Saturday, November 07, 2009

My Top Five Asian American Action Figures

Originally posted at PopCultureShock.


When Jon recently asked me to join the PCS team, he said I could blog about anything I wanted. Because of my affiliation with Secret Identities, I figured I could talk about where Asian Americans and pop culture intersect. And while I love comics, movies and TV as much as the next pop culture junkie, I have to admit that collecting action figures is my biggest weak spot. So I figured I'd pop my PCS cherry with a piece that I actually pitched to ToyFare a couple years back: the best Asian American action figures on the market!

Granted, this isn't the most original idea. In fact, the inspiration came from an old website (I mean, it's so old, it's still hosted on geocities!) by a guy named Paul Chen who chronicled the web's best Asian action figures. Unfortunately, homeboy's site hasn't been updated in a decade, and action figures have gotten way better (and more Asian American, natch!) in the years since.

So rather than just listing each and every action figure of an Asian character that's sitting at your local Toys 'R' Us, I gave myself some criteria. First off, either the character or the actor portraying that character immortalized in plastic has to be Asian American. That means Ken Watanabe as Asian R'as Al Ghul from Hasbro's Batman Begins or McFarlane Toys' Yao Ming don't count. Sorry guys.

The other criteria I look for in an action figure are sculpting, likeness accuracy, and points of articulation.

So without further ado, let's start with #5, which is actually a tie!

#5. Sulu from Diamond Select Toys/Sulu from Playmates

takei sulu
How could we talk about Asian American action figures without talking about the granddaddy of Asian American sci-fi: Mr. Sulu? There have been several Sulu action figures from various companies over the years, but for the sake of this blog post, I'll stick with this 6-inch fig from DST's Star Trek Classics line. When it comes to Trek action figures, I think Diamond and Art Asylum are unrivaled. I love the scale and detail in all their figures, and the sculpt on this Sulu in his classic uni is the spitting image of George Takei!

cho sulu
Back in the late '80s/early '90s, my brother and I used to collect the 4-inch Next Generation figures from Playmates. The detail and articulation on those toys weren't the greatest (which is likely the case for most toys of that period), but there is definitely a sense of nostalgia that kicks in when thinking back to those figures. So I was (sort of) excited to learn Playmates was returning to the world of Star Trek to do figs for the reboot that came out last May. And to be honest, these weren't the greatest toys. The 3 3/4-inchers left a lot to be desired and the detail on the 6-inch scale was not as impressive as their DST analogs. Still, we were treated to our very first John Cho action figure. Now, if only they'd make action figures for the rest of the Better Luck Tomorrow crew and my collection will be complete!

#4. Athena and Boomer 2-Pack from Diamond Select Toys

Wow, another DST figure? Trust me, this has nothing to do with the fact that I used to work at Diamond! Anyway, I'm putting Boomer and Athena here even though I don't watch Battlestar Galactica. What's that? How can I make that claim and still be allowed on a site like PopCultureShock without having my geek credit card cut up into a million pieces? And where do I get off recommending an action figure of a character from a show I don't even watch? Good questions, all. First off, I've always meant to watch BSG, but just never got around to it. So it isn't like I've purposefully shied away from it like I did with, say, everything in the Whedonverse (blasphemy!) As for the second question: my justification for putting this Grace Park 2-pack on my list is, well, because it's a Grace Park action figure. Duh! Plus, there are two of them.

#3. Data from Mezco Toys/Short Round from Hasbro
data mezco
That's right. Number 3 on my list is Jonathan Ke Quan, baby! Now, while it could be argued that his two most iconic portrayals--Short Round from Temple of Doom and Data from Goonies --are essentially Long Duk Dong for the tweens of the '80s generation, I have to disagree. First off, Data was the man in The Goonies. And secondly, Short Round is the heart and soul of Temple and is the best sidekick Indy's ever had. That's right, Shia! I said it.

Anyway, even though Quan hasn't worked in several years, the last couple have been good for him, at least from an action figure point of view. First off, Mezco released a series of Goonies figures and didn't skimp on the accessories! I mean, he comes with the Pinchers of Peril for chrissakes! As for Short Round, I've been wanting 3 3/4 scale Indy figures since I was a little kid (hell, I actually remember Kenner's short-lived Raiders figures) for no other reason than to have Indy and Han Solo standing next to each other on my desk. So, when they expanded the line that came out in '08 to include Short Round, I was so there. But, what was even cooler was the Short Round Mighty Mugg that was exclusive to Entertainment Earth. Seriously. How dope is this?
short round mighty mugg

#2. Tunnel Rat (1987) from Hasbro
I think it's safe to say G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was the be-all-end-all action figure/comic/cartoon franchise of my childhood. I mean, I loved He-Man and the Super Powers and the Real Ghostbusters and Thundercats... Okay, I loved every toyline in the '80s, but there was something special about Joe vs. Cobra (so the fact that I've gotten to know and hang out with Larry Hama in the last few years is, like, mind-blowing). I knew that a Joe had to figure on this list somehow. I could have gone with easy ones like Storm Shadow or Quick Kick. And I was this close to putting Snake Eyes here. But in the end, I had to go with Chinese-Trinidadian Tunnel Rat. And not the "Resolute" one that came out this year. I'm talking old school. The one with the "Win a Fridge Action Figure" sticker on the card! Not only was Tunnel Rat's likeness based on Hama himself (though the bio on the filecard, like most of the one's in the collection, was based on a friend of Larry's), but the dude's got the coolest specialty: explosives! Not the resident martial artist or ninja. Nicky Lee was the dude who blew sh*t up! And you don't get more Asian American than that.

#1. Bruce Lee series from Enterbay
bruce lee fist of fury
Tops on the list have to go to the coolest sixth-scale action figures I've ever seen. And ironically, my favorite Asian American action figure is one I don't (and will probably never) own: Enterbay's Bruce Lee series of figures. Unless, you had $200-$300 you wanted to give me, that is. Still, I've seen these bad boys up close and personal, and they are worth every dollar that I don't have to spare.

Enterbay has done several Bruce Lee figures now. There are two from Enter the Dragon, one from Game of Death, one from Way of the Dragon, and a Kato from Green Hornet. But my personal favorite is the one modeled on Bruce as Chen Zhen from Fist of Fury.

Not only are these the best, most intricate sixth-scale bodies, like most 12-inch figures, each one comes with a plethora of accessories and outfits. To wit, the FoF Bruce comes with two different head sculpts and three(!) different hair sculpts (seriously), two different tailored, cloth outfits, five sets of hands, a pair of nunchucks, a premium wooden diorama, and the infamous "Sick Man of Asia" wooden sign that Bruce so famously cracks in two!

And the best part? Enterbay's exclusive 360 Eyeball system, which allows you to pose his eyes! I know I'm a sucker for articulation, but that's just crazy!

Keith is the Editor-at-Large of the groundbreaking graphic novel anthology SECRET IDENTITIES and Outreach Director for SIUniverse Media. Visit the official Secret Identities blog to keep up with Keith and the rest of the SI team

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Bmore Comic-Con This Weekend!

After stops in New York and San Diego, we'll complete the Comic-Con trifecta with a jaunt through B-more for Baltimore Comic-Con this weekend. Secret Identities editor Jerry Ma and I will be repping the book in Artists Alley at Table #54. Make sure to stop by. Jerry will be doing some sketches and will have some of his awesome Epic tees in tow as well.

Also in attendance at Comic-Con are fellow SI contribs Bernard Chang, Cliff Chiang, Larry Hama and Greg LaRocque. Check us out!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Welcome to the Hall, MJ

   after Carl Sandburg's "Chicago"

   Champion of the world,
   All-galaxy MVP, a living statue,
   Player moved the way 'Trane fingered the sax, dribbling with Roach-rhythm;
   Soaring, always balling,
   Air, simply, The Man:
They tell me you could fly and I believe them, for I have seen your Air
   Jordans pissing on the heads of would-be defenders.
And they tell me you aren't human and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the
   Man, near death, drop 40 on Utah in the Finals.
And they tell me you are intimidating and my reply is: On the faces of Knicks
   and Lakers I have seen the marks of religious fear.
And having answered so I turn once more to the few who would doubt your ability, saying
   you've lost a step, and I give them back a laugh and say to them:
Come and show me another with skin like wet leather, whose shadow could still drop fifty-five
   at will, who still dies for the hoop and lives for the baseline J.
Fading from the corner amid others half his age, sweat gleaming, his
   silhouette set against the rest of the league;
Flying to the rim like a hawk swoops to its food, the ball streaking through the air
   like a comet,
   Driving, dying for air, dunking,
Above the rim, tongue hanging from his mouth, mocking gravity,
   floating away and not apologizing.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

My Favorite Michael Jackson Videos

I've been wanting to do a Michael Jackson post since he passed, but could never find the right words. Especially since there were so many better eulogies out there already. But since today would have been his 51st birthday (not to mention the revelation that he was murdered manslaughtered), I figured this is as good a time as any to remember the King. And I'd do so by running down my five favorite Michael Jackson videos.

These last two months, I've been listening to a lot of MJ's music. I mean a lot. I've gone back and rediscovered so many musical gems that I had either forgotten about or never really paid attention to. Bad was always my favorite album because it was the one that was out when I was old enough to anticipate it. Thriller and Off the Wall were constants in my life when they were out, but I was so little, I didn't realize how important those albums were. But with Bad, I still remember the feeling of peeling the plastic off of the cassette and popping it in to the boombox for the first time. It was a revelation.

Bad also had the fortune of being complemented by the completely awesome and nonsensical Moonwalker movie. I still don't know what the thing was about. I only know that it was awesome! And within it contains, to me, hands down, Michael's greatest accomplishment on film, Smooth Criminal. I always hated that MTV always played the Radio Edit version of the video because the sped up, blurry effects obscured the single greatest thing about this video: that insane, anti-gravity lean. I don't care if it was a special effect. When MJ and his dancers hit that lean, hot damn!

My second favorite MJ video comes courtesy of the Dangerous album. The video itself is actually kind of silly. Magic Johnson's delivery of the line "I present to you the stick man!" is as awkward today as it was 16 years ago. The other cameos, Eddie Murphy and Iman, feel dated (but Eddie's still hilarious), but the reason this is second on the list, is strictly for the choreography. When MJ and the other dancers start tutting and the music breaks down, it's exhilaratinng dancing.

Number three on the list is a video to a song I don't even really like. Also from Dangerous, "Jam" isn't a particularly good song. In the pantheon of New Jack Teddy Riley compositions, "Teddy's Jam 2" by Guy is still better. Also, Heavy D's rap interlude is pretty terrible, and the Kriss Kross cameo really dates this as an early 90s ditty. Still, this vid makes the list simply because of the appearance by the other MJ that impacted my childhood: Michael Jordan. The moment where Jackson tries to teach Jordan to dance is priceless!

A Michael Jackson video list would not be complete without "Thriller." I don't particularly like zombies, and this used to scare the bejeezus out of me when I was a kid, but you don't get more iconic than this. I mean, when Filipino inmates are recreating your choreography in prison, you know your video has touched people's lives everywhere. Plus, werewolf Michael is always cool.

Lastly, I have to go with "Don't Stop til You Get Enough to round out my list. I realized in my immersion in all things Michael that my favorite era is actually the late '70s MJ. Tracks like "Enjoy Yourself," "Shake a Body" and "This Place Hotel" are beautiful songs. And it all culminated in Off the Wall. I started this post talking about why Bad was my favorite album growing up, but as an adult, it's Off the Wall hands down. Michael's voice has never been as pure as it was on this record. And as you can see in the video below, in which he's simply singing/dancing alone on a blue screened, there's an innocence and joy in the performance that was never really there again once he became a galactic megastar. When I think of MJ, the picture I'll always have is the Michael in his late teens/early twenties with the little fro and the huge bow tie. That's my Mike. May you rest in peace. And Happy Birthday.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

Woke up this morning to the news that Ted Kennedy had died in the middle of the night. If there's anything that should inspire the Democrats to grow a backbone and actually fight for health care reform, it should be the passing of the one man who spent his entire career fighting for it.

It's also hard to believe that it was almost exactly a year ago that Sen. Kennedy delivered this moving address at the Democratic National Convention in Denver:

While it's fortunate Kennedy made it to January to witness the swearing in of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, it's a shame that he did not live to see the sweeping change to the health care system that this country so desperately needs (which would have been the case had Kennedy not passed last night).

Maybe this will wake up and energize the left to take back control over the health care debate. Maybe the "moderates" will realize they're "negotiating" with a group of people who have no desire to negotiate. Maybe they will finally understand they've compromised too much already. Maybe the Democrats will actually pass real health care reform.

Do it for Teddy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Ballad of G.I. Joe

Whoa. This is the third G.I. Joe post in a row. Damn.

Anyway, I'd like to amend the post the other day called "The Greatest G.I. Joe Movie I've Ever Seen." I stumbled across this video at Funny or Die, and while I still think the stop-motion with the 3-3/4" figures rules all, the video embedded below is definitely the best live action G.I. Joe I've ever seen.

Seriously. When the FoD guys' casting choices trumps the big budget names at Paramount, ya know something's wrong with your movie franchise.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Greatest G.I. Joe Movie I've Ever Seen!

Okay, so The Rise of Cobra has been getting a lot of crap from the fanboys and the critics despite (or because of?) the fact that it opened at #1 with over $56 million at the box office. I've already said my piece on the movie. I liked it enough, though I will readily admit that it is not a good movie. In fact, it's pretty terrible, but it's one of the few terrible movies that I actually dig. So there.

Anyway, the title of this post is not in reference to the live-action spectacle that is currently dominating Hollywood. Instead, I recently stumbled across the following stop-motion videos that were used to promote the movie. (You can find the source for these vids at the official Rise of Cobra website here.)

To be honest, I'm sort of relieved that I caught these after seeing the movie. If I had seen this beforehand, I too would have been mightily disappointed in what we got onscreen. I mean, the stuff they do with a bunch of Hasbro's 3 3/4" 25th Anniversary figures and vintage Joe vehicles trumps everything they did on film. If the nine-year-old me geeked out watching the movie, he nearly passed out watching the coolness of the toys literally coming to life in the embeds below.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Half the Battle

Since I reviewed Transformers: ROTF LMAO back in June, I guess it's only fair that I talk about my thoughts on G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra as well. (Interesting/creepy side note: when I came home from seeing Transformers, I turned on the computer to find out Michael Jackson was hospitalized/dying. Last night, after watching G.I. Joe, Twitter tells me John Hughes had passed. It's true, the '80s are slowly disintegrating from existence.)

OK, first up, shocker of shockers, I actually kind of liked the movie. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't good (at all), but it was undeniably fun. (Full disclosure, I saw the move for free at a vintage-style drive-in with some cool friends, so these factors could have attributed to the enjoyment factor). I think I liked it on a visceral level (similar to why I was a fan of the cartoon, methinks--which also, when you really get down to it, weren't very good either). Of course, I would have preferred a movie that adhered a little closer to Larry Hama's epic comic stories (especially his version of the Snake Eyes-Storm Shadow relationship), but that's probably asking too much.

I'll say this, if you enjoyed the cartoons, you'll like the movie. My brother Raymond observed too that if you were a 12-year-old, the cinematic G.I. Joe experience would have been a revelation. And I can't disagree. There's just something geeky cool about seeing all the cool vehicles and weapons wreaking havoc and blowing up cities. And you can't leave out the badass katana fights--ninjas make everything better after all. The one thing the movie got right, unlike Transformers, is that each of the characters had a distinct personality. Even if they were all wearing black leather, X-Men suits, each character on the Joe team--Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Breaker, and Heavy Duty--had a unique role and function. I actually kind of wish the movie was more about them than the two leads we got--Channing Tatum's Duke and Marlon Wayans' Ripcord. Tatum takes the notion of "wooden acting" to a whole new level. Seriously, this dude makes Hayden Christensen seem like a dynamic thespian. And while Wayans' Ripcord was a likable character, I would have liked him more if he weren't channeling 1997-era Will Smith. I was also disappointed in Dennis Quaid's General Hawk. Hawk was one of my favorite Joes growing up, and Quiad just sleepwalks through the whole thing. And also, would it have been so bad to let him wear a brown bomber jacket and green camo pants for just one scene in the flick? Is that asking too much?

On the Cobra side of things, I thought Sienna Miller was okay as Baroness (though I would have preferred the vague, eastern European accent she had on the cartoon) and dug Christopher Eccleston's snively, conniving interpretation of Destro. I'm undecided about Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Cobra Commander. He was appropriately over the top, but I couldn't get passed the redesign of the character, especially during the supposedly iconic reveal of him as "The Commander." I think that scene would have worked better if JG-L was wearing a mask that actually evoked one of Cobra Commander's many looks and not the weird, clear skull-looking helmet they gave him. I guess my problem with Cobra Commander and the Neo-Vipers is the same problem I have with the robot model designs in Transformers, namely that they are over-designed. I mean, the Cobra Trooper look is pretty hard to mess up. They're wearing blue military uniforms and blue helmets with red or black scarves over their faces! Why make them look like Imperial Stormtroopers crossed with an armadillo? I figured the looks of the Joes and Cobras would not be so difficult to translate to live action, so I don't understand the need to redesign everything. Some designs are iconic enough to stay the same, no? I mean they got the looks of Baroness, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow (for the most part) right, so why not the others?

So what did I like? Honestly, I liked the little touches. The most geek-out moment for me was when Breaker asked for a piece of gum and blew a bubble while in the car. I thought that was awesome! A nice little touch for the fans. I thought Snake Eyes was pretty cool (despite the mouth on the mask and lack of UZI. Seriously, Snake Eyes packs a glock? WTF?). I do wish the backstory of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow wasn't as simplistic as the movie made it seem. But it was serviceable. I hope there's more focus on them in Part 2. Basically, I want a Snake Eyes movie. (Hey, if all the X-Men movies can be about Wolverine, than all the Joe movies can be about Snake Eyes!) And Snake Eyes looks absolutely badass in a hood and trenchcoat!

I liked that the Night Raven, the C.L.A.W., the S.H.A.R.C.s, and the U.S.S. Flagg all made appearances. And Baroness' tricked out HumVee was essentially a modern version of the Cobra Stinger. The Pit was pretty cool too. I also liked that the Joe's arctic gear resembled Snow Job's.

Bottom line: it was a bunch of dumb fun. I really wanted to dislike the movie, but I have to admit I was entertained for two hours. It was definitely better than both Transformers movies, and there's a (naive) part of me that hopes they fix what they got wrong for the sequel. What can I say? At heart, I'm a diehard Joe fan. Larry Hama practically defined my childhood. I was gonna like it no matter what.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More photos from San Diego

Now that Comic-Con has come and gone, it's finally time to get back into the daily grind that doesn't involve immovable lines of people and sweaty homemade spandex costumes. While I'm glad to be home, sleeping in my own bed, a part of me bemoans the fact that it'll be at least another year before I am able to walk into a men's room and witness the scene to the left. Only at Comic-Con!

I'll also miss seeing all the random celebrities that I encountered while hanging out in San Diego. Aside from meeting Kelly Hu (X2) and grabbing drinks with the likes of Keiko Agena (Gilmore Girls) and the illustrious Larry Shen, I also caught glimpses of Brian Cox (X2) Zachary Levi (Chuck), Tyrese (four times!), Emily Deschanel (Bones), Scott Wolf (Party of Five), Morris Chestnut (Boyz N the Hood) and Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost). The last three were spotted having dinner together at Nobu (where Epic Props/Secret Identities had our own epic dinner!)

So I leave you guys with some of my favorite photos from Nerd Prom. Till next year, stay classy San Diego!
Oh yeah, did I forget to mention Hugh Jackman in my celeb rundown?

Bumblebee was also in attendance.

You cannot understand how badly I wanted to get the black/gold vinyl Voltron!

It would have been nice to bring home Giant Voltron too, I guess.

Secret Identities in the hizzy!

Kelly Hu signing Natsuko's copy of Secret Identities...

...and modeling my favorite Epic Props shirt...

...and getting interviewed byVictor of G4 Canada's "Electric Playground."

Monday, July 27, 2009

What I Did This Weekend

Just got back from a whirlwind five days in San Diego. Was in town for a little trade show you may or may not have heard about. I was helping to hold down the fort at the Epic Proportions booth with my boys Jerry, Parry and Jeff as we hawked Secret Identities to the sweaty, costumed sea of humanity before us. Being that this was my first San Diego experience--and I had heard all the stories of how insane it is--I was braced for the madness, and to be honest, I didn't find it that different than others that I've been to, except that maybe this was a lot more fun.

I think it helped to have a home base like the Epic Props booth to come back to. For one, this experience was different because I had a book to promote and sell (and sell we did!), but also because I got to hang out with some really cool people. So not only was it cool to see Parry, Jerry, and Jeff again, but it was doubly cool to get to know everyone holding down the Epic side! So big ups to everyone at Epic, and especially Ken, Will, and Sandy!

When I did manage to navigate through hordes trying to get free swag and gawking at various booth babes and celebs, it was pretty maddening. (Quick tip: when trying to blow some steam off after being stressed out, walking the exhibit halls is not the way to go.) They're not exaggerating about this place being packed to the gills. Making your way to, say, Artists' Alley requires planning, preparation and patience. And blisters on your feet. Fortunately, being an exhibitor allowed me to gain access to the halls before the doors were open, and this was the best time to check out all the studios' elaborate booths, though they were not open to offering their free (or even not free) swag until doors opened. Boo!

Anyway, Comic-Con was an awesome experience. Met a lot of cool people, hopefully gained some new fans, and reconnected with a lot of old friends! Just some of the cool people I got to hang out with (however briefly) included: Derek Kirk Kim, Gene Yang, Kazu Kibuishi, James Jean, Heidi MacDonald, Clay Moore, Shelley Myers, Cliff Chiang, Danny Lee, Keiko Agena, Shin Kawasaki, Phil Yu, Larry Hama, Janice Chiang, Bernard Chang, Sean Chen, Fletcher Chu-Fong, and a bunch more. Can't wait to do it again.

And now comes the only part that anyone cares about in a San Diego Comic-Con wrap-up: the photos! At the time, I thought I was taking a ton of pics, but it turns out that there was a lot of stuff I just forgot to take pictures of, otherwise I'd be standing around pointing my camera everywhere and snapping photos of everything. Here's what I did manage to capture in pixels. Check out even more photos on Facebook!

The Bat-Pod!

Lounging at the Hard Rock with Jerry Ma, Cliff Chiang & Parry Shen.

Gene Yang and Larry Hama are some of the guys who stopped by the booth.

Larry with Snake Eyes himself, Ray Park.

This one's for Raymond: Me and Usagi Yojimbo creator Stan Sakai!

The guys with Keiko Agena and Ming Doyle.

You don't want to see Phil when he's Angry!

With Kelly Hu and Cliff.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Poem for Bruce: 11/27/40 - 7/20/73

Like Water: 
Excerpts from Bruce Lee’s Last Interview
Hong Kong, July, 1973

I guess it all adds up to bad karma, man.
My father used to talk about these demons
that shadowed my life like rain clouds
crawling over an April afternoon.
Always there. But there’s more
to me than demons.
I’m serious.
Dismiss what I do. Chop-socky Kung-fu,
you might say. But that’s my art. Not just ass-kicking and
a wa-taa here and there. That jazz isn’t about
self-defense, man, it’s about saving
my self. And baby, every day I leave my soul out there,
bloody and tired. Honestly. Expressing. Myself. That
can’t be taken away,
no matter what.
See, I’m not a superstar.
That’s an illusion, man. I mean, a star
just burns up and fades into the seconds that
disappear on the horizon. But I got nowhere
else to be, but here. Tell me, you think Jimi
could tell the difference between the music
bleeding out of those strings and his own damned soul?
It’s the seventies now, and baby,
there isn’t any room left for anymore accusing.
I don’t have time to worry about who’s white
and who’s wrong. As far as I am concerned,
in the eyes of Heaven, we are all racing to
the same end. But outside,
the weather isn’t good
for Orientals right now. America is just
waking up from Korea, and
with Vietnam untying our boots, you tell me
who looks like the enemy?
It’s like time’s watching me, man, and
I got no reason to believe all the shit
isn’t going to drop on me – as if the scabs
on my soul weren’t warning enough.
But I have to live my life trying
to find a calmness through the chaos, ya know?
Take Linda, my wife, the way her hair
spills like sunset down her back.
That’s how I explain this thing
we’re all swimming around in. Those demons?
They can’t catch me. I know the deal.
I know.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

When is Someone Going to Let ME Make a Transformers Movie?

So I just got out of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: The IMAX Experience. That's a lot of colons. (By the way, props to the Maryland Science Center for finally showing Hollywood movies in their IMAX theater! I've been lobbying for this for years--or at least since The Dark Knight came out last summer. No more Fake IMAX at AMC for me!)

Anyway, as I was saying, TF:ROTF:TIE. Where do we begin? This flick fails on so many levels, not least of which are the Stepin Fetchbots that have been getting the brunt of the negative press. More on them later. I think a lot of my problems with this movie are the same ones I had with the first one: mainly, the robot designs are too busy and indistinguishable, the human characters are corny, the action is hard to follow, the humor is crass, and the storyline is nonsensical (or maybe non-existent?). Only these problems have been magnified a thousand fold.

For instance, I read that were dozens of more robots. I wouldn't know because they all look exactly alike. Especially the Decepticons. You know how I could tell the difference between Megatron and Starscream when they were on screen together? I couldn't! Everyone's a jumbled mess of chrome and metal. And the human characters are even worse this time around. Everytime Sam's parents were on camera, I wanted to shove a Decepticon probe-bot in my eye sockets. Seriously, whoever thought a scene in which Sam's mom gets high on "special" brownies must have been high on "special" brownies.

Oh, Michael Bay. Sometimes "awesome" doesn't equal "good." As I mentioned, I saw the IMAX cut of the flick. Like Christopher Nolan did last summer in The Dark Knight, Bay and co. actually shot several scenes using an IMAX camera. Like TDK, the aspect ratio changes whenever an IMAX scene occurs and the image fills the 50-foot screen. Unlike Nolan, though, there is no rhyme or reason to his use of IMAX footage. In The Dark Knight, whole swathes of the movie were filmed and presented in IMAX--like aerial establishing shots of Gotham, the opening bank heist, the Bat-Pod chase, and the climax. In TF2, Bay cuts back and forth between IMAX footage and standard 35-mm footage IN THE SAME SCENE! Not only is it distracting, it's pointless. Whenever Dark Knight switched aspect ratios, it was meant to put the viewer directly into the scene. Nolan had each IMAX shot last several seconds so you could take in the whole scope and breadth of the scene you were witnessing. With the constant cutting between 35-mm and 70-mm in Transformers, the effect is actually the opposite. Rather than being enveloped by the experience, you're being jarred in and out of the scene.

(WARNING: The rest of this review will be full of SPOILERS! You've been warned.)

The only time IMAX really worked was during the forest battle near the beginning of the film. This scene worked for two reasons: one, Bay limits the shifting aspect ratio and keeps most of the scene in IMAX, and two, with the characters fighting on the green background of the forest, you could actually see and comprehend the action.

The battle in the forest is also the setting of Optimus Prime's "death." I had the feeling this was coming from some of the trailers. It was a much cooler death than the one Prime got in the animated movie 25 years ago. (I'll never forgive Hot Rod for getting Prime killed!) My only issue was the fact that they were killing off Prime in only the second movie. Fortunately (or not) Prime gets resurrected during the end battle (using the Matrix of Leadership no less!) so that was cool. Speaking of "deaths," Sam visits Autobot Heaven. To which I say, WTF?!

So let's break the flick down into the GOOD, the BAD, and the UGLY:

GOOD: the aforementioned forest battle is cool (though the whole time I was thinking, why aren't the other Autobots helping Optimus? Why is he taking on five Decepticons alone? It's not like the others weren't around). I also like Soundwave as a satelite (and that his voice sounds like he did on the cartoon! Yay!) with his projectiles transforming into Ravage (what, no love for Lazerbeak?). I also really like Optimus' heroic unveiling in the beginning of the movie when he was airdropped over Shanghai. That's how you make an entrance! I also appreciated references to the Matrix of Leadership and Energon.

BAD: Um, everything else? The human Decepticon (again, WTF?!), the annoying roommate, the blurry CGI. Seriously, why spend hundreds of millions on ILM when the finished product is just a bunch of grey and green blurs on the screen? Also, how can you ruin the Constructicons? Devastator was one of the coolest toys when I was a kid. Construction vehicles that can combine into a giant mega robot? Awesome. For some reason, though, these Constructicons combine into a lumbering gorilla-bot, with mechanical testicles by the way, that can barely move. What's the point, really?

Maybe it's just me, but I also got a strong anti-Obama streak throughout. He's clearly POTUS in the flick. There's mention of him being evacuated to a bunker during the Decepticon assault. But that isn't what bugged me. Instead, I thought the NSA pencil-pusher character was a veiled criticism of this administration's "diplomacy first" foreign policy. There's a scene in which said pencil-pusher, on direct orders from POTUS, tells Josh Duhamel's Marine character that they are basically going to sit down and negotiate with Megatron. I was waiting for him to finish his sentence with "without preconditions."

UGLY: What? Other than Megan Fox's collagen implants? Rimshot.

Seriously, though. Who came up with Mudflap and Skids? I know Jazz (who's my favorite Autobot, by the way) from the first flick got some flack for being too "urban", but it's as if the writers thought to themselves, let's take that criticsim and make it even more offensive. Like I said, Jazz was my favorite Transformer (too bad Scatman Crothers couldn't do the voice in the first movie), but I don't recall him being a jive-talking robot. Also, it isn't just the fact that Mudflap and Skids speak in "urban slang." They also happen to be illiterate buffoons with giant bug-eyes and gold teeth that serve no other purpose than to be laughed at. In other words, they're minstrels in disguise.

Bottom line is that I disliked Transformers 2 so much that not only am I not going to buy the DVD, I'm going to sell my copy of Transformers 1 to a used DVD store.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Yellow: American Dream, Chinese Ambition

Just got contacted by the filmmakers of the short Yellow. Check out their YouTube channel here. You can see a teaser and a behind-the-scenes with the cast and crew embedded below:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Secret Identities in New York

This past weekend was a banner one for SECRET IDENTITIES as we held two stellar events in New York City. The first one was a reception and panel at the Time Life Building for Time Warner's Asian American Association. Joining the editors (Jeff, Keith, Jerry, and Jef) were comic superstars Cliff Chiang and Christine Norrie. The panel was moderated by DC/Vertigo's incomparable editor extraordinaire Pornsak Pichetshote.

Before the panel, though, there was a wine and cheese reception on the second floor of the building where original artwork from SECRET IDENTITIES was on display. In addition to original pages from stories in the book, some artists also contributed brand new pieces for the gallery. The editors only regret is that they weren't able to stay long at the reception!

Then, on Saturday, the legendary Larry Hama joined Cliff and Christine (and Keith, Jerry, Jef) for a really cool signing at Midtown Comics in Times Square! I think I speak for the whole SI team when I say that it was an honor and a privelege to be at the same table with people as great and cool as Larry, Christine and Cliff! Also, big shout out to all the fans that showed up to get their books scribbled in and especially to the staff and crew of Midtown. You guys are the best!

And be sure to check out Jerry Ma as he looks back at the week that was on his blog at epic props. While you're at it, peep the video interview embedded below shot by the fine folks at!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Goonies Never Say Die!

This is the coolest thing I've ever seen. In honor of Empire's 20th anniversary, they allowed Steven Spielberg to "guest edit" the mag (like what Wired did with JJ Abrams last month.)

The result? Spielberg got Dick Donner and the cast of "Goonies" together for a photo shoot! Empire has some behind the scenes video of the reunion. How awesome is that?

This awesome!

I love that Data hasn't really changed at all in two decades. But what happened to Chunk?! I don't know about you guys, but I would love to see a Goonies II: All Grown Up!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Shuffled Part One

So I originally wrote this up for Boston Progress Radio's Shuffled column a while back, but since they've yet to post it, I figured I'd throw it up on here. Who knows? Maybe I'll turn it into a running feature to generate some content on this thing.

Basically, I put my iPod on "shuffle" and wrote about the first five songs that popped up. This was the case on March 9:

“Travelin’ Man”
DJ Honda f. Mos Def

This has got to be my all-time favorite track from the Mighty Mos Def. I think the song has a lot more resonance for me now that I travel a lot more than I used to—which is especially tough when you have a baby girl at home that you can’t stand to be away from (everybody: “awwww”). The version I have is slightly different from the one most people know about. The chorus on mine goes “I’m leavin’ on a jet plane/I don’t know when I’ll be back again/Kiss me and smile for me/tell me that you’ll wait for me/Hold me like you know I’ll never go/even though you know I will…” I’m not sure why mine’s different. I guess I’m special like that.

Black Star f. Common

I guess my iPod is taking me to task for claiming “Travelin’ Man” as my favorite Mos Def track. I remember one of my boys back in college lending me the Black Star CD. While I dug what I was listening to; as soon as it got to “Respiration,” that was it. I was hooked. I love everything about this song. From the opening dialog and intro in Spanish to Kweli’s breathless delivery, everything just works. It’s an introspective ode to city life that doesn’t dumb it down or glamorize it. And Hi-Tek’s beat is just absolutely grimy. But my favorite aspect of the song is how beautiful the wordplay is. I even used to teach it in my Creative Writing classes—which probably explains why I don’t teach high school anymore. “Heard the bass ride out like an ancient mating call/I can't take it y'all, I can feel the city breathin’/Chest heavin’, against the flesh of the evening/Sigh before we die like the last train leaving.” I’m telling you, playing that isht in an English classroom will blow a 15-year-old’s mind, and hopefully turn them on to some real hip-hop in the process.

“Turntable Mathematics”
The Mountain Brothers
It seems that I don’t listen to any music post- 1999. And now that I think about it, that’s probably true. Anyway, I headed up an Asian American Student group when I was an undergrad, and one of our crowning achievements was getting the MBs and DJ Roli Rho of 5th Platoon to headline at ODU. It was a dope show, too. We had a bunch of local hip hop groups, turntablists, and dance crews do their business. Afterwards, we took them all out to an IHOP till 3 in the morning. Good times. It’s interesting that this is the MB song that popped up on my iPod, considering it’s essentially a Chops solo cut. Even though he’s best known as a producer, I always liked him as an emcee. Apparently, he’s also the only MB still making music, too. I read on Wikipedia that Peril-L and Styles are doctors now. Hurm…

“I’m Not a Hero”
Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard

It figures that the first non-1990s hip hop track to show up would come from the original score to The Dark Knight. Considering that my iPod is overloaded with nerd movie film scores, I’m surprised it took that long to get to this one. (Warning: the following is going to get super geeky, so feel free to skip down to the next write-up.) So yeah, people gave a lot of crap to Christopher Nolan and company when they decided to eschew the familiar Danny Elfman theme for 2005’s Batman Begins. I was not one of them. While Zimmer & Howard’s score doesn’t have anything as instantly iconic as Danny Elfman’s, it makes up for it in unadulterated atmosphere. And just like The Dark Knight took Batman Begins to a whole ‘nother level, the sequel’s score punches you in the neck from the jump and doesn’t stop. “I’m Not a Hero” is actually a combination of two different cues from the movie. The first half covers the introduction of nocturnal Gotham, from Gordon by the Bat-Signal to Batman busting up a drug deal in a parking garage. The second half is the music from the scenes in Hong Kong. And when the percussion really kicks in? Goddamn. It makes me want to dive off a skyscraper. But in a good way.

The Sugarcubes

People bitch about MTV, but honestly, without it, my musical tastes in middle school would have been way shittier. I mean, I lived in a small-ass town in the middle of Virginia. The closest record store was in a mall 45 minutes away. But thank god we had cable. If it weren’t for shows like 120 Minutes or Yo! MTV Raps, I’d probably still be listening to Poison or Def Leppard right now. (I don’t care what none of y’all say, the album Hysteria is awesome sauce.) So I remember one late Sunday night, I caught the video for this song on MTV, and I was instantly intrigued by the cute-in-a-weird-and-crazy-way singer. At the time, I assumed Björk was Asian and was surprised MTV had any Asian-y people on the network. A couple years later, I was perusing a used record store and found an old cassette of Life’s Too Good, remembered the video and bought it on the spot. It’s still a great album, full of really unique and chaotic energy. That said, I never truly understood the late 80s trend of having a weird dude talk/speak throughout a song. Dude’s like the Flavor Flav to Björk’s Chuck D. Who knew the Sugarcubes needed a hype man?

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