Big Wow Comicfest 2014 – New Godzilla Movie

Big Wow Comicfest 2014 Godzilla PosterWith the Big Wow Comicfest 2014 and the new “Godzilla” movie converging on the same weekend, it was no surprise that special screenings were held at the Camera 12 Cinemas. Special guest appearances included Kenpachiro Satsuma (Godzilla 1984-1995), Bin Furuya (Ultraman) and Daisuke Ban (Kikaidia & Inazuman) from Japan, and introductions by author August Ragone, who became the teenaged Japanese film and Godzilla expert to Bob Wilkin’s “Creature Features” and “Captain Cosmic” TV shows in the 1970’s.

My friend and I went to the Friday night showing. Surprisingly, it was in theater 12. Last year we saw a special showing of “Star Trek Into The Darkness” at the AMC Cupertino Square with an enthusiastic crowd (i.e., screaming, shouting and hollering), and at the Camera 12 with a less enthusiastic crowd (i.e., deader than zombies) during a Saturday afternoon break from the comficfest. A huge difference. The Godzilla crowd that night was enthusiastic. One guy who stood in line behind us had seen the new Godzilla movie three times already, showing pictures of his expensive Godzilla toy collection on his cellphone, and swapping stories about past Godzilla movies with my friend.

Ragone welcomed everyone to the special Big Wow screening and introduced his Japanese guests. Satsuma asked everyone to stand up to go through the motions of being Godzilla without the rubber suit. Furuya had everyone do the signature hand-and-arm gestures of Ultraman. They didn’t stay for the Friday night showing, as they just arrived straight from the San Jose International Airport from Japan. They did see the Saturday night showing. At the Sunday morning Godzilla panel, Ragone reported that Satsuma gave his approval to the new Godzilla movie with a hearty chuckle (unlike the Chicago showing of the Godzilla 1998 movie which he didn’t approve at all).

As for the movie itself, it was a lot better than I expected. I feared that the new movie would follow Godzilla 1954 too closely, revealing all of Godzilla only until the last 18 minutes of the movie. Hints of Godzilla as a force of nature from the World War II atomic bombings of Japan to the Cold War nuclear tests in the South Pacific to a nuclear power plant disaster in Japan got sprinkled liberally throughout the first half of the new movie. When the new monsters make their full appearances in the second half, Godzilla wasn’t far behind them to kick some monster ass in the San Francisco Bay Area. This being a Silicon Valley audience, we hooted and hollered at many familiar landmarks.

My friend and I skipped the “Creature Features” presentation of “Night of The Living Dead” with former host John Stanley and the Saturday night showing of Godzilla. (We saw “Horror Express” with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Telly Savalas at last year’s “Creature Features” presentation.) Driving over to Century Theatre at Pacific Commons in Fremont, we saw Godzilla on the larger XD screen in Dolby Atmos surround sound. I saw more details and heard more sounds at this theater than I did at the Camera 12. A better viewing experience for an awesome Godzilla movie.

Big Wow Comicfest 2014 – North Korean Monster Movie (Video)

One of the stranger stories to come out of Big Wow Comicfest 2014 (May 16-17, 2014) was the true story of a South Korean movie director, Shin Sang-ok, being kidnapped by the North Korean government to produce a 1985 monster movie called “Pulgasari” (available on Youtube with English subtitles), reportedly because the son of Kim Il-sung was a huge Godzilla fan, and later escaped from the regime. From what I read elsewhere on the Internet, the movie was so awful that it’s pretty good.

Big Wow Comicfest 2014 – Godzilla Dances (Video)

A Godzilla cosplayer dances to the Rock Band video game rendition of “Godzilla” by Blue Oyster Cult at Big Wow Comicfest 2014 (May 16-17, 2014). The first time I used my new iPhone 5C for recording a video. The most obvious mistake was recording in the vertical position, which required downloading a plugin for iMovie to flip the video and add black bars to either side. I won’t be making that mistake again.

Big Wow Comicfest 2014 – Pictures

With the 60th anniversary of “Gojira” and a new film coming out on the same weekend, Godzilla was king of the monsters at Big Wow Comicfest 2014 (May 16-17, 2014).

 

President Obama At Wal-Mart

Presidential Obama @ Mountain View WalmartPresident Obama landed in Silicon Valley to do the usual political fundraising to shake money loose from the movers and shakers, and visit the Wal-Mart Store in Mountain View to promote energy efficiency. Visiting Wal-Mart surprised me. Having visited that particular location after a job interview several weeks ago, the floor was dirty, the shelves were in disarray, and the lighting was terrible. Looking at the pictures taken at the presidential event, the store was clean, neat and well-lit.

Perhaps the president can visit this Wal-Mart more often?

Although rolling out solar panels at all its stores is commendable, Wal-Mart isn’t exactly the poster child of a responsible corporate citizen.

Wal-Mart pays their employees minimum wage and let them to work just enough hours per week to qualify for food stamps, forcing taxpayers to subsidize Wal-Mart’s high profits. And it’s perfectly legal under existing laws. According to one study (download the PDF here) by Demos, Wal-Mart could easily pay employees a higher wage by using the money set aside for their annual stock buyback program and save taxpayers a bundle.

Wal-Mart’s executives don’t play by the same rules as their minimum wage employees. When growth for fiscal year 2014 fell to 1.6% and missed the incentive compensation threshold at 1.8%, no one told the executives, “Better luck next year.” That would be unfair! Wal-Mart “re-adjusted” the numbers to award millions of dollars to their executives for having a lousy year.

Did I ever mentioned that I got laid off from last my job because the Fortune 500 CEO laid off 10% of the work force and gave himself a raise for having a lousy fiscal year?

If Wal-Mart ever put employees above profit (something that Costco has done successfully for many years), Wall Street would scream bloody murder. Maximizing profits at someone else’s expense is known as the modern “free market” system: privatizing profits and socializing losses. God forbid if corporations and executives bear the consequences of their actions in a true capitalist system.

The Blue Cube Disappearing From Silicon Valley

Blue Cube DemolishedWhile crisscrossing Silicon Valley on the light rail to attend a job interview in Mountain View, I noticed the Blue Cube (a.k.a., Onizuka Air Force Station) for the first time in years. Or what was left of it. The large satellite dishes outside the building were long gone after the base closure in 2010. The blue walls that concealed the tracking operations of military satellites were coming down one wall at a time. Like many iconic buildings from 50 years ago, the redeveloped site will become a new educational facility.

After I turned eighteen in 1988, I started working in construction with my father for a few years. We had a short job at the Blue Cube to build a block wall near one of the outer buildings, which was both exciting and scary at the same time. Military Police at the checkpoint patted us down and inspected the truck (presumably for weapons and/or spying devices). We followed a patrol car to the construction site, where the M.P. unlocked the chain link gate, signaled for us to drive through, and locked the gate behind us. During the whole time we built the wall, M.P.s with assault rifles and snarling police dogs patrolled the perimeter of the construction site. Whenever we stood next to the fence, an M.P. would stand on the opposite side with the police dog ready to lunge at the fence.

That was my first and last visit to a military installation.

Another iconic Cold War-era structure is under threat. Although the summit of Mount Umunhum will eventually become a public park, the five-story radar tower of the former Almaden Air Force Station will get demolished unless money is found to preserve and restore the structure by 2017. For the first eight years of my life, I would walk out of my family home each morning to look south to see the bright red radar dishes on the tower. As I gotten older and became something of an amateur historian, I learned how integrated the U.S. military complex—and the threat of nuclear annihilation—was into the electronic fabric of Silicon Valley.

Fundraising For Hollywood Science Fiction Museum

When my friend and I went to the Las Vegas for the Star Trek Convention last summer, we met Houston Huddleston, founder and CEO of New Starship, who saved the Enterprise-D bridge from the dustbin of history and took it on tour to various science fiction conventions. He just started a Kickstarter project to raise the initial seed money to build the Hollywood Science Fiction Museum in 2018. A permanent home for the Star Trek bridge that will also feature ships, robots, cars, and memorabilia from many other science fiction movies and TV shows. The contribution goodies range from an official museum certificate ($1 USD) to hosting a wedding on the bridge ($2,000 USD) to an exclusive five-day video shoot on the bridge ($10,000 USD).

Updated 15 June 2014: With a shout out by George Takei on Twitter, the Kickstarter project is now fully funded.

Unburying The Atari E.T. Video Game Scandal

E.T. The Extra-Terrestial Video GameThe 1980’s home video game revolution crashed and burned in after Atari introduced “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” a movie-based video game that it overpaid to license, ordered millions of cartridges more than all the Atari 2600 video consoles in existence, rushed the game to the store shelves, and buried the whole thing in a New Mexico landfill. According to Snoops, the E.T. landfill burial was an urban legend. A documentary team went sifting through the landfill and found the E.T. cartridges. For those of us who lived through this particular episode of video game history, some things are best left buried in the ground.

I had an Atari 2600 and 30+ video game cartridges worth $1,000 USD when I was a preteen, a small fraction of the 500+ cartridges available back then. Toy “R” Us had one whole aisle dedicated to video game cartridges, where consoles and empty cartridge boxes hung from pegboard. You take a tag from the sleeve below the item you want, pay at the cash register, and take it over to the “cage” that used to house the high-priced specialty toys. At the height of the video game revolution, so many cartridges lined the cage from floor to ceiling that the clerks had little room to move around.

I knew the industry had jumped the shark when a camera store sold video games along side their expensive cameras under the glass case. The young sales clerk reassured me that “Shark Attack” by Apollo—one of the first cartridge companies to file for bankruptcy—was a great game. It wasn’t great; it was horrible. My friend and I exhausted the replay value of the game in less than an hour. I paid $30 USD for this piece of crap. That was the last cartridge I ever bought for the Atari 2600.

As for E.T., I paid little attention either the movie or the video game because I detested Reese’s Pieces.

After being split into several companies by Warner Communications in 1983, the intellectual property rights floated around the industry for years. I was working as a video game tester at the family owned Accolade when Infogrames, a French video game company that no one heard of, bought it out while on a buying spree to become the next Vivendi Universal that bought its way into the American multimedia markets. One of the companies that got bought was Hasbro Interactive, which owned the intellectual property rights for Atari.

Speculation was rampart that Infogrames would change its name to Atari after relocating the office from San Jose to Sunnyvale, which was where the old Atari had its headquarters. Shortly thereafter, the company became the new Atari and I became a lead tester in 2001. Alas, the new Atari didn’t escape the old Atari curse when every video game title became available for every platform (i.e., Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube/GameBoy Advance, PC, and Sony Playstation 2), flooding the market with DVDs for games that were excellent on some platforms but terrible on others.

I knew the new Atari jumped the shark when it acquired the rights for “Enter The Matrix” in 2002, a movie-based video game based on the popular Matrix movies, featuring two-hours of exclusive video from the forthcoming sequels. Security was tight. When a DVD without the exclusive content disappeared, five testers got fired. I avoided the game like the plague and spent only three days testing the rabbit hole tunnel sequence that was a black screen for the Nintendo GameCube version towards the end. Although it sold five million companies, the game was so horrible that it made E.T. look good in comparison.

The new Atari sold off all the video game studios that it bought over the years, realizing that it paid two to three times for what each studio was actually worth, reduced itself to peddling Facebook games for a while, and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2013. The newly reformed Atari has only ten employees out of a company that once employed hundreds.

Meanwhile, I quit the company after six years in 2004, finished my associate degree in computer programming, and changed my career to help desk support. That was the best decision I ever made in my life, as being a video game tester was a dead-end job if you weren’t young and stupid to tolerate the abuses that went with it. After a while, you stop being young and stupid.