Book review: ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’

Are they still Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles after all these years? Never mind. Andrew Farago’s visual history, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History” is a fun look at a cultural phenomena which made the names of four great artists more famous than thousands of art history books.

Do you think Michelangelo, Leonardo (da Vinci and not DiCaprio), Donatello and Raphael are spinning in their respective graves or laughing? It probably doesn’t matter since the copyrights on their names expired long before Kevin Eastman and his friend Peter Laird self-published the first edition of this comic book in 1984.

Eastman and Laird’s story is the dream that every comic book artist sitting long hours at various comic conventions are built on. With a heavy dose humor, these turtles became mainstream “heroes on the half-shell” promoting “Turtle Power” and the surfer dude phrase Cowabunga.By 1987, the TMNT were a TV series. In 1990, a live-action feature film was released. Two other films were released: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the ooze” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.”

As with so many things, the TMNT are set to re-boot. The new feature film was supposed to be released on 25 December 2013, but was postponed and will be released on 8 August 2014.

The book focuses on the appreciation of green as a comic book over the movies. You do get to see models and scenes from the first movie as well as the upcoming feature. Yet more time is devoted to the rise of this humble concept.Author Andrew Farago interviewed Eastman and Laird and other key players.

The book features 19 chapters plus an forward, a preface and a conclusion. This isn’t the kind of book you want to leave out on your coffee table, not with the cover which has raised silver letting and raised images of the titular turtles. There is no cover jacket to protect them. You also won’t want to lose some of the attachments–pieces of paper that reproduce the original announcements for sales of the first comic books, character sketches and club membership letters.

All those photos on heavy glossy papers should never be touched by the grimy hands of some careless kid or clutzy friend. This book is something to be treasured.

According to the press notes, some of these photos of behind-the-scenes action, merchandise and art work have never been published before. That makes this a special history that TMNT will want to have, no matter how the Michael Bay production turns out.

 

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Insight Editions; Har/Pap/Ps edition (June 24, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608871851
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608871858
  • Product Dimensions: 11.3 x 9.5 x 1.2 inches
  • List price: $50
  • Amazon price: $36.41

 

 

San Diego Comic-Con 2014 book review: Augmented Reality book ‘Shifter’

The graphic novel ‘Shifter’ was released in October 2013 and is being actively promoted at comic book conventions as the next big thing for graphic novels because with a smartphone (iPhone or iPad being your best options), you get augmented reality extras once you download a book specific app.

Heavily dependent on the software Poser, the illustrations are stiff, but richly detailed. As an artist you won’t see a stylization of characters except perhaps in the depiction of animals and creatures from the past.

There are several books with similar names which can make things confusing. This “Shifter” is a science fiction murder mystery and not the 2008 paranormal romance by the same name. Note to self: Check out possible titles before settling on one.

This is the second title by Brian Haberlin and Skip Brittenham. The first was “Anomaly.” The illustrations are by Brian Haberlin, Geirrod VanDyke, Kunrong Yap and Chan Hyuk Lee.  David Pentz is in charge of the technology. Is this list looking less like a book and more like a movie? That’s the problem and the beauty of technology, in this case augmented reality. It takes a team to make a book publication ready.

Plot: We’re first plunged into the cold and damp somewhere in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean far from land. We’re on a whaler and the harpoon misses its mark and instead, a creature that should have been long dead surfaces and prevents the whalers from hitting their mark. It’s “Nemo of the Sea Monster World.” Just like one of the whalers, you’re wondering, “What the hell?” when the scene shifts suddenly to a bird’s eye view. We’re in what seems to be an airplane. Soon enough the scene shifts and we realize we’re in an office and watching a computer video fed by a drone to an ordinary office.

Noah Freeman is a low-ranking civil servant who finds an possible error and brings it to the attention of his female boss. The dam’s brimming with water and he’s wondering why water isn’t being released and why and how the dam filled up so quickly. His advisor says she’ll take care of it and Freeman is off of work. He walks a bit with his co-workers who are teasing him about his upcoming nuptials. At home, he talks with his fiancee via a computer live feed. Then on Saturday morning, on a beautiful day in autumn, he goes for a hike and has an accident. Noah should have died, but instead he encounters an advanced technology, an operator sphere that Noah nicknames Jeeves,  hidden in a subterranean cave that heals and updates him and gives him the power to operate the body of a creature from a vast menagerie from Earth’s distant past to the present. He can even become a primitive woman who dresses Hollywood cave woman sexy. What do you expect? This is an adventure written by men mostly for men. Since she is one of Noah’s creature surrogate, she doesn’t eventually get clothed in normal looking clothes, more Clark Kent non-descript than colorful superhero wardrobe changing.

The catch with inhabiting a creature is that you have sort of a mind meld that can lead into a meltdown and if one should be killed while operating that lifeform, one is dead for real. Not even the technology of the operator sphere can undo death so this isn’t a zombie world.

Noah’s accident was more like a murder attempt, so Noah hijacks various surrogate creatures through this technology to find out why a hit was put out on him only to learn he’s been framed for a murder. He must find a way back to his fiancee who is in danger.

There’s some jumps in logic such as why the primitive woman Casya doesn’t require the same upgrades and time as Noah did. The ending  might seem rather flat emotionally. Love isn’t one of those things the advanced technology operator sphere understands and in this case, a superior being doesn’t want a common earth-type like Lois Lane, but another superhero. That’s love in this century.

Art: This graphic novel uses the software Poser. The colors are saturated and made to look 3D, but frontal views are the most natural looking. There’s some problems in the perspective from high and low angles. Most of the pages are five panels that go from top to bottom. The illustrations have the look of oil paintings and some pages you can see something like the pattern of a canvas texture.

Technology: The pages are thick and glossy. Reading under a strong light might give you some problems with the augmented reality. Compared to 3D movies, the animation is crude, but it’s the concept that fun. This is like an update of the extra-illustrated books of a bygone era. Augmented reality might be the future of books and “Shifter” would be worth having as a collector just as an example of early attempts at putting movies into books.

Both Ian and I liked the concept of the book and found the story entertaining enough. Anomaly Productions and Digital Art Tutorials will be a San Diego Comic-Con 2014 at booth #5556.

Features:

  • Series: Shifter
  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Anomaly Publishing; First Edition edition (October 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0985334215
  • ISBN-13: 978-0985334215
  • Product Dimensions: 11.2 x 7.3 x 0.9 inches
  • List price: $19.99
  • Amazon price: $15.13

 

San Diego Comic-Con book review: ‘Anomaly’

“Anomaly” is a ground-breaking book that combines technology with the graphic novel in order to tell a story. Just reading this oversized book isn’t enough; you have to update your technology to a tablet, iPhone, iPad or smartphone that can handle Augmented Reality to truly appreciate this science fiction graphic novel.

Originally published 15 November 2012, Originally published 15 November 2012, the book is published by Anomaly Production and available on Amazon. Ian and I first saw this at San Diego Comic-con 2013 and then looked them up at other Cons. The book awkward to read but special enough that you won’t want to read it near grubby adults or kids and you’ll want to keep it well out of the reach of any slobbering creature. The pages are thick and slick and they need to stay that way so that you can appreciate the Augmented Reality which includes animation as well as sound and informational tidbits.

You have to download an app and there’s a potential to continuously add on. This could become addictive, but it could also become movies in a book in the near future. That doesn’t mean future kids won’t learn how to read. Some background info is included in the apps.

The book was written by Skip Brittenham and Brian Haberlin and illustrated by Brian Haberlin and Geirrod Van Dyke with lettering done by Francis Takenaga and coding directed by David Pentz.

Plot: We’re in a dystopian future in the third Golden Age. The Earth year is 2717. No sign of the Federation, but we do have a governmental structure that is referred to as The Conglomerate. Not a particularly catchy or imaginative name. All corporations and nations have been merged and technology has been made to serve The Conglomerate.

People now life in terrarium cities and in off world colonies or orbiting space stations because all of earth’s resources have been depleted. Al Gore has failed miserably.

Our protagonist is a warrior of the era, an Enforcer, named Jon. Jon is a white, thirty-something guy who’s fallen on hard times having been disgraced out of the bully leagues. He’s single, but has a sick mother and a younger brother, who is too young to work. Jon gets a chance to rejoin the force of Enforcers when his black, bald bud Robert offers him a mission: Babysitting, Samantha,  the daughter of a high-ranking Conglomerate executive.

Samantha is blonde and attractive. She’s illustrated to be busty and seems to wear too much mascara and/or false eyelashes. She’s your classic babe from uptown who needs bringing down, who has more ideals and ideas than a practical knowledge of how the world works. That makes her being bossy insufferable which is totally different from Jon’s problem with authority. You know that Samantha and Jon will rub each other the wrong way until Jon shows how physically able he is and for no other reason that he’s the hero, Samantha will succumb to his charms.

They are traveling to a planet that might be inhabitable or, even better, might have resources to plunder. While that’s the real purpose, that’s not why Samantha thinks they are there. On this planet, we’ll find all the likely suspects.

For those who have a crush on Xena, Warrior Princess, we have Aodh, a warrior of the Red Clan who wears bustier and a cape. There’s a lot of attention paid to her cleavage. Then there’s the pudgy, neutered alien that whines and the alien who will challenge Jon but become his friend in that sort of noble savage Tonto tradition.

Jon isn’t a Lone Ranger, fighting for right episodically. He’s more of the Laurence of Arabia I’m a white guy who can unite the savages who’ve been fighting for centuries. Oh, wait. They are still fighting over there in the Middle East.

The enemy is a snarly looking beast as well as a few bad men. You might be offended when you realize that the humanoid characters are all white except for the token blacks–one being evil and the other being expendable. To say more would spoil this story which you know will end happily ever after with Jon being told he’s the chosen one.

The dialogue–even human to human–won’t win any awards. The character development is shallow as an ant’s belly button.

If we still believed that things could be unAmerican we’d form a committee in our house and consider that things like a chosen warrior or one that should rule sort of story is totally counter to democracy and meritocracy. Aristocracy is all about the right to rule by birth. Do we really want to go there still? And what happened to the rule of the geeks in the future? We’re no longer chic?

As Ian noted:

Anomaly is one of those stories where the storytelling is more important than the story.  The story is basically a rehash of the chosen one, who unites everyone against a common enemy, and is wrapped in a nice sci-fi background with a few fantasy elements thrown in.  It is nothing that you haven’t seen before.  What is interesting is the graphics and the augmented reality that you can download for free to you smart phone or tablet.  The art work is stunning and the attention to detail is amazing. Even more amazing is the app.  This immerses the reader into the world, give an experience that unmatched before.  At certain points in the book, using the app, allows graphics that jump out of the page and give more information that gives a fuller understanding.  The possibilities of this technology has only begun to be tapped.

And do we still want to go into a future where that 60 percent of the Earth population that is Asian (of which 20 percent in Han Chinese) suddenly disappears so that we can have a white hero although we still get the token black? It’s as if in the future, the problem of race has been resolved by having almost none and showing the generous acceptance of other races/species as comrades even though that is heavily mitigated by the concept of the superior white male homo sapiens coming to the rescue of the aliens.

Ian commented:

Why is white the human standard?  In this universe most people are white.  The two minority characters in the story; one ends up dead the other is a surprise villain, both essentially footnotes to the story.   The human-ish aliens are white (with celtic names).

If race is one issue, then there’s the sexism. Nothing new to comic books or graphic novels, but it does get tiresome. Two attractive women and both need our hero because one has no common sense and the other is primitive. Both are followers and not real leaders which is only acceptable in dancing from Jana’s perspective.

Art: The book itself is large and cumbersome, but two pretty to put on where grubby hands or slobbering mouth might get to it. It comes in a box sturdy enough to ship electronics in. The paper is heavy and glossy.The illustrations are like oil paintings and best when looking straight on for a frontal angle. Other angles are a bit awkward and we can blame the software Poser for that.

The texture of the skin is okay, but hard textures such as the detailing of the swords (yes, old school battle tools) and controls are more convincing than the clothing or skin. The women look like they’ve made a serious investment in mascara and a gym membership.

What makes this book worth having is the technology behind or on the surface. This is the first graphic novel with Augmented Reality and it signals the future of books with movies embedded in the pages. Get your tablet, smartphone or iPad out. After you download an app you can have some fun and there’s always a possibility of updating the app and adding more Augmented Reality content.

You won’t get this book for the plot. You get it for the innovation and the promises it makes about the future of books.

  • Hardcover: 370 pages
  • Publisher: Anomaly Publishing; Box edition (November 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0985334207
  • ISBN-13: 978-0985334208
  • Product Dimensions: 11.5 x 16.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • List price: $75
  • Amazon price: $51.39

Book review: ‘Godzilla: The Art of Destruction’

This book is richly detailed and a must-have for Godzilla fans. Published on 13 May 2014, , it is a visual showcase and history of the Warner Bros. and Legendary’s 2014 “Godzilla” movie.

To begin with while the jacket is strikingly visual, the book cover is more elegant and subdued–glossy black on satin finish black. The inside is also subtle–silverish gray, giving you a hint of how the creature looks. This publication is all about shibui versus iki, it means to present both the subdued simplicity of Zen style and the more lively audacity of the Japanese merchant class meeting up with Hollywood style.

Japanese characters are used throughout as background, highlighting the titles by repeating them in Japanese.

Director Gareth Edwards has written the introduction and it becomes clear that Edwards is the auteur of this Godzilla. Author Mark Cotta Vaz previously wrote the LA Times best seller “Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong.”  His style is journalistic.  The book is full of quotes and isn’t that what you want, to hear the voices of the people involved in the production of this movie>

The book is split into three sections: Part One: Dreaming, Part Two: Conjuring and Part Three: Creation.

Part One looks at the various considerations behind the scripting and how the creative team decided to bring and adapt the history and themes of the original 1954 movie. You don’t get a visual history of Godzilla’s development, but a brief history of the events that led to the original Godzilla’s creation are touched upon.

Godzilla had to have an adversary in this movie which is not just a monster movie, but also a disaster movie. So the development of the MUTOs is discussed. For both Godzilla and the MUTOs, you see photos of the maquettes used alongside sketches and illustrations alongside stills from the actual movie.

Part Two introduces the actors, beginning with Aaron Taylor-Johnson who plays Ford Brody, the son of Joe Brody who is played by Bryan Cranston. Ford is the movie’s emotional center. He is a soldier whose father’s obsession leads him to Godzilla. After his father’s death, which proves his father wasn’t really as crazy as Ford had thought, Joe’s concern is getting back to his wife and son. In the back of our minds, we remember that Joe lost his wife due to these gigantic monsters.

Photos of the costume designs are juxtaposed next to movie stills. Pragmatic concerns such as lighting and space for the control room are discussed so you get some idea about both the technical aspects and the creative aspects of movie making.

As an artist, I especially enjoyed the fold-out which shows the evolution of Godzilla as a concept for this movie. Rejected illustrations and the reasons why the moviemakers decided to take a different angle gives you a window into their decision making processes.

This section includes the “Godzilla Encounter at Comic-Con” which I have fond memories of.

Part Three is the shortest section and seems like a epilogue. Not much is said here, but still the illustrations and stills are cool and take nothing away from the total design of the book.

I appreciate seeing the storyboards. You can contrast the amount of detail between that and some of the illustrations. You also see some of the green screen scenes beside the CGI movie stills so you can see the end product.

“Godzilla: The Art of Destruction”

Hardcover: 156 pages.

Publisher: Insight Editions (13 May 2014)

 

  • ISBN-10: 1608873447
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608873449
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 10.6 x 0.8 inches
  • List price: $45
  • Amazon price: $28.46.

 

‘We Will Rock You’ is a tribute with tribulations

The songs in the jukebox musical “We Will Rock You” now playing at the Ahmanson certainly rock, but unless you’re really rolling in cash, you might want to pass. This is a tribute musical to Queen and features songs written by Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon and the vocals are good, but the book is not. For Queen fans or Queen curious, the songs might be enough. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Ben Elton’s script attempts to fit the Queen songs into a futuristic world where rock and roll has been eliminated. Earth is now called iPlanet and controlled by Globalsoft Corporation (“Innuendo). Music is computer generated–one step further away from human creativity on a path pioneered by AutoTune. The Ga Ga Kids on iPlanet dress the same and the spirit of youthful rebellion has obliterated (“Radio Ga Ga”).

The original London production actually premiered over a decade ago in 2002 so this is no reference to Lady Gaga, of course.

A young man named Galileo (Brian Justin Crum) hears voices and his dreams spew out famous rock titles and hooks. He does not understand their significance. Perhaps 300 years in the future, the audience won’t give an appreciative chuckle either. He meets a goth girl who is also an outcast for her black clothes which is so unlike the Ga Ga Kids look. Galileo names her Scaramouche (Ruby Lewis). At this point, you’ll probably be scanning the list of musical numbers and ponder why “Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t listed.

Galileo and Scaramouche are captured by the fascist military forces under the rule of the Killer Queen (Jacqueline B. Arnold) who gets the best costumes and a architecturally high hairdo–mohawk meets extreme pompadour. Galileo and Scaramouche escape and meet up with the Bohemians (how far the meaning of that word has been distorted), who have taken refuge at the Hard Rock Cafe. It just so happens that this one has a statue of Freddie Mercury.

Galileo’s search eventually takes him to Graceland and they do find a guitar and that leads to a rousing rendition of “We Will Rock You.” which is followed by “We Are the Champions.” What I liked best were the costumes (by Tim Goodchild) which mixes everything from lollipop cutie pop culture to gentle grunge gone upscale. My favorite was the dominatrix costumes of the Killer Queen. Blame “Dancing with the Stars,” but you half expect to see the Killer Queen launch into a paso doble. Yet dance fans will be disappointed because the dancing on stage won’t particularly inspired you. Although the book mentions Prince and the King of Pop, nothing on stage (choreography and musical staging by Arlene Phillips) is up to that level. In all, the group dance numbers are rather pedestrian.

As director, Elton doesn’t work the movement into the music well enough to keep our eyes on stage. The high-tech stage which includes a moving screen and allow videos to be projected on either the top or bottom half (or both). Unfortunately, the first videos are old-style low quality 3D animation figures that won’t impress this generation of twenty-somethings. The only scene when the videos effectively help add some pizazz is the first scene from Act II. Yes, as late as the second act. That’s when the Bohemians are in laser cages and are being tastefully tortured. With the 1991 death of Freddie Mercury (from complications related to AIDS), it’s unlikely that fans of Queen–new and old, will ever get the chance to attend a reunion performance of the group. Brian May (vocals and guitar), John Deacon (bass guitar) and Roger Taylor (drums and vocals) are still alive, but who has the thrilling four-octave vocal range and flamboyant on-stage personality of Mercury.

This may be the closest anyone gets to a Queen concert in our times and that could be why despite rating low amongst critics, this show has remained popular. In the upscale atmosphere of the Ahmanson, hearing these tunes (“Radio Ga Ga,” “”I Want to Break Free,” “Somebody to Love,” “Killer Queen,” “Now I’m Here,” “Under Pressure,” “King of Magic,” “I Want it All,” “You’re My Best Friend,” “Headlong,” “No One But You,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Flash,” “Seven Seas of Rhye,” “Who Wants to Live Forever,” “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Hammer to Fall,” “These Are the Days of Our Lives,” “Will Will Rock You,” and “We are the Champions.”) might make you want to dance, but you’ll have to keep in your seat and save dancing for when you get home.

Love Queen and want to hear those songs sung live? Queen’s songs were all about the music and the incredible male vocals. If hearing Queen songs sung by first-rate vocalists live to a live band are enough (with the addition of that “Under Pressure” which was written by Queen and David Bowie), then see what all the fuss is about. Critics may be saying no, but the masses have been saying go. You have until August 24, 2014 to decide because that’s when “We Will Rock You” will be leaving Los Angeles.

Fusion Friday at the Pac Asia Museum tonight!

 

Friday, July 18, 7:30 – 10:30 pm 

Only two more Fusion Fridays in the series! On July 18 listen to Korean drums and gongs, then stand back for a samurai reenactment–plenty of photo ops!

Have some hands-on fun, using traditional hanji paper and folk designs to create beautiful artworks, courtesy of the Korean Cultural Center.

Pasadena’s legendary Pie ‘n Burger and India Jones food trucks will be on site. Cocktail attire is encouraged for this indoor and outdoor event designed for adults.

Thanks to our Scavenger Hunt Presenting Sponsor Wells Fargo, participants in the hunt can enter a drawing to win a $100 gift card, and prizes from the Museum Store. You must be present to win.

Each evening is free for museum members and $15 for nonmembers.

Tickets can be purchased at fusionfridays2014.eventbrite.com

 

Barbra and ‘Buyer and Cellar’ is a fun confection

Michael Urie of “Ugly Betty” fame is engaging and funny in Jonathan Tolins witty one-man show, “Buyer & Cellar,” now at the Mark Taper Forum. Imagine a wanna-be acting friend who is going to entertain you for an evening with a tall tale and you’ve got the pitch and premise for this show.

After the usual pre-show request to turn off your cellphones and to not take photos, Urie launches into a big disclaimer and he’s talking to us, the audience. He’s breaking the fourth wall in order to make a legal announcement that this play in no way is a reflection of reality and has nothing to do with any real character, either in the portrayal of the famous (and infamously litigious) Barbra Streisand, her husband James Brolin or her house manager or even the out-of-work actor Alex whom Urie plays.

Urie doesn’t attempt to dress as Streisand or even as Alex. Streisand impersonators can rest easy and retract their claws on that issue. On opening night (Sunday, 13 July 2014), he ran down the aisle and on to the stage in brick red pants, a white t-shirt and a much stretched out grey cardigan like cover. He’s dressed casual and not metrosexual. He’s not trying to impress us, but makes us comfortable. And he begins to talk about one of those large and lovely coffee table books.

In 2010, Streisand authored a book: “My Passion for Design.” The book gives us a personal tour of her Malibu estate with photos by Streisand. Yes, she does seem to be both a control freak and a perfectionist, a point that is part of this show. After publication, Streisand hit the kind of elevated book tour you’d expect for the Brooklyn diva and that included an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. One of the revelations was that Streisand had visited Winterthur and used it as an inspiration for her basement.

Winterthur was the childhood home of collector and horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969) and has become a museum of American decorative arts. On the second floor, there are the Dominy Shops which are reconstructions of the Dominy family shops. The Dominy family were four generations of craftsmen who worked in Hampton, New York from the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s and includes displays of tools as well as the things they made. Winterthur is located in Wilmington, Delaware and is a 1000-acre preserve with a 50-acre naturalistic garden.

Streisand was inspired by Winterthur to design the basement of her barn as a series of Art Nouveau era shops in which she displayed her collections, including Bee’s Doll Shop where she keeps her doll collection on display and a Louis XV-esque antique dress shop where she keeps her gowns from her past performances such as the gown she wore when she sang “People” in the movie “Funny Girl.”

Tolins concept is that a Disneyland disgraced and out-of-work actor gets a gig playing a shopkeeper for all these stores because when the lady of the house goes downstairs, she doesn’t like to be alone and there’s a lot of dusting that needs to be done. Of course, the young man, Alex, does meet Streisand, but he shows some chutzpah and plays the part well enough to get Streisand interested in playing the game. When Streisand asks the price of a doll, he draws on his improv experience (at the Groundlings) to pretend to read the price and then refuse to bargain down. Streisand will have none of it and finds a way to outwit him, but she also seduces him into becoming a supportive fan who helps her prepare to play a role in a famous musical.

Urie portrays all the roles, from Streisand to her seen-it-all house manager, to his Streisand-fan boyfriend. Just as Tolins presents a young actor dreamily convinced that he is contributing to the future stardom of Malibu’s ultimate diva, Urie draws the audience into a conspiratorial fantasy. We become his friends of the evening as he takes us along, asking our opinion and winking knowingly at our own celebrity fantasies.

Living in Los Angeles, wouldn’t we all want to be invited into the private estate of a woman of impressive talent, a scrappy girl who was never told she was beautiful but succeeded in an industry that demands women be conventionally beautiful and did it on her own terms. Yes, Streisand, now that I know about your basement and your frozen yogurt machines, I, too, would want to wander around and even, perhaps, serve to a temporary period as your shop girl if I can’t get an invitation as a guest. That’s a lovely Los Angeles/Hollywood dream and Urie tells it with great charm under the adept direction of Stephen Brackett.  I bought the dream and want to visit that cellar as well as Winterthur thanks to Tolins, Urie and Brackett.

Prior to Los Angeles, Michael Urie and “Buyer and Cellar” have appeared in NYC, Chicago and Washington, D.C., and following L.A., will go on to San Francisco and Dallas. “Buyer & Cellar” will have its London premiere in spring 2015.

“Buyer & Cellar” had its world premiere in April 2013 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, where it received rave reviews and played a sold-out, extended run before transferring to New York’s Barrow Street Theatre where it opened June 24, 2013. “Buyer & Cellar,” is the longest-running comedy in New York and it recouped its initial investment faster than any off-Broadway show in recent history.

Streisand fans and Hollywood hopefuls, this is a dream served with an airy whimsy, filled with the hope of the starstruck and crafted with great love.

“Buyer & Cellar” continues at the Mark Taper Forum until 17 August 2014.

Tickets for “Buyer & Cellar” are available by calling (213) 628-2772, visiting www.CenterTheatreGroup.org, or in person at the Center Theatre Group box office at the Ahmanson Theatre. Tickets range from $25 – $85 (ticket prices are subject to change). The Mark Taper Forum is located at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in Downtown L.A. 90012.

‘Romeo and Juliet’ at the Japanese Garden doesn’t jam

The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles tries to bring “Romeo and Juliet” into the Jazz Age, but Kenn Sabberton’s production at The Japanese Garden on the grounds of the VA West Los Angeles Healthcare Center Campus doesn’t quite jam, despite some good performances.

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First, you can go early to picnic. When you order your tickets you can also order a box lunch from Cafe Brentwood. Otherwise, you can bring your own picnic and eat on the wooden picnic tables. If those are taken up, you might also want to bring a blanket to sit on. The garden has definitely seen better days. There’s a murky pool of water, a red bridge and a very small sand garden that you might miss entirely on the way in.

There are beverages you can purchase.

The temporary stage is built up in a clear area of the garden. You’ll be sitting on padded chairs and this is theater in the round and under the stars. You might get chilly so bring a jacket or sweater.

This color-blind multi-ethnic casting which doesn’t always make sense. The first conceit is that the rivaling families are newspaper moguls. We have the Los Angeles Times (Capulets) versus the Los Angeles Herald. (Montagues) The second conceit is that we are in the 1920s, but jazz and drinking are in the open. Instead of a Prince we have a Princess (Cristina Frias), who warns the Montagues and the Capulets not the war on the streets.

You might expect gangsters running bootleg booze to have guns like Al Capone in Chicago, but since these families are both represented as upper echelon, the whole sword play doesn’t make much sense. A while back an Ahmanson production of this play directed by Sir Peter Hall made the feud racial–black against white. Baz Luhrmann in a 1996 movie had the Latinos against the Anglos. Totally ignoring race is one way to go, but ignoring prohibition and race  makes the inclusion of weapons awkward.

The 1920s brought the music of the black Americans up into the general population. Listening to music produced by black Americans was cool. Watching black Americans dance was cool. Taking on their dancing was also cool for the upper classes. Yet it wasn’t so long after the sinking of the Titanic when the lower decks were for the lower classes.

If the socio-political themes of the time aren’t well integrated into the play, neither is the newspaper, muck-racking, out-scoop your rival race between the Times and the Herald. We know, of course, that the LA Times won that rivalry, but this conceit is dismissed after the beginning of the play.

At the center of the play is Juliet. Played by Christina Elmore (TNT’s “The Last Ship”) with passion, Juliet isn’t a physically fragile young girl. Elmore is a sturdy woman. She’s as tall as Obie and NAACP award-winning Tracey A. Leigh who plays her mother. Mother and daughter don’t seem to be so far apart in age either. Of course, Juliet’s real mother figure is the nurse played by the vibrant Tony Award-nominee Kimberly Scott.

As Romeo, Jack Mikesell does give us an infatuated youth, but I didn’t feel chemistry between Mikesell and Elmore. The scene where they first catch each other’s eyes is rather clumsy and obvious.

In all, Sabberton’s production has a lot of good ideas, but they don’t come together smoothly to create a cohesive whole.

“Romeo and Juliet” continues at The Japanese Garden on the VA West Los Angeles Healthcare Center Campus until July 26, 2014.

Prices:                      $20, $49, plus premium $70 (includes box dinner)

                                   Tickets for active military, veterans, and their guests are free of charge

                                   (while supplies last; reservations required).

Please call SCLA at 213-481-2273.

Tickets:                     call 213.893.8293 or visit www.shakespearecenter.org

Stuck in a Star Trek phase? Phaser’s on

ThinkGeek is proud to announce the reveal of The Wand Company’s latest Universal Remote Control – a  Star Trek: The Original Series Phaser Universal Remote Control.  This exceptionally accurate and highly detailed working replica will be revealed at San Diego Comic Con on July 23 and can be experienced first-hand at ThinkGeek’s booth (#3849).

Created from meticulous 3D scans of the last known hero prop from the original Star Trek series, the Phaser Universal Remote Control is a fully functional gesture-based universal remote control suitable for controlling many home entertainment systems and other IR controlled devices.

“The Star Trek Phaser is one of the most iconic pieces of sci-fi gadgetry,” said Chris Barnardo from The Wand Company, “We’ve spent hundreds of hours creating a collectable prop replica gadget that will bring new levels of action and enjoyment to Star Trek fans as they boldly go on their adventures.”

Seamlessly blending functionality and perfect form, the 1:1 scale Phaser is equipped with 10 authentic phaser firing sounds, tactile force-feedback, a customizable personal lock code, and can store up to 36 remote commands.

The Star Trek: The Original Series Phaser Universal Remote Control, under license by CBS Consumer Products, will be available at ThinkGeek.com beginning early November 2014.  For more information, visit  www.thinkgeek.com/product/1db4.com.

San Diego Comic-Con begins with a Wednesday preview on 24 July 2014 and ends on 27 July 2014 at the San Diego Convention Center.

Plot twist! Thor’s a woman

Rarely do I get news that really turns my head when I’m reading my email, but Marvel has a plot twist: Thor’s really for an all new era. He becomes a she, but how isn’t clear.

That’s truly gender bending news. The God of Thunder will be in brand new series, THOR, written by Jason Aaron (Thor: God of Thunder, Original Sin) complimented with art from Russell Dauterman (Cyclops).Thor 001

According to the press release:

This October, Marvel Comics evolves once again in one of the most shocking and exciting changes ever to shake one of Marvel’s “big three” – Captain American, Iron Man and Thor – Marvel Comics will be introducing an all-new THOR, GOD OF THUNDER. No longer is the classic male hero able to hold the mighty hammer, Mjölnir, a brand new female hero will emerge who will be worthy of the name THOR. Who is she? Where did she come from and what is her connection to Asgard and the Marvel Universe?

 “The inscription on Thor’s hammer reads ‘Whosoever holds this hammer, if HE be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.’ Well it’s time to update that inscription,” says Marvel editor Wil Moss. “The new Thor continues Marvel’s proud tradition of strong female characters like Captain Marvel, Storm, Black Widow and more. And this new Thor isn’t a temporary female substitute – she’s now the one and only Thor, and she is worthy!”

 Is this a sex change? Is this shape-shifting? Is this thought transference? We’ll have to wait until October to find out. The gender may change, but not the name and that should cause confusion.

Series writer Jason Aaron emphasizes, “This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe. But it’s unlike any Thor we’ve ever seen before.”

 The press release continues:

THOR is the latest in the ever-growing and long list of female-centric titles that continues to invite new readers into the Marvel Universe. This female THOR is the 8th title to feature a lead female protagonist and aims to speak directly to an audience that long was not the target for Super Hero comic books in America: women and girls.

Marvel doesn’t only want a new era Thor, but also wants to use a new and easy to understand word instead of a seldom used word like “gynocentric.”  Yet why not create a new character to balance out the androcentric world of Marvel? Can we say that Thor has thunder thighs? Will she be femme fatale and will she have a Steve Trevor? Or is this a Loki disguise?

You can follow Marvel on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marvel.  Marvel will be at San Diego Comic-Con and for more on Marvel’s latest announcements please visit Marvel.com. Join the conversation on Twitter with #MarvelSDCC and follow at @Marvel.

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