Friday, February 23, 2018

It's The (Gasp!) Rondo Boys Club

It's awards season, ladies and gentlemen, and this always brings to mind the questions of legitimacy and purpose for awards overall.

I've given my share of awards over the years. As a judge at the MicroCineFest I often encouraged my fellow jury members to go beyond the standard "Best Feature" and "Best Short" to come up with many unusual awards, knowing that sometimes that laurel leaf design wrapped around "Best Whatever" can often give a filmmaker a shot at being in another festival or even garnering something greater. I'm not saying that we single-handedly helped Rian Johnson land the Star Wars: The Last Jedi gig but... we didn't. His Evil Demon Golf Ball from Hell was in the 1997 program before the festival had awards.

Regardless, awards can be helpful. Movies that are nominated for Academy Awards can suddenly regain box office momentum. This "seal of approval" from peers earmarks a work or a person as being special, of being noteworthy.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Academy Awards. I watch the show religiously though I am not necessarily invested in it. I don't rush out to see all of the Academy Award-nominated films in hopes of winning my Oscar pool by knowing which films, performances, audio editing, or costumes truly deserve to walk home with an award.

I think back to Dustin Hoffman railing against the Academy Award for which he was a winner in 1980 (for 1979's Kramer Vs. Kramer):

I'm up here with mixed feelings. I've been critical of the Academy, and for reason. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to be able to work.[...]I refuse to believe that I beat Jack Lemmon, that I beat Al Pacino, that I beat Peter Sellers. I refuse to believe that Robert Duvall lost. We are a part of an artistic family. There are sixty thousand actors in this Academy – pardon me – in the Screen Actors Guild, and probably a hundred thousand in Equity. And most actors don't work, and a few of us are so lucky to have a chance to work with writing and to work with directing. Because when you're a broke actor you can't write; you can't paint; you have to practice accents while you're driving a taxi cab. And to that artistic family that strives for excellence, none of you have ever lost and I am proud to share this with you. And I thank you.

And that brings me to the Rondo Awards. The website states: "Since 2002, the Rondo's have been fandom’s only classic horror awards — decided by fans, for fans." Let me say up front that The Projection Booth podcast - which I have co-hosted for seven years now - has been nominated five times. Also let me say that The Projection Booth is not necessarily a "horror podcast". The name of the Rondo Awards is officially "The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards". A better name would probably be "The Rondo Hatton Genre Awards" where "genre" typically gets translated these days into Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy.

Take a look at the nominations this year for "Best Film of 2017" and you'll find films like Blade Runner 2049, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Justice League, Thor: Ragnarok, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, War for the Planet of the Apes, and Wonder Woman. Those clearly are not horror films.

What's stranger is the second part of the Rondo credo: "decided by fans, for fans." The nomination and voting process of the Rondos is murky at best. I'm not asking for Price Waterhouse Coopers to oversee the process but a little more transparency would be nice. As it is, the nominations seem to come from the Classic Horror Film Board. I don't want to cast aspersions upon the members of this particular forum but they seem to be rather myopic.

The man behind the Rondos, David Colton, says: "It's an imperfect process, obviously, but we try the best we can to represent the best each year. [...] there's so much out there that sometimes things fall through the cracks."

While that may account for a few things getting by Colton and the 8600 members of the Classic Horror Film Board, it seems very odd that almost an entire gender escaped notice this year. When the Rondo Nominees were announced on February 18, 2018 there was a glaring gender gap.

This year's Rondos have 29 categories. Of those, six are strictly write-in categories, leaving 23 with nominations. Of those 23, roughly a dozen recognize individual achievements (categories like "Best Blog" or "Best Multimedia" can be argued to be group efforts). Of those, there were only seven that had a single female nominee of any kind and only one that had two or more female nominees (Best Short Film).

This caused a small uproar on Facebook, leading to the addition of two more nominations -- one in the Best Commentary category and one in the Book of the Year category. Yet, this felt like a case of "too little, too late."

Traditionally, people picture the stereotypical nerd living in his mom's basement as the the kind of person that would be interested in the horror genre but that is an outdated and incorrect. Shock of all shocks, there's even been a concerted effort to shed a light on women in horror with the aptly titled Women in Horror month!

Setting aside the gender gap for a second, let's look at the nominees overall and ask if they're even worthy of being in the running. Some of them are doing fantastic work but among their ranks are several writers, producers, podcasters, etc. who are just "phoning it in" and getting awarded for their flagrant mediocrity. Let us not forget that Lianne Spiderbaby is a Rondo Award winner. She could get a nomination (and win) while the people she ripped off for her articles and YouTube show did not: Lianne wasn't cribbing from the handful of consistent Rondo-nominees that have shown up time and again since the 2002 inception.

Where are the people who are doing the work? Putting in the hours, pounding the pavement, providing quality research into the horror genre? Where are Amanda Reyes, Heather Buckley, Bill Ackerman, James Gracey, Kier-la Janisse, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Chris Hallock, and Heather Drain? Where's The Cultural Gutter website and the Daughters of Darkness podcast? That's just a cursory list. I can't even say that I am a "Monster Kid" and those are just a few names that come to mind. The people who know horror will know these names and many more. These aren't the kind of people to nominated themselves on the Rondo thread (which I saw repeatedly when just taking a cursory glance). They're too busy actually busting their butts to do the work and then don't get kudos when the time comes for the farkakte nominations get announced.

If David Colton and the guys who provide the nominations need help, I suggest they join a few Facebook groups and follow some sites. As it is, I'm a casual fan and seem to know more of what's going on than these ardent fans. Or, is it just that they don't care? Or, is Facebook too new of a medium? Are they stuck with forum groups? I mean, the awards themselves still rely on antiquated things like "Email me your votes" rather than any kind of real online tabulation system. It would be nice to know who's actually getting votes. But, again, that's transparency and that's not what the Rondos are about.

Going beyond the bigger question of "should there even be awards?" I want to ask:

Who did the Rondos miss for work that appeared in 2017?
Who should get a little notice that hasn't?
And, should you even bother writing them in or are the Rondos just a sham?



This rant will likely preclude me from getting another ill-conceived nomination for a Rondo Award but, as Groucho Marx said, "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member."



Update: Apparently this piece along with some better sentiments have managed to touch a nerve. Mr. Colton writes:

I hesitate to do this, because if you have to list the women we've nominate then yup, there must be a problem (which there is). But just for those who might not know, this year's Rondo ballot includes: directors Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, Natalie James, Izzy Lee, along with writers, artists and pros like Sheena Joyce, Susan Svehla, Heather Wilson, Samm Deighan, Kat Ellinger, Deborah Painter, Tiffany DuFoe, Holly Interlandi, Stacey Asip-Kneischel, Andrea Subassati, Amanda Reyes, Laura Wagner, Sara Deck, Elvira, Graveyard Shift Sisters, Women in Horror Month, Etheria Film Festival, Rebekah McKendry, Homicidal Homemaker, Joanne Fulton, Vanessa Harryhausen, Susan Sarandon, Arachna, Marlena Midnite, Robyn, Penny Dreadful, Clizia Gussoni, Sara Karloff, Nancy Allen.

Past Rondo winners have included Jovanka Vuckovic, Kier-La Janisse, April Snellings (Writer of the Year, 2016), Jessie Lilley, Donna Lucas, Marian Clatterbaugh, Kathy Burns, Julie Adams, Lorraine Bush, Hannah Neurotica, Jackie Blaisdell, Vicki Smeraldi, Sue Howison, Sara Karloff, Vampira, Elvira, Linda Wylie, Trish Geiger, Rhonda Steerer, Debbie Rochon, Heather Buckley, Alycia Forum, Victoria Price.

Me thinks he doth protest too much. I also wonder if all of those winners even add up to half the total of Rondos that Tim Lucas has won over the years.

Also please note that even more things have been added to the list since I wrote this piece yesterday.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Tarantino Tales


As I mentioned way back when the Lianne Spiderbaby scandal broke, I'm the guy that people bring their Tarantino news to. I'm also the guy people bring their wild stories to.

The "take down" of men who have been accused of sexual misconduct has also brought about some incredible conspiracy theories as well. "Look at who's being accused! They're lower level nobodies, no one who's making Hollywood any significant bank these days. They're all sacrificial lambs while the real criminals carry on..."

Couple those two things and I've gotten an in-box full of Tarantino Tales that implicate him as a sexual predator -- specifically against Death Proof actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead -- and that his disavowal of Harvey Weinstein was nothing more than a smoke screen and that Sony is now protecting Tarantino from any accusations of misconduct now that he's in pre-production on his Manson film.

Let's not forget that Quentin Tarantino was dating Mira Sorvino -- playing a role in getting her in The Replacement Killers, which was right around the time Peter Jackson was in pre-production for Lord of the Rings. Some say this was an orchestrated revenge against Sorvino on Tarantino's behalf. ("Some say" is that same kind of crappy phrase Trump uses like "People are saying...").

There are also "casting couch" stories in regard to all of the movies that Tarantino has bandied about but never made: the Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill remake, the Vega Brothers movie, etc. But, again, those are rumors. Baseless accusations.

While these allegations against Tarantino have yet to come to light, they still may. However, I've also been treated to some stories about Tarantino that Alex Jones may find far-fetched.

Let it be said right now that I don't think that these hold any water. I don't think that Quentin Tarantino gave Roger Avary a spiked drink, leading to a fatal car crash nor do I think that Harvey Weinstein pushed Tarantino's long-time editor Sally Menke off a cliff while Tarantino video taped it, in order to make a snuff film to which he could masturbate later. Quentin Tarantino may be a lot of things but I don't see him as a Bond villain-level mastermind committing a string of crimes.

I don't even buy him throwing Hadrian Belove to the wolves as Cinefamily is a digital threat to the analog New Beverly; or doing the same to Harry Knowles because Knowles no longer serves a purpose. No, I see Tarantino as a guy who likes to hole up in his house and smoke too much dope.

I also don't see Harvey Weinstein as a serial killer who had both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams killed. This seems the definition of "fake news" and batshit crazy.

I'm sure not what to think about Robert Rodriguez's involvement in the Weinstein story. The casting of Rose McGowan in the notorious Grindhouse project presents some problems especially when I remember that Rodriguez cheated on his wife with McGowan before he abruptly broke up with her.

And what role does Amber Tamblyn play in all this? She allegedly encouraged Quentin Tarantino to "come clean" about what he knew about Harvey Weinstein but it all seems overly-calculated. This is both show and business.

I don't see it as any coincidence that Bryan Singer was removed from Bohemian Rhapsody right before being sued for sexual assault.

Now I am starting to sound like a conspiracy theorist but I will say that not only do I think we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg in regard to the mechanisms of the entertainment industry but that what we've read reeks of pre-approved studio releases.

There's absolutely no journalistic integrity to this blog post so it shouldn't be considered news. Consider it a bit of "pulp fiction" as it were. If there are hard facts out there to support any of these things, it's improbable they'll ever come to light but stranger things have happened.

Shanghai Diary: Three Weeks Later

It may sound like I'm exaggerating but not an hour goes by without thinking of Shanghai.

I won't give my usual list of what I miss -- food, people, etc. One of the strangest things that I miss was everyone around me speaking Mandarin. When I was over there I went out to lunch a few times with co-workers and they would speak to one another most of the time, leaving me out of the conversation and just speaking to each other in their native tongue. I have more experience with this than I might like.

Just today I was at lunch with three of my American co-workers and they were speaking to one another and leaving me out of the conversation. They were speaking another language -- or might as well have been. They were talking about sports of one kind or another. Football, mostly, and some hockey too, I think. I honestly could make out more from listening to the conversations in Mandarin. Plus, it was a little less aggravating to hear the Mandarin.

Having all of those conversations going on around me in Mandarin made my life a lot easier. Not knowing what was being said was akin to being able to just tune things out. Too often I'll be in public and my ears seem to pick out a single speaker -- someone annoying -- and can only hear them, even louder than my companion(s). I didn't have that problem in Shanghai.

Being here in the subzero temperatures of Michigan and seeing the 40-60 degree temperatures in Shanghai also make things a bit painful as well.

Being in the nicer weather and being in the big city lead to a lot more physical activity than I've been capable of doing over here. The good news, I suppose, is that I didn't gain much weight when I was there -- despite being so freaked out about not being able to maintain my diet. When I went in for a weigh-in I had only gained three pounds.

I've gotten a lot of compliments at work over the last week. However, every time that happens I realize that I'm only halfway there. One hundred pounds down, one hundred to go. And then it'll be time to maintain that weight.

I keep trying to think of a way to talk the powers-that-be at work into sending me back but I can't seem to find the right combination of words yet to make that happen. In the meantime, I'm just slightly miserable.


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Melon!

I'm back in the U.S. With everything that's been going on, I'm amazed the place is still standing. One of my relatives said, "I'm glad you back safe and sound," and I couldn't help say, "Yeah, especially with all the mass shootings that have happened since I've been gone."

I wrapped up work on Thursday and sent all of my Thank You emails to the folks in Shanghai (and even some in Southfield). Eileen came over to give me a drive with some videos on it for work and told me that she had a going-away present for me. She was having it delivered from her home town (found out that it wasn't kuai di but delivered halfway by her brother and the other half by her husband. It's a picture under glass of a panda made with human hair. That might sound gruesome to some folks but I love the long history of hair art.

We agreed to meet for dinner the next night. We went to a place that Serena had picked out where she felt I could get the most traditional Shanghai food before I left: Xiaolongbo, Hong Shao Rou, Sea Cucumber, and more.

I was scheduled to fly out Saturday at 12:20 PM but the flight kept getting pushed back until I got notification Saturday morning that the flight was delayed until 5:15 PM. That gave me another five hours in Shanghai.

As the Didi left my apartment for the airport, the weight of emotion hit me and I started crying. I thought about my trip to the UK when I was a teenager and how much I wanted to get back to the U.S. back then and how much I wanted to stay in Shanghai now. This depression hit me again on the flight and even last night as I lay in my own bed after three months. I'm fighting it back now as I write. I didn't expect to fall in love but I did.

And speaking of love, apparently the people on WeChat love eating melon because it keeps coming up in different sticker sets. Here's a small example:


And I wanted to have a shot of a bunch of Ele.me guys but I got this one of a bunch of other delivery guys hanging out:


Now I'm back and I'm trying to get my groove back. I've decided that I'm going to do another purge of books, CDs, DVDs, etc. I didn't miss any of these things when I was away so I don't really need them. I'm also getting back on the horse of weight loss. I don't think I gained much if any weight there and now I can get back to ordering and eating the right food for me. And, I'm going to do everything in my power to get back to Shanghai. I only had a few people from the U.S. tell me they missed me.

That brings me to the stunted conclusion of this diary. I'm sure I'll return to it and soon. I'm doing everything I can to not be that guy who says, "Well, ya know, in China they..." about everything.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Shanghai Diary: So Long and Thanks for All the Pork

Yesterday I went back to IAPM mall and met with Dan Katz, a Projection Booth listener from L.A. who's now living and working (as a teacher) in Shanghai. He graciously asked if he could take my scooter off my hands. I was so sad to say goodbye to the machine that's provided me freedom to roam the streets of Pudong and get me to and from work most of my days here.


Saturday I met up with Serena and we went to the China Mobile office to reduce me phone package to the minimum to keep my number going. I'm trying to be optimistic that I'll be back to Shanghai. I'm also going to be keeping money in my ICBC account in order to autopay my phone bill every month. It's amazing how inexpensive phone service is over here. I'm paying maybe 100 RMB a month presently and I'm reducing to 18 RMB a month. That's going from about $16 to $3 USD. Meanwhile for two lines in the US I'm paying $160 USD.

We stopped at "Hey Juice" for a Coconut drink afterward. Hey Juice don't make it bad...


The final in my "photos on the way home" series:


The 7-11 in the building where I work where I can get a new face mask and corn-to-go...


I've never said this but I often see street vendors peddling through Pudong selling baked sweet potatoes or corn on the cob. I still want to stop by Carrefour and buy one of the vendors' sweet potatoes as they smell amazing.

Last Wednesday I went out to lunch with some of my co-workers that I have really supported me while I've been here. I was really touched and it took a lot for me to not shed a tear.

From left to right: Mike Lowai, Emily, Eileen, Jason


Another picture of food -- this is the eel and rice dish (with a fried egg) that I had at the place next door to where I work:


I've probably had more eel and peanuts (sometimes in the same meal as evidenced above) in the last three months than I ever have before.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Memes Are In the Air

Things are wrapping up here in Shanghai for me, but you wouldn't know from my work load. If anything, things are just as hairy now as they were two weeks ago. Just like my back.

I'm still working the day job and the night job. Today's one of those days with a couple hours between the two sessions.

It's like there's a party going on and I need to go home to get up early for work the next day. Shanghai is the party. While not all my friends are here, I'm still very bummed to leave the party and will constantly wonder what is going on and what I'm missing.




I wanted to share a picture of something I see all the time in Shanghai and that's the lap blanket that many of my fellow scooter-drivers employ. It's usually paired with these oven-mitt type gloves that are fitted to the handlebars. I haven't taken any pictures of the elaborate plastic shells that some folks have to protect them from the elements.

I am going to miss my scooter.

One of my listeners from The Projection Booth lives here in Shanghai and he asked if he can buy my scooter. So, I'm heading over to Puxi on Sunday. I told him how much I paid for it and asked for 200 RMB less. I should have asked for the exact amount I paid plus one dollar, "Man's gotta right to make a profit..." In all seriousness, it's great that he asked, especially as my machine is going to be a spare for him!

If Metro Detroit supported it, I'd get a scooter for my ride to work in a heartbeat. I wouldn't drive a motorcycle but I'd do a scooter. But there's no scooter lanes. It's car vs. everything else.




You'd think that the abuse of English would cause me a lot of distress but I have no issues. I just laugh at some of the odd little messages.




I've gone three months without hearing anyone talk about basketball, football, or baseball. I kind of love it.



I had a request to take more pictures of food so here goes. He's my meal yesterday at the local noodle place. I also took some pictures of how crowded it is as well as the projection on the main wall of the guys in the back cooking.





At Pub Quiz the other night there was a category all about memes. This was a coincidence as I had just been trying to explain memes to Serena. I was saying that in China, Doge is huge. I see him everywhere. Then, today, I get an update on WeChat from That's Shanghai (I think, all the local news sites tend to run together) with a list of ugly holiday sweaters and there's a Doge X-mas sweater.



It's nice to see Three Wolves One Moon come back around, too.

Doge even has his own Sticker Set on WeChat:




Where do you go when the record is over?

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Shanghai Diary: If I Wanted To Read, I'd Have Stayed In School

As I've been writing about China during my stay here, I've hit upon a few of these topics but wanted to share some articles.

  • From RadiiChina there's a piece about Literal Whitewashing in China which speaks to the idea of beauty standards in China. This idea of fair skin being more desirable isn't just a Chinese phenomenon. During my stay here, the Dove ad of a black woman turning herself white happened. This idea of "the whiter the skin, the less likely you're working in the sun and the more posh you are" can arguably be linked with the more historic idea of foot-binding but, also, parallels can be drawn to the idea of women having long finger nails with the idea of long fingernails somewhat incapacitating a woman. "She can't do manual labor, look at those nails." In other words, I'm talking about a standard of beauty in China that is just as arbitrary as standards of beauty in the West.
  • Being obsessed with sex, I was looking at Shanghaiist articles about sex in China and ran across this one: Siblings arrested for operating illegal ultrasound business from their minivan. It's not hard to imagine that revealing a baby's sex in China is illegal as infanticide used to (and probably still does) happen. We're not that far removed from the one-birth policy and the country is now up to two-births. Like most laws, however, this is a paper law and not necessarily followed in real life. A doctor will not come out and tell a parent the sex of a child but there may be a nod and a wink situation when asked.
  • In America, we like to think that we're free from surveillance, then we turn on TV and watch the sleuths of "CSI" use security footage from two blocks away to see the license plate of a criminal. Meanwhile, the observation is just out in the open in China. You have to register your phone with your personal ID number which and then you're on the grid and it's nearly impossible to live without being there. Thus, reading China's Tech Giants Have a Second Job: Helping Beijing Spy on Its People didn't shock me at all.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Shanghai Diary: Seventy Seven Days

I don't know if I miss doing the podcast or not. I think I do but it's tough as I'm just so busy here. I've gotten a break from the podcast but not from working. I'm also still doing a lot of audio editing between special episodes, bonus episodes, and The Kolchak Tapes. I've just not been doing all the recording and interviewing I normally do on a weekly basis.

I reached out to my co-hosts for the next episode I plan to record, though I also need to start setting up recordings for January, too, while I'm at it. I know I'd go crazy(ier) without a creative outlet but right now the idea of getting back into that grind seems rather daunting. I was hoping to cut down to doing an episode every two weeks but the lack of episodes while I've been here in Shanghai forced my hand and, starting in January, I'm back to one a week until at least July. Sure, I've got some interviews recorded for those but not many.



Saturday I went to see a film called Seventy-Seven Days about a guy crossing the Xinjiang province. It was good, though there were some very cheesy CGI wolves used a little too often. The real scenery was remarkable, however, and the direction solid. It reminded me a lot of Never Cry Wolf. I may have to see about getting a copy of NCW. I'm still in the midst of watching a lot of "comfort films". Over the weekend I also re-watched Raising Arizona and The Hudsucker Proxy, ya know, for kids.





Sunday I went out with my co-worker, Eileen, and her husband. We went out to lunch and then for a long walk down Nanjing Road which is (mostly) closed off to cars and a long promenade of shopping and food stands. It reminded me of a far-longer Fremont Street. We also walked a bit along The Bund before going back to the car and driving over to Jing'an Temple.



Oh, and to answer your question.. yes, you can use WeChat Pay or AliPay to buy your incense at the temple:

After that we walked a bit in the park across the way and then went for Hot Pot in Pudong and then beers and pool at the restaurant across the street from my apartment. They wouldn't let me pay for a thing which was nice but also maddening. I wanted to at least treat them to dinner but they wouldn't hear of it. At least I got to buy beers at the end of the night.

All in all, I walked almost 12000 steps that day, though I still came in second on "WeRun" which is a step-counter that WeChat uses -- you compete against your friends who have it and I never get close to the top except that day.



Random Things:

  • John Woo's latest, Manhunt is playing in the local cinemas (though not very often -- at least not as often as that awful Justice League movie -- though I don't know if it's got English subtitles or not.

  • Seventy-Seven Days is the first movie where I saw a few previews. Sure, not many and very quick, but it wasn't just all car commercials this time around.

  • In China there's not "an app for that," there's an "A-P-P" for that. I always hear it spelled out like that in English which is a bit disconcerting.

  • I signed up for Mandarin 1 at Schoolcraft college. It starts January 23 and runs 12 weeks on Tuesday evenings.