Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Comic-Con 2007

Comic-Con hit San Diego again with a big "BANG! POW!" last weekend. What started 38 years ago as a rather casual annual gathering of local comicbook collectors has turned into a mega-million-dollar extravaganza that attracts some 130,000 fans and media hounds from around the world. According to the LA Times, Comic-Con has become a “pop-culture” phenomenon.

Since getting into the con on Saturday was such a nightmare last year, Tim and I decided to go on Friday instead. Activities began at 10:30AM, so we reserved seats on the 7:20AM train heading south. We arrived at L.A.’s magnificent Union Station at 6:40AM.

“What do you think the geek factor will be on the train?” Tim asked before we even got to the station.

“HUGE!” I replied.

And sure enough, the train was overrun with young fan-boys and -girls wearing dark t-shirts sporting the logos of various rock bands and science fiction movies. Clothes—and, of course, costumes!—are a big part of the Comic-Con experience.

The train arrived in downtown San Diego at 10:10AM. From there, it’s a 15-minute walk to the Convention Center—just enough time to make the first big panel presentation of the day at 10:30AM. Warner Bros. studio was sneak-previewing its upcoming movies, including “Get Smart,” the remake of one my favorite 1960s TV shows. Although the movie’s main star, Steve Carell (who plays secret agent Maxwell Smart), wasn’t listed in the program, Tim and I were betting he would indeed show-up since Comic-Con has become the biggest movie-hype fest on the west coast. We raced off the train.

Thank goodness for advance online registration because we were able to run right in and get our convention badges. The line outside the Warner Bros. event, however, was daunting. Even though the auditorium (the infamous “Hall H”) holds 6,500 people, the room was already at capacity, so we gave up and headed over to the exhibits. Boy, was I grumpy the next morning when I read that not only did we miss Carell, but The Rock (who plays super Agent 23) was also there.

The exhibits were a rush, as usual. Some of the creative geniuses behind the sci-fi classic “Blade Runner,” including actresses Sean Young and Joanna Cassidy, were there signing posters for the 25th anniversary DVD of the movie. At the Disney exhibit, we stood on line to see an enclosed display of costumes and photographs from the most recent installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

The most impressive exhibit, though, had to be LucasFilms, which showed clips of the various “Star Wars” movies on three screens that could be seen from just about anywhere in the hall. At one point, everyone in the immediate vicinity looked upward as Luke Skywalker proceeded to use The Force to destroy the impenetrable Death Star. As a group, we’d probably all watched that scene over a thousand times total—still, there’s nothing quite like seeing “Star Wars” again on a big screen.

LucasFilms also provided a mini-exhibit of “Vader Project” artworks from the “Star Wars” convention back in May. Our favorites were “Carmen Mirandarth,” made up to look like Carmen Miranda, and political satirist Robbie Conal’s tribute to the Dark Lord (Dick Cheney) and his minion (George W. Bush).

After walking around and gawking at exhibits for about three hours, I insisted on sitting down. So we made our way back to Hall H, where clips from the upcoming movie “Shoot ‘Em Up,” starring Clive Owen, were about to be shown. Now I’ve loved Clive Owen since he played the title character in Disney’s movie “King Arthur,” so I was absolutely thrilled when he and director Michael Davis came out to talk about their new movie and answer questions. Owen, who usually plays a rather stoic leading man, was funny and very cute. The audience—all 6,500 of us!—adored him and the film.

On that high note, Tim and I left the con and headed into San Diego’s Gaslamp district to get something to eat. The geek factor was huge there, too, but we didn’t care because we were officially geeks now ourselves. After gobbling down a couple of tasty pizzas, we made our way over to the train station, where we boarded the Amtrak back to reality. Only 360 days left till next year’s Comic-Con . . .


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Mods & Rockers

The 8th annual “Mods and Rockers” film festival, which features movies about the 1960s “British invasion” and its aftermath, opened last night in Hollywood. Although the topic is, of course, right up my alley, we’ve never been. This year, however, the festival opened with “What’s Happening!”—a little-seen documentary about the Beatles’ first visit to the US. I bought two tickets immediately.

Driving to Hollywood on a Friday night in the middle of summer can be harrowing, so we left two hours early. We arrived at the Hollywood & Highland mall/theater complex an hour later. Tim wanted to try a new-ish French dip place, called “The Dip,” which he had read about on one of his L.A.-based blogs. It’s owned by Ken Davitian, Sacha Baron Cohen’s memorably corpulent companion in the movie “Borat.” The Dip's French fries were sprinkled with something orange that made them taste a bit like Cheetos. Yum!

The festival was across the street at the Egyptian Theater. Leaving the restaurant, we noticed a bigger crowd than usual milling around Hollywood Blvd. I overheard somebody say a commercial was being filmed. Sure enough, there was comic TV star Drew Carey chatting to a nice-looking middle-aged woman as the crowd looked on and cameras rolled.

“Would you like to talk to Drew Carey on camera?” a man asked Tim as we walked by.

“No thanks,” he said and kept right on walking.

“What do you mean, ‘No thanks’? You used to love Drew Carey!” I nagged. “Don’t you want to be on TV?!”

Apparently not, because he kept right on walking.

Even though the Egyptian was only a block away, it took us a while to navigate through all the tourists ogling the cement stars on The Hollywood Walk of Fame. A Latino family excitedly pointed out Jay Leno’s star in front of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, while a young boy sat on the sidewalk, posing for a picture next to Marilyn Monroe’s star. Unimpressed, we mushed ahead.

A long line of people were just starting to go into the theater when we arrived. I quickly ran over to the will-call window to pick-up our tickets. Amazingly, we were able to find two seats in the middle of the theater, eye-level to the screen. Perfect!

“Now aren’t you glad I didn’t stop and talk to Drew Carey?” Tim asked.

Beatles music played as we filed into the theater. Several people wore Beatles t-shirts and I could hear folks softly singing along to the soundtrack overhead. A British guy came out and thanked everyone for coming. The theater then went black. I felt like a 10-year-old kid all over again.

Despite claims that this was rare footage, I knew from the very first frame that I had seen this film before. In fact, we own the DVD under a different name, “The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit.” Still, it was wonderful seeing “the boys” projected onto a 60-foot screen again after all these years. For the next 81 minutes, they were young, beautiful and—best of all—all still alive. Except for the occasional burst of laughter or polite round of applause, the audience watched in rapt silence. We were transported back in time.

Afterward, the British guy, who had worked with Beatles press agent Derek Taylor, answered questions from the audience. The Rolling Stones’ documentary “Gimme Shelter” was playing next, but very few people stayed.

It was a gorgeous night, so we put the top down on the Miata, plugged in the iPod, and sang along with the Beatles the whole way home.

“There are places I’ll remember all my life, though some have changed—some forever, not for better, some have gone and some remain . . . In my life, I’ve loved them all . . .” (Lennon/McCartney, 1965)


Friday, July 06, 2007

Beam Me Up!

It’s no secret that I love “Star Trek.” I watched the very first episode on September 8, 1966, and have been a fan (i.e., Trekkie) ever since.

Even though I think “The Next Generation” (1987-1994) is by far the best of the five “Star Trek” series, I have, over the years, remained a fervent devotee of Captain James T. Kirk. As played by William Shatner, Kirk was a macho he-man who made all the ladies swoon, despite Shatner’s ham-bone overacting. Kirk also happened to be a male chauvinist pig — typical of the period — but I liked him anyway because he was decisive and never wrong.

Shatner has, of course, reinvented himself many times since then. Besides continuing to act on television and in the movies, he’s become an author (fiction as well as nonfiction) and released a well-reviewed music CD, called “Has Been,” a couple of years ago. He’s also the very funny spokesperson for Priceline.com. But perhaps his best role of all is as Denny Crane, the “mad cow” (i.e., Alzheimer’s) impaired senior partner on the TV show “Boston Legal.” When he’s not sleeping in court, he’s flirting with female clients (Kirk again!) or smoking cigars on his balcony with best friend and coworker Alan Shore (James Spader). I love Denny Crane.

I’ve seen Shatner many times at “Star Trek” conventions and even sat two feet away from him in a makeshift “green room” before he went on the air during a Mark & Brian radio show several years ago. Still, I was very excited when Tim called me on Tuesday to say that “Bill” was coming into the station later that morning.

Phone rings (7AM). . .

Tim: I forgot to tell you that William Shatner is coming into the station today to promote some project he’s involved in.

Me (surprised): What?! If I would have known he was going to be there, I would have given you something to have him sign!

Tim: Oh well. He’ll be on the radio at 8AM. Be sure to listen.

Me: [grumble, grumble, grumble. . .]

The phone rang again 45 minutes later. Tim had found an excuse to come home and so I ran around trying to find something for Shatner to sign. I finally settled on the cover of the season #1 DVD of “Boston Legal.” I shoved Tim out the door and turned on the radio. Shatner was reliving some moment from “Star Trek,” for the millionth time, but made it clear that he wanted to talk about other things, including his new pet project: sending department store gift cards to soldiers recuperating at Walter Reed hospital. He chatted on the air for about 50 minutes and then left to film “Boston Legal.” What a great way to start the day!

I waited for Tim to call, but he never did, so I assumed he hadn’t met my hero. I then ran off to UCLA, where I was teaching at noon.

When I returned home at 4PM, I found this photo in my e-mailbox, along with the following message:

“Denny Crane!!! I got the autograph. Love, Tim”

Denny and William Shatner’s signature now watch me all day long from where they hang on my office wall. Beam me up, indeed!


Sunday, July 01, 2007

That Was the Week That Was

Summer is definitely here. Not only am I now living in shorts and flip-flops, but every other day offers something fun to do. Take this past week, for example . . .

Friday, June 22

Jersey Boys,” the last play in this year’s Ahmanson theater subscription. A huge hit on Broadway, “Jersey Boys” captures the rise, fall, and rise (again) of the 1960s pop group The Four Seasons, through a colorful narrative (wow, what language!) and rousing renditions of their music. It sold out so quickly that the Ahmanson added another two months to the run. I love it so much that I call my parents the next morning and tell them they have to see it. I buy them matinee tickets for the end of August.

Saturday, June 23

The Police reunion concert at Dodger Stadium (see blog entry below).

Sunday, June 24

With ears still ringing, I rouse myself out of bed to accompany Karen to a Hawaiiana collectibles show. Lots of cool-looking rattan furniture and surfing memorabilia. Who knew pineapple collectibles could be so cute?

Two hours later, Tim and I attend the “Taste of the Nation” food festival in downtown Culver City. Since we’ve moved here, Culver City has become the restaurant capital of L.A. county, featuring trendy eateries and celebrity chefs, like Ben Ford (actor Harrison Ford’s son [see photo]) and Michael Wilson (Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s nephew). The food at the festival is phenomenal — Wilson’s pulled pork is “to die for” — the sun is so beastly hot, however, that my stomach rebels. The porta-potties are a mess, so we head home. But not without first stuffing contraband baggies full of Bluebird Cafe’s famous cupcakes and other sweet stuff. Thank goodness for large summer purses!

Monday, June 25

The L.A. Film Festival is in its second week, but we’ve been too busy to attend. I get a message that tickets are now available for “Jeff Garlin’s Combo Platter,” an improv comedy show that’s part of the festival. We love Garlin on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” plus he was very funny at last year’s film fest, so I quickly order tickets. The show is hilarious as Garlin and two friends riff on various comedy topics. We go to bed well past our normal Monday bedtime.

Tuesday, June 26

I was able to get tickets to one movie at the festival: “Joshua,” starring Sam Rockwell (a favorite from the “Star Trek” spoof, “GalaxyQuest,” and “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”) and Vera Farmiga (the female lead from the old Heath Ledger TV show “Roar”). A dark chiller, I want to flee the theater as soon I realize that Joshua, the brilliant young son of a rich Manhattan couple, is actually a very “bad seed” indeed. But we stay and I not only get to see Rockwell, who is apparently channeling Johnny Depp these days, and Michael McKean, who has a small role in the film, but also TV actress Sharon Lawrence (very attractive!), who was standing on line in the women’s restroom. I have nightmares that night, but it’s worth it.

Wednesday, June 27

I hear on the morning news that former-Beatle Paul McCartney is staging a free in-store concert today at Amoeba Music, but am too tired to wait on line for a ticket. In fact, I’m so exhausted that I completely forget my 9AM doctor’s appointment and so call to cancel at 10:30AM. Lucky, too, because my new landscaper comes by a few minutes later to take pictures of the backyard, which he’s demolishing next week.

Thursday, June 28

Up early to catch a morning flight to Reno, where I’m meeting my sister and brother-in-law, who have driven down from Seattle to visit my 84-year-old uncle Louie. Lots of laughter. Some tears. We then drive to Sacramento, where we’re spending the night before heading down to Southern California. There’s a big fire blazing south of Lake Tahoe, but we see only blue skies and peacefully green forests.

Friday, June 29

We wake-up to a power outage and so take quick showers before the hot water runs out. We start the long trip south to Los Angeles. Eight hours later, Vicki decides she wants to see what’s become of our grandparents’ old house and so we take a side trip through The Valley. The house is overgrown and generally depressing. We flee to Culver City, where Tim is happy to showoff his barbecuing skills. Karen comes over for dessert outside on our newly renovated patio. Life is good!

Saturday, June 30

Awake by 6:30AM. After a long walk, we share a large apple pancake at Dinah’s (yum!). Vicki has been researching our genealogy and so we spend two hours examining all the records she’s uncovered through the census, steerage lists, etc. Looks like we might have some relatives in Spain and Puerto Rico we never knew existed—very exciting stuff!

Alone again, Tim and I decide to go dancing at Disneyland, where our favorite Disney swing band, Stompy Jones, is playing. The weather is so hot that we’re soaking wet after only one dance. Still, we stay for an hour-and-a-half and dance our feet off. We’ve seen the fireworks show many times before, so leave early. Home by 10PM!

Today, July 1

It’s nice to sleep in! We have a leisurely breakfast on the patio in our jammies. I read a review of McCartney’s Amoeba concert, which was fabulous, and am upset I didn’t go. Tim wants to see a movie that starts at 1PM and I’m desperate to get a haircut. Just enough time to catch my breath before the next round of fun begins. . .