Saturday, February 25, 2012

Movie Premier: John Carter

Even though I’m not a football fan, one of my all-time favorite TV shows is Friday Night Lights, the much missed series about a high school football team in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas.  One of my favorite characters on the show was Tim Riggins, the hunky but brooding receiver, who matured considerably over the series’ far too short five seasons.

Most of the actors have moved on to other projects since the show ended its run last year.  But Taylor Kitsch, who played Riggins, has remained out of the limelight, appearing only briefly in the Wolverine origins movie three years ago.  That’s about to change, however, with the upcoming release of the blockbuster Battleship, later this year, and John Carter, Disney’s highly anticipated tent-pole movie in which Kitsch plays the title superhero.

Although John Carter doesn’t open till March, the premier was held earlier this week at the Regal Theater downtown.  Because it’s a Disney film, D23 members were invited to attend. Tickets were supposed to be available at 5PM, so Tim and I arrived at the theater at 4:30PM.  We planned to just checkout the scene before going to dinner, but two queues had already formed: one for tickets and one for the “bleachers,” from where we’d eventually watch the festivities.  We quickly got on the first line—so much for eating before the movie!  Everyone was chattering happily in anticipation.

It’s always fun to attend these things because you get to see movie stars in their natural element.  But the best part—for me, at least—is standing in line with kindred spirits.  Within moments we all knew each other’s backstory.  Turns out the guy standing next to me, who looked like he just walked over from a downtown law firm, was a rabid autograph hound.  Next to him were two ex-pats from Sacramento who were thrilled to be in the middle of a full-blown “L.A. experience.” 

Since we were among D23ers, I told everyone within earshot about our fabulous time at the Smoke Tree Ranch  and then, pointing to Geoffrey the D23 “Disney Geek,” who was standing nearby, I mentioned that he had been at the Ranch, too.

“Do you know Geoffrey the Disney Geek?” I asked Mr. Autograph.

“We’re all Disney geeks in this crowd,” he responded matter-of-factly.  “Except, of course, Geoffrey, who has his own video blog.”

With tickets in hand, we were then escorted over to the bleachers, setup on the street in front of the theater.  Well, actually, they weren’t bleachers at all, but rather a railing and two very long staggered platforms.  Fans were asked to stand either in front of or on the platforms in three long lines.  Our group of five scored the last front-row spots closest to the entrance.  Perfect timing!

The next two hours zipped by surprisingly fast.  The security guards allowed Tim to escape across the street for a quick bite, while I stayed (too excited to eat) and chatted with my new friends.  Although there was only one long red carpet, a velvet rope clearly separated the stars from everyone else attending the premier.  Non-celebrities walked on our side of the carpet; celebrities walked on the side closest to the photographers and media. 

The red carpet and velvet rope 
separating "us" from "them"

People on both sides of the red carpet started arriving at 6PM.  Most of the men wore suits, while the women—especially the non-celebrities—wore, for the most part, varying degrees of cocktail attire.  Even many D23 members—not necessarily known for being fashion-forward—dressed in spangles and black outfits.  I was very glad I had opted, at the last minute, not to wear my Friday Night Lights Dillon Panthers t-shirt.

A-listers and other celebrities finally started arriving by 6:30PM.  We saw Oscar-winner Helen Mirren, with what looked to be her two young grandchildren, and Emmy-winner Bryan Cranston, looking dapper in a suit and closely trimmed beard.  Anton Yelchin, Chekov in the Star Trek reboot movie, slipped by unnoticed on “our” side of the carpet.  Former sitcom star Dave Folley, who does a lot of voice work now for Disney, was there with his daughter and seemed thrilled to sign Mr. Autograph’s book. Frankie Muniz, of Malcom in the Middle fame, looks exactly the same except he now sports a 5 o’clock shadow, and Kevin McKidd is much more handsome in person than he is on TV.

Then suddenly we heard a burst of screaming from the far side of the bleachers.

“IT'S TAYLOR KITSCH!” the Sacramento guys, who by now knew all my secrets, yelled excitedly at me.  “And he’s on our side of the red carpet!”

Sure enough, poking my head over the railing I could see him shaking fans’ hands—and even kissing some women!—as he threw t-shirts into the bleachers.  He was wearing a dark suit and had short hair—not like Tim Riggins at all.  He was swarmed by the time he made it to our end of the bleachers.  One of the Sacramento guys yelled, “GIVE HER A T-SHIRT!  SHE'S A BIG FAN!!”  

Taylor Kitsch, a.k.a. John Carter

And that’s how I got my very own John Carter t-shirt, touched by the superhero himself! No time to say anything, though, because within minutes Kitsch’s “people” took him away to the other side of the red carpet, where he really did belong.

“OK.  We can leave now,” I announced as soon as he left.  But we stayed and soon were directed into the theater.

The Regal’s theater #1 is a huge venue used exclusively for special events, like movie premiers.  Everyone with a highly prized “laminate” (i.e., movie pass) dangling around his or her neck got to go into theater #1.  The rest of us, with our less important green wristbands, were directed toward the much smaller theater #5.  But at least Disney sprang for dinner. 

“Is that popcorn for us?” I yelled as we ran past the snack area, eying the bags neatly stacked on the counter.  The clerk waved us over.

We then headed to theater #5, where we had to surrender all cameras and cellphones.  In exchange, we were given cool John Carter 3-D glasses and an envelope containing an 8X11 movie poster.  Andrew Stanton, the film’s director, gave a short speech about how he’s wanted to make a movie about his hero John Carter ever since he was a kid.  And then—finally!—the film began.

I won’t ruin it by giving details here.  Suffice it to say, Taylor Kitsch is a better fictional football player than he is a gravity-defying superhero on Mars.  Still, the movie is entertaining and full of special effects.  We had lots of fun.

P.S.  To see D23's take on the premier, click here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Modernism Week

Ship of the Desert

Back to Palm Springs again—this time for the start of Modernism Week, the annual celebration of everything “mid-century.”  Though we would love to stay the entire week, life and our pocketbooks prohibit it, so instead we always jam as much modernism as we can into a weekend. 

This year, our activities included a new Charles Phoenix retro slide show, “Pools, Patios, and BBQs,” nicely complementing the Palm Springs Art Museum’s fabulous exhibit “Backyard Oasis: the Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography, 1945-1982,” for which Charles also provided a curated collection of swimming pool slides.  The exhibit and Charles’s show are both highly recommended. 

Following the slide show, we toured the Davidson Residence, known affectionately as the “Ship of the Desert” because of its streamline moderne architectural style.  Built on a buff overlooking the valley in 1936, the house was one of the first Palm Springs homes to embrace modernism and was featured in both Arts + Architecture and Sunset magazines.  Today the house is owned by fashionista Trina Turk, whose mod style is definitely reflected in its furnishings.  The tour was a high point of the weekend.

Living room

Master bedroom

We next popped in to one of our favorite artists Shag’s gallery for a quick peak at his latest work.  Amazingly, I resisted all temptation to buy a print one of the pieces he created in 2005 in honor of Disneyland’s 50th anniversary.

We also managed to take in two Oscar-nominated movies at the funky old Camelot theater: The Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, and My Week With Marilyn, about a young man’s brief relationship with Marilyn Monroe.  Thank goodness we’re not members of the Academy because I would have a hard time selecting a “best actress” performance this year.

Finally, there was the food.  Late lunch on Saturday was at LuLu, a hip new “California bistro” that occupies the former site of the kitschy old Copykatz female impersonators’ nightclub.  The food at LuLu is good, but the people-watching is even better, especially if you can snag a table along the sidewalk—prime Palm Springs real estate!  And, of course, no trip to the desert would be complete without a meal at Sherman’s deli, a Palm Springs staple since 1953. 

Outdoor dining at Sherman's

After wolfing down breakfast, we made a couple more gallery stops—and again resisted all temptation to buy!—before heading back to L.A.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Disney Hall

Disney Hall

After Dodger Stadium (below), we decided to eat downtown and so naturally gravitated to Lemonade, our new favorite cafe located outside the Museum of Contemporary Art.  Yummy buttermilk-battered fried chicken, sandwiches, salads, and fabulous cookies—made me forget all about the popcorn I was craving at the stadium just a few minutes before.

With time still left on our parking meter, we walked across the street to shoot some snaps of Disney Hall, Frank Gehry’s magnificently-designed concert venue. Jagged and covered in titanium, many called it an abomination when it first opened in 2003.  Yet today it remains a major part of downtown L.A.’s cultural landscape.  I love it.

From the ground, it looks like an elegant, but imposing pile of steel that fell from the sky.  The scale of the building is much more relatable at its top, however, where a garden of full-grown trees and California native plants help soften their surroundings—a quiet retreat from the rest of the city.  

So the next time you’re walking by Disney Hall, take a few minutes and climb that mysterious staircase just north of the Patina restaurant.  You’ll see downtown in a whole new light.

Looking north toward Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
and Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels

City Hall

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dodger Stadium

Although Tim and I no longer follow Dodgers baseball, we did adore the team when we were kids and continue to love the stadium as an L.A. icon.  Through Tim’s radio contacts, we’ve been lucky enough to visit parts of Dodger Stadium that others rarely see—like the press area and luxury boxes. But we had never been on an official tour—that is, until today.

Dirt-filled field

The tour, arranged by the “History of Los Angeles” meetup group, started at the top of the stadium and winded its way inside and down. The grass was covered by dirt for a motocross event happening next week (gag!), so we didn’t get to see the Dodgers’ usually immaculately manicured field.  Still, we did get to tour the exclusive Dugout Club restaurant, the Dodgers dugout (very nice) and bullpen (not so nice) and saw lots of terrific photos and historic artifacts (e.g., 1981 and 1988 World Series trophies, old uniforms, etc.).

If you live in Los Angeles and are interested in local history, I highly recommend joining L.A. History meetup.  Friendly folks and more fun events ahead.

Tim in the Vin Scully press box

Coaching from the dugout

Player to be named later

Bullpen phones

Other side of bullpen—totally unglamorous!