Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Appraisery: Serving geek culture with a cup of joe

The Appraisery: Serving geek culture with a cup of joe
by rick olivares

It’s past five o’clock in the afternoon. This being December, the sun sets rather quickly. However, in Cubao Expo – or “Cubao X” for short -- located between the concrete condominium towers that have sprouted near the old Manila C.O.D. area, life is beginning to stir.

This being the Christmas season, Cubao Expo attracts a different kind of clientele – those looking for thrift and second hand buys or whether to hang out in the dives, cafes, and watering holes that have once made this an exclusively shoe haven into the equivalent of the East Village of New York City.

The Appraisery is one of those shops that is springing to life. People arrive in ones, twos, and then in bunches. Everyone seems to know one another as evidenced by the handshakes, backslaps and man hugs.

“Welcome to a tightly-knit community,” warmly greets Vic Prieto, the shop’s owner, whose mobile phone is blaring hip hop music.

The Appraisery is one of the successful board game cafés in the Philippines. Board games are tabletop matches that involve the movement of pieces or cards on a pre-marked surface or board. Matches are based on strategy with an element of chance. Popular board games among young adults and fans include among many others – Star Wars: Rebellion, A Game of Thrones, Suicide Squad Game Box, and others.

Put up in 2012 by the Olympia, Washington-raised Prieto, the Appraisery has become one of the more popular board game cafes. “But more than board games, the café has become a hangout for those who also love comic books, poetry, art, video games, film, professional wrestling geek culture, and music.

“The way we envisioned it,” described Prieto, “People feel like they are in their best friend’s living room or basement; something right out of an episode of ‘Stranger Things.’” 

Weekdays are good, weeknights even better as the shop is packed all the way to the outside with its variegated clientele competing in up to 200 different types of board games.

“I essentially decided to stay here in Manila rather than go back home to Washington. For me, it was to chase not the American dream but the Filipino equivalent of it,” exclaimed Prieto who also studied college in Manila. He obtained a degree in music production from the College of St. Benilde. “I’m a musician,” he admitted. “I used to work for a progressive hip hop label before striking out on my own.”

Aside from running the Appraisery, Prieto also performs with his underground hip hop outfit, Shadow Moses, that recently released their self-titled extended play album and does color commentary for the growing Philippine Wrestling Revolution as Victor E. Manuel.

“The Appraisery though – is home away from home,” succinctly sums up Prieto. “And we’re glad that many people feel that way.” The café closed around 2am every day and the place is still oft packed come closing time.

“Yeah, it’s the best of all geek worlds,” marvels Prieto while sipping some java. “And we love for more people to come over.”

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Some vinyl records I got for Christmas!

5 films to watch this Christmas Eve and Day

5 films to watch this Christmas Eve and Day
by rick olivares

I would not be the first to suggest that you turn yourself into Scrooge and a couch potato this Christmas Eve and Day by going on a film marathon. However, not all the day will be merriment and stuffing yourself more than a turkey could ever do. So you might find some time to catch some films that will make you laugh, smile, and laugh some more.

Here are five films that all take place on Christmas for you to enjoy.

Home Alone (1990)
Do you ever get tired of this classic? I must have seen this several dozen times through the past decades. Even better, I laugh just as hard as the first time I saw Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci fall for all of Kevin McAlister’s booby traps! It’s exaggerated, silly, brutal, and downright hilarious! But it’s a comedy for Heaven’s sake!

There are lots of great scenes from Kevin screaming after applying after shave lotion on his face to the fake party that throws off the Wet Bandits. And the entire film is loaded with some quotable quotes from Kevin exclaiming, “I made my family disappear” to that hilarious catch phrase from the fictitious gangster film, “Angles with Filthy Souls” --  “Merry Christmas, you filthy animal!”

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
A pensive animated film that was way ahead of its time. I always thought that the Peanuts and Charlie Brown cartoons didn’t really portray kids properly. In fact, the entire Peanuts gang acted like high school kids bordering on college where they wonder about life, ambition, and their life’s meaning as opposed to having fun. Maybe that is why I enjoyed more the sequences featuring Snoopy.

But I did enjoy the cartoons. In this film, a depressed Charlie Brown finds the true meaning of Christmas amidst the commercialization of the season. It’s amazing how this film ages well.

And like “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” constantly making the Star Wars films, there’s this classic quote from the film – “Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Brownest.”

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
And now for something completely different and off-beat. Tim Burton’s stop-motion macabre musicale is like watching the Addams Family on Christmas. But it’s a hilarious take on party poopers and that the joyful season will override them.

The Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
A landmark film that was preserved in the US National Film Registry by decree of US Congress that deemed this Maureen O-Hara and John Payne film to be “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant”.

The film that has since been re-mastered is about Christmas on trial. When he regular toy department Santa shows up drunk, Macy’s store supervisor hires an elderly gentleman named Kris to temporarily take his place. Kris not only restores

When her toy department Santa shows up drunk for work, Macy's supervisor Doris Walker hires Kris - an elderly gentleman with a white beard who looks like Santa Claus - as her emergency replacement. She comes to regret her choice, however, when she learns that Kris believes that he really is Santa. Kris works not only to restore Doris' belief in Santa Claus but make her young daughter's wishes come true, all while trying to prove his identity in a court of law.

Die Hard (1988)
End Christmas with a bang. Literally one as this Bruce Willis-starrer blows away a building in downtown Los Angeles and some high-tech thieves on Christmas. Just like home along with its seemingly impossible situations, Die Hard is filled with memorable scenes and fabulous quotes. Plus, the late Alan Rickman nearly steals the show.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Debunking notions on vinyl records, millennials & OPM

Debunking notions on vinyl records, millennials & OPM
by rick olivares

You’d think in this day and age of technology and everything seemingly going digital, the rise in popularity of vinyl records is more than a fad and a throwback. Except it is not.

The days when Brazilian business magnate Zero Freitas purchasing every vinyl album he could get his hands on (as of February 2015, he has over six million records bought from all over the world) was the single news maker and proponent for vinyl are over.

After the vinyl record industry was all but declared having gone the way of the dinosaur in the 1990s, its’ back. And we aren’t simply referring to one’s back catalogue of records that are sold in flea markets and bargain stores. These are actual new and back issue releases. We’re talking about modern recording artists like Daft Punk, Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, Justin Timberlake, and Rumer to name a few putting out recordings on vinyl. As for that never-say-die and still-trucking English band, the Who, they just put out the 50th Anniversary Edition of the release of their seminal album, My Generation, containing a three-LP, 80-page book, and memorabilia package!

As for those original first or early pressings? You’ll find them on Ebay, Amazon, or those aforementioned flea markets.

With actual compact disc sales declining (except in the United Kingdom where they remain robust) and digital sales stagnating (as streaming has gone up), vinyl records are steadily climbing. According to Nielsen Soundscan, from a low of one million units sold in 2007 in the United States and Canada, sales have ballooned up to 12 million in 2015! Incredible isn’t it?

Now here is another monkey wrench in your pre-conceived notions… many of the buyers  -- at least according to some vinyl records outlets in Manila – are youngsters. Yes, millennials.

Before you dismiss them as hipsters, you might actually want to consider that a good thing. Whether they are being faddish or genuinely fans of music, that’s good because listening to these records means taking time away from one’s gadgets to sit back, relax, read lyrics sheets, credits, and liner notes.

During an informal interview with proprietors of the Grey Market, a vinyl record store in Shoppersville, Greenhills, we were informed that there has been a steady increase in younger buyers. The shop has seen an upsurge in vinyl sales.

The Astrovision outlet at nearby Virra Mall has a steady catalogue of vinyl. “We have regular customers,” offered one sales person who declined to be identified. “I think they even sell more than the CDs.”

Over at Cubao X, that haven for artists and counter culture, there are at least five shops that sell vinyl records with the most prominent being Gold Digger and Vinyl Dump. During a recent trip to Cubao X (like Tuesday, December 20), we were informed that Original Pilipino Music albums have become popular sellers. Even a beaten up copy of the Juan dela Cruz Band’s last recording, 1980’s “Kahit Anong Mangyari”, fetches a whopping PhP 5,000! “APO Hiking Society albums among many, are very popular and are in demand,” said one shop owner.

The local market has been flooded with Japanese imports that sell for as low as Php800 and go as high as P1,800 on the average. The old issues, beaten up due to improper storage and care, sell for as low as P300!

“Pricey,” described Cubao X thrift shop proprietor Chito Soliven. “But worth it if you’re a fan. But the old ones even if they show their age are popular. Regarding the people who buy the vinyl records, we have both Filipino and foreigners. Especially the foreigners who have a better appreciation for this.”

With the surge in sales and popularity, does that mean turntables, amplifiers, and speakers are selling like hotcakes?

Not exactly. Some really top of the line units sell for as high as PhP 65,000! The old ones, the lot and all, will go for as low as Php8,000. However, those units have definitely seen better days.

What are popular are those portable vinyl players with built-in speakers and contain USB port features that sell for several thousand bucks.

“At least we know the vinyl market is alive,” underscored Soliven. “And that’s good for music overall. Plus, they make for a good Christmas gift this season! Yea, the gift of music.”