed to make their money back. Meanwhile, at the Zine Fest, it was actually doable (at least the latter part) thanks to the bargain basement prices. And because there was less of a gun to one’s head to sell X amount of comics and less pressure, you could just sit back and simply enjoy the show.

There Was Less Stuff To See, Which Was A Good Thing
Yeah, it’s nice to know that so many out there are trying to do their comics, but at MoCCA, it was a tad bit overwhelming (though a variety of other factors added to the “eh, I just don’t care anymore” attitude that everyone began to adopt… like the much talked about punishing heat). Meanwhile, there were less tables and less books to soak in, meaning that everything was simply easier to handle. Though the most important thing to note is how…

There’s Also Genuinely New Things To See
Year after year at MoCCA, as well as SPX (can’t really comment on APE, at least not yet), you basically see the same stuff over and over again, mostly due to the fact that it’s the same exact people doing the same shows. But here it’s practically all brand new stuff, which was certainly a breath of fresh air. Mind you, I had zero beef seeing folks like Jamie Tanner and Gia-Bao Tran once again, since they’re such cool dudes, though ultimately, and I to hate to say it, but …

Indie Zine People Are More Pleasant To Deal With Than Indie Comic Book People (Sorry)
Here’s the thing with comics, indie or not; when someone is checking out your stuff, they quickly glance at a few pages, concentrating on the art naturally, and make a judgment call that took maybe five seconds (more or less) to come towards on whether to buy or not. Which is not a bad thing, I do it myself, we all do, that’s just how it works. But when it comes to zines, there’s a lot more involved; people take the time to read a couple of passages, as well as closely examine the whole thing, and actually like engaging in conversations! Which might explain why I didn’t find any hard sellers, which is always a headache. Everyone was just chill and let their work do the talking. As previously mentioned, my zine did poorly at MoCCA because there weren’t any gamer types at the show. There also wasn’t any at the Zine Fest either, yet I did far better because zine folks seem far more interesting in checking out stuff that falls outside of their general range of interest. Again, at any comics show, people are ultimately only gong to pick up what they’re into or stuff that seems related. Whereas zines don’t work like that, and sticking out, not just for the sake of novelty, can actually be beneficial. Though all posturing aside, Katie and I were flat out blown away by how friendly and pleasant everyone was; not once did we encounter an a**hole. No creepy comic people to be found anywhere, at least on Sunday.

Oh, And The Location Wasn’t Bad Either
Granted, 4th Ave in Brooklyn doesn’t hold much, and I should know… I lived not too far from the location of the show. But the Lyceum had plenty of water on-hand (which MoCCA most certainly did not), as well as tasty sandwiches and cookies on premises, as well as air conditioning! There wasn’t a ton of natural lighting, but on man, what a difference even a tiny bit can make.

… Yeah, it’s funny how MoCCA has turned into some watershed moment for a lot of cartoonists. It made many seriously reconsider their even most basic plans for the future. I heard quite a few people talk about a “Brooklyn Comic Con” which honestly seems so silly and pointless. First off, most NYC cartoonists are based in Brooklyn, pretty much. As noted, the reason why Katie and I enjoyed the Zine Fest was because you had plenty of fresh faces, not the same old, same old (no offense to some pals out there). Though a Brooklyn comic show would be gladly welcomed if the tables were cheap enough. Still, the plan for Katie and I are to concentrate on these smaller, zine specific shows, wherever they might pop up. Oh, and thanks everyone who stopped on by and especially if you picked something it! It was much appreciated.

Hey, one last thing, not from this past week, but last weekend actually, though I keep talking about it…

7. Had A Dream The Other Night That Billy Joel Tried To Rape Me

Well, not so much rape, but he tried really, REALLY hard to stick his dick in my butt by sweat talking to me, though rather poorly: “it’ll feel good” and “I’m famous!” is all he could muster. And we’re not talking the 70s or 80s Joel, but the old Long Islander of today. Still, kinda funny, and everyone has certainly gotten a kick out of hearing about it. I hope you have as well! Later…

1 comment

06/25/2009

Hey, That’s John Waters!

by Matthew Hawkins

First off, on Tuesday, I totally saw John Waters on the streets of NYC! Yes, THAT John Waters, director of Pink Flamingos and other such classics. I know spotting celebs in the city is no big deal, you see them almost everyday, but… this is John Waters we’re talking about. So while I never do this, I simply had to stop and shake his hand and tell him what a major fan I was. And the dude was super nice! And super dapper, of course. Kept it short and sweet, since I didn’t want to attract any further attention (he was standing in front of a restaurant, waiting for someone it looked like) or come off as a creep. Besides, I was also running late for…

There was a big press tour that afternoon that Microsoft threw for us east coast journalists that couldn’t make it out to E3 or any of the other west coast only tech shows. The feature attraction was Windows 7, along with Windows Mobile 6.5 and a bunch of other pieces of hardware & software, but because I really can’t talk about those due to embargoes… plus, much of it might not be relevant to the interests of those who frequent this site… I’ll simply move onto the Xbox 360 stuff.

Unfortunately, there wasn?t much. Because of the nature of the event, which was more or less speed dating for reporters and PR people, I was shuttled off to see something new literally every 15 minutes, so didn’t spend a whole lot of time on the gaming portion of things. Plus it was the same exact presentation and information that was available at E3; we all know that Facebook, Twitter, and Last.fm is coming to the platform, how Netflix is getting some enhancements, and how you’ll be able to stream HD movies instantaneously via the re-branded Zune marketplace, plus yada, yada, yada. Only one thing was playable, The Beatles: Rock Band, but since it’s the game I’m the most excited about this year, was more than satisfied. I’ll get into my impressions in just a moment, btw. Though unfortunately, no Project Natal, which I had my fingers crossed for.

Afterward I met up with Dave Mauro and we both checked out the opening reception for X-Initiative‘s NO SOUL FOR SALE show, this absolutely gigantic gathering of artists, art related collectives and institutions, nonprofit entities, and like minded individuals from across the globe that completely filled the gigantic 4 story X Initiative space in Chelsea. There was much stuff to take in, almost too much, though Dave and I were only interested in one thing, that being an arcade set-up by Lightning Industry, which was practically hidden in a corner of the upper most floor.

Because the space was dark, please excuse the worse than usual pics. The centerpiece of the installation was Mark Essen’s The Thrill of Combat, projected nice and big; it was a two player set up, with one person controlling the helicopter with a steering wheel controller, and the second using a flight stick to aim at all the little shooting people…

… Once people, or donors as they?re referred to in the game, are knocked down, you have to deploy your gunner to the ground so he/she can extract organs, hence the split screen above. Novel concept, plus the visuals were nice, and the chiptune-y soundtrack was hawt, but it was really difficult to control, at least piloting the copter. But I guess that was the whole point, at least for the installation. Though I have to wonder how the game works as a one-person experience (it’s available for download, but only for PCs, and I just trashed the XP partition on my iMac).

Also on-hand was Star Wars Episode VII from Jazzuo…

Sexy Hiking, also from Jazzuo…

Documentation that explains the ins and outs of Kriegspiel, a digital “reinterpretation” of a strategy board game that’s based upon the philosophy of Guy Debord…

Mondo Agency from Cactus…

And the one game that Dave and I were looking forward to the most, the new 3D game from Cactus that I had first caught a glimpse of on Offworld

… The player basically has to guide a ball-type-thing across various environments to a hole and onto the next challenge. Each has it’s own set of rules and behaviors. The first two were very reminiscent of Braid, in how the terrain shifts as you go left and right…

… My fave level was one where the entire level kept rotating as you moved, but the directional inputs remained constant, so at one point you’re now moving right, even though you’re still holding down left (and letting go then pressing again doesn’t change anything)…

… Here’s the level that everyone kept getting stuck at. No one could figure out what the hell to do. At the very least it was pretty…

… And here’s the controller….

… Note: all of the buttons were jump. Not sure if this was a joke or something.

Next was a return trip to where the MS event was. It was evening-time now, which meant a cocktail party and a chance to finally dig into all their other game related offerings. Naturally, at the top of both Dave and I’s list was Halo 3: ODST…

… Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let either of us (or anyone else for that matter) touch the controller, but at least Dave was able to pick the Bungie rep’s brains for a bit and come away with the following….

I?m of the opinion that a great story is mostly a vehicle for great characters. The Halo franchise won me over with its two main characters: Master Chief, the archetypal tireless warrior; and Cortana, the more nuanced and human (oddly enough) ?sidekick?. So with the announcement of Halo 3: Gaiden, errr? sorry ODST, I was a little disappointed to see that the game wouldn?t be following the two central players. While one of Microsoft?s reps was demoing the game for me he was explaining how great it would be to see the Halo story from other points of views besides Master Chief?s. That would be great except that I don?t care about the story, I care about the characters. Luckily for me, Halo also happens to a great game, so even if I?m no longer in control the last bad ass in the universe, I know I?m going to be able to have fun with ODST.
?
So since we?re playing an ODST, things are going to need to be significantly different right? Well? not really. It?s clear that Bungie just wanted to keep the winning formula, so what you really have is Halo 1 (health packs and the pistol are back, no dual wielding) set in the New Mombasa seen in the E3 2003 Halo 2 demo using the Halo 3 engine (the Halo 3 engine has been tweaked of course, but is still running at the same sub-HD resolution that Halo 3 used). The helpful AI this time around is the city?s AI, the Superintendant. I don?t know what kind of AI it is, but I was told that he will be prevalent throughout the game?s story. The Superintendent helps guide you around the New Mombasa hub world as you find new flashback style missions, which will comprise the bulk of the game. So while the mechanics are very similar to previous games, they clearly want to try something new with the storytelling.
?
Of course Halo 3: ODST will have the traditional multiplayer (it comes with all of the Halo 3 DLC maps as well), but they?ve also added a new ?firefight? mode, which is the endless grinder style co-op game you can play locally (two-players on one xbox, or system link) or play with friends online. The maps you play in firefight are areas that you will play through in the campaign mode, and unfortunately, this is how you will unlock them. Yup, you have to unlock the firefight maps. I thought Bungie was above this kind of thing, so much so that I?m tempted to not believe the Microsoft rep, but he certainly seemed to know what he was talking about.
?
I tried to get some answers about Halo: Reach as well, but my rep had to stay tight-lipped about that. He just assured me that some time after Halo 3: ODST?s September 22 launch date, the ?extras? feature on the main menu would go live and it would allow you access to the Halo: Reach Beta.

… Meanwhile, I gave The Beatles another spin…

… The game, quite simply, is magnificent. Only a few of the tracks were available, but as previously indicated, each song’s accompanying video draws from that song’s particular history, and often features whatever band member who was primarily responsible for its creation, like George for Here Comes The Sun, or Ringo for Octopus’s Garden. The video themselves are quite mesmerizing, especially for the later songs, when the band experimented with various hallucinogenic drugs while producing material (especially for I Am The Walrus).

But that doesn’t mean the non-druggie songs are boring in comparison, far from it; my favorite visuals would had to have been for I Want To Hold You Hand, since it offered the best straightforward look at the amazing job Harmonix did in terms of making virtual versions of the Fab Four. Aside from the stunning, completely on the spot animations, they just looked incredible; so close to the real thing that it’s jaw dropping, yet sufficiently stylized so no one comes across as creepy. Basically, as far away from Guitar Hero 4′s ultra uncomfortable rendering of Billy Corgan as you can get… thank God.

It’s also worth noting how exited everyone was for the chance to play the game; Guitar Hero and Rock Band has always been the olive branch for casuals to touch a video game, but when you add the Beatles into the mix, that formula becomes a hundred times more potent. Even the old timey tech reporters wanted to give it a shot; don’t ask me why certain publications have 50 plus year old dudes reviewing stuff like laptops and flat screen television, especially since most of them have total deer caught in headlights looks when they encounter such stuff… which I suppose doesn’t translate in their write-ups… so needless to say that video games especially scares the piss out of them. Though I guess the new guitars, which are finely detailed after the Beatles’ actual instruments of choice, makes it all the more inviting, which I foolishly forgot to take pictures of, but they’re all easily Google-able. I know Katie is not gonna like hearing/reading this, especially since I just got rid of my two GH2 PS2 controllers, but I’m definitely gonna have to get all three of the new guitars, plus the addition mic and mic stands (though I understand the Lips wireless mics are finally supported in RB2, yet as pretty as they are, syncing them up to the system is a real headache).

Moving on, there was this gigantic Forza 3 set-up that Dave got all hot and bothered for…

… He did quite well, all things considering. Meaning the steering was damn near impossible to deal with. Not because it was super-realistic or anything, but there was something wrong with the wheel’s calibration or whatnot. Anyhow, it was around this point that both myself and Dave were starting to get a bit sloshed. We next tried to give Lips 2 (or whatever the heck the sequel is being called) a try, but despite being a fans of the song, neither of us could get through Karma Chameleon without the audio. We then realized that it had been turned off our set, but after cranking it back up, I then realized the reason for the muting in the first place, which was a nasty case of feedback that was making my ears bleed and that Dave was completely oblivious to.

We next wandered to the Windows 7 area where they had Resident Evil 5 playing with a bunch of 3D stereoscopic glasses. Dave immediately became excited, till he tried playing the game, which sorta killed his high spirits (again, would be game of the year if not the ass backwards controls). He’s still interested in the tech, but only if Doom 3 is compatible. The demo person noted that over 500 games are compatible, but was unable to answer Dave’s multiple enquires as to if Doom 3 was on that list. Anyhow, the glasses work fine, but because of technical reasons, you have to be super close and dead center to the screen, otherwise you get this strobing effect which immediately gave each of us headaches. Also, it’s $400, which is no buys in my book. Still, they sorta look neat…

Next was a bunch of a laptops running the PC version of Street Fighter 4. Should have taken a picture since they were running with one of the new graphics filters that ups the painterly effect. But since there was no head to head, we immediately went back to Beatles Rock Band. The evening ended with Dave and I wanting to do a duet in Back in the U.S.S.R. Dave once again cranked up the audio for the mics, and one of the demo dudes gave an annoying “But that’s going to give out feedback!” with Dave basically shrugging his shoulders in reaction. And yeah, that’s true and all, but who could possibly notice with all the people and background noise. After the song, same dude gave us an ultra annoyed and sarcastic “I thought you guys knew the song? And the lyrics were right in front of you!” Whatever. But with that, it was clearly our time to leave, and so we did…

… To Taco Bell, which is the best drunk fast food option out there, aside from White Castle. I later impressed Dave with my freestyle rapping skills, which I’m not going to bother getting into, since you simply had to be there.

Then yesterday was a Namco Bandai event that was held specifically for bloggers. For starters, got some playtime with Katamari Tribute, aka Katamari Forever as it’ll be known here in America…

… Was pretty bummed that the audio was turned off, due it being in a room where a million other things were going on. Regarding the visuals, the pencil drawing filter was on in full effect. Apparently, that’s what the game will look like at default? Everything else, including the “normal” look can be activated once certain criteria are met. Unfortunately, the build I was playing didn’t have any of those available. At least the colored pencil effect was quite pleasant to the eye. Also worth noting is how many of the levels start out in black and white, which you then add color to as you play. May as well touch upon the story right now, which virtually no one else has bothered to address since day one of coverage, at least as far as I can tell (most people seem only concerned with the soundtrack, and for good reason, but there is other stuff to the game)…

This time around, the King of Cosmos get bonked on the head. I forget the exact reason why… not sure if it has anything to do with his nasty drinking habit. Anyhow, he’s in a coma, so the Prince and all his Cousins build a robot replacement. But that goes haywire and blows up I think? Levels takes place in either the King’s mind, where the kids all go inside to help wake him up, to jog his memories by replaying old levels. Does he have amnesia too? But that’s why things are all black and white at first, and then as you highlight past events, literally, you help to wake dad up. Then you have another set of levels, all connected to the Robo King, which are completely new. Once such level has you controlling a Katamari that’s basically a sponge or sprinkler, and as you go around a desert landscape, fauna pops up from where you were rolling.

Something else that I’ve yet to hear anyone talk about is the Prince’s ability to jump, either by giving the Sixxaxis/Dual Shock 3 a shake, or by simply hitting the R2 button. Then there’s the power-ups; one turns the Katamari into a magnet, which sucks everything nearby in an instant, everything that is stickable at least. But there’s another that allows you to grab stuff that you normally wouldn’t be able to due to size at the time. Needless to say, a lot of this changes things considerably. Since I really didn’t have a chance to full play around with most of these elements, I can’t really pass judgment. Though my gut instinct tells me that… I dunno man. I just don’t know.

The new Soul Calibur for the PSP was also present. Only a few characters were playable, and not including the new Billy Mitchell-lookalike, which was another disappointment. Otherwise… it’s essentially Soul Calibur 4 on the PSP. Pretty God damn nuts; they were more or less the same exact character models. Character animation was also indistinguishable, and the backgrounds look pretty spot on as well. Not sure how the hell Namco pulled such a feat off. Then you had Tekken 6…

… I was really hoping for the Xbox 360 build, but only the PS3 version was present. Tried out a bit of the new Tekken Force mode (not sure what its being called this time around), and that was neat. I know most folks have not given a rat’s ass for the Streets of Rage mode in the past, but add in online co-op, and I’m pretty sure quite a few will all of a sudden start caring. But because that giant robot boss whose pic I’ve posted before was nowhere to be found, I immediately started up a traditional arcade session. And I know all the diehard fighting game purists out there totally hate it, but I absolutely LOVE the new blur effect. Sorry for all of you other there who can actually discern each of the 60 frames per seconds in a traditional 3D fighting game. I also have to wonder if the new system will actually help ease the burden of online play on the part of the consoles. Anyhow, what else needs to be said? it’s Tekken, pure and simple. Didn’t get a chance to for long, since some kid wanted to play something, and Tekken was a bit too on the mature side for him, which necessitated the need to switch back to Katamari (oh yeah, a bunch of folks also brought their kids to check out stuff that’s suited for them, and that was… amusing to say the least).

Before heading off, caught a demo of the new Dead To Rights title coming soon. It’s way early into development, but did get to watch a level where the player controls the dog, and one if it’s attacks is to bite off the genitalia of bad guys. There was even a name for the special move, something to do with testicles… the testimony? Anyway, it was then time to meet Katie for yet another New York Asian Film Fest flick, and I guess that’s it for me right now. Gotta run off too… yup, another screening, this time with Hilary. Though before that, heading over to some big Nokia N97 event. Yes, I’m still way into cell phones, not just the iPhone, and I haven?t even touched upon the new firmware and the 3G S yet have I? Next time!

3 comments