‘Dough’ has double standard and dubious plot

While “Dough” might find some fans amongst the 420-friendly crowd, this enemies-united-against-a-common enemy, is a dubious mix of standards and attitudes that don’t make for a satisfying film feast.

An old Jewish baker Nat Dayan (Jonathan Pryce) runs the bakery, Dayan & Son,  in a low-rent part of London that was founded his father, but his lawyer son (Daniel Caltagirone) will not be carrying on the business. Nat’s assistant quits and leaves Nat in a bind.

Ayyash (Jerome Holder) is a young fatherless Muslim immigrant from Africa who makes money by dealing drugs. The father is out of the picture, but in Africa. His mother cleans up Nat’s bakery. She sees an opportunity for Ayyash to learn a trade and convinces Nat to take him on as an apprentice.

That doesn’t make Ayyash stop dealing and gives Ayyash a good cover job, making his drug dealer boss (Ian Hart) happy as well. One day, Ayyash does more than sell packets of marijuana with baked goods; he puts marijuana in the dough. That secret ingredient makes people happy and increases business. Some of the customers know what their getting; others do not.

The sudden success puts a damper on the plans of a developer, Cotton (Philip Davis) who wants to buy out the business owner, the flirtatious Joanna (Pauline Collins) and to buy out the remaining five years Nat has on his lease contract. He wants to build big, and wipe out the small shops in a move toward gentrification.

You can probably already see where this is going. You probably didn’t need to read this review to know Ayyash and Nat would have their spats and yet finally find a happy ending. Jewish man and Muslim man will find harmony and help each other.

Big business, including the drug business, is the common enemy and Ayyash’s involvement with criminal activity are explained away as what else could he do? That might not be so convincing for some. Being credible doesn’t get in the way of a happy ending.  “Dough” opened Friday at the Pasadena Laemmle Playhouse 7.



LAAPFF 2016: ‘Pali Road’ is a perplexing and less than pleasing romantic myster

Old Pali Road on Oahu is a winding road rumored to be haunted or at least the site of various hauntings. The movie, “Pali Road,” takes the mystical doings of folk lore, adds an Asian folk tale and tacks this on to a contemporary mystery to make an unsatisfying romance.

The travel guide Weird U.S. mentions a half-face ghost on Old Pali Road, a  young girl left to rot after being strangled by a jump rope after she had been raped.  It reports that she has been seen skipping rope, her long black hair tossed with each hop and her eyes bulging out as if frozen by her last moments.

Pali Road leads to Pali Lookout where Honolulu Magazine tells us, “one of the bloodiest battles in Hawai’i’s history occurred” when “Kamemehameha’s warriors forced Maui chief Kalanikupule’s men to their deaths off the cliff.” That deed left 400 warriors dead, but united the Hawaiian Islands under King Kamemehameha I.

“Pali Road” isn’t a horror flick so there’s no rotting girl skipping rope nor ghostly warriors falling to their death. Instead a young doctor named Lily (Michelle Chen) is haunted by what might have been. Lily has been dating an earnest teacher, Neal Lang (Jackson Rathbone). He’s an easy-going guy and when he’s introduced to Lily’s ex-boyfriend, Dr. Mitch Kayne (Sung Kang), we can easily understand why Lily chose him over this particular doctor. Kayne is a jerk, trying to snub Neal while all three are at a social function.

Neal and Lily take a drive up Pali Road. Looking down from there, Neal brings out a pop-up card that he and his students have made. It relates the Chinese/Japanese folk tale of Tanabata or “Evening of the Seventh.” In that tale, the stars Vega, the Weaver Maid/Princess and Altair, the Cow herder. They are in love, but they neglect their duties. The gods then decide they must be separated and place the Silver River (the Milky Way) between them. They are only allowed to meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, when the magpies build an bridge. Using this tale, Neil proposes to Lily; the pop-up of the magpie bridge at the center of the card holds an engagement ring.

Lily doesn’t accept. It’s not the right time, she claims. As they drive down Pali Road, Neal asks her when will it be the right time. Lily wonders if it wouldn’t be better if she had never met Neal. The mysterious forces at Pali Road must have been listening. Fate decides to separate them; they have an accident. When Lily awakens next, she is in bed and married to Mitch Kayne. What’s more they have a little boy, James (Maddox Lim), and no one remembers Neal.

Lily doesn’t recognize this life and she lives between flashes of her past and desperate attempts to find evidence of Neal and her memories of them together in her new reality. She sees a therapist (Henry Ian Cusick) and leans on her friend Amy (Lauren Sweetser).

Under director Jonathan Lim, Doc Pedrolie and Victoria Arch’s script doesn’t give us the emotional pull we need to sympathize with either Chen’s Lily or Kang’s mystified Mitch. Kayne comes off as too much of a jerk and somewhat sleazy in his introductory scenes. We can easily see why Lily left him, but not why Lily should have ever considered him. After Lily’s accident, that makes it hard for us to sympathize with Mitch as a husband. Oahu may be a small island, but Lily surely has more choices unless the post-accident Mitch is a totally different guy in this different alternative timeline. Some parts of the alternative reality don’t make sense such as the complete disappearance of Neal’s workplace.

If Lim had been able to elicit more nuanced performances from Chen and Kang, perhaps we would have seen and felt the chemistry between Lily and Mitch and understood she had two choices of almost equal suitors. The alternative reality scenes also have a sterile feeling. I understand the decision of the colder light and blue hues, but the life is too immaculate and orderly. We do feel the beauty of Oahu, but we don’t see the more ordinary places where even successful doctors might venture. After all, even President Obama has Waiola Shave Ice in Kapahulu.

If you do go to see “Pali Road,” pay careful attention to what an old woman says at the beginning. For romantics, love ultimately wins in this movie although the ending is more bittersweet than happy. “Pali Road” is currently opened Friday and is currently at AMC Atlantic Times Square 14, AMC Burbank Town Center 8 and AMC Puente Hills 20.



RIP Prince of Purple

Just an hour ago, I was searching for it, thinking it was in my cedar chest, but finding it in a watermelon-themed basket that I had once used as part of a prize-winning costume to portray melon + collie. I had thought about my raspberry beret earlier this month, thinking I would take it with me to Ebertfest, but decided against it.  I bought the beret on a whim, from a store that no longer exists in a city where I no longer live.

I was dressed head-to-toe in purple when I read the news of his death, running for between and during classes. In the evening, I drove through Los Angeles traffic to a festival opening where the organizers mentioned Prince in their opening remarks, and after the movie, they played his music. The tent housing the after-party was too crowded; no one was dancing.

I’m one of those people who doesn’t need liquor to get me out on the dance floor. I think I can remember flashes of what I was wearing when I was dancing to “Let’s Go Crazy” in a time before swing and tango turned my world around. By then, I had joined a legion of purple loving people, proud to be a member of a kingdom led by a doe-eyed Prince. When I first saw “Purple Rain”  I was excited by Prince’s electric stage presence and his dance moves. The promise made by “Purple Rain” went unfulfilled when Prince took control and directed himself in movies like “Under the Cherry Moon.”  I would have totally loved to wear those long frock coats and frilly shirts he sported in either movie.  In another era, he would have been called a dandy. In today’s world of Cosplay and steampunk, his costumes would still be fashionable. Thanks to MTV and music videos, Prince will live on forever young.

Thanks to YouTube, you can see dance videos where dance lovers compare his moves to other fine dancing men–James Brown and Michael Jackson. Just remember, Prince often danced in high heeled shoes that Ginger Rogers might have once worn. Just remember, his generosity that allowed a Chicago-based ballet company, Joffrey,  to raid his catalog to choreograph “Billboards,” and he waived the royalty fees. Just remember, he once played a Super Bowl halftime show during a torrential rain. Good night sweet Prince of Purple.

‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder’ Is Fiendishly Funny

Are you tired of the gruesome and the gauche, committing murder and mayhem without machine guns and machinery without the slightest concern for good manners? Robert L. Freedman (book and lyrics) and Steven Lutvak (music and lyrics) has just the tonic for you, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.” This fiendishly funny musical hit Broadway in 2013 and won four Tonys, including Best Musical. The production at the Ahmanson is without a misstep and murderously marvelous and continues until May 1.

The story takes place in London in 1909. Queen Victoria has died (1901). King Edward was a fashionable man and his reign was short. Edward VII would be dead in May of 1910. Women still didn’t have the vote (they’d have to wait until 1918 for a limited rights and 1928 for full rights to all women over the age of 21). World War I was still a few years away (1914).

The play is based on a novel 1907 novel by Roy Horniman, “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal.” The book inspired the 1949 movie “King Hearts and Coronets.” (Horniman did serve in World War I.) The title of the movie was taken from a Tennyson poem “Lady Clara Vere de Vere, “King Hearts are more than coronets, and simple faith than Norman blood.” What is most notable is the careful transition from the protagonist being half Jewish by his father in the original novel to half Italian in the 1949 movie to  half Spanish (Castilian) in the musical. According to an article in The Guardian, while some have found the novel to be anti-semitic, the man credited with rescuing this novel from obscurity, Simon Heffer, argues that it actually satirizes anti-semitism generally and the English attitudes toward the rise of Benjamin Disraeli specifically.  The books seems to have been a bit darker, including the murder of a baby.

The musical harks back to the movie which can be streamed on Amazon Video ($2.99).  The movie made Time magazine’s top 100 list as well as the BFI Top 100 British films.

In the musical, the audience if forewarned by a group of mourners, properly dressed in black.

For those of you of weaker constitution

For those of you who may be faint of heart
This is a tale of revenge and retribution
So if you’re smart
Before we start
You’d best depart
You’d best depart

An usher fainted in the aisle
A nun from Leicester lost her wits
You might avoid the first or second row

Blood may spill
And spines may chill
It’s ghastly – still
We thought you ought to know
It’s only just past eight
It’s not too late
For God’s sake!
For God’s sake
For God’s sake go!

On stage, there is a smaller stage on to which the cast steps on and off of. The back stage of this quaint stage is a screen on which different images are projected at times. We meet the Lord Montague “Monty” D’Ysquith Navarro, the ninth Earl of Highhurst, who is in prison on trial for murder. He tells the audience he is writing his true story, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.”

From there, we flashback to 1907. Monty’s mother has just passed away. In the movie, our murderous hero’s mother had raised him with the bitter knowledge of his supposed rightful rank and schooled him in his lineage and the succession line that prevents him from being a duke.  In the musical, he has been raised totally oblivious to his matrilineal heritage. It is only after his washerwoman mother has passed away that his mother’s old nursemaid, a Miss Marietta Shingle (Mary Van Arsdel) informs Monty (Kevin Massey) that he is a member of the D’Ysquith family. His mother Isobel was disinherited after marrying a Spanish musician. Monty is ninth in line for the earldom of Highhurst.  Encouraged by Shingle, Monty writes a letter to Lord Asquith D’Ysquith, Sr. (John Rapson) who is the head of the family banking house and inquires for a position. One hilarious conceit that the musical holds over from the movie is that all the D’Ysquith members in the way of our lad’s lordly ambitions are played by the same actor.

His new found though distant link to aristocracy and wealth gives Monty hope. He’s been in love with the beautiful Sibella Hallward (Kristen Beth Williams), but she is a high-maintenance type of girl with an eye on another guy with property. While she accepts Monty’s dubious story, she notes that he’s eight people away from being a lord.

Monty receives a reply from Asquith D’Ysquith Junior (John Rapson) who warns him against contacting the family again and using the family name, completely denying the existence of Isobel. Monty isn’t quite ready to let this go and take a tour of Highhurst on visitors day. The spirits take over the portraits and warn Monty away. He meets the current Earl (also Rapson) who expresses his distaste and incomprehension of the common folk (“I Don’t Understand the Poor”).

Monty then decides to make an appeal to one of the weaker links in the line up: Reverend Lord Ezekial D’Ysquith. At the ancestral family church, the dotty old man gives Monty a tour and remembers Isobel, but refuses to get involved in family matters and intercede on Monty’s behalf.  When the tipsy reverend loses his balance on the bell tower, Monty lets the wind and the reverend’s old age and inebriation cause the man’s demise. He simply refuses to give a helping hand.

Temptation leads Monty further astray when he observes the boorish arrogant Asquith D’Ysquith, Jr with his mistress. Monty follows them on their secret rendezvous at a winter resort and although he intends to poison the man (“Poison in My Pocket”), he settles instead for an ice skating accident. In the movie, this death takes place during a relaxing retreat on the river.

Back in London, Monty receives a letter from the grief-stricken Asquith D’Ysquith who apologizes for his son’s rude letter and offers Monty a job. With a comfortable salary, Monty finds that Sibella still prefers the other man and is engaged to him.

In his next cousinly encounter, Monty meets Henry D’Ysquith, a man married but really more interested being with the boys. Through Henry, Monty meets Henry’s sister Phoebe and decides that she’d be the perfect wife for him since he can’t have Sibella and Phoebe does not stand in the way of his succession to becoming an earl. When Henry suffers to a lavender-scented death, Monty is there to console Phoebe.

While Phoebe is a good counterpoint to Sibella, the most delightful innovation in this retelling of the story is the unmarried Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith. Like Monty, she is a social climber, but she desperately needs a cause to improve her social position.

With her Monty is helpful in the most solicitously devious ways. Monty sings, “If I may your Ladyship, one hears about such terrible poverty in Egypt these days.”

Hyacinth replies, “Egypt. Land of the pharaohs and of Moses the Israelite.
Home to the great pyramids and the sphinx. That’s it! We’ll populate an orphanage in Cairo, with foundlings from the reeds along the Nile. To watch a creature grow, to swaddle it and know the joy of its pathetic little smile.”

As she and her entourage head off to Egypt, Monty confides, “And off she went, what I failed to tell her was that a violent uprising against the empire was imminent and no British citizen was considered safe, so you can imagine my surprise when Lady Hyacinth returned to London quite unharmed.”

Hyacinth is something like that cat who always comes back.  Monty then suggests, “You’ve heard of course of the untouchables in India.”

Hyacinth takes he advice, “India. Land of Hindus and Muslims, of tamarind and saffron. Exotic and unknowable. That’s it! We’ll find ourselves some lepers in the Punjab. The hopeless and the wretched and the cursed. Forgotten and Unblessed”

Monty then tells the audience, what important information he failed to provide the blustery Hyacinth with. Hyacinth doesn’t quite have nine lives, but close.

As Monty progresses up the line of succession, his murders get bloodier although even a beheading is handled by director Darko Tresnjak in a  darkly funny manner. There’s not a single step in Peggy Hickey’s choreography that detracts from the delightfully mannered murders or the questionable love triangle that forms between Monty and his two loves: Phoebe and Sibella which comes to a door-slamming climax when Phoebe decides to marry Monty.

Eventually our greek chorus of mourners express both irritation and anxiety about the frequent funerals befalling the D’Ysquiths (“Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying?”).  Is it a curse? Or is it something suspicious?  Of course, as Monty is in prison, he does get charged with murder, and there’s a bit of mystery since in the musical as well as the movie, Monty is charged with a murder he didn’t commit.

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” continues at the Ahmanson until May 1. The Ahmanson Theatre is located at the Music Center in Downtown Los Angeles (135 North Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012). To buy tickets  call 213.972.4444 or  visit  www.CenterTheatreGroup.org, or go to the Center Theatre Group box office at the Ahmanson Theatre. Ticket prices start at $25.

British Classic ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ Is Gentlemanly Comedy

If you’re a fan of Alec Guinness and black and white movies, then take a look at the 1949 “King Hearts and Coronets” on Amazon.com. Before Alec Guinness was Obiwan Kenobi, he made a hit on the silver screen portraying eight members of the same illustrious family and in a pre-CGI era, the appearance of all eight together in one scene was a technical marvel.

The movie is based on an Edwardian 1907 book, “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal” by Roy Horniman. A few changes have been made, the most notable being the main character in the book is half Jewish. In the movie, our protagonist is half-Italian. The title of the movie refers to  a line in an Alfred Tennyson poem: “Kind hearts are more than coronets, and simple faith than Norman blood.” Robert Hamer directs; Hamer and John Dighton (“The Happiest Days of Your Life” and “The Barretts of Wimpole Street”) also wrote the script.

The movie begins with a man approaching a prison. He is the hangman (Miles Malleson). He’s getting ready to hang a duke.  The man plans to retire after this undertaking which will be the highlight of his career. He’ll be using silk instead of coarse hemp for that aristocratic neck. He worries about the proper manner of addressing the duke (“Your Grace,” he’s informed).

The man destined for the noose, is the Tenth Duke of Chalfont, Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini (Dennis Price). Mazzini wasn’t to the manor born; his mother was disowned when she married an Italian opera singer. Her husband (also Price) died on the day of his son’s birth. The mother (Audrey Fildes) schools her son on his pedigree and the bitter milk of rejection. Even the death of her husband, at a time when few women worked, didn’t soften the hearts of her aristocratic relations.

Perhaps it was ambition that cooled  any sympathetic impulses.  His mother was the seventh in line to be duke. Due to a very specific quirk in the title,  the dukedom had the unique privilege of passing from both the female and the male line. No Downton Abbey Lady Mary malady of inheritance here.

Growing up the boy Louis was lonely. His mother only deemed the children of a local doctor as worthy enough despite their gentile poverty. This is how Louis meets and falls in love with the ambitious Sibella. Once out of school, Louis’ mother again writes to her relatives, asking Lord Ascoyne D’Ascoyne, a private banker if he might give a position to her son. Louis goes to work s a draper. When the mother finally dies, she requests to be buried with her family. That request goes unanswered.

Meanwhile, Sibella might love Louis, but she need to marry well. The wealthy, but boring Lionel Holland (John Penrose) proposes and Sibella accepts. Louis meets Lord Ascoyne D’Ascoyne’s only child,  Ascoyne D’Ascoyne Junior, at his store, but quarrels with him. Louis is dismissed and then vows to dispose of each and every one of the people standing in between him and the title, beginning with the haughty Ascoyne D’Ascoyne, how has a boating mishap while with his mistress.

After writing a letter of condolence to Lord Ascoyne D’Ascoyne, Louis meets Lord Ascoyne D’Ascoyne who gives him a position in his bank. Lord Ascoyne D’Ascoyne is the kindness referred to in the title. On his climb up to the dukedom, Louis will become engaged to Edith, whom had been married to Henry D’Ascoyne whom Louis murdered. Sibella also becomes interested in Louis, having found Lionel Holland one of the most boring men in the world. Lionel actually comes to beg the duke for a loan to save him from bankruptcy and it is Holland’s death that the duke is going to be executed for.  Sibella has other ideas, one that might save, if the duke with make a deal with her.

Dennis Price would have success later in the BBC TV series “The World of Wooster” between 1965-1967, playing Jeeves with Ian Carmichael as Bertie Wooster. Alec Guinness would go on to other distinctions in acting.

Besides the reference to the Tennyson poem below, the movie also has a line that parodies Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s poem “The Arrow and the Song” and  a line from   the 1728 “The Beggar’s Opera.” The original movie was changed for the American market: The adultery between Sibella and Louis is downplayed, the N-word is deleted and someone discovers Louis’ memoirs before he can retrieve them. The version available on Amazon.com is the original British version.

“Kind Hears and Coronets” was listed in the top 100 films in Time magazine and the BFI top 100 movies. The humor is gentler and the dialogue less funny than the Broadway musical. In both, there is a suggestion of a murder yet to come.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere

By Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
Of me you shall not win renown:
You thought to break a country heart
For pastime, ere you went to town.
At me you smiled, but unbeguiled
I saw the snare, and I retired;
The daughter of a hundred earls,
You are not one to be desired.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
I know you proud to bear your name;
Your pride is yet no mate for mine,
Too proud to care from whence I came.
Nor would I break for your sweet sake
A heart that dotes on truer charms.
A simple maiden in her flower
Is worth a hundred coats-of-arms.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
Some meeker pupil you must find,
For, were you queen of all that is,
I could not stoop to such a mind.
You sought to prove how I could love,
And my disdain is my reply.
The lion on your old stone gates
Is not more cold to you than I.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
You put strange memories in my head.
Not thrice your branching limes have blown
Since I beheld young Laurence dead.
O, your sweet eyes, your low replies!
A great enchantress you may be;
But there was that across his throat
Which you had hardly cared to see.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
When thus he met his mother’s view,
She had the passion of her kind,
She spake some certain truths of you.
Indeed I heard one bitter word
That scarce is fit for you to hear;
Her manners had not that repose
Which stamps the caste of Vere de Vere.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
There stands a spectre in your hall;
The guilt of blood is at your door;
You changed a wholesome heart to gall.
You held your course without remorse,
To make him trust his modest worth,
And, last, you fix’d a vacant stare,
And slew him with your noble birth.

Trust me, Clara Vere de Vere,
From yon blue heavens above us bent
The gardener Adam [1] and his wife
Smile at the claims of long descent.
Howe’er it be, it seems to me,
’Tis only noble to be good.
Kind hearts are more than coronets,
And simple faith than Norman blood.

I know you, Clara Vere de Vere,
You pine among your halls and towers;
The languid light of your proud eyes
Is wearied of the rolling hours.
In glowing health, with boundless wealth,
But sickening of a vague disease,
You know so ill to deal with time,
You needs must play such pranks as these.

Clara, Clara Vere de Vere,
If time be heavy on your hands,
Are there no beggars at your gate,
Nor any poor about your lands?
O, teach the orphan-boy to read,
Or teach the orphan-girl to sew;
Pray Heaven for a human heart,
And let the foolish yeoman go.

WonderCon 2016: What’s wonderful at the exhibition hall

Friday, we took at look at the exhibition hall at WonderCon 2016 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. After the hassle with pre-paid parking using Parking Panda, we set our sights on exciting old and new artists.

Cats are well represented at WonderCon 2016 by Jenny Parks. Jenny Parks re-imagines your favorite heroes as cats at WonderCon (Artist Alley J-19).

Dailen Ogden is at J-20 Artist Alley) offers comics and illustrations that have a nouveau art feel. “Allegiance: Dragonics & Runics Part II ” (J-24) author A. Wrighton was offering small, colorful felt dragons available for adoption ($10).

Dog lovers must stop at Riana Dorsey’s table. Riana Dorsey does some cool illustrations.  (I-28) For some custom Star Wars-inspired models, check out Nguyen DongNaomi Romero loves corgis. If you do, too, check out her prototype of a corgi creature plushy. (Artist Alley I2).

You might have seen  PLove Prints on Redbubble (also Penelope Luv Prints or Penelope Love Prints) at Artist Alley H1.  Wee Bit O’ Freak and Wee Bit O’ Geek were walking around when we met them and loved their backpacks. They are also Etsy artists. They have a booth together under WeeArts (C28).

Another corgi project has flying corgis. Squidbrains will launch a unicorgi plushy Kickstarter campaign in April. These are suitably adorable. The brains behind this is illustrator and designer Jullian Altmeyer. (Artist Alley D18).

We saw some 3D art that you can do yourself by Josephine Roberts (Artist Alley D9). Their best-seller is the Batman one seen in the photo.

Book lovers and zombie lovers, visit Insight Editions. Insight has a special “Walking Dead” pop-up book. You can see splattered brains. Movie art books and books as art and books with arts for movie fans and TV series fans of shows like “Walking Dead.” The hefty “Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report” is a limited edition that weighs about five pounds and costs $325.  “The Walking Dead: The Pop-Up Book” is $65 and features a gruesome bullet-through-the-brain before and after page. For fans of Star Trek, there is a wonderful hard cover “Star Trek Costumes: Five Decades of Fashion from the Final Frontier.” At WonderCon you can get a special discount on most volumes.

WonderCon continues until Sunday at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Pre-paid parking is available, but costs more and can be confusing. Compared to previous years at the Anaheim Convention Center, there are more vendors and the activities are spread out between West Hall, South Hall and the Microsoft Theater at LA Live. Be prepared to walk. Other kinks in the system are the lost and found is more lost than found.

Looking for a lost item, we were sent from one table in West Hall to another table for the South Hall Lost and Found that did not exist. We were then sent to one room which sent us to another. No matter how honest a person was, one would have one’s patience severely tried trying to find a place to leave a lost item. WonderCon will return to Anaheim next year.

WonderCon: Panda Parking causes pandemonium

WonderCon made its debut and perhaps maiden foray into the downtown Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Convention Center (next year it will again return to Anaheim) and pre-paid parking was available for all three days, from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. through Parking Panda. The rates aren’t cheap and the implementation far from smooth.

First, the pre-paid parking is available in the West Hall garage. The rates are $30 per day, that’s an additional $10. Or you could have paid for the three-day pass which were no longer available on Friday morning because pre-paid parking was no longer available as Saturday pre-paid parking was sold out. The pass comes with no in-/out privileges.

While this may seem like an easy proposition it isn’t for two reasons. When you get an email from Panda Parking and print it out, the email will NOT include the QR Code or Box Code. You will get your transaction code, but at the entrance, that code will be useless. They will ask you for a print out of the QR Code or the QR Code on your smartphone. We were asked to get out of line and park or go somewhere and get a print out. We declined and tried to get the email through my smartphone.

If you have a smartphone, you might think you have no worries, however, when we got the code up on a smartphone, the QR Code reader could not read it. The attendant asked us to make adjustments to the smartphone, but the QR Code reader for Joann’s Fabrics can read from my Smartphone. Finally, the supervisor used his pass card to wave us in. Does that make it worth an extra $10? We still have to drive around looking for a parking space.

You can use Parking Panda tomorrow. Passes are still available. The attendant confessed that someone before us had the same problem. One of the vendors mentioned it took about 30 minutes to get into parking and be processed even though there were only two cars ahead of him. We predict parking pandemonium on Saturday. Had a problem with Parking Panda? Let us know at Jana.Monji@gmail.com.

Get water-wise for UN World Water Day

March 22 is U.N. World Water Day and with the problems in Flint and in Southern California, water should be on your mind. Pasadena and Altadena just had a two-week ban on outdoor watering, and until the end of this month are limited to one day a week (Saturday). Even the affluent are being forced to conserve with penalties finally being passed out and names being named. Can there be a better time to buy Laura Allen’s 2015 book, “The Water-Wise Home: How to Conserve, Capture, and Reuse Water in Your Home and Landscape.”

Allen is based in Los Angeles and is the co-founder of Greywater Action. Greywater is waste water that has been used in the house or in office buildings that has not been contaminated by fecal matter. Greywater includes water from sinks, showers, bathes, washing machines and dish washers.

The book covers:

  1. Why Conserve Water?
  2. What’s Wrong with Our Water Systems?
  3. Saving Water in the Home and Landscape
  4. Greywater Reuse: Planning Your Home System
  5. Installing Your Greywater System
  6. Rainwater Harvesting: Planning Your System
  7. Building Rainwater Harvesting Systems
  8. Waterless and Composting Toilets

The chapters are arranged in order of difficulty and commitment. The first four are the basics. The last four are increasing difficult solutions. While many water districts encourage re-thinking your landscaping and changing to water-wise gardening options, greywater systems are not legal in all areas. Allen notes that there are safety considerations with greywater and that using greywater means also using soaps and detergents that are plant-friendly.

Harvesting rainwater is not so controversial and can be incorporated into your landscaping plans, but you might hesitate to actually build a system. Waterless and composting toilets are an option, but Allen includes a section about composting toilets and the law. Waste, particularly fecal waste which can cause pollution and disease, is a stinky issue that needs to be approached with care.

If you’ve waited too long to take our your lawn, you may have missed all the possible rebates. There are other rebates still available. Check with your local water agencies.

Going to greywater doesn’t mean that your yard will be a barren, brown wasteland. While “The Water-Wise Home” has many illustrations, it doesn’t have colored photos. You’ll have to look to other publications for help with gardening ideas or take the Theodore Payne Foundation Annual Garden Tour.

For home owners, landscapers and even renters, “The Water-Wise Home” is a good informational text to help you plan. Knowledgeable renters might even be able to convince their landlords to go grey or at least re-consider the landscaping options. Each chapter comes with a list of resources.  “The Water-Wise Home” is available on Amazon.com for $21.20 in paperback or $9.99 on Kindle.



‘Zootopia’ and Furries: One man’s explanation

El Capitan audiences come to celebrate. At the first Saturday morning show for “Zootopia,” I found myself sitting next to a furry. He had just purchased a Disney Nick P. Wilde cap, and both Nick and Judy plushies. He also had a fox tail and a tale of his own to tell. While the organ player was giving us his rendition of the “Frozen” soundtrack, Kei Fox, as he wishes to be known, showed me a photo of himself dressed as Nick P. Wilde. It was impressive.

Kei Fox felt that the general population has a negative impression of furries and fur fandom (e.g. “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” Season 4 Episode 5 “Fur and Loathing”). In response to my questions, he sent me the following responses via email.

Q: You’ve already dressed up as Nick. Did you make the costume yourself?

A: My fox costume was made a fellow furry who has earned a decent living through manufacturing custom furry costumes, also called fursuits, for clients who wish to dress up as their own created characters, or fursonas, as they are popularly known. The Hawaiian shirt, khaki pants and neck tie were simply acquired together from a local outlet, but they are useful in portraying Nick Wilde, even without a full fox costume to accompany the apparel.

Q: I know you’ve memorized the song, too.
A: The song “Try Everything” inspires us to follow our dreams, never being afraid to back down in the face of oppression and those who would attack our dreams.
Q: How do you feel you are wrongly stereotyped and what would you like people to know? Why do you love Nick?
A: Like Nick Wilde, foxes are often misrepresented by people as untrustworthy and troublesome, when they overlook the fact that foxes are also very self-reliant and family-oriented in the wild, as Nick demonstrates in his own resourcefulness and his memories of loving his mother. Nick Wilde is someone who only acts selfish and arrogant because he believes that the world has turned its back on him because of his species, and if everyone thinks he’s bad, then that’s how he’ll act. As a furry, we have been often viewed negatively as sexually perverted, even vulgarly zoophilic (being sexually attracted to normal animals). These perspectives are false, created by others who lack understanding, seeking only to attack what they simply find to be unusual and easily misconstruing.
Q: What is your favorite part of the movie?
A: If there’s a favourite segment in the film, it’s the finale, because it brings everyone together in a sense of harmony and unity, celebrating that while they have differences, they are all Zootopians, who stand together as one people.
Q: Why did you want to see the movie at the El Capitan?

A: To see the film at the El Capitan has been a first-time experience, having known that it is owned by Disney. To see a film produced by the same company delivers a very wholesome experience of appreciating Disney’s history in the film industry and its continual inspiration to the young and the young at heart with such positive movies. In a society where personal access to entertainment is through the Internet, we may forget the origins of such works being in the theater, and the El Capitan strives to maintain that charisma of inviting us to take a break from modern technology and to enjoy the atmosphere of a movie in its most-rooted respectability.

Are you a furry? Or do you have a story? Then contact me at Jana.Monji@gmail.com.

A hopping happy time had at the El Capitan for Zootopia

Disney’s new animated feature “Zootopia” is worth seeing more than once and one of those times should be at the Hollywood El Capitan for a fun educational experience and a chance to get Disney merchandise. This is a treat that Disney and animation fans don’t have in other cities and runs until April 10, 2016.

Get there early so you have time to view the production sketches downstairs and take a photo either on one of the three park benches in front of the Zootopia backdrop. Try getting the photos downstairs before the show or rush down after the end of the movie. It gets crowded after the show.  Just before you enter the theater, you can take photos with the statues of Judy Hopps and Nicholas P. Wilde. Before and after the show, the behind-the-scenes exhibit downstairs gives you an idea of how the filmmakers researched and designed all the mammal inhabitants of “Zootopia.”

Before the show, we were treated to organ music (songs from “Frozen”). Our MC, Jeremy, introduced Wendy from the Wildlife Learning Center. Wendy brought three live animals on stage. Don’t worry if you’re not in the very front seats because this close encounter will be live-streamed on to a screen above between informational graphics. First up was a lovely grey rabbit.  The bunny is followed by a red fox who unlike the bunny, would not make a good pet, we’re told. The final animal is famous enough to have her own Twitter account: Lola the sloth. The good thing is that the presentation clearly explains why only the bunny would be a great pet. You need more help on that or want to avoid the unwanted Easter Bunny June syndrome, you can always visit the Wildlife Learning Center (16027 Yarnell Street, Sylmar, CA 91342) or consult with the House Rabbit Society.

Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps also come on stage to perform a dance. Who wouldn’t love new Disney characters.

The movie itself is an animated success. Walt Disney Animation Studios has done what Disney Pixar filed to do with “The Good Dinosaur”: Provided a well-imagined society confined to one particular type of animal. In “The Good Dinosaur” it was dinosaurs, both herbivore and carnivore with a few mammals around to serve as possible meals for the carnivores or to be the varmints that all farmers hate. The human boy, Spot, begins as a varmint and ends up as a friend.

“Zootopia” is about anthropomorphic mammals without the intrusion of humankind.  The movie begins with an animated tiger hunting for a rabbit in a form we’re more familiar with, but that’s all in the fevered imagination of a young anthropomorphic juvenile rabbit Judy Hopps. In school play, she and her pals are explaining the history  behind Zootopia, a big city where mammals, predator and prey, first came together in peace. Judy lives in the rural town of Bunnyburrow with her friends and over 200 siblings. Her siblings aren’t there to back her up when she’s bullied by a fox, Gideon Grey (Phil Johnston). Predators may not eat prey any more, but some animals have more brute force and that makes them better at certain things such as bullying other kids or police work. Her parents have a rabbity notion that settling is better than dreaming because one doesn’t get disappointed.

Judy’s dream is to be the first rabbit police officer and as a young adult, she enrolls in the Zootopia Police Academy. By clever thinking, and hard work, she graduates as class valedictorian and becomes the first rabbit police officer. Unfortunately, in a squad room filled with bears, elephants, tigers, cheetahs and rhinos, who are assigned to look for 13 of the 14 missing mammals i their precinct, she is assigned by the water buffalo boss of the 1st Precinct, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) to meter maid duties.

Using her good hearing and hopping abilities, she does double her quota, but gets hustled by two fox con artists Nicholas P. Wilde (Jason Bateman) and Finnick (Tom Lister Jr). Although she confront Nick, she realizes she can’t arrest or charge him. Her parents are overjoyed that she won’t be in danger, but on day two of meter maid duties, Judy is harassed and tired. She lets a robber, Duke Weaselton (Alan Tudyk),  run past her meter maid cart, but then hops in happy pursuit. Her size is an advantage over the bigger cops when the thief runs into the rodent designated areas. Judy may be a giant, but she’s small enough to get through the streets and even saves a certain well-to-do mouse, Fru Fru (Leah Latham) from being crushed under an errant donut sign.

Although Bogo is initially angry that Judy has left her meter maid post and caught a criminal, he’s even angrier when he’s forced to assign her to look for the 14th missing mammal, Mr. Otterton . Bogo can’t easily dismiss Mrs. Otteron (Octavio Spencer) who happens to come to his office while Judy is there and take Judy off the case when the assistant mayor Dawn Bellwether (Jenny Slate) sends a message that Judy has taken the Otterton case to the mayor Leodore Lionheart (J.K. Simmons).

Although Otterton missing person file has only one photo and Judy doesn’t have access to the police database, she realizes that Nick might have some information about the case and pulls her own hustle with the help of a recording carrot pen (which you can purchase at the Disney store). As this is a Disney film, of course, they will solve this case, but Judy must overcome her own prejudices against foxes and fix the problems that her arrest brings about when the prey mammals begin to fear that the predator mammals have the potential to go savage.

Some people want to interpret the movie has a good way to explain race and racism. That might be dangerous as there exists a separate-but-equal feeling in the segregation of the species. Others feel that this is about more than race, but people with different interests and habits. One such person at El Capitan was furry person who prefers to be known as Kei Fox. El Capitan was his second viewing of “Zootopia” and he loved it. Viewing it for a second time, like myself, I’m sure he picked up things that you won’t notice the first time around. At the end, he proved that he knew all the words to Shakira’s song. The movie’s message for Kei Fox, who showed me a photo of himself dressed as Nick P. Wilde, was that this movie is about looking beyond preconceived notions and judging people as they are, saying, “This film appeals to me because we are so often stereotyped. It is a great benefit to us because it is all about stereotypes and how those aren’t not always right.” Later he wrote,  “As a furry, we have been often viewed negatively as sexually perverted, even vulgarly zoophilic (being sexually attracted to normal animals). These perspectives are false, created by others who lack understanding, seeking only to attack what they simply find to be unusual and easily misconstruing,” he wrote in an email that he sent to me later.

This movie reaches out to different people and has lessons for all. The show at El Capitan is an enhanced but safe experience for the first time or the second or third time. In addition, you’ll get to see the latest toys and Zootopia related merchandise that Disney has on sale and have a piece of Ghirardelli chocolate on your way out. The El Capitan Zootopia experience ranks as one of their best presentations and would be a great way to celebrate Easter, rabbits, animation or the joy of being a kid (no matter what age).

On Tiny Tot Tuesdays, families can enjoy the movie with lights dimmed and sound level reduced at 10 a.m. On select days, you can join a breakfast with Judy Hopps before the 10 a.m. show and get a commemorative photo. Seating is limited and requires an advance purchase with the purchase of a movie ticket. To call and ask about food and meal packages (at the Hollywood Dave & Busters), dial (818) 845-3110.

Showtimes are 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9:40 p.m. $28-$15. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes. The movie is rated PG. VIP tickets which include reserved seating, popcorn and drinks for $28.  For more information or to buy tickets, visit El Capitan’s website. 



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