is proud to present the adventures of Ben
Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster,
and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine. This
guy's our hero! Ben was a featured character in the movie "Almost
Famous," the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning film by Cameron
Last time out, I wrote about the South By Southwest film, interactive
and music conference in Austin, Texas, in March. Because it is absolutely
impossible to do everything you want at the SXSW, I missed a screening
of an intriguing new Asian American film, "Charlotte Sometimes."
The director, Eric Byler, was kind enough to send me a screener
(industry lingo for a video), which left me impressed -- and puzzled.
Byler and ensemble had produced an intriguing story centered on
romance, loneliness, and loyalty - with a dollop of racial sensitivity,
and with a central character (Michael, portrayed by Michael Idemoto)
with whom I identified - perhaps a little too closely. When I was
younger, I, too, longed for someone I just couldn't seem to have.
Hey, you, too?
Yuan, Charlotte Sometimes
a studious mechanic who rents a flat out to a young woman friend,
Lori (Eugenia Yuan, pictured). She's only a friend, and Michael
gets reminders of that almost nightly, as he hears her sexual bouts
with her half-Asian boyfriend (Matt Westmore). He juggles his feelings
for Lori with those for another woman (Jacqueline Kim) who pops
into his life. Although Michael is overly Ozu (too silent, too often)
for my taste, he's part of an excellent cast of actors who do justice
to Byler's intriguing story.
As for the puzzler:
I learned that "Charlotte Sometimes" has been having a devil of
a time getting into Asian American film festivals. Sure, the SXSW
fest is a plum, but Byler had been snubbed by several APA fests.
One film web site took to conjecture on why that was so. "Perhaps
it's because more emphasis is placed on story and character than
race, or perhaps, as Byler seemed to suggest [at a Q&A session],
it's because the film feature as a relationship between an Asian
girl and a half-Asian man. One can only guess."
like poor guesses. In emails to me, Byler expressed disappointment
with the festivals, but reported happily that in Austin, "Charlotte"
tied with another film for the Audience Award. A few days later,
he wrote again to say that two Asian American festivals had invited
him to screen his film, after hearing about or seeing it in Austin.
"Charlotte" may yet get the indie version of a Hollywood ending
As I say every
year when I co-anchor the S.F. Chinese New Year Parade broadcast
on KTVU, I've loved lion dancing since I saw it as a kid in Chinatown
in Oakland. Recently, I had a reunion with a former girlfriend -
my first girlfriend ever, actually. Jeanie Low (whose identity I
cleverly hid as "Janie Lee" in my memoirs, "The Rice Room," is married
to John Low, an interior architect who's long enjoyed doing sketches.
His family, led by daughter Kelly, collected two decades of his
work into a privately-issued book, "Retrospective." From detailed
sketches of a pine tree in Pennsylvania to a sampan in Amberdeen;
from the stone lion at Forbidden City to a lion's head, it's a marvelous
portfolio of work by a man who obviously doesn't think of drawing
as work. Thanks, John.
Lion in Spring
So, OK, it wasn't
summer when South by Southwest hit Austin. But, at 83 degrees and
climbing, it felt like it. And there certainly were enough toys
in the expo portion of the four-day music conference at the Austin
My fave was
Music Playground, a software program that takes karaoke one step
further: Now, besides singing over background tracks, you can play
guitar, bass or drums along with rock and roll hits. And, just as
you don't have to be able to sing well to do karaoke, you don't
need to be able to play a lick to be in the band. As long as you
have a reasonable sense of rhythm, you're set. Using the Music Playground's
V-pick, you strum onto any hard surface-at the Expo, they used a
tennis racket-and the software makes certain that you're playing
the right notes and chords.
For now, the Playground is tethered to computers, and the playlist
is just getting going, and focused heavily on rock, where karaoke
roams through almost all music genres. Still, it's cheap at $29.95
(you can pay more to get drums and more tunes), and the Playground
booth drew plenty of visitors in Austin. Odd, considering that most
conference goers were supposed to be actual musicians. There must've
been a lot of publicists, managers, writers and others who can't
play, but would love to at least look like they can rock. All wannabes
are advised to beat it to www.rockplayground.com and get jammin'.
If you're a
road warrior and need to write documents away from the office, but
don't want to bother with a laptop PC, and all the money and learning
such a machine requires, you might want to check out the QuickPAD
Pro (www.quickpad.com), which sits between a PDA and a portable
PC. It's the size of just the keyboard portion of a laptop, with
a 2 1/2" by 8" LCD screen above the keyboard. That's enough to display
about 16 lines of text. (A student model, the QuickPAD IR, shows
up to four lines.) After you're done writing, you can save your
piece in the computer, or to a flash card, or-best of all-transmit
it to your office PC with an infrared link.
word processor, the QuickPAD Pro includes spell check, calculator,
a spreadsheet program, and a personal organizer. If you're already
Palming or Handspringing, it's doubtful you'd use this instead,
but it's a handy addition. All this comes at a pretty low cost,
about $329 for the Pro; $199 for the IR model, and at a light weight
(1.5 and one pound, respectively). They're powered by simple AA
batteries, good enough, says QuickPAD, for 400 and 100 hours, respectively.
And the manual is only 28 pages!
So, what's the
downside? With its old school LCD display, the text is hard on the
eyes, especially in low-light conditions. The Pro model can show
a larger font size, at eight lines maximum, and most people don't
write in the dark, anyway. So it's 'way more pros than cons with
the QuickPAD Pro. Whether on the road, on the subway, or around
the house, it's a nifty writing machine.