Monday, June 11, 2018

San Diego Comic-Con Spotlight Panel



A few weeks back, I received word that my panel as a San Diego Comic-Con Special Guest is scheduled on Thursday, July 19, 12:30–1:30 p.m. in Room 4! Details to come, but I hope to broaden interest in the panel a bit by talking about how I started out and my experiences as an indy publisher! To everyone who's going to Comic-Con this year, hope you can attend -- and bring a friend!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

10 Films in 10 Days: #10 - Diner

The final of my 10 films in 10 days is Diner (1982), another one from college. Diner was one of the earliest examples of a “sleeper” hit that was saved by famed film critic Pauline Kael. The film reportedly had screened badly with test audiences and MGM was ready to bury it. However, after Kael saw it, she insisted MGM release it, promising it would review well—which it did. I was so taken by this movie on its release, I saw it three times in a week in the theater. (Of course, I also own it on DVD.)

The film comedy was the directorial debut of Barry Levinson, who also wrote the screenplay, and featured actors Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Timothy Daly, Paul Reiser, and Ellen Barkin. (With the exception of perhaps Guttenberg, this was the film debut for most of the actors.)

Based on Levinson’s own experiences as a Baltimore native, Diner follows the episodic misadventures of a group of recent high school graduates in late 1950s Baltimore trying to decide what to do with their lives, centered around the week leading up to one of the friends’ wedding. (For the wedding to occur, however, the bride-to-be, who is never seen on screen, must pass a test about football!) Much of their lives centers around hanging out and eating at a local diner, often into the early morning hours.

I suspect the studio thought it had green-lit a film to capitalize on the teen comedy hit Porky's and did not expect such a soulful, thoughtful film. While the story and characters are all distinctive and well-defined—due to both the script and performances—it is the pointless but hilarious banter in the diner, much of it ringing true and reportedly ad-libbed by the actors, that helped give the film a sense of character and verisimilitude, and made it so memorable. The film no doubt resonated with audiences for many reasons, but it wonderfully captures the essence of youthful male friendship. Indeed, it was a touchstone for many of my college buddies as well—we watched it on a movie night once and often made it a point to take a “Diner” photo—a recreation of the Diner poster of the principal cast gathered around a dinner table in the afterglow of a wedding—at each other’s marriages.





Friday, June 1, 2018

10 Films in 10 Days: #9 - The Year of Living Dangerously

My ninth of 10 films in 10 days is another movie (like my previous one) I’ve blogged about before, The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), and another one that came out during my college years.

I’ve always enjoyed smart political and newsroom thrillers and dramas (like Three Days of the Condor and All the President’s Men, both on my list). Adding to the appeal of this film was its exotic locale, Indonesia. Though the movie was a U.S.-funded production that featured American actors (such as Sigourney Weaver and Michael Murphy), the film is otherwise thoroughly Australian, with Aussie director Peter Weir at the helm and, in the lead role, Mel Gibson, who had already received international attention for the first two Mad Max films and Gallipoli).

Of course, one of the film’s most memorable performances is delivered by actress Linda Hunt, as cameraman Billy Kwan, a male character. Hunt deservedly received the Academy award for best supporting actress for her performance.

Based on the novel of the same name, the film follows a green but ambitious Australian journalist named Guy Hamilton on his first overseas assignment in the early 1960s, set against the backdrop of real-life historical events in a country on the verge of civil war, as Communists threaten to topple a government that is dominated by the military and Islamists.

On the surface, the film is somewhat in the same category as the classic Casablanca—a love story mixed with foreign intrigue. Here, Hamilton must choose between his ambition to break a big news story and his love for a British embassy worker/undercover intelligence agent (Weaver). But this being a Peter Weir film, the addition of Hunt’s character—as a half Asian-half European dwarf—and the backdrop of Indonesia lends the film an otherworldly “magic realist” quality that is greatly accentuated by the film’s score by Greek composer Vangelis (who also scored Blade Runner).

It’s a terrific, layered film that influenced some of my early comic-book stories. Indeed, my love for the film inspired me to read the original book—since this was well before the Internet, I discovered the book was no longer in print in the U.S. and had to get a cashier’s check in Australian dollars to cover the cost of the book and overseas shipping to order it. But I also enjoyed the book, so it was well worth it.


Thursday, May 31, 2018

10 Films in 10 Days: #8 - Electric Dreams

Perhaps the most idiosyncratic choice in my list of 10 films in 10 days is my eighth entry, Electric Dreams (1984). I actually wrote about this film on my blog back in 2015, so much of this is taken from there—I also recently rewatched it and can say my feelings for it remain the same!

This little known/seen romantic comedy/”date movie” featured the major film debuts of actors Lenny von Dohlen (later seen in the Twin Peaks television show and Home Alone 3) and the lovely Virginia Madsen. Its tagline—"a love story about a boy, a girl, and a computer"—says it all. (Bud Cort voiced the computer.) Adding to the obscurity of this film is the fact that it’s never been available on DVD in the U.S., let alone BluRay. I saw Electric Dreams in the theater several times on its release and it was one of my earliest VHS purchases, bought used from a video store at a time before films on VHS were relatively affordable. I viewed that tape multiple times for many years and had the foresight a few years ago to transfer the fading copy onto a recordable DVD before the VHS copy finally gave out (the picture was already quite faded – but I’ve since discovered the film is available in its entirety on YouTube!)

Though in many ways a true product of the ‘80s—with a score by synth disco and electronic dance music impresario Giorgio Moroder and songs featuring the likes of Boy George and Jeff Lynne—the concept was actually very much ahead of its time. Set in San Francisco (though the outdoor shots are filmed on location, it was otherwise shot on a London soundstage!), von Dohlen plays Miles, a milquetoast architect, while Madsen plays Madeline, a classical cellist who has joined the local symphony and the object of Miles’ attention when she moves into the apartment upstairs. After Miles purchases a computer to organize his life and computer-model an earthquake-resistant brick he’s designing, the PC becomes sentient (and learns to speak) through a convergence of mishaps after being connected to the nascent internet—which soon becomes increasingly jealous of Miles. As a result, the computer—who we later discovered is named Edgar—sets out to ruin Miles’ life by attacking him through the electronic networks, by playing havoc with his financial credit and reporting him as a wanted felon in the system.

At the time of its release, the film certainly stretched credibility since there was no World Wide Web or Internet yet as we know it, and modem communication networks were very much in their infancy. Nevertheless, the film in retrospect is quite prescient in predicting the threat of hacks. But the film is not a cautionary tale about technology—at its heart, it’s a simple romantic comedy involving a love triangle in which one of the parties happens to be a computer.

The main reason I enjoyed this film was because I simply found it very romantic—in fact, I used to watch this film when I needed a little cheering up. The filmmakers use San Francisco effectively as the backdrop, giving the movie character and a strong sense of place. And in today’s era of irony, self-awareness and snarkiness, the characters and their story project a sweetness and innocence rarely found in films anymore. Anyway, it’s a film that came into my life at the right moment and remained a touchstone for me for many years as a young single person.





Wednesday, May 30, 2018

10 Films in 10 Days: #7 - Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia (1962), released the year I was born, is the seventh entry in my 10 films in 10 days. Anyone familiar with me or my work will know this film is right in my wheelhouse—a sweeping historical epic adventure set in an exotic locale. Arguably the greatest film epic of all time—they truly don’t make ‘em like this anymore folks—and directed by the great David Lean, it is based on the real-life story of T.E. Lawrence, a British officer during World War I who served as a liaison during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

Adding to the cachet of the film is the fact that Lawrence—both in real life and in this film—is a bit an enigmatic figure. Is he an idealistic romantic doomed to disillusionment? An adrenalin and power junkie? Ambitious? Or just a clueless political pawn? In the film, of course, he is all of these.

The film opens with Lawrence being assigned as an observer to Prince Faisal, who is leading the Arab revolt against the Turks. Lawrence, however, soon becomes a more active player, planning and leading some military actions and campaigns, perhaps both for glory as well as out of genuine support for Arab autonomy and anti-colonialist sentiment. While the British initially see Lawrence’s actions as brash (and even vaguely treasonous), they shrewdly decide to use him to their advantage as a diversionary tactic against the Turks. Soon, however, what Lawrence sets in motion overtakes him and he also begins to learn that war and killing perhaps aren’t so romantic after all—with the end of the war also comes the end of idealism as political reality (and gamesmanship) sets in, with the partition of the conquered colonies among the victors.

The film won best picture at the Academy Awards and made lead actor Peter O’Toole and supporting player Omar Sharif international stars. It is both sweeping epic and intimate character study, yet at the end of the film, the figure of Lawrence and what drove him remains as opaque and inscrutable as when we first meet him.

For many reasons, this film could not likely be made today. Aside from its cost, the script has no female speaking parts (I think women appear in two scenes and you never see their faces since they are in burkas) and with the exception of Sharif (who was already an Egyptian matinee idol and hired to replace a French actor originally cast in the role), the two most prominent Arab characters in the film are played by Western actors—Alec Guinness as Prince Feisal and Anthony Quinn as Auda Abu Tayi (both were made up to bear remarkable resemblance to both real life figures). While both actors played the roles well and with great sensitivity—with Quinn particularly larger than life and chewing up the scenery to great effect—such casting would certainly not fly today! But it nevertheless is a lush, romantic, beautifully told and shot film—knowing it was shot on location suggests the production was as much of an adventure and daunting behind the scenes as what’s captured on film.



Tuesday, May 29, 2018

10 Films in 10 Days: #6 - Three Days of the Condor


The sixth film in my 10 films in 10 days is Three Days of the Condor (1975), the second Redford film following yesterday's All the President’s Men and still one of my all time favorite spy thrillers, a film that tied together 1970s paranoia (anyone remember the Parallax View?), distrust of government, and the economic malaise and oil shortages of the era, all in one tidy package.

Redford plays CIA agent Joe Turner, codenamed “Condor”—not a field agent, but one who works at a desk job. He is a “reader,” someone who just reads books (“everything that's published in the world”), feeding it into a computer for anything that might benefit the agency—at one point, Redford incredulously asks, “Who'd invent a job like that?”

The film opens with the massacre of everyone in his field office in the heart of New York City while Turner is out picking up lunch, by a crew of assassins led by the mysterious “Joubert” played to Euro perfection by Max Von Sydow. When the killers realize they missed Condor, the hunt for him begins. Turner soon kidnaps a random civilian woman (Faye Dunaway) and at gunpoint forcers her to hide him in her apartment. At first, of course, she thinks he’s a lunatic, but when one of the assassins tracks him down and attempts to kill him in her home, she realizes there may be some truth to his paranoia and agrees to help him. Condor’s smarts and lack of field training makes him unpredictable, which turns out to be an advantage—he also soon discovers that he can trust no one and that sides and allliances can quickly change, often having nothing to do with ideology. By the end of the film, Condor exposes the plot and can seemingly finally come out of the cold, but the movie nevertheless ends on an uncertain note, causing Turner and moviegoers to question whether our government and its institutions can still be trusted.

Directed by the great Sidney Pollack, Three Days of the Condor, of course, reflects the deep distrust of the government and the establishment that emerged in the 1970s, particularly in the wake of the Vietnam War, the youth movement and Watergate, when much of the general public lost faith in the integrity of both our institutions and of the people in power. While in the years since the public's trust in government has ebbed and flowed over the years, in many ways, of course, we still haven’t fully recovered—indeed, in the current toxic and divisive political environment, we have witnessed a real nadir in public trust in our leaders and the government, with even those in office actively working to undermine people’s respect and trust for agencies like Congress, the FBI and others, often for their own personal and political agendas. (A new adaptation/update of the story, simply called Condor, is apparently forthcoming.)


Monday, May 28, 2018

10 Films in 10 Days: #5 - All the President's Men

My fifth entry for my 10 films in 10 days is All the President’s Men (1976). I can’t remember when I first saw this—it may have been not until college—but even though I was not particularly political as a kid nor particularly well versed on the details of Watergate, I was always fascinated by this film, even in my youth—I recall one day being with friends, trying to decide whether to see a movie, but no one was interested in seeing it when I suggested it, no doubt believing it was boring (I was 14 at the time). It’s a thriller without any violence or traditional “action scenes” and of course everyone knows how the story ends. But it’s how we get there that forms the spine and suspense of the film.

The film has inspired generations of new reporters and made journalism look like a noble profession.  In truth, journalism always has had a long rough-and-tumble history encompassing both serious news gathering and investigative work and partisanship and sensationalism. And today, most of broadcast and print journalism are part of large media conglomerates, part of the same establishment its supposed to cover and hold accountable, which does create a degree of conflict of interest. Nevertheless, the film demonstrates the importance the importance of holding investigative journalism and a free press in a democratic society—a democracy that actively seeks to undermine or delegitimize the press does so at its own peril.

The film is an amazing piece of work, especially when one considers it was done so close after the heels of the actual events (Nixon had resigned only two years prior to the film’s release). It continues to be an inspiration of similar films that have followed, such as Shattered Glass, Spotlight and the recent The Post.


Sunday, May 27, 2018

10 Films in 10 Days: #4 - A Hard Day's Night

A Hard Day’s Night (1964) is the fourth film of my 10 films in 10 days and was pretty much a holy grail for me growing up. I was too young to see it in a theater but I was certainly aware of it, and as a Beatles fanatic from a very young age, any chance to see it (and Help!) was a rare treat. (I recall my brother and I once staying up until 1 a.m. to see Help! on local tv, back in the days before VHS, cable or streaming.) Shortly after we moved to Northern California from the east coast, however, we discovered that a local revival movie theater—the first we’d ever hard of—was playing A Hard Day’s Night on a double feature with Help! You better believe we saw it! (When they re-released a restored print theatrically of A Hard Day's Night in the 1980s when I was in college, I sat through two matinee showings of it in the middle of the day in a nearly empty theater.)

A Hard Day’s Night, of course, perfectly captured on film the energy and excitement of Beatlemania, capitalizing on (and, frankly, partly creating) the individual personas of each Beatle, using a frenzied, hand-held look on black-and-white film that used innovative film techniques (like lens flares during the concerts). Following a loose narrative, it follows the Fab Four over a single day as they arrive and prepare for a concert, while they also try to find moments of normalcy, peace and freedom away from the pressures of fans, the press, their managers, and even Paul’s (fictionalized) grandfather who all want a piece of them. Directed by American expat Richard Lester, who had worked in commercials and, impressively for the Beatles, the British comedy group the Goons, the movie also gives each Beatle their own scenes and a chance to shine. The film clearly shows why the Beatles had such an endearing impact—they’re all amazingly photogenic, charming, disarming, and natural performers and clowns. The film is both manic and artful.

Of course, the film also climaxes with a concert performance in front of a live audience, cleverly tying up the loose ends of the film in the final scenes. It’s generally considered the greatest rock’n roll film of all time, for good reason—up to then, most such films were intended to be disposable and forgettable. Though I’m sure the Beatles, Lester and the studio weren’t aiming for something that would stand the test of time, they certainly succeeded.


Saturday, May 26, 2018

10 Films in 10 Days: #3 - The Longest Day

For Day 3 of my 10 films in 10 days, I chose a film that’s not particularly an overwhelming personal favorite of mine nor one I consider “great,” but it is a movie that I have watched numerous times over the years (and can still do) as the movie equivalent of comfort food. But the Longest Day (1962) is among the first and representative of a movie genre I loved as a kid—war films and, particularly, World War II films.

I had a lot of interests as a kid, and military and World War II history was among them. I read history books and biographies/memoirs, played “guns” in our local woods (in my mind, the snow in a nearby wooded forest during the wintertime made it evocative of the Battle of the Bulge), and played with toy soldiers and built model kits of tanks and other vintage military vehicles that became part of this play. And, of course, war comics like Our Army at War (with Sgt. Rock), the Haunted Tank, the Losers, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos were favorites—indeed, my first self-made comic-book was called Sgt. Hanes and Hell Platoon. My brother and I went through a period where we would circle all the war movies scheduled to be aired in the week ahead in the newspaper’s tv guide: Films like To Hell and Back, the Devil’s Brigade, Stalag 17, Sands of Iwo Jima, Dirty Dozen, and Go for Broke were all perennial favorites. The camaraderie, sacrifice and sense of purpose all appealed to me.

The Longest Day was a particular treat and special event for me when it aired. It, of course, featured an international all-star ensemble cast, including John Wayne, Richard Burton, Red Buttons, Robert Ryan, Eddie Albert, Peter Lawrie and, in small roles, Henry Fonda, a pre-James Bond/working class Sean Connery and Gert Frobe (a German actor, who would later appear as the titular character of Goldfinger).

Of course, since then, much better films in this genre have emerged to celebrate “The Greatest Generation,” such as Saving Private Ryan (and HBO’s Band of Brothers), which of course are much more visceral and realistic. But this was one of my first war film favorites and holds a special place in my memories.


Friday, May 25, 2018

10 Films in 10 Days: #2 - The Graduate

Day 2 of my 10 films in 10 days is The Graduate (1967). My first day’s pick was The Apartment which I mentioned was age inappropriate for me when I first saw it as a kid. The Graduate is probably even moreso, given the brief titillating sex scenes (relatively modest by today's standards) and its storyline of a lost and disaffected fresh college grad named Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) who realizes he wants something more than the stultified suburban lives of his parents and their generation. Bored and with some self-loathing, Benjamin enters into an affair with “Mrs. Robinson” (Anne Bancroft, actually only six years older than Hoffman in real life), the wife of his father’s business partner, herself the unhappy victim of unfulfilled dreams and a loveless marriage. Forced into a date with the Robinsons’ daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross), he soon rediscovers a measure of innocence and goodness, leading of course to an inevitable showdown with their families.

Like The Apartment, this is another sophisticated comedy drama—frankly, I’m not sure I understood a lot of the subtle, nuanced comedy when I first saw it, but at the time I still probably appreciated and recognized that this was a new kind of film. The Graduate marked the directing debut of Mike Nichols, a comedian who had made the transition to acting, directing on stage and, with this movie, film directing. The movie innovatively used shooting techniques not widely adapted yet to film like helicopter shots, fisheye lens, and telephoto lenses in deep focus (some have said Nichols used some techniques in vogue in television commercials). The use of existing Simon and Garfunkel songs for his score to set a mood, rather than a traditional film score, was also an inspiring decision. The movie, of course, also captured the zeitgeist, as a precursor to the youth discontent of the 1960s that was just about to roil the country and the rest of the world, fueled by Vietnam and the sexual revolution.

In addition to television, as a college student I had the good fortune to see this film on the big screen at revival houses and at my university. It was fun watching it with a college crowd—at one point in the film, Benjamin’s father (played by the great Anthony Daniels), asks his son, who is floating lazily on an air mattress in their backyard pool, “Would you mind telling me then what those four years of college were for? What was the point of all that hard work?” When Benjamin replies, “You got me!” the theater erupted in cheers and applause. Ah, the cynicism of youth.

I also loved the uncertainty of the last shot—when Benjamin and Elaine finally break free, they end up on a city bus and run to the back seat. A “What now?” look of uncertainty seems to undermine their joy of freedom as the film ends—somewhat undermining the “happy ending” of the film.

The original book of The Graduate, by Charles Webb, was in my home growing up. I eventually read it in college and found that, in adapting it, screenwriter Buck Henry pretty much tore out the pages of the book and used much of the dialogue intact.



Thursday, May 24, 2018

10 Movies in 10 Days: #1 - The Apartment

So I’ve been tagged on Facebook to do my list of 10 movies over 10 days that had the most influence/resonance with me over the years. I guess these lists are fun in what they tell you about a person, but also because they may make you think of movies you hadn’t thought of in years or, better yet, encourage you to seek out those you may have never seen or heard of. A few people who know me well will likely not be surprised by most of the movies on this list (and I’ve written about a few of them on my blog), but hopefully you will still find an occasionally quirky one. I often make the distinction of favorite films, which have personal resonance, versus those that I think objectively are the best films and of course it was hard to narrow down this list and it could very well be different if you ask me again at another time. But with a few exceptions, these are mostly films that I imprinted on when I was young (up through college) and I have often re-watched over the years.

First on my list is Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960). I watched this black and white film quite a few times as a kid where it seemed to air fairly regularly on local television when I was growing up in New York. (Following that, I’ve seen it several times in a movie theater, thanks to UCLA’s film archive screenings when I was in college and at local revival houses that used to be a ubiquitous part of the L.A. landscape). Looking back, of course I didn’t know how “age inappropriate” the movie was for kids—about a shlemiel named C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) who lets his insurance company managers use his apartment for trysts. The movie also features a suicide attempt in his apartment by an elevator operator at his company (Shirley MacLaine) and a bunch of unfaithful husbands who in this age of #MeToo prey on the secretaries and telephone operators at the office. But for those who haven’t seen it, The Apartment isn’t a drama—this is a nimble, romantic comedy by the great Billy Wilder. I’ve often thought what made this movie work was Wilder’s European sensibility (he was an Austrian-Jew who fled Nazi Germany in 1933), which does not quite see sex through the same Puritan/dirty lens as Americans. With that said, it’s also a hilarious early skewering of the American corporate workplace, a precursor to the Mad Men television show. (One corporate wag dictates the memo: “Premium-wise and billing-wise, we are eighteen percent ahead of last year, October-wise.”)

At its heart, of course, this is a great romantic comedy with the great Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine as her most vulnerable, and Fred MacMurray playing against type as the manipulative CEO, Mr. Sheldrake, and a cast full of scene-stealing character actors, all helped by a crackling script, which really resonated to me for some reason. And, of course, when I watched it as I got older, I came to admire the film’s story and sophistication even more. Wilder is certainly one of our greatest filmmakers, with movies like Double Indemnity (screenwriter), Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, and of course Some Like It Hot among his credits—any of which could easily been included on this list.





Thursday, May 10, 2018

Disney World 2018 (part I)

This is part I of a two-part blog about my recent visit to Disney World. Below is a general overview of our trip—part II will review the attractions and rides we saw! Click here to go straight to the photogallery.

During the period of about 2009-15, it was our family’s tradition to go to Disneyland in Anaheim, California for a single day visit over the Christmas holiday break. While we generally managed to avoid long wait times, the increasing popularity of the park and resulting shoulder-to-shoulder crowds at that time of year began making the experience less enjoyable, so we stopped going, usually replaced by a ski trip if there was snow in our local mountains.

Even though I know Disney World in Orlando, Florida is supposed to be better and larger, given our proximity to Disneyland, I nevertheless thought a trip to Disney World was superfluous. However, when we were planning our next big family trip and I floated some ideas by the family, it was clear the kids wanted Disney World—so Disney World it was.

Pre-Planning

As I’m sure anyone who has visited the resort (it’s actually a collection of resorts and theme parks, versus the two simple theme parks in Anaheim, Disneyland and California Adventures), planning for Disney World is like planning for battle. My initial online research was very confusing and overwhelming, given the number of choices, parks, resorts/hotels, options, etc. However, with the aid of a book a friend kindly purchased for me as a Christmas gift when he heard we were contemplating the trip, I was able to focus a bit and narrow down my planning. At the end, I did simply go through the Disney World reservation system—which included information on available deals and packages, as well as flights—since obviously it was a simple integrated all-in-one package. (I did independently compare flights and found the flights through Disney were the same I found on my own and at the same price.) And by the time I got to this point, I had done a little research and was a bit more knowledgeable about the whole process and system.

The main reason I found the process a bit overwhelming is because in addition to myriad options, you are also encouraged to book restaurants 180 days in advance and Fast Passes for attractions 60 days in advance. Apparently, those reservations disappear quickly. Indeed, I logged in 59 days before our trip and found that one of the most popular rides, the Avatar Flight of Passage Ride at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, had already sold out of Fast Passes. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to move our planned visit to that theme park to the last day, which did the trick. By that point, four months out, most of the restaurants were also booked.

Another option that required a bit of calculation was the dining plan where each person was allotted a couple of “quick service” meals, one “dining-service meal” and an allotment of snacks and drinks throughout the day (they are given as a total package, meaning they could be swapped and used up or reserved as needed among the members of your party during your visit). I initially signed up for it because it could still be cancelled later because it sounded like a good deal since our meals would all be paid for in advance. Of course, once I did the math, it turned out not to be such a bargain. When I broke it down, it came to nearly $120/person per day, keeping in mind that my party of five included a teen and a tween who are not big eaters. Given that the more expensive sit-down restaurants no longer had any availability on most of the days of our visit, it was clear we would be losing money if we committed to it, so I cancelled the plan. It turned out to be a good decision—I’m sure in some circumstances it can be a good deal—especially if you get reservations at a nice place each night—but if not, you’re likely to come out behind. As many pundits noted, Disney would hardly put together a plan like this if they weren’t making a profit.

Accommodations and General Impressions

Disney of course is renowned for its crowd/line management process, and this was on full display during the trip. Disney World, of course, has its own dedicated presence called Disney Express at the Orlando airport, so once we landed and checked in with them, we and our luggage were taken care of and whisked straight to the hotel.

We stayed at the Art of Animation Resort one of their largest, with room themes for the films Cars, Little Mermaid, and Lion King. Most rooms at Disney World are clearly intended for families of 4 or less, so one reason we booked at Art of Animation is because it has suites that can accommodate 6 (my brother accompanied us on this family trip). We partly chose a Cars themed room thinking it would be the least cheesy of the bunch. I can’t comment on the other themed rooms, but we were actually very pleased with the suite. The room was just large enough to accommodate our party of six without feeling cramped – plus, it had two full baths, a master bedroom (which my wife and I took), and a couch with a twin bed and a pullman bed that opened out over a small dining table. There was also a kitchenette, microwave and fridge.

I’ll talk about food in a bit, but I do want to mention that most of the hotel resorts also have food areas—the Art of Animation had a huge cafeteria style food court. While I’m sure I wouldn’t have wanted to eat there every day, there was some variety in the options and Disney is especially smart to leave it open an hour past the time the parks close, meaning that you can still grab dinner—or even a nice dessert—when you get back. So even though we arrived at our hotel about 9:45 p.m., it was nice to be able to grab a relaxing dinner after a full day of traveling. On busy days like this, I tend to like a full breakfast in the morning, but in order to get an early start, we ended up buying croissants, orange juice and other pastries the night before and eating them on the run the next morning—I was surprised that this kept me plenty satisfied until lunchtime.

Aside from its sheer size, one significant difference between Disneyland and Disney World is the use of Magic Bands (see photo at right). Shipped to us prior to the trip, the Magic Bands electronically contained our reservations and Fast Passes, and even gave us access to our room--we didn’t even need to check in (Disney texted our room number right before we arrived). As a matter of convenience, if you link it to a credit card, you could even pay for all purchases at the parks with it, protected by a PIN code.

And, yes, Disney World is a lot larger than Disneyland. In addition to simply having more room (a LOT more room) to grow, the scale is a bit larger that made it feel a little less shoulder-to-shoulder/claustrophobic when it was crowded. (With that said, even though we were there during our kids’ spring break, the parks were not as crowded as I anticipated--lines were rarely at the full capacity they were clearly set up for.)

One interesting difference between the two Disney resorts, in my observation, was the makeup of the crowd. While of course we met and saw people from many different countries, particularly the U.K., France and Germany, it was fascinating to hear a variety of Southern accents, something I just don’t hear in California. Like Disneyland, given the crowds, for the most part everyone was happy to be there and lovely and courteous to others, very chill.

The Theme Parks (and Food!)

We were at the resort for four days and on consecutive days went to Magic Kingdom (classic Disneyland), Epcot, Magic Kingdom, and Animal Kingdom. In addition, since the flight on our final day didn’t depart until 8 p.m. in the evening we added a fifth day to go to Hollywood Studios, the fifth and final theme park at the resort. (There are other destinations at the resort like TK and TK.)

On our first day, of course, we got to the park bright and early. At our hotel (and presumably the others), there was a dedicated bus stop for each park. Although buses run at various intervals, usually about every 20 minutes at peak times, they actually ran buses fairly frequently to accommodate the crowds and keep people moving, with a bus sometimes pulling up just as as one departed. As I said, we found the lines and crowds to be nowhere near full capacity.

While on the map I could of course see that the Magic Kingdom was on the far side of the Disney World property from our hotel, it really sunk in on the bus ride: although we were within Disney World, the bus ride to the parks took anywhere from about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on traffic and distance of the theme park—and this included going onto a local road, hopping on a freeway and traveling at highway speeds! We could see plenty of areas under construction and plenty of space to grow.

Of course, once we arrived at a park, a necessary inconvenience was the security check. Again, for the most part, these were quick and painless, again helped by the fact that it was nowhere near as crowded as I expected or it could have been.

After a first full day at Magic Kingdom, getting back to the hotel close to 11 p.m., we went to Epcot the next day and found ourselves fairly exhausted. While we did not curtail our trip to Epcot in any way, we actually ended up back at our hotel that second day by early evening and were in bed by 10 p.m. The third day, we slept in an hour later for our second visit to Magic Kingdom and happily found that this had no effect on our ability to get on rides in the morning and were never that tired again (in retrospect there may have been some jet lag involved as well.)

Disney World allows for a variety of experiences—what I mean by that is if one wants to spend time all day hitting rides and attractions you can do that; but there are also plenty of shows, parades (I joked, “There’s a damned parade every 5 minutes!”) and of course just the immersive environment of the park. And, of course, you can just chill at the hotels and hang out by the pool. It really is difficult to have all these experiences and enjoy all the attractions and shows in a day, so you have to make choices or decide to spend one day doing more of one activity or the other. (With that said, I don’t think I could spend more than the five days we spent there.)
As I mentioned earlier, because we planned our vacation relatively “late” (about 4 months out), we were unable to snag many restaurant reservations—on our first full night, we ate at the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen. It was fairly nice and I was surprised at how open and spread out the tables were. After a day of running around, it was a welcome respite to sit down and be served a nice meal.

It helped that my son, a Disney geek, already had a good lay of the land. In fact, armed with a waiting times app and an innate map of the parks in his head, he turned out to be our navigator and guide for much of the trip! Once we finished one activity, he would tell us what ride had a relatively short wait and, after we agreed, he would just lead us there! What a treat it was for me to be able to just sit back and enjoy. Of course there were times when we’d split up if people wanted to do different things or even just relax.

Speaking of food, aside from the restaurant mentioned above, we ate most meals at the “quick service” restaurants found everywhere. While food is still predominantly the fast food burger/hot dog/pizza type—which I really didn’t want for five straight days—with a little bit of looking you can find a little bit more variety. Epcot, with its focus on international fare, seemed to have the most options and, if not for the kids, my wife and I could have spent the day going from one food vendor to another. I had a scallops dish there and we shared some pretty good fish and chips. During our visit at Animal Kingdom, I found a good place that sold ribs and a rice/vegetable dish at an “African market” (during the day, I also bought a tasty grilled corn on the cob!). Other highlights included a very good roasted turkey leg that I shared with my son (which can also be found at Disneyland) and an empanada at Hollywood Studios that my wife texted me about.

In any case, it was a great trip, helped by great weather (we were in shorts the whole time, it was slightly humid a couple days and we had some light rain another couple times) and low crowds.

The Attractions

Below is a list of the attractions and activities we enjoyed during our visit. In the next part of this blog, coming soon, I’ll provide a review/overview of our trip!

Day 1/Magic Kingdom
Pirates of the Caribbean
Haunted Mansion
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Fast Pass)
Under the Sea: Journey of The Little Mermaid (Fast Pass)
People Mover
Carousel of Progress
Thunder Road Mountain
Hall of Presidents
Country Bear Jamboree
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Fast Pass)
Little Mermaid
3 parades
Dinner reservation: Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen
Seven Dwarfs (Fast Pass) 
Day 2/Epcot
Space Ship Earth
Test Track (Fast Pass)
Journey Into Imagination With Figment (Fast Pass)
Sides
Oh Canada Pavilion
China Pavilion
RELAUNCHED! Mission: Space (Fast Pass)
RELAUNCHED! Mission: Earth
Nemo Ride 
Day 3/Magic Kingdom
Haunted Mansion (Fast Pass)
Splash Mountain
Muppets
People Mover
Monster Laughs (show)
Tiki Room
Pirates of the Caribbean (Fast Pass)
Disney Rail
Carousel of Progress
Seven Dwarfs (Fast Pass) 
Day 4/Animal Kingdom
Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain (Fast Pass)
Kali River Rapids
It's Tough to Be a Bug
Avatar Flight of Passage (Fast Pass)
Navi River Journey
Dinosaur (Fast Pass) 
Day 5/Hollywood Studios
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Star Tours
Indiana Jones Stunt Show
March of the First Order Parade
Star Wars Launch Bay Theatre
Walt Disney Presdents
Star Tours

Click here to go straight to the photogallery.

Monday, April 16, 2018

2018 San Diego Comic-Con Special Guest Announcement

Well, the news is out—I will be a Special Guest at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, July 19–22, 2018!

While I'm not quite sure how I rated such a recognition—aside from sheer stubbornness in continuing to publish Rob Hanes Adventures—I'm greatly honored and grateful to the organizers!

I'll of course keep everyone apprised of anything scheduled at the show related to my participation there!

You can find the announcement here along with a list of the other honoree.

Below is the tweet announcement and a scan of my bio at the Special Guest website....








Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Batman '66 and the Hollywood Museum

Earlier this month, some old college buddies and I visited the Hollywood Museum. I'd never visited before, though upon first hearing about it, I assumed it was a "tourist trap" given its location in the heart of Hollywood—so "heart" in fact that it's located at Hollywood and Highland, the location of the Dolby Theatre where the Academy Awards are held and just a half block from the old Grauman's Chinese Theatre (now TCL Chinese Theatre).

The specific occasion for this field trip was to see a "Batman '66" exhibition devoted to the 1960's Batman television show.

The museum is located in the historic Max Factor building, making the structure itself an icon of art deco architecture. (Factor, of course, was a famed Hollywood make-up artist who helped mainstream the acceptance of cosmetics and make-up.) Some of the original make-up rooms and equipment are re-created and restored in the building.

The museum is otherwise a shrine to Hollywood memorabilia. While classic Hollywood, of course, is well represented, films throughout the decades are featured, with temporary exhibits, like "Batman '66" intertwined among what I assume is the permanent collection. The museum is densely packed with artifacts, but nevertheless artfully displayed.

The "Batman '66" exhibition features costumes and props from the show, as well as collectibles, film clips, etc. For my friends and I, who were children when the show hit the air (or at least in re-runs immediately following its run), it was a great time to reminisce. A horror film exhibit was also on display on the bottom level, as well as exhibitions devoted to Marilyn Monroe, costume designers, etc. On top of that, the museum is surprisingly very affordably priced ($15 for an adult ticket).

By sheer coincidence, we visited the museum the day before this year's Academy Awards, when much of the area was already closed off to traffic. We saw parts of the red carpet, but otherwise foot and tourist traffic seemed fairly normal. Though my friends and I came from two different directions, we also decided to all take the L.A. Metro train to the area to avoid the hassle of traffic and parking. It helped that there is actually a Hollywood/Highland station on the line, so we were let off at close proximity to the museum. Other than that, the only real indication we were in Oscar season was the fact that when we decided to go to the famed Hollywood eatery, Musso and Frank's, we found a wait for a table to be inordinately long due to the fact that one room in the restaurant had been reserved for an Academy Awards film editors party that was underway when we arrived. We ended up going to another old Hollywood haunt, Micheli's,  founded in 1949, and billed as "Hollywood's oldest Italian restaurant." It turned out to be a great choice, the food was terrific.

Anyway, whether your visiting or a local, if you're a fan of the movies (and who isn't?), a visit to Hollywood should be on your itinerary and a stop at the Hollywood Museum recommended if you have the time.

To see the full photogallery, click here. Some photos from the gallery are embedded below.














Monday, March 5, 2018

Back to Back to the Future

The film Back to the Future is one of my son's favorite films—I have great memories for them too and still have memories of how blown away I was when I first saw the film at its opening release.

I've long known that the location of the fictional Twin Pines Mall in the film was Puente Hills Mall in the City of Industry/Rowland Heights area of the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California. I have family who live only an exit away and when I was attending UCLA n the 1980s, I would occasionally visit them and sometimes visit the mall, sometimes taking my younger cousins as company.

My son recently learned from one of his favorite vloggers that the mall actually has a Twin Pines Mall sign on display. My family still lives in the area so I promised that next time we were passing by, we'd stop by.  (In October 2015, there apparently was a celebration there to mark the day Marty McFly showed up there in the "future.")

That opportunity came up near the end of February for a family party (in fact, it was coincidentally my birthday as well). I wanted to be sure, however, that the display was still there, and after finding no mention of it online or at the mall's website, I called the mall directly. Fortunately, the person at the information desk there was not only able to confirm the display was still there but also its location.




I also had the presence of mind to find out where the exterior scenes—featuring the Libyan terrorists—were filmed. In the film (see the screencap accompanying this post), you could clearly see a JC Penney in the background. It turns out that JC Penney closed years ago and was replaced by a 24-Hour Fitness Center.

We parked next to the fitness center and before going into the mall, took a walk to get a good vantage shot of where the exterior shots were filmed. You'll see we were right there, though we took our photos a little bit to one side of the film shot. In the photos, you can see the service road both in the screencap and our photos—it actually was a fairly busy thoroughfare, such that it was impossible to safely take a photo standing in the middle of the street. At one point, a car full of young people stopped and asked if we were taking photos because of the film—when I confirmed we were, they laughed and said, "We were just talking about it!" They thanked me when I told them about the sign inside the mall.

The sign itself is clearly displayed though I saw no explicit reference to Back the Future.

Inside the mall, there is also a general memorabilia store for autographed items and such, and in the window display was a Back to the Future poster, signed by the cast (presumably). (I have that poster as well, signed by the artist, Drew Struzan.)

Anyway, it was a fun detour on this trip!







Monday, January 15, 2018

Entertainment Round up for 2017



As I do every year, I'm listing the films, plays, exhibitions and books consumed during the previous year. While I try to keep track, the list is likely not exhaustive—I've probably watched more  streaming content than is noted here—but it's sometimes hard to document everything.

I should also add that the list somewhat reflects the blurry lines of streamed content, particularly  original streamed content on platforms like Netflix and Amazon. Generally speaking, streamed content that are film-length and stand-alone are included under "Films" while episodic series (like The Crown) are listed under Television/Series.

Among my favorite films this year (though some may have been released in a previous year), pretty much in the order listed: Lady Bird, I, TonyaThe FounderWonder WomanCocoBridge of Spies,  The Man Who Invented ChristmasThor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Darkest Hour.

Television/original streaming series, of course, continue to provide great content. Among my favorites this past year were the Crown: Season 2Love (a great series that really captures life as a single in L.A.), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (a show like many of the best ones that got better with each episode), Finding Vivian Maier, the criminally underrated Red Oaks, The Good Place (a great cast and further proof of Ted Danson's comedy chops), the Girls of GLOW (another great ensemble, with Marc Maron a revelation—though I thought the series wavered a bit at the end).

Films:

La La Land (1/1/2017)
Jim Gaffigan: Cinco - Netflix (1/14/2017)
Finding Vivian Maier - Netflix (1/15/2017)
Across the Pacific - TCM (1/1/2017)
That’s Entertainment, Part III - TCM (1/2/2017)
That’s Entertainment - TCM (1/2/2017)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - Amazon (1/7/2017)
Expendables 3 - Cable TV (1/8/2017)
Mike Nichols - Amazon (1/13/2017)
Tales from the Script - Amazon (1/13/2017)
West Wing - Season 7 (1/30/2017)
Band of Brothers - Amazon (2/10/2017)
David Brent: Life on the Road - Netflix (2/11/2017)
Lego Batman Movie (2/11/2017)
Margin Call - Amazon (2/19/2017)
Big Eyes - Netflix (2/19/2017)
Beauty and the Beast (3/18/2017)
American Experience: The Boys of '36 - Netflix (5/6/17)
Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie (5/6/17)
Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2 (5/7/2017)
Handsome: A Netflix Mystery MoviePirates of the Caribbean 5: Dead Men Tell No Tales (5/27/2017)
Fire and Ice - Amazon (6/2017)
A Man of No Importance - Amazon (6/2017)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel - Amazon (6/2017)
Wonder Woman (6/4/2017)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (7/7/2017)
On the Town (8/6/2017)
Comrade Detective, Season 1, Ep. 1 (8/8/2017)
If Knishes Could Talk: The Story of the New York Accent (8/6/2017)
The Founder - Netflix (8/7/2017)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - Netflix (8/8/2017)
Mastermind - Netflix (8/12/2017)
Hall Pass - cable (8/27/2017)
Wanderlust - cable (8/27/2017)
Clueless - cable (8/28/2017)
Mifune: The Last Samurai - Netflix (9/10/2017)
Jerry Before Seinfeld (9/21/2017)
Beauty and the Beast - Netflix (9/24/2017)
Rocco - Netflix (10/9/2017)
Sleeping With Other People - Netflix (10/12/2017)
Whatever Works - Netflix (10/18/2017)
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) - Netflix (10/20/2017)
Thor: Ragnarok (11/5/2017)
Lady Bird (11/11/2017)
Cinderella - Cable (11/2017)
Justice League: Dawn of Justice (11/19/2017)
Justice League: Dawn of Justice (11/22/2017)
Coco (11/23/2017)
Hidden Figures - HBO (11/26/2017)
Bridge of Spies - HBO (11/26/2017)
The Big Sick - Amazon (12/4/2017)
The Man Who Invented Christmas (12/2/2017)
The Darkest Hour (12/9/2017)
Homecoming - TCM Streaming (12/22/2017)
Pottersville (12/23/2017)


Television/Series:

Jim Gaffigan Cinco (1/11/17)
Masters of Sex - Season 1 (2/4/2017)
Victoria: Masterpiece Theater (2/2017)
The Feud (3/2017)
American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson (3/8/17)
Love - Netflix (3/2017)
Five Came Back: Season 1 – Netflix (4/26/17)
Boys of ‘36 - Netflix (5/6/2017)
A Perfect Ending - Netflix (5/6/2017)
Sgt. Pepper's Musical Revolution (6/4/2017)
Dear White People: Season 1, Episodes 1-4 (7/4/2017)
Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later - Netflix (8/6/2017)
Red Oaks - Season 2 - Amazon (8/12/2017)
The Good Place Season 1 - Netflix (9/9/2017)
The Good Place: Season 1 - Netflix (9/28/17)
GLOW (Season 1) - Netflix (10/22/2017)
Master of None: Season 2 - Netflix (10/22/2017)
American Experience: New York - Season 1 - Amazon (11/18/2017)
Red Oaks - Season 3 - Amazon (12/1/2017)
Marvelous Mrs. Maisel - Season 2 (12/5/2017)
The Crown Season 2 - Netflix (12/19/2017)

Plays/Live Performance/Exhibitions:

L.A. County Museum of Art (1/8/2017)
Long Day’s Journey into Night - Geffen Playhouse (2/15/17)
Long Beach Comic Expo (2/19/2017)
Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (3/4/2017)
West Side Story (3/11/2017)
WonderCon (4/8/17)
Universal Studios (4/10/17)
AVPA JAVA-Gala (6/3/2017)
Mighty Morphin Midsummer's Night Dream (Actor's Gang) (8/19/17)

Books/Comics:

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate (6/20/17)
Ric Hochet: - Volume 1 - R.I.P., Ric! by Zidrou (8/29/17)
Paying for It by Chester Brown (4/5/17)