Friday, May 30, 2008

Odds and Ends

I have begun to realize that if I want to increase my readership to make the big money I need to post more often. I have set an ambitious goal of doubling my Blog traffic from five readers to ten by the end of the year and to do so I will post even when it is frivolous and mainly about me. When I went on a work hiatus some two years ago I fully expected that I would use all this extra time to really buckle down and do some in-depth writing for my site, but what I hadn’t taken into account was that in the past I wrote nearly all my reviews/biographies etc. while at work. Sorry JP Morgan. I had a great job. They sent my group all over the world to fix the profitability of our businesses - but it was the sort of job where we had to spend a lot of time waiting for data to come in. And so I filled that time with writing for my site. And going to the movies. But there was some structure around that and I now find myself with no discipline and find one excuse after another to put off writing and accessing my brain. It is so much easier to take a long walk in the park, watch the Boston Red Sox on TV or even read a book. But that is all going to change! Someday. But here are a couple updates anyway.

I just wanted to let anyone know who is interested that the Subway Cinema Blog has changed to a new location and a new format. As some of you may know we have weekly updates on what Asian films are playing in the NYC area. But we are hoping to go beyond this simple listing to include thoughts and essays on some of these films or whatever grabs our collective or individual attention Asian film wise. There are four of us who are planning to contribute on an occasional basis – me, the infamous Grady Hendrix from Kaiju Shakedown, Marc Walkow who knows more about Japanese films than anyone I know and who recently brought over the Nikkatsu action series and finally Goran T. who knows everything there is to know about the Korean film industry. How active we will be is a big question mark, but we hope to get millions of readers and make so much money from advertisers that Microsoft will buy us out. I just put up something on the Malaysian film Mukhsin which is now showing in NYC at MOMA. In truth, it is basically a lazy reworking of a review I did on the film after seeing it at Pusan. Subway was actually hoping to show all three films in the Orked Trilogy and the distributor seemed willing until they did a Judge Crater on us and disappeared. Now we know why. NYAFF or MOMA - not a tough decision! Anyway, the blog can be found at:

Don’t expect much right now, but it should get better. Or not.

And needless to say I have an update on NYAFF. May was a horrible month for us full of rejection and avoidance from the distributors and it created lots of angst. It was like dating again. We had been happily rolling along through April and then suddenly one film after another was denied us – and almost all for the same reason – Toronto. Everybody wants to take their film to Toronto and Toronto only shows North American premiers. I don’t get it – Toronto is a boring city in a boring country where people talk about nothing but the cold weather and the record snowfalls. And they expect you to feel sorry for them. Who wants to go to a film festival there? Apparently, everybody. And then all the distributors went to Cannes where they drank too much, got sun burnt and annoyed the French. What they didn’t do was to get back to us. But Cannes has ended and the clouds have rolled away and suddenly we have some more films in the program. Yay! Good ones too. Really.

Let’s begin with TOKYO GORE POLICE. This film takes crazy and bizarre to a totally new cream filled yummy level. For those with refined taste I seriously suggest that you stay far far away from this mayhem filled canvass of exploding heads and blood splattered disgusting violence. Because it would be way too much fun for you to take in at one sitting. You might give up Bergman films forever. Tokyo Gore Police falls into the same category as Machine Girl – they are such over the top splatter films that their purpose is not to freak you out but really to make you laugh in glee at the absurd extent to which the filmmakers will go just because they can. In Machine Girl, after a pacifist high school girl has her brother murdered and her arm severed by the Yakuza, she naturally attaches a machine gun to her stump and goes out seeking revenge. I mean who wouldn’t? I have read critics alluding to Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror in which the character played by Rose McGowan apparently does something similar with her leg – but needless to say we Brigitte Lin fans know that this same plot device was used for her in the 1984 film Pink Force Commando. I wonder whether there was an earlier film that did the same? But anyway, once Machine Girl has her weapon in place she becomes a viral killing machine – but heads aren’t just blown off – they are shot off layer by layer – the flesh, the skull, the mush until blood gushes out like a broken fire hydrant. Time after time after time - and oddly I never got tired of it. TGP is much more ambitious than Machine Girl – directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura who did the special effects for Machine Girl – it is laden with more in your face insanity than perhaps any movie ever. Starring Eihi Shiina, who was such a sweetie in Miike’s Audition, she plays Rucka, a cop who hunts down mutants – such as a gimp with razor blade sharp legs and my favorite character, a woman with an alligator vagina that does very bad things to men. This is a film you have to see to believe. The trailer is here. Proceed at your own peril.

A more normal sedate film that we finally got permission to show is Strawberry Shortcakes from Japan. I wrote about it a bit in my pervious post – it was named by a few folks over at the highly respected Midnight Eye as the best Japanese film of the year and it came in second in the reader’s poll. I don’t think I would go along with that but it is a compellingly harsh insight into the bleak single lives of four women in Tokyo that has some surprisingly explicit sex. The film is fortunately much better than the trailer!

Looking at Midnight Eye made me want to pick my ten favorite films from Japan last year. Last year being very loosely defined as films I saw either last year or in preparation for our fest this year.

1. Memories of Matsuko - manages to be magical and to break your heart at the same time

2. Fine Totally Fine – a film about nothing much at all but it examines the small bits of our mundane lives with enormous humor and warmth.

3. Gachi Boy – a seemingly weak premise of a university student who wakes up each day with no memory of his life since an accident – but it works wonderfully well as it slowly moves its way from laughs to tears.

4. United Red Army – from the legendary director Wakamatsu about the rise and collapse of the leftist movement in Japan in the 1970’s. Absolutely fascinating and mesmerizing. Here is an interview from Midnight Eye with him.

5. Crows – from Miike as he dazzles with his usual kinetic flair. Basic brutal student warfare but Miike makes it a visual buffet treat.

6. X-Cross – this was so much fun I almost peed in my pants – two girls go on a quiet weekend in the country only too come across a town of psycho’s who very much want to sacrifice them. Ten minutes into the film it becomes a buzzsaw that never lets up.

7. Tokyo Gore Police – enough said already.

8. Funuke: Show Some Love You Losers – deadpan black comedy about a family that just hates each other and yet somehow sticks together to the end – the dead end.

9. Strawberry Shortcakes – how can a film with such a sweet title pack such a bitter punch?

There are just a bunch of films I’d like to throw into this final slot and I can’t make up my mind – many of them small relationship films that have enormous heart – Love on Sunday 1 & 2, Your Friends, This World of Ours, Sway, A Gentle Breeze in the Village, Adrift in Tokyo and Tokyo Tower. And this doesn’t even get to feel good films like Hula Girls, Always 2 or crazy fun films like Exte and Sukiyaki Western Django. Simply put – Japan rocks these days when it comes to movies. Sadly, nobody else really does.

And here is another film we just added and it’s not Japanese! It is Shadows in the Palace from Korea. I saw this at Pusan with Derek Elley from Variety and at the time he thought it was the best film he had seen in the festival. I pretty much agreed (though I was to see a few better films later on) though I had issues with the ending. It is a very unique film – directed by a female director – not a lot of those in Korea – with nearly all the characters being women who work inside the palace back in the olden days. When a servant turns up dead, the female coroner investigates a giant conspiracy and things get very dangerous and very gruesome. It shows to no one's surprise that women without men can be the most vicious creatures of all. I have come across some lackluster comments on the Internet but I thought this was a really solid film. Maybe my favorite Korean film in an admittedly not great year? The trailer is here:

And more films are rushing in that I will get to early next week when we will finally put our program to bed. It hasn’t been easy this year for lots of reasons but I think in the end we have a pretty good line-up and a better mix than we usually do of the serious and the seriously psychotic. I wish we had a better mix of countries but a lot of that is out of our hands. I always respect what Udine does – no matter how bad a film year a country had they still show around ten of their movies – some quite honestly that I would never want to show and which I know would get miniscule audiences with us. They have the resources to do that – we don’t.

But what we are doing very quietly is significantly expanding the number of films we will be showing this year. It didn’t really start that way. Well, it did and it didn’t. After last year we decided to show films in two of the theaters at IFC – the big one and a smaller 120 seat one. That way we felt we could bring over a number of small good movies that would not attract a huge audience and show them in the smaller theater. There are always films we want to show that we know not a lot of people will come to – and we have to make a financial decision around it. There are only so many films we can afford to take a hit on or we will all be dipping into our 401K’s. You hate mixing film and commerce but there is no choice until some sugar daddy comes along some day. Every year we each go $10-15 thousand dollars in debt until we get our ticket sale revenue. It’s a scary feeling. One year I was out of pocket $25,000 and spent a lot of time nervously praying that people would come to the festival. Having the two theaters mysteriously fell through, but just a few weeks ago IFC came to us with a different financial structure that made it sensible for us to have as many screenings as we could squeeze in. So for the first time we will be having weekday afternoon screenings and to do so we are showing a lot of films and have been in a mad scramble this past week to find them. Whether anyone will actually come to these afternoon screenings is a big question mark for us.

I haven’t talked politics on this movie blog for a long while (thankfully I know) but I felt like doing so tonight. It hardly seems important any more to pile up on Bush. He is a beaten man whose legacy I believe will only get worse over time. But I want to take a second out to pat myself on the back for being such a political genius because no one else will. Back in December I was sitting around with my family – parents, brother and sister-in-law - having our usual after dinner discourse on the state of the world and the US election campaign when my brother asked me who I thought would win the Democratic and Republican nominations for President. After two minutes of thought and a swig of my coke, I replied Obama and McCain. Who would have thought? If only I had bet on them in Vegas I could stop working now. Wait – I have stopped working. Of course, Hillary is desperately doing her best to steal the nomination, but if that were to happen it would break the Democratic Party into pieces and be an enormously shameful act. Not that this will stop her from trying. For the general election I fear that in the end the American people will allow fear and racism to influence their decision and the country will vote for the cranky curmudgeon McCain who seems to get more and more confused about Iraq – but there is still a small part of me that is optimistic that we can rise above that – but then this is the country that voted for Bush. Twice.

The other bit of political news that makes me so very happy is the disclosures from Bush’s ex-Press Secretary regarding the lead up to the war. I was having arguments way back pre-war with a Republican pro-war colleague at the bank and I basically said exactly what McClellan wrote - that the WMD claims were phony, that the ties to Al-Qaida would prove to be a lie and that the real reason Bush was doing this was a strategic one to remake the middle east and to protect the oil supply. And that it would never work because the people in the White House had no clue about the culture of those countries and that you could never force our way of life on them. This back before we invaded and I know nothing – so when I hear people like McCain and Hillary making excuses that they trusted the President I want to throw something at them. And they want to argue that Obama lacks the experience to make good judgments? Good grief. So there. I am a genius in the wilderness of Asian movies.

And can I just say that the only people stupider than right wing nut case Michelle Malkin (who saw a terrorist plot in a Dunkin Donuts commercial!) are the people who watch or read her. Dunkin Donuts should be ashamed of themselves for giving in to blatant idiocy. I’ll be boycotting them for a long time to come. I am getting too fat anyway. But welcome to the world of McCarthyism when a foolish allegation is all you need to besmirch people with.


logboy said...

...i hope that some company somewhere actually got to see gachi boi and decided to license it. one of those films that didn't come across at all well in the trailer, yet it seems to be on people's lips now it's kind of been and gone in the japanese end of the coverage...

Brian said...

Its a film that plays much better than it reads - it is quite funny in a goofy way but then glides effortlessly into pathos that really strikes a chord. I think it won the Audience Award at Udine. I saw it at Pusan where they brought along the cast and director - same at Udine. When we requested a screener for my other colleagues to watch they asked us instead to come to Tokyo if we wanted to see it! And if we wanted to show it we would have to bring over all those same folks who are clearly trying to rack up as many FF miles as they can. Needless to say we won't be showing it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you guys were persuaded to do weekday afternoon screenings. Unfortunately I've got a 9-5 job so I won't be going to any of those. Don't some of the film companies limit the number of times that you can screen their movie?

How about bringing back the midnight show. I remember Grady commenting on his blog about how midnight shows don't sell but I guarantee that you'll sell at least one ticket!

Brian said...

It wasn't so much that we were persuaded as much as the financial structure of our deal almost forces us to do so if we want to break even. Of course if no one is able to make it to those day shows than we are digging an even bigger hole to be buried in. But yes - most distributors only allow us to screen their films 2 times - which is why we are having to go out and find other films. Last year we had 30 films - my guess is that by the time we are done we will have about 40 films. Right now we are at 31 and have like 4 days to finish up!

Ya - in the city that never sleeps people clearly have things they prefer doing to being at a midnight show! We may end up with a couple perhaps.

Chris Public said...

Hey! Lay off Toronto man! I mean, everything you said was true, but lay off! Damn it's cold and boring up here!

Brian said...

Believe me I am just incredibly jealous of the Toronto festival! We would give up our first born to have distributors tell other fests that they are saving their films for the NYAFF. I also like Canada's universal health coverage and Neil Young and and and.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

I hear you -- I usually post more insightful comments on YTSL's comments pages than on my own blog. And when I do post, it's during work (I have a much slower connection at home for one thing).

Good luck with the festival!

Anonymous said...

Caught Mukhsin at MoMa and thoroughly enjoyed it. As I was walking out of the theater I was thinking how cool it would be if you guys were able to surprise me by adding the other two films to your line-up at the last minute! What are the chances of that happening?

By the way, I'm going to babble about the upcoming festival on my Manhattan public access show. Aside from encouraging everyone to come to the festival with alot of friends was there anything else you wanted me to share with my viewing audience which probably consists of myself and maybe one other person.

Brian said...

Hi there - haven't seen you in ages! No - without Mukhsin there really isn't any point in showing two older films. I think you can buy both Sepet and Gubra at:

Plus we have to finalize the schedule tomorrow and are running around like chickens without our heads. But there will be a bunch more films to announce I think. On your public access show could you just mention that I am single and available!

Anonymous said...

Hi Brian, I've been meaning to give you a holler since hearing from Michelle over at Lai Ying that you were back in town. I was surprised with how early you guys had promotional material for this year's festival!

Thanks for the info on where to pick up the dvds for Sepet and Gubra. I'm going to try to hold out a little long in hopes of catching those two on the big screen somewhere.

We'll, your only single and available during the day right? Every night its a different NY Asian film festival groupie!

Anonymous said...

WOOOOOOHOOOOOOOO! Love on Sunday 1 & 2! Thank you subway cinema!

Brian said...

Just don't ask for your money back if you hate them! NO REFUNDS!

Anonymous said...

Man, 1 world premiere and 7 international ones! Not to mention a slew of US and NY premieres! You guys have truly arrived!

Not to mention you guys have a jury this year too!

Anonymous said...

Kind of disappointed to see that the Love on Sunday movies will be video projections instead of 35mm film. Were these shot on video originally?

Brian said...

Yes - Love on Sunday was shot that way as were a bunch of others we are showing.

The Jury - yup - we are really trying to pretend that we are becoming a real film festival. Hope we can fool some people!