Sunday, August 31, 2008

Up Close and Personal

Friday night I was a guest in the prestigious Reed & Davidson box at the Hollywood Bowl. It's a much fuller experience to see a show at the Bowl so close to the stage.

The evening's concert was the music of John Williams which, frankly, I found a little boring. All of his music sounds exactly the same to me. Da Da DA DA. Is that ET? Star Wars? Indiana Jones? Whatever it was, the crowd loved it.

But I loved visiting with everyone in the box before the show and during intermission. Our box, unlike those around us, was quiet during the show. Except when the violin solo by Bing Wang made me cry a little bit. Others seemed to find that quite funny. (Where's my light saber?)

Saturday night I went to the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood to see Hershey Felder's one-man show, "Beethoven: As I Knew Him." Much like his show about George Gershwin, Felder mixes Beethoven's music with stories about his life to tell about the maestro and how a man who lost his hearing at the age of 30 wrote some of the most beautiful music ever composed. Following the show Felder answered questions from the audience about Beethoven for about 20 minutes.

I was pleased to hear Felder mention the Beethoven Institute at San Jose State University during the show. It's directed by my friend, Bill Meredith. As part of the show Felder described how the Institute came to be in possession of two pieces of Beethoven's skull. During the Q&A I asked Felder to talk more about the Institute. He went on to describe it as a world-renown research institute unparalleled in the world.

I meant to take a picture of the theater's marquee on my way out. But I was thrown off stride by an elderly lady behind me complaining that I was dawdling in the aisle while the audience was exiting. Apparently she thought the story I was telling my guest was slowing down her egress from the theater. I stepped aside and offered to let her go ahead of me to "take advantage of the six inches of space I was wasting" between me and the person in front of me in the aisle. She refused and I wouldn't budge either. Back and forth we went three times. Seriously. Finally she stepped forward and we all left the theater in peace. I forgot to take the picture because I was contemplating the fact I had probably just met the female version of myself from thirty years hence.
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In a surprising move, after the intermission Williams turned away from his own music to conduct a Tribute to famed Director and Choreographer Stanley Donen.

Best known for movies like "Singin' In The Rain" and "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" Donen (left, above) was on hand to tell some stories about the films he made. He even did a little dancing at Williams' invitation (supposedly at the suggestion of Warren Beatty).
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Friday, August 29, 2008

Are the Leaves Starting to Turn?

One good thing about the dwindling days of summer: serious movies return to the theaters.

I love summer adventure flicks as much as any moviegoer, but I really enjoy the thoughtful movies normally released in the fall in the run-up to the Oscars.

A case in point is the movie I saw last night, "Elegy." What a terrific cast: Ben Kingsley, Penelope Cruz, Dennis Hopper, Peter Sarsgaard and Deborah Harry!

Kingsley plays a college professor who falls in love with one of his students, Penelope Cruz. So it starts a little icky, but the movie grows to tell a touching story about aging, loving, father-son relationships, friendships between men and lots of other adult issues. All without a single car chase.

I had to turn to the dictionary to understand the title. Elegy: a pensive or reflective poem that is usually nostalgic or melancholy. Aha!
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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Walk Like An Egyptian

Went to a screening Wednesday night of six interesting short films at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Some were better than others, but they were all interesting in the diversity of the directors' approach to film-making.
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After the screening three of the directors were on hand to answer questions about their short films.
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I like all the architectural details that went into the construction of Sid Graumann's Egyptian Theater.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Speak English!

Went to see Woody Allen's enjoyable new film "Vicky Christina Barcelona" last night.

Two young American women decide to spend the summer in Barcelona where they meet an intriguing Spanish artist, played to perfection by Javier Bardem.

It's a charming movie, funny at times, with lots of gorgeous scenery from Barcelona and around Spain.
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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rock Me Sexy Jesus

Went to see the hilarious comedy farce "Hamlet 2" tonight. Steve Coogan plays a not-very-good drama teacher at West Mesa High School in Tucson, Arizona who, in an attempt to save the drama department at his school, puts on a wildly inappropriate musical he's written -- a sequel to "Hamlet."

Since nearly every character in "Hamlet" dies at the end, "Hamlet 2" features a time machine along with appearances by Jesus and Albert Einstein.

Elizabeth Shue turns in a great cameo as Elizabeth Shue. I think this film will breath some life back into her film career.

Aside from being very fun, the film has some good things to say about arts education in our schools and finding ways (hopefully more appropriate) to work out one's personal issues.
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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back at the Palace

Finally got my chance to get inside the Los Angeles Theater Friday night when the Downtown Film Festival offered a screening of the 1929 silent movie "Piccadilly" starring Anna May Wong -- Hollywood's first Chinese-American star.

A couple of months ago I took a walking tour of the movie palaces that line Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. I'd heard the Los Angeles Theater is considered one of the most beautiful (and over-the-top) but we didn't get to go inside that day. So I've been keeping my eye out for something going on that would get me inside.

It was interesting to see "Piccadilly" which hasn't been shown in a movie theater since 1929. I don't think I've ever seen a silent picture accompanied by a live piano player before.
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The eye-catching and memorable lobby of the Los Angeles Theater.
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This elaborate art deco glass sculpture is on the landing of the stairs leading to the balcony seats.
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Rococo lobby walls and ceiling.
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Even the seating has decorative detail.
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The fancy entrance to the Ladies' Room. That's as close as I got to seeing the Ladies' Lounge.
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This toilet in the Men's Room is marked "Original Unit," so I guess it's been operating for about 80 or 90 years. It seemed to work OK Friday night.
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The elaborate curtain.

The person walking towards the curtain to look at it up close is a guy named Mark I met about 15 years while volunteering. He seems like the kind of person curious enough about life to get out of his seat and walk to the front of the theater to really look at the curtain. I admire that.
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Before the movie I stopped in the elaborately decorated Clifton's Cafeteria on the other side of Broadway. I don't think I've been in this downtown institution for at least 30 years.

Clifton's was famous for it's escapism decoration -- transporting customers to exotic locales for the price of a cheap meal. This location on Broadway, with it's "mountain retreat" theme is the last remaining one.

Site Meter Salute: Just about the time I was at Clifton's -- 7:20 p.m. on Friday night -- this blog registered visitor number 25,000! It was someone from Santiago, Chile. They read a version of this blog translated into Spanish by Google.

It's a little hard for me to imaging that something I started at the end of 2004 in order to show friends and family pictures from an upcoming trip has attracted to so many visitors. I know there are some blogs out there that register 25,000 visitors an hour. But this has just been a little side hobby of mine.
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Didn't really expect to see a moose in downtown Los Angeles. But there it is high on the wall at Clifton's.
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Thursday night I saw a play with the gulp-inducing title of "Adam Baum and the Jew Movie" at the Hayworth Theater on Wilshire Boulevard near downtown Los Angeles.

Turns out to be a really good play about a Jewish movie studio head in 1946 who hires a non-Jewish screenwriter to write a movie about the American Jewish experience without making the picture "too Jewish."

It's an interesting look at anti-semitism and how the Jewish studios heads at the time created a vision of the American Ideal without open images of Jewish people in it.
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I wonder if this "owl" above the marquee of the Hayworth Theater actually keeps any pigeons away?
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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Future

I spent Sunday afternoon in the mountains just south of Los Gatos for the end of Junior Statesmen's Montezuma Leadership Conference. It was a great opportunity to meet many of the students running Junior Statesmen -- America's largest student-run organization.

This annual conference is held at the place in Santa Cruz County where Junior Statesmen ( was founded nearly 75 years ago.
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High School teachers remain an essential cornerstone in Junior Statesmen's operation.
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This student gave his outstanding Graduation Speech while holding his laptop where he'd written his speech. Who needs pen and paper anymore?
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Spent Tuesday night on the campus of UCLA with students attending the Junior Statesmen's Los Angeles Symposium. I ran a campaign simulation where the students put together campaigns for and against four ballot measures facing California voters this November. It was fun to see how the students went about tackling the assignment.
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Went to see the new Ben Stiller comedy "Tropic Thunder" on it's opening day last night. It's pretty darn funny but I TOTALLY get why advocates for the developmentally disabled are so up in arms over this movie.

It's not like there's just one or two jokes about the slower amongst us -- the "joke" is pretty much an essential part of the story.

But mostly I was blown away by Tom Cruise's reputation-changing performance as an out-of-control studio executive. Whatever his faults, he obviously has a sense of humor. Perhaps this film is his first step on the trail of redemption.
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