Sunday, May 17, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW- DISNEY'S TOMORROWLAND



Brad Bird is just great at what he does. 
I've been a fan of his since the oft overlooked animated classic IRON GIANT.  Most folks know him for Pixar's THE INCREDIBLES and RATATOUILLE.  But after proving his live action film-making chops on MISSION IMPOSSIBLE- GHOST PROTOCOL Disney has entrusted him to build a mythology behind one of the mainstays of every Disney Magic Kingdom Park with TOMORROWLAND.    

Visually his style is very apparent. A lot of impossibly kinetic motion contrasted by stark stillness, with great attention to pacing and pronounced character moments.


He's also great at capturing that old Spielberg esque sense of childish wonder that makes the film refreshing, and is the spoonful of sugar that drives the films heart and message.

All that said, it is a kids movie that targets an adult audience, so there are moments of story that are kinda spoon fed rather than revealed. And moments where they pretty much say straight out, " no were not going to explain this can we just move on with the story?"


That story which in it self is simple but engaging, particularly when framed with bird's knack for action. And the performances from Clooney and his two young counterparts are relatively one note, but really well delivered.(particularly the younger one who carries a mature wisdom about her) Their characters are designed to contrast and bounce off one another, and once the group is assembled, there's some really great chemistry that at times feels like it really shouldn't work, but really does...


Also, the vision for tomorrowland is glistening and serves as a call to action which reminds you of the the irony that is the disjointed showcase of brands that serves as the films namesake in the park. Sadly I still find it unlikely that Disney corporate will heed Brad Bird's call for a return to the hope, optimism, and innovation that inspired the old "World on the Move" Tomorrowland of 1977.  there are plenty of callbacks to the wonderful classic design aesthetic that fans of Bob Gur and the golden era of Imagineering will appreciate, plus some great nods to the industrial, steampunk inspired "Discoveryland" of Disneyland Paris... I loved these details!

The film serves very much like a refreshing glass of kool-aid to tide us over until someone lets Imagineering revise and reestablish the tomorrowland we all crave. And I'll hapily drink it... It's great fun! And all it really needs to be is fun.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Year in Review for a slightly OCDisney Nerd...

Okay, so I'm a Disney Nerd.  As a kid our family would go to the parks usually once a year.  There were a lot of good memories there.  Every night we would end at Carnation Plaza where we would see the some of the greats, like the Glenn Miller Orchestra play till the end of the night.  My dad taught all my sisters to swing dance to the sounds of the big bands that would inspire me to later pick up the saxaphone.

I was completely enthralled by the immersive environments, the attention to detail, and year after year I would collect the maps and study them profusely.  I would realize much later how much I learned about the essentials of story from experiencing the parks.  there was a logic, or what I would later come to understand as an "act structure" that would frame the experiences.  The experiential quality of the attractions would set the bar for me as a story teller, and establish why I prefer live theatre over other mediums.  Because immersion to me became that final element that made any story heightened.  the moment when the story could reach out and grab you, or swallow you whole.  

So when I was in college, I found myself as an actor often driving back and forth between LA and SD, and rather than sit in traffic I discovered it was far more efficient to wait out traffic in line for a ride or two.  sometimes I'd do my college reading along the rivers of America in the peaceful back end of the Hungry Bear restaurant in Critter Country.  It was handy and kind of cool to be an annual passholder.  So Cal passes were still pretty cheap then, and the Fan Blog communities were just kind of coming in to existence. As time went on I found myself collecting books about imagineers, absorbing random trivia.  My interest came full circle when after years of pursuing theatre, I realized how much I had retained from my child hood aspirations of being a sequential artist/animator.  Much of my staging theory is still heavily based on layout principals I had studied on my own in high school reading "how to draw Comics the marvel way" and growing up looking forward to the re-release of Fantasia or as the sole holder of a lifetime pass to the festival of animation... (thats an other story)

So of course upon moving to LA, It only made sense I finally upgrade my pass from the SoCal to the Premium.  I mean, I'm only about 30 minutes away... and 30 minutes is about a minimum drive time anywhere in LA anyways... I justified the cost in that I'm investing in my future career in imagineering... (oh it will happen... just wait...) 

AND because I'm crazy, I made a spreadsheet that would tally and record all my visits... because I knew that by the end of the year I'd probably wonder just how many times I actually rode Peter Pan, or how many Corn Dogs I managed to devour(no I didnt keep track of that... DAMN, new line item for next year!) so here for your entertainment value are my personal Disneyland resorts Stats for the 2013-2014 year...  
--------------------------------------------------------------
50 visits to the DL resort in 12 months

Average # of attractions per visit - 7.7

Most Attractions in a single visit - 21 (this particular day was a DL Only Day...)

In this year had two park-hopper days where I hit 19 total...  (Personal best 23 attractions in a single day)

Most CA Adventure attractions in a single day- 11

Most visits in a single month - 6

Fewest visits in a single month - 2

Favorite time to visit - July (tourists leave the park earlier and fewer Annual passholders leaves the last two hours of the night empty! You can basically walk on most attractions!)

46 Visits to Magic Kingdom
23 trips along the Disneyland Railroad (15 of which took me through the Primeval world)
27 trips into the Galaxy Far Far Away (no tallys as to how many times to each planet, I'll work on that fornext year...)
20 excursions into the Temple of the Forbidden Eye
19 Times to my Laughing Place
17 times I found a way out... (7 of which were guided by Sandy Claws)
16 of the wildest rides in the wilderness (despite being closed 60% of the year)
16 treks up and down the Swiss Alps (12 on the Left, 4 on the right)
13 Tales told by dead men
Only 3 Attractions I have not been on all year:
Gadgets Go-Coaster, Dumbo, King Arthurs Carousel, Mainstreet Streetcars

28 visits to CA Adventure
12 Drops into the 5th dimension
12 Screams
9 races (dont know how many I won, thats data for next year)
9 trips under the sea
7 Runs down the Grizzly river
7 soarin over california
Have not experienced anything else at the park more than 5 times

8 attractions I Did not experience all year
King triton's Carousel, Heimlich's Chew Chew Train, Tuck & Roll's Bumper Cars,
(5 of which I Have Never Been on) Disney Jr. Live on Stage, Francis' Ladybug Boogie,  Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, Jumpin Jellyfish, Flik's Flyers (Have Never ridden, however have always wanted a picture in the takeout box)

Thats my year in review! Clearly it would seem Star tours is my favorite (I mean c'mon... its Star Wars! Duh!) although Big Thunder may have beaten out Star tours had it not been down for renovation most of the year.  And Indiana Jones and Splash Mountain trail closely behind (Makes sense, all four are Tony Baxter driven E Tickets rides!)

Other Notable moments... 
On 9/29 I completed what I like to call a Straight Flush in Tomorrowland, thats where I do EVERYTHING that tomorrowland has to offer (10 attractions) Its actually tricker than it sounds particularly considering I ussually come to the parks later in the day. It also means forcing myself to do the Autopia as an adult.  

Other Straight Flushes I have yet to conquer: 
ALL of FantasyLand, (15 attractions, many of them Dark rides, with Mr Toad, and peter Pan often at a minimum of 45 Minute wait this is a very difficult challenge, plus I just cant motivate myself to ride Dumbo, or the teacups solo)

ALL of Westland s (Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country) 10 Attractions, I came close on 6/7th! If only Davy Crockett Canoes were open at night!

MOUNTAIN CLIMBER- EVERY Mountain ride (Big thunder, Splash, Materhorn, Space, Radiator Springs, and Grizzly River (Managed to get all the Disneyland Mountains once but not the California Adventure mountains for the complete set.  

E TICKET EXPERT - Its exactly what you think, ALL 12 E Ticket Coaster type rides, Indy, Splash, Big thunder, Materhorn (Left and Right) Space Mountain, Star Tours, Radiator Springs, California Screamin, Twighlight Zone, Goofy Sky School, grizzly River (I'm torn because technically Haunted Mansion and pirates I think were also E tickets.  And I'm not sure where Soarin would fall... 

RIVER MASTER - (10 Boats!)  Mark Twain, Sailing Ship Columbia, Canoes, Splash Mountain, Pirates, Jungle Cruise, Its a Small World, Storybook land, Submarines, Grizzly River

So yeah.... welcome to my crazy! 
If you have other ideas for challenges leave it in the comments! 







Saturday, June 28, 2014

There is not More then Meets the Eye... It just is what it is...

So, I saw it.  An act of pure masochistic self torture....  Its impressive how much it can exceed your expectations about how bad its gonna be.  Its impressive how much I could care about  these characters in-spite of the complete dirth of character development, and reductuve nature in which they are written and then I realized its that lack of development that made me care...  I kept wanting the characters to be more than what they were... like helplessly watching a puppy continuously run into an electric fence.

It is so impressively frustrating every time a scene chooses to focus on human characters who are the most uninteresting and pointless characters in the film. Its like going to a football game and being forced to watch spilled beer run down the stairs while the game goes on behind you.

And its too bad, one of the villains is actually a pretty great villain once you ignore the fact that noone understands why hes there... Theres an implication that is supposed to lead to a larger story thread, but it is so vague it fails to make his origins at all intriguing, or the implied breadcrumb mystery alluring...

For us fans and fans of animation voice actor veterans, Peter Cullen has a few great sound bytes... And Frank Welker gets a few brief moments to seethe out a couple good lines... John Goodman and Ken Watanabe are wasted... Characters who are set up to be totally capable and bad ass in one scene are rendered completely idiotic in the next for no reason.  And you know the film is trying to make you worry when they're in trouble cause they say "well... We're in trouble!"

Some of the action sequences are impressive and have some "ooh ahhhs" in between large swaths of just plain confusion... But after a while you just want everyone to stop yelling and talking over one another so you can try to figure out whats going on.  But they're no help, after all, A McGuffin is revealed so late in the film that you dont even have any time to revere or fear it! All of a sudden... its there and suddenly the most important thing.  But its okay its underdeveloped because it softens the blow of the zero payoff it has later on.  It doesnt leave you empty because you're still reeling from the slew of deux ex machinas that basically open up the third act "just 'cause."  Characters make  logic and emotional jumps as if they were tiggers... and the plot switched focus like a Roomba changes direction, slamming in to wall after wall every step of the way...

And yet it manages to somehow sate some deep part of my inner 8-year-old heart, while completely enraging and betraying it all at once.

Sadly, there is not more than meets the eye... it just is what it is...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

After the Nightingale... Whats the Next Step?

First of all, THANKYOU to everyone who attended the panel discussion last Sunday.  I was honored by the company I kept with AAPAC's Christine Toy Johnson, and Cindy Cheung, as well as my more local allies Seema Sueko, Lee Ann Kim, Bennet Peji, Greg Watanabe and Larry Baza.  And despite the LA times reporting attendance of only 150, I cannot express the feeling of seeing the 400+ seat Potiker Theatre filled to capacity.  I saw many old friends from throughout our national community, make a real impact just through their presence!  I also thank the artists who have been involved in the Nightingale who reached out to me privately and personally!  I cannot fathom the difficult position you have been placed in!

All that said, if you missed the panel, you may view it here: http://vimeo.com/46243248
I also encourage you to seek out some wonderful responses such as Jennifer Chang's Here: http://wp.me/p1OQ5j-F
or this passionate spoken word video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xd4X8r2bIdc


Its been interesting to watch everything unfold.  Many people are watching the video of the panel and reacting for the first time.  New posts, new blogs, new letters are being generated each day.  The thing I keep thinking is, there is potential momentum to be gained here.  Yes we're all angry, with new people getting angry each day.   So how can we channel this anger towards something actionable... and I dont mean just in regards to La Jolla Playhouse or the Nightingale itself.  The fact is that this instance is a symptom of a larger issue.  Our culture and society has perpetuated a perception that enabled some individuals to make an erroneous choice, without a thought for the real impact of this choice. 

At the heart of this all, I keep feeling that there is a flaw in our society's constructed perceptions, that allowed his production to develop over 10 years without being  questioned until it came to La Jolla.  I feel this flaw is  the same that has allowed the film industry to Erase asian americans from lead roles in films like 21, the Last Airbender, Dragon Ball Z, Akira, and many more.  It is the same flaw that allowed the US Government to go 40 years before making reparations for Japanese Internment. It is the same flaw that led to the death of Vincent Chin.  It is the same flaw that had Scientist Wen Ho Lee wrongfully on trial for espionage.  It is the same flaw that lies at the heart of  the suicides of Private Danny Chen, and Lance Corporal Harry Lew, and the thousands of other Asian Americans who have been reported to be the most bullied of all ethnic groups (according to AAPI Nexus).   Our culture characteristically dismisses Asians and Asian Americans. But with this public apology, a NEW PRECENDENT HAS BEEN SET!

Now it is to US to build upon that public acceptance of responsibility, so that we as a national community can build a foundation to incite action!
So I ask, what can we do, as a community with reinvigorated purpose, that can affect real change?  Is it something that we can propose to the La Jolla Playhouse? is it something we propose to the Theatre Communications Group with help from the Consortium of Asian American Theatres & Artists?  Is it something that engages other resources, or mediums, like say the success of APIA entertainers on youtube, or support from elected officials, or other political action movements?

Lets think "Blue-Sky" (that is to say "without limitations") what are some actionable ideas that we can engage in to change the face of American Theatre, film, television that can have an impact on the social constructions of our culture.  Lets use this momentum that something truly positive, and groundbreaking can come of this.

Please share your ideas and impressions on this survey,
http://tinyurl.com/APA-Nightingale

I will also be adding entered email addresses into a Google Group in order to continue our discussion!

Thanks, and feel free to pass this along!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Response to the Nightingale Casting Controversy at the La Jolla Playhouse


First of all, to get this out of the way, I have been an employee of the La Jolla Playhouse, off and on, in one regard or another for almost 16 years. This is an organization that has its facilities on the campus of UCSD, an institution with over 44% of its enrollment representing Asians and Asian Americans, despite having no Asian American Studies department or major.  As a theatre major I took great inspiration from my classes in Chicano theatre, that I took in lieu of the lack of classes that analyzed Asian American theatre.

So, as a result, my career began very young as I took it upon myself at age 19 to establish San Diego's Asian American Repertory Theatre where I served as Artistic Director for 10 years, all the while, moonlighting at the La Jolla Playhouse.  By night, I was a simple stagehand making slightly better than minimum wage while during the day, I was heavily involved with San Diego's APA Community, receiving a Mayoral commendation, and recognition as one of the "top 30 most influential Asian Americans under the age of 30."  With all this in mind, my relationship with the Playhouse, my standing in the local APA Community,  I am a little shocked to find myself in this current position I find hurtful and disappointing.

I must express my frustration and disappointment regarding the controversy over the casting choices of the La Jolla Playhouse's workshop production of "the Nightingale." To many of my colleagues in the Asian American community and Asian American artists, this represents a continuing trend for Asians and Asian Americans. It is hurtful not only because it exemplifies the decrease of opportunities for Asian American Artists as portrayed in the Asian American Performers Action Committee's "Ethnic Representation Report" (http://www.aapacnyc.org/report.html), but because it is indicative of the continuing trend of appropriation of cultural representation as often reported by organizations such as Racebending.com. 

This is all particularly disappointing in light of the fact that La Jolla Playhouse has held a legacy of featuring more Asian Pacific American work on San Diego stages than any other local producer other than San Diego's  Asian American Repertory Theater, having developed both "Dogeaters" and "Most Wanted" with Jessica Hagedorn, Chay Yew's "Wonderland", Diana Son's "Boy" and featured APIA actors such as Ching Valdez, Alec Mapa, Sandra Oh, Michi Barral, Sab Shimono, Zoe Chao and BD Wong. (Its not perfect, majority of this happened in the 90's.  And in the context of the long history of the theatre, these are small numbers, I realize, but in the grand scheme of things it shows a strong attempt, and the promise of growth.). In spite of this, the current cast of "the Nightingale" features a "Multi-Cultural Cast" with only 2 out of 12 roles going to Asian Americans in a story set in feudal China.  As any director knows, you can tell a story without words, or text.  That the composition of the stage pictures alone can convey a feeling, imply a theme, and in that vein, casting tells a story.  And in this current workshop of the Nightingale, that story is hurtful, and offensive.
 
In regards to this recent controversy the Playhouse has stated that this story is not Asian or Chinese as it was created by Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson.  However the story is not framed within the context of a fictional universe like Middle Earth or a Kingdom of Mer-People.  With the names of characters, costuming, and situations, the Nightingale establishes itself as representing China, at which point one might question the logic that the creators would not seek out additional oversight from the Asian or Asian American Community, rather than lessen it through casting "multi-cultural."  For that matter, wouldn't an Asian American artist, born and raised in a western culture, schooled and trained in western theatre traditions, but influenced by Asian cultural roots, be ideal for interpreting a story like this, a western interpretation of Asian themes and aesthetics? 
Earlier this week, I and a few other minority leaders in San Diego’s arts and culture scene reached out with compassion to La Jolla Playhouse as peers and friends to have a conversation about this. We met on Monday for two hours, and thought at the time that it was a productive meeting. We expressed that there was a real opportunity here for La Jolla Playhouse to be a leader, do something groundbreaking, and advance the conversation about diversity in theater into something productive. All they had to do was say “I’m sorry.” They didn’t intend to offend fellow artists, the Asian American community and everyone engaged in issues of diversity, but inadvertently they did. we expressed that if they say sorry, we will stand by them and support them.
Unfortunately, after listening to the interview on NPR last Wednesday, it does not look like this is the direction they are taking.
As storytellers and artists, we all bear a responsibility, in the tradition of the classic Greek Dramatists who forged the foundation for modern philosophy, social science and other forms of study that analyze and present the human condition.  What is disappointing is that so far LJP is showing no leadership in taking responsibility for their lack of oversight.  Statements from the Playhouse so far indicate they are sorry WE were offended, not sorry THEY offended US.  The problem of course being, that if we, as artists cannot take responsibility, cannot own up to the impact our choices have and cannot admit to any mistakes, it removes the opportunity for our community and society to learn from such mistakes.  It halts progress rather than advances it.  This is not representative of a culture of artistic exchange or cultivation of ideas and expression.  This is representative a corporatist culture, so obsessed with saving face, so constricted, mired and strangled by its "official verbiage" and jargon that it cant say the simple things we learned as children like "I'm Sorry."

Moving forward, I can only hope that LJP will choose to build upon their past legacy of contribution towards the growth and cultivation of voices, rather than dismiss such indiscretions claiming the support of "artistic choice" over social responsibility.  Both should be a priority.  More-so I wish that the impact of certain choices on some communities did not still need reminding in the year 2012. 

I would like to believe that internally and individually, my friends and colleagues at the Playhouse, an organization that has felt like home to me for many years, understand the indiscretions, and feel remorse for the position the institution seems to be taking, and I challenge them to speak to their personal convictions and not to their prescribed "obligations" to the company line.

I also call out to all artists, Asian Americans other people of color, and my many white and Caucasian friends who believe in a community's right to own our own representations of self; Please support us, and express your solidarity, so those in power can hear our voices and know that this issue will not simply blow over. 

Andy


Please plan on attending the panel discussion on this topic on
Sunday, July 22, 2012
3:45 PM
La Jolla Playhouse
Directions and Parking Information Here: http://lajollaplayhouse.org/plan-your-visit

Some Context, A report about the decrease of roles that went to Asian Americans on Broadway Stages
http://www.aapacnyc.org/report.html
the Blog Post that hit the internet and brought national visibility to the issue...
http://fairyprincessdiaries.com/2012/07/07/moises-kaufman-can-kiss-my-ass-heres-why/
Wednesday's KPBS Interview with Actor Greg Watanabe and Christopher Ashley
http://www.kpbs.org/news/2012/jul/18/casting-controversy-shadows-la-jolla-playhouses-ni/








Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A taste of things to come...

Curious about Golden Child?  take a look here at these promotional photos.  Think we captured  the essence of our characters?  









And now for one more taste of the show, take a look at this video trailer!