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June 2014

Year Of The Monkey 2013: Usagists

Ah, those happy carefree days when we only had a T3 typhoon to worry about.September 22-26, 2013 [previously: Sept 14-18, Sept 18-22]

It's early on the morning of Sunday September 22nd, and The Belated Birthday Girl and I are facing ALMOST CERTAIN WATERY DEATH.

Okay, I'm actually writing this exactly eight months later, so this is the point where the whole present tense literary device breaks down. But at the time, it's all very worrying indeed.

Typhoon Usagi, the largest storm to hit Hong Kong in 34 years, is expected to reach us here by the end of the day. We watch the local news for updates, and catch an interview with a female American tourist who's going down to the coast to watch Usagi coming in, because she thinks it sounds really cool. This is the point at which The BBG and I realise that we have to do whatever we can to survive this, because we don't want to look as bloody stupid as that tourist does. It's not so much a question of saving our skins, more protecting ourselves from post-mortem embarrassment. If that's a very British reaction to a natural disaster, then so be it.

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Year Of The Monkey 2013: Mid-Autumnals

It looks cool, but inside this lantern is the twattiest little LED you can possibly imagine.September 18-22, 2013 [previously: Sept 14-18]

Autumn: season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Well, maybe that’s more of an English thing. In Hong Kong, it’s a season of mooncakes, lanterns and huge dragons made out of fire and joss sticks.

It’s even got an official holiday associated with it: the Mid-Autumn Festival. The date slides around from year to year, as it’s dependent on the full moon. In 2013, i.e. now, literary device, shut up, that date is Thursday September 19th, and we're in town for it. Mid-Autumn Festival isn’t anything like as big a deal as New Year, but it gives you a flavour of what a huge Chinese holiday celebration can feel like. Which may not always be a good thing.

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MOSTLY FILM: #TFEFF14

You know how most of the time in films, whenever people use search engines, they're either totally imaginary ones, or real ones that have obviously been put there as part of a product placement deal? I'm guessing that this means someone at Google actually signed off on this shot from Kim Ki-duk's Moebius. Or else there's an ugly lawsuit on the way.Over on Europe's Best Website, I've been writing about the Terracotta Far East Film Festival 2014, or #TFEFF14 (to give it its official hashtag). In the piece, I mention Mostly Film's long-standing support for the festival, going back to 2011. But regular readers will know that I've been supporting it on this site for even longer, as far back as the first fest in 2009. (I was in Japan with The Belated Birthday Girl when the 2010 one happened, which is why there isn't a writeup for that.)

Terracotta is the one festival where I get to do the Boy Reporter act and attend press launches. So once again, the Mostly Film piece is a preview, giving you advance warning of the films to see when the festival runs in London from May 23rd to June 1st (with a bonus film beforehand on May 21st). Full details are on the official Terracotta website: if that looks like too much writing, and you'd rather sit through a simple trailer reel of the movies in the programme, then that's precisely what this Red Button backup feature is here to offer you.

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Breaking The Code

I first saw this picture when it was the cover of 'Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934' by Thomas Doherty. Read it, it's good. (Bits of it are on Google Books, but not the whole thing.)There's a terrific story behind that photo over there. It's not quite the story you'd expect, though.

It was taken by Paramount studio photographer Whitey Schafer in 1940, not as a promotional shot for a film, but as a satirical comment on events that took place a decade earlier. Because 1930 saw the introduction of the Hays Code, the first major attempt to set guidelines of decency within which Hollywood movies should operate. Schafer's photo is an attempt to break as many of those guidelines as possible within a single image - see the list in the top right hand corner for full details.

If you think that Schafer's showing contempt for the code there, that's nothing compared to the contempt shown for it by actual films. By the time a mechanism had been put in place to legally enforce the guidelines with fines, it was 1934: and in the four years between the introduction of the Code and its enforcement, Hollywood cinema was effectively operating with the brakes off. It's a period popularly known as the Pre-Code era, and a new season at BFI Southbank - Hollywood Babylon: Early Talkies Before The Censor - celebrates it to the fullest.

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Simian Substitute Site For May 2014: National Sea Monkey Day

National Sea Monkey DayMONTH END PROCESSING FOR APRIL 2014

Books: I seem to be going through a lot of popular science books at the moment. I'm blaming Robin Ince for that - the authors I'm reading have all appeared on one of his science-based comedy shows at some time or other. This year so far, I've already mentioned the latest works by Simon Singh and Chris Hadfield: most recently, I've been reading Stuff Matters by materials scientist Mark Miodownik. Using a neat structural device - a photo of the author chilling out on his rooftop - he looks at a dozen or so of the materials we can see in the photo, and delves into the history of our relationship with them. Part of what makes it such an engaging read is Miodownik's unique mixture of serious science and personal anecdote: for example, the section about glass opens with the story of how he once carelessly found himself being propelled through a car windscreen. His ultimate aim is to make you look at the world differently, and he's certainly achieved that for me. At the very least, the chapter on concrete has made me look at the film Locke differently, as I was saying to him just the other day.

Comics: There's been a curious bit of role reversal at Spank Towers when it comes to purchasing funnybooks. The Belated Birthday Girl has three monthly titles on her current pull list - inevitably, they're all Joss Whedon related. As for me, though, my comics buying has been reduced to limited-run miniseries for over a decade now. It's possible, however, that a comic with the unlikely title of Sex Criminals might drag me back into comic shops on a monthly basis. Written by the previously-namechecked Matt Fraction and drawn by Chip Zdarsky, it's the story of two people - Suzie and Jon - who discover that they both have the ability to briefly stop time at the point of orgasm. They choose to use their powers in exactly the way you'd imagine: fucking in bank toilets, stealing the cash during the time freeze, and using it to finance a library. I'd assumed from that sky-high concept that this would be a limited series, but the first story arc (collected in the just-published graphic novel Sex Criminals Vol. 1: One Weird Trick) shows that Fraction and Zdarsky have a long-term plan in place. Look past the flashy gimmick and you'll find a surprisingly mature attitude to sexuality and relationships, albeit one that knows when to leaven things with rude humour: the two page spread where young Suzie is taught the facts of life via a series of toilet wall illustrations is an absolute hoot. Fiendishly, this collection is being released in the gap between the first and second arcs in the monthly series, so I'm all caught up and ready for the next issue when it comes out in June.

Music: When I wrote about Kyary Pamyu Pamyu for Europe's Best Website back in December 2012, she was on the verge of announcing her first ever British concert. The tickets went on sale while I was away on my Christmas holidays, and by the time I found out about them, they'd all gone. When she announced her return visit to London this year, I was better prepared. Inevitably, part of the appeal of seeing Kyary at Shepherd's Bush Empire was discovering what an English audience for her show would look like. Like a nuclear explosion in a Holly Hobbie factory, was the inevitable answer: lots of Loligoth dresses, almost as many glittery facemasks, several people in full size animal costumes, and slightly more men in drag than I was expecting. (Most unexpected fashion choice: the guy who turned up in a Fall t-shirt.) Her 2013 gig was basically a club PA with a few dancers, and this was only slightly bigger than that thanks to the addition of a stage set and some dancing teddies. From video clips I'd seen online, I was expecting Kyary to be miming throughout. So I was pleased to see that we got live vocals, albeit sung along to the original records: and her charming attempts to get in a few bits of English banter went down well. (If you can read Japanese, you may be interested to see how she did the equivalent announcements at her Paris gig.) Nevertheless, for all the enthusiasm and the (still brilliant) songs, there's not quite enough there to make it a fully satisfying live experience. I suspect I wouldn't need to see Kyary in concert again, unless she brought over her full-size arena show with the flying effects and the unicycle stunts and the assassination attempt and everything.

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