Tag Archives: Exhibit Reviews

D23 Expo 2019 – Film Exhibition Report

The magic of Disney returns once again to the Anaheim Convention Center, and it only continues to get bigger with every passing year.  Since the last Expo in 2017, Disney has broken new records at the box office, opened up their largest theme park expansion ever, and has acquired an entire movie studio as part of the largest media merger in history.  The addition of 21st Century Fox as a part of the Walt Disney Company in particular has been the most monumental change in the last 2 years, and it should make for an interesting  showcase over the next few days as Disney lays out what lies in the near future for the company.  In years past, the focus has largely been on giving the Disney fans a chance to fully explore all the many facets of the Disney company in a fun and informational environment.  Every time, more and more of the expansive Anaheim Convention Center gets utilized and Disney has even more to show off this time around.  I have tried my best to get in all the major sights of the Expo, with a particular emphasis on catching the major announcements made throughout the 3 Day event.  This year, Disney introduced the somewhat controversial addition of advanced online reservations for this year’s Expo.  Naturally, like buying tickets for a midnight showing of Avengers: Endgame, the online registry was flooded with passholders hoping to get one of those coveted seats, and many people unfortunately were left out.  I myself ended up missing out on reservations for the shows I really wanted, but there’s still the standby queues available, so much of my upcoming Expo experience will probably involve waiting in long lines.  At least I’m not as focused on waiting in line for merchandise or talent signings; it’s all panels and booths for me, so hopefully I can plan it all well enough to enjoy my time there.

This will be my 4th overall D23 Expo.  Again, like the last two, I will be spending all 3 days there.  I hope to have daily updates loaded onto this site for all of you to read, hopefully with plenty of pictures as well.  It’s going to be a hectic couple of days, but I will spend any moment I can to write down my thoughts about all the experiences I will have during the Expo.  After having gone through this 4 times now, my hope is that I’ve become an expert navigator through the convention experience, but who knows how much the online reservations added this year will have an effect.  In any case, as a lifelong Disney fan, I am extremely excited to see what awaits all of us behind those convention floor doors.  Please enjoy my following day by day chronicle and let’s all take a look at this wonderful world of Disney on display at D23 Expo 2019.

DAY #1 (AUGUST 23, 2019)

If there is one thing that the last three Expos has taught me, it’s to be prepared, and very much so.  Given how I didn’t know what effect the online reservations might have, I prepared myself to be extra ready for all the stuff I wanted to see and possibly even guard myself for some disappointment.  As such, I left my hotel room extra early, at around 3:30 in the morning to be exact, and made my way to the Convention Center.  This was already a smart decision as there was no wait at the security checkpoint.  Once through the metal detectors, me and the other guests were directed down to the Convention Center’s entry.  Out front, we were greeted by the first major photo spot for attendees to pose in front of; the expo logo spelled out in giant 3D letters, which looked really great with the Convention Center facade in the background.  Those of us who came this early were taken down to the Center’s Hall E, which is located in the basement.  I’ve already had many hours spent in this spacious hall from past Expos, and once down there, we were all split into groups; those of us who wanted to attend the first show of the Expo (the Disney Legends induction ceremony) or those who wanted to be the first ones through the doors into the Expo show floor.  Because my goal was to attend the second big show of Day 1 (the Disney+ presentation) I opted to go to the show floor queue instead of Legends.  Already, I could tell that 10 years of Expos has improved Disney’s crowd control performance, as the many swaths of people were expertly escorted upstairs and formed into nicely organized rows once it came time to open the doors.  So, for the first time ever, I managed to walk into the show floor right at the stroke of 9am, already making me feel happy that I planned well ahead.

And first impressions of the show floor were very positive.  Disney has thankfully found the best ways to lay out all their many different booths to fill up all the available space within the show floor.  One thing that really stuck out right away was the enormous push that Disney was going to put on their streaming platform that launches in November; Disney+.  Located very near the center of the entire open show floor was the massive Disney+ booth.  The Disney+ set-up included a stage at it’s center with kiosks lined up at it’s front, flanked by costume displays for two of the platform’s most anticipated launching programs (the Star Wars series The Mandalorian and the Lady and the Tramp remake) and demo rooms on either side of the stage.  This booth was clearly built to be the star attraction of the show floor.  The stage was there to host both demonstrations as well as interviews with special guests.  There was even a special press balcony located over one of the demo rooms for even more space to conduct special press coverage and interviews throughout the day.  The kiosks out front were there for guests to take advantage of a special offer.  Just for guests at the Expo, they would be able to sign up for 3 years of Disney+ for a 30% discount (roughly $4 a month) and in turn they would be made part of what Disney calls the Founders Circle, which got them an exclusive pin as a reward.  Just around the corner and on the backside of the Disney+ booth, were two other streaming platforms already available through Disney and are going to be available as part of a bundle with Disney+ in November; Hulu and ESPN+.  Hulu’s booth featured artifacts from some of their exclusive programming on display (The Handmaid’s Tale and Castle Rock), while ESPN had sports memorabilia, including an entire wall devoted to the history of sneakers.

Being one of the first on the floor, I decided to take advantage of the short lines that would no doubt fill to capacity in an hours time.  Just so I could get it out of the way, I went over to this year’s Walt Disney Archives exhibit.  In past years, the Archives have displayed incredible artifacts from their vaults, like a collection of ride pieces from Disneyland attractions of the past, or the last Expo’s incredible exhibit devoted to Pirates.  This year, the exhibit was devoted to costuming, and in particular, they had it focused on Disney heroes and villains.  Dubbed Heros & Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume, this sprawling gallery contained original film used costumes from across the entire history of live action Disney films.  The first room, which worked as a bit of an introduction, was devoted to spotlighting some of the designers who have contributed to the Disney films that were going to be represented in this gallery.  Theses included Oscar winners like Sandy Powell and Coleen Atwood, who’s dresses for movies like 2015’s Cinderella and 2010’s Alice in Wonderland.  This space also replicates what their offices probably look like, with the results of their work (the costumes themselves) sitting within the center of the rooms.  After the introduction, the exhibit opens up into a wide open floor with the costumes lined up all along the walls.  From here, you will find costumes ranging from the witches dresses worn by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy in Hocus Pocus (1993); Tim Allen’s Santa outfit from The Santa Clause (1994); a dress worn by the legendary Bette Davis in Return to Witch Mountain (1978); and most prominently, many of the costumes from the several recent Disney remakes like Beauty and the Beast (2017) and Aladdin (2019).  Some of the most interesting sections of the gallery include a corner devoted to Mary Poppins, with the famous grey coat and flower hat worn by Julie Andrews in the original, flanked by two new dresses worn by Emily Blunt in the recent sequel.   There was also a large section devoted to the character of Cruella De Vil, with several dresses worn by Glenn Close in the 1996 remake of 101 Dalmatians on display.  In addition to the costumes, there was also the Cruella De Vil limousine from the movie sitting in the corner, which was one of the largest props put on display here, along with the golden pumpkin coach from the Cinderella remake.

After visiting the exhibit and getting my first look at this year’s show floor, I made my way back to the lobby to get ready for my top priority for this first day; seeing the Disney+ presentation in the expansive Hall D23.  Interesting enough, this afternoon slot on the Expo schedule used to go to the Animation Studios presentation, which this year got lumped together with the live action studios for the Disney Studios presentation on Saturday.  This once again shows how much Disney wants this Expo to spotlight their upcoming streaming platform.  The last of Hall D23’s standby for the Disney Legends were just getting seated around 10:30am, a half hour into the show, and then they finally opened up the line for those of us who were waiting for Disney+.  We were escorted down to Hall E in the basement, where the line was again split up into separate queues.  Being a D23 Gold Member, I was able to line up in a priority queue just for Gold Members, and since I was early enough, I was nearly at the front of the line.  I still didn’t know if it was a guarantee of having a seat, but to my incredible delight, Gold Members were seated even before those with online reservations.  As a result, once they started letting us in after a couple hours of waiting, I was able to get a fairly good seat.  Albeit, I was in a line for Section A, which is off-center from the main stage, but my seat put me fairly close to the screens that would be displaying all the exclusive footage.  Surprisingly, we were allowed to have our phones out for this show to capture the moments on stage as they happened, though security were around to stop people from video taping the exclusive footage.

So, to start of the show, we were treated to a live stage performance by the cast of the upcoming series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.  This hard to describe series takes place in a school that provided the shooting location of the original made for Disney Channel movie, and now the students there are putting on a staging of their own and that’s the plot of the series.  Hope you got all that.  Even still, the musical performance got the show off rolling and we were introduced to the MC of the presentation, Community star Yvette Nicole Brown.  Wearing a sparkling Disney+ shirt, she preceded to enthusiastically introduce all the many Disney executives and talent who were there to show off what we were expecting to find on the platform when it launches November 12.  After the High School Musical segment was complete, we moved right into Marvel’s slate of programming.  Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige walked out on stage to kick things off.  First off, we were given more detail about the exciting new animated series What If…?, which will be an anthology of multiverse variant stories with characters from across the Marvel Universe.  Many of the characters will be voiced by their original actors, with Jeffrey Wright debuting as a narrator character known as the Watcher.  Surprisingly they had finished animation to show us in a debut trailer.  Some of what we saw looked amazing, especially the hybrid CG/hand drawn style that is reminiscent of a comic feel.  The footage really spotlighted a story line where Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and not Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) gets injected with super serum and becomes Captain Carter instead.  After showing the clip, Feige welcomed Haley Atwell on stage, who seemed very excited to be returning to the role.  But Feige was not done.  He continued to talk about the shows already announced at Comic Con in July, including Loki, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and WandaVision.  Each time, he introduced cast members like Anthony Mackie, Sabastian Stan, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and a video greeting from Tom Hiddleston.  But after that, Feige surprised everyone by making three previously unknown show announcements that will be part of Marvel’s Phase 4.  They included Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, and She Hulk.  It’s nice to know that even with the huge comic con Marvel presentation that they still save some surprises for us at D23, and the Marvel presence on Disney+ is something to definitely be excited for.

So, after Marvel’s big showcase, the show moved on to non fiction programming.  First off was a new reality series starring everyone’s favorite celebrity weirdo, Jeff Goldblum.  His new show basically follows the Jurassic Park actor around as he tries new things and activities, all with his oddball personality providing much of the entertainment.  Goldblum of course was there to introduce the trailer, and as I was watching it, I couldn’t help but wonder why no one though of a show like this before, because it looks like a lot of fun.  Afterwards, actress Kristen Bell arrived on stage to talk about a reality series that she’s producing called Encore.  In the show, people who had stage performing backgrounds from high school are given a chance to return to the stage and put on a musical after many years having not performed.  After this, we saw a first look at a special secret project that Disney had been working on which is a documentary series called One Day at Disney, which follows around several employees of the Walt Disney Company, from animators to theme park cast members and chronicles a day in their life.  After this, the presentation moved on to feature films, where we saw sneak peaks of young adult and children films called Star Girl and Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made.  Primary among the feature films however was the premiere of the trailer for Disney’s Lady and the Tramp live action remake.  And, as we learned after, MC Yvette Nicole Brown has a role in the film as Aunt Sarah, and she walked on stage with the real life dogs who portray the characters Lady and the Tramp in the movie, one of which she has adopted herself

However, Disney knew what to close out this presentation with in a strong way, and we segwayed into the platform’s lineup of Star Wars programming.  Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy walk out on stage to deliver all the announcements.  She started off by saying that all previous and future Star Wars films would be available to watch on Disney+, and then she talked a little about the upcoming revival of the beloved Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series.  After this, she then told us that they are currently working on a brand new series spun off of Rogue One, specifically centered on the characters of Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna) and imperial droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk).  Both actors came out on stage and within seconds just started riffing off one another, showing their strong chemistry that they hope to continue in the show.  After that we arrived at the most anticipated new show on Disney+, and perhaps the most anticipated program to launch on the platform period; The Mandalorian.  This new show, created by director Jon Favreau, explores the years after the fall of the empire in Return of the Jedi (1983), and shows the lawlessness that comes in it’s wake; in particular, focusing on bounty hunters that roam the galaxy.  The show focuses on a Mandalorian, the same race that Boba Fett is derived from, and shows him navigating his way through this new world order within the Star War’s galaxy.  Favreau appeared on stage and welcomed the cast which included Pedro Pascal as the Mandalorian himself, Gina Carano, Carl Weathers, Giancarlo Esposito, and Taika Waititi.  They all talked about how excited they are to be in this show, with Favreau also expressing how much he wanted to make this into a series, going as far back as when he was working on Iron Man (2008).  They then showed us a first look trailer, and I can tell you that it looks really good and is something that I can’t wait to see.  This was the last part of the show, but Kathleen Kennedy remained on stage to deliver one last surprise.  She then welcomed actor Ewan MacGregor on stage.  Despite many a rumor, this was the big confirmation that MacGregor will indeed be returning to the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in his own Disney+ series, which he seemed very excited about.  And with plus sign confetti raining down from the ceiling, Yvette Nicole Brown brought the show to a close.  So, with Day 1 complete, I managed to successfully attend at least one of the must see presentations.  But, as I’ve learned in years past, it’s the Saturday morning show that would become the biggest challenge to attend.

DAY #2 (AUGUST 24, 2019)

Showing just how much bigger this Expo has become over the year, just as I exited the Convention Center there was already a lengthy line going from the security gates all the way down Katella Avenue to the very next intersection half a mile away.  You can bet that I got right back in that line.  After a few hours, they started letting us reenter past the security gates and back to the Convention Center itself.  I got back into Hall E at about 11:00pm, four hours later, and was about to spend the next 10 hours waiting for the hotly anticipated Disney Studios presentation.  It was hard getting a little shut-eye while laying on the cold concrete floor, but I was ready for what was next.  I had my Gold Member place saved in line and that gave me the peace of mind that I was going to get in.  At around 9:00am, we finally started seating and I can tell you that it filled up to capacity very quickly.  My seat was not as close as it was for Disney+, but it was at a distance that I could still see enough.  After a short sizzle reel, the show began and Studio chairman Alan Horn walked on stage to begin the presentation.  Surprisingly, one thing that they have saved for Expos in the past was used as their opener this time around; Star Wars.  The finale to the 40-plus year Skywalker Saga as it is known now comes out this December with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and it was the primary thing that was going to be talked about with regards to Star Wars.  Kathleen Kennedy once again took the stage and she welcomed director J.J. Abrams on to talk a little about the film.  He spoke about the incredible pressure he now has to close out this long ongoing story, and how excited he was to be working on it.  He also spoke about the important impact that the late great Carrie Fisher had on his experience making Star Wars.  Later, cast members Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, and Billy Dee Williams came out on stage to talk about the movie.  After that, the very anticipated premiere of the new trailer came on screen, and we got a major surprise at the very end that quite literally stunned the entire 7,000 strong crowd of Hall D23.

After that, we launched right into Marvel’s section of the show, again surprising given that they were the closer of the last Expo’s presentation.  This year, there wasn’t much for Marvel to present.  We are past Infinity War and Endgame, and much of the upcoming stuff is either too far down the line or is coming to Disney+.  Kevin Feige did come on stage with one major announcement, and to help him with it, he welcomed director Ryan Coogler.  Coogler was there to announce that Black Panther II is in the works, and though he couldn’t detail anything (not even the official title) he still was able to tell us the premiere date; May 6, 2022.  Afterwards, Feige began to talk about the very next Marvel film currently in production; Black Widow.  Star Scarlett Johannsen, and co-stars David Harbour and Florence Pugh were unable to attend but they did send us a video greeting from the set.  Afterwards, we got to see the first available trailer footage of the movie, which looked quite good.  It had a nice Jason Bourne feel to it, which does make it feel different as a Marvel film.  There’s also a cool and brutal fight scene between Black Widow and her sister (Pugh).  After that, Kevin Feige talked about the next film in their calendar, Eternals.  No footage was shown, but he did welcome the cast on stage, which included Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Dong-seok Ma, Lauren Ridloff, Selma Hayek, Lia McHugh, Barry Keoghan, and Angelina Jolie.  Feige also confirmed that Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington was joining the cast, though he himself was not at the Expo.  And, just as the cast members were about to leave, the screen above revealed the first official image of them in costume.

After Marvel, the focus shifted to Disney Studios proper, and we were about to learn more regarding the upcoming live action remakes in the Disney pipeline.  One was for the upcoming origin film called Cruella, which of course follows the early years of the beloved fur coat obsessed baddie, Cruella De Vil.  The film’s star, Emma Stone, couldn’t be there but she recorded a greeting for us, which included a bit where she bickers with one of her Dalmatian co-stars.  We were then shown the first ever image of what Emma Stone will look like as the character.  Following that, we were treated to a more in depth look at the upcoming remake of Mulan.  The film’s director, Niki Caro, came on stage to talk a little about the movie, including what drew her to the story and why she felt it was important to tell it in this certain way, which is closer to the original legend.  We were then treated to an extended scene from the movie itself, which shows Mulan’s encounter with a Matchmaker.  The movie looks visually impressive and my hope is that it reverses the downward trend that these remakes have been taking.  The next project discussed was the movie adaptation of the Disneyland ride, Jungle Cruise, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt.  Both came on stage in spectacular fashion, Johnson riding on a replica of a Jungle Cruise boat and Blunt in a fancy old fashion convertible.  They clearly wanted to show off their on screen chemistry, and it was fun to see them share playful jabs at each other.  They even debuted competing trailers as well.  After this, we moved into the animation side of the presentation.  First up was Pixar, with new Studio chief Pete Doctor taking the stage.  He was excited to show the two new films coming in 2020 from the studio.  First up was the less known about film called Soul.  We learned that the movie is set in a world where a person’s soul first forms a personality before a person is born; an interesting Inside Out-like concept.  The movie centers around a wannabe jazz musician who finds himself body-less at the worst time.  We were then introduced to the voice cast, led by Jaime Foxx and Tina Fey.  Given how nothing was known about this movie beforehand, it was nice to finally have the exciting revelations about this movie come to light.

Afterwards, the focus shifted to Pixar’s very next film, Onward.  the film’s director Dan Scanlon arrived to talk a little more about the plot, which uses the premise of fantasy creatures in a modern, suburban setting to tell the story of two elf brothers.  He then welcomed the voices of the characters on stage; Tom Holland and Chris Pratt.  These two probably got the biggest rock star ovation out of the entire show, especially for Holland who has had to go through this week with his future in the Spider-Man franchise going through a huge upheaval, which is currently now over between Sony and Marvel as of this writing.  They showed us a few extended clips from the movie, which shows quite a bit of plot details, and so far it looks like yet another Pixar flick with a lot of laughter and tenderness attached to it.  Before they left the stage, Holland addressed the audience saying how grateful he was to the fans through such a “strange week,” and he concluded by using a line from Iron Man himself in Endgame; “I love you 3000.”  After that genuine moment, we moved on to Disney Animation to finish the show.  Here they were able to announce for the first time their next film after this year’s Frozen II, titled Raya and the Last Dragon.  This film takes place in a world inspired by the culture and folklore of Southeast Asia.  The showed us a beautifully animated clip, which gave us a glimpse of what we were going to see.  After this, they welcomed on stage the voice actors of the film, Cassie Steele (Raya) and Awkwafina (the Last Dragon), both of whom were excited to be a part of the movie.  Finally, the film closed out with a look at this year’s upcoming Frozen II.  Director Jennifer Lee, whose also now the head of Disney Animation, welcomed two new cast members to the stage, Sterling K. Brown and Evan Rachel Wood.  We were then treated to an extended sequence which premiered a brand new song that will be in the movie.  As a finale for the entire show, we were then treated to a live performance by original cast members Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad, who sang another brand new song for us.

This would be the biggest show of the entire Expo, and no doubt, what we saw was going to be the talk throughout the rest of the day on the show floor.  As we exited, they handed out a pack of three exclusive mini posters, including a very exciting one for Rise of Skywalker.  Because I now had the biggest must see of the Expo out of the way, I was able to relax and enjoy the show floor for the rest of the day.  One thing that I was able to try out that was new was the Gold Member lounge in the north end of the hall.  There, I could line up to spin a prize wheel, which utilizes the new RFID technology that they programmed into our pass badges.  In addition, there were refreshments and seating available for us members who just wanted to have a relaxing place to rest.   I also got to spin a prize wheel at the nearby Marvel booth, which I have to say was laid out much better this year than at the last Expo.  Two years ago, Marvel had this tiny corner booth that caused major traffic jams throughout the day.  This year, they had a huge booth that could accommodate large crowds, which was a major improvement.  Speaking of Marvel, I finished out the day by attending a panel in the smaller venue of Stage 28, located on the third floor, that was centered on the full 80 history of Marvel Comics.  The panel was hosted by Marvel editor-in-chief C.B. Cebulski and executive editor Tom Brevoort, and they gave a fascinating overview of the history of Marvel, from it’s early years, to the Stan Lee years, to it’s current time alongside the massive cinematic MCU.  One hilarious moment occurred when Brevoort mentioned their partnership with Sony, which illicited boos from the very pro-Disney crowd.  The two made this a great and informative panel and they informed us that as we all leave, we’d be receiving a copy of the upcoming Marvel Comics #1000, with an exclusive variant cover showing Mickey Mouse appearing with the iconic characters of Marvel; a first in the comic’s history.  After this tiring day, I thankfully had a hotel room to go back to and get myself prepared for the final day ahead.

DAY #3 (AUGUST 25, 2019)

Even with the busiest stuff behind me, I still got myself over to the Convention Center fairly early.  Arriving well before sun up, I headed to Hall E to get in line for the morning presentation of the Disney Parks presentation; the last of my must sees of this Expo.  And just like the last two days, my over-preparedness got me in a good position to have a guaranteed seat at the show.  We were brought in around 9:30am and the room still filled up to capacity.  The show began with Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Bob Chapek taking the stage.  He first discussed the successful debut of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland over the summer and was eager to see the debut in Disney World in the days ahead.  We were treated to an exciting sneak peak of the next big addition to Galaxy’s Edge which opens early next year; the E-Ticket ride known as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.  After that, he welcomed different team leaders working on projects across the globe at all their different resorts.  One of the most intriguing was a new Star Wars themed resort coming to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  The exciting aspect of this resort is how it’s themed.  Apparently it’s going to create the experience of travelling on a cruise vessel in Space, themed to the Star Wars universe.  The ship itself is dubbed the Halcyon, at it will be home to a two day experience where your stay will be very much like a cruise itinerary, complete with Star Wars themed experiences.  After this, the presentation then began to talk about the exciting new Marvel themed land coming to Disney’s California Adventure.  Currently under construction, the land will have the name Avengers Campus, and will feature new attractions and experiences featuring the likes of Spider-Man (yes, the movie deal dilemma does not affect the theme parks), Ant Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther and others.  Placed right next to the already open Guardians of the Galaxy ride, this land will give visitors the immersion into Marvel story-lines that they’ve long wanted to have in the parks.  To conclude the segment, they revealed that this place would also be home to another E-Ticket attraction themed to the Avengers movies themselves.

After those announcements, the presentation moved on to the thing that was going to take up the biggest chunk of the show, which was the vast re-structuring of the Epcot park at Disney World.  We learned that the section of Future World was going to be re-branded into three new sections:  World Celebration, World Discovery and World Nature, which all fits with the branding of the northern section of the park known as World Showcase.  Celebration will see the biggest change to the park’s map, as half of the Innoventions buildings will be removed to be replaced with new gardens and fountains themed around the movie Moana (2016), and it’s connection to the life of water.  Spaceship Earth will remain the park’s central icon, but the ride it houses will see significant improvements.  At the northern end will be a three story structure that will house a garden on it’s roof, which will provide a breathtaking view of the park surrounding it.  The currently vacant Wonders of Life building in the World Discovery section will finally see something installed, which will be themed into a Play pavilion, boasting games and other activities.  Next door, currently under construction, there will be a Guardian of the Galaxy themed ride inside the former Universe of Energy pavilion, which will feature a new roller coaster technology that pivots the vehicles towards show scenes, and will feature a reverse launch.  It will be called Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.  Finally, they talked about the World Showcase, where the pavilions celebrate countries all over the world.  The previously talked about Ratatouille ride coming to the French pavilion was detailed a bit more, but what they spotlighted next became one of the show’s highlights.  Suddenly chimney sweeps rushed onto stage to perform the song “Step in Time” from Mary Poppins (1964), and at the very end, legendary Poppins star Dick Van Dyke appeared on stage.  The 93 year old actor was all smiles at the standing ovation he received and he happily announced that a Mary Poppins attraction was coming to the United Kingdom pavilion at Epcot.  A lot of stuff they showed was exciting, but it makes it even better when you’ve got an icon on stage to deliver it.

It should also be noted that they also announced a new partnership with Target, as Disney is now going to introduce special Disney Store sections to the big box store giant.  As a special gift to those of us in the audience in recognition of this partnership, we were given $10 Target gift cards as we left the show, with one special guest luckily gifted with a $2300 card for a Target shopping spree.  It wasn’t me unfortunately, but I’ll happily take a $10 gift card.  With the third and final big show now complete, nothing was left but to enjoy the rest of the show floor.  I made my way through all the remaining booths that I had yet to experience.  There was a neat little one dedicated to Disney on Broadway, which gave guests a VR experience.  After this, I also went to the Team of Heroes booth, which allowed you to create a Marvel themed gift bag that would go to a sick child in hospitals across the country, with a Disney Volunteer sticker given out to show Disney’s appreciation.  I also took in the Disney animation booth, which feature life sized figures of characters from Frozen, Toy Story 4, as well as a life size recreation of the van featured in the movie Onward, which was a very popular photo spot.  I did get in one final panel inside the spacious D23 Expo Arena.  There we were treated to a panel about The Art of Disney Storytelling.  Hosted by John Stamos and his wife Caitlin McHugh, the panel talked about the approach all the different departments of the Disney company takes to tell stories that connect with people.  Panelists included long time Disney story artist Floyd Norman (one of the first African-American animators who worked for Disney), producer Don Hahn, Imagineer Tony Baxter, and story artist Paul Briggs, who directorial debut, Raya and the Last Dragon was announced the morning before.  It was an informative panel, and gave us an interesting look into the working process that all these icons of their craft go through in order to deliver something that will appeal to everyone.  After that panel, nothing was left but to walk the floor and take in one last trip around the floor before the final minutes struck down.

And so there you have my experience at this year’s D23 Expo.  I’m overall pleased with my experience and especially happy that my years of experience have helped me become an expert in preparedness for this whole thing now.  There were some things that would have liked to have seen that I sadly missed out on.  One was a Haunted Mansion 50th Anniversary celebration in the D23 Expo Arena, which sadly filled up before I could make my way over to it, due to the Saturday Morning Disney Studios presentation going 30 minutes over schedule.  I also didn’t get to see a panel devoted to The Simpsons, a rare presence at this Expo for Fox related properties.  Perhaps it’s too soon after the completion of the Fox/Disney merger, but there was very little of the Fox Studio present at this Expo.  Perhaps, and hopefully, that will change in future Expos, but as for now, The Simpson were the ones carrying that Fox banner into this new era at Disney as part of this Expo.  In general, I was pleased with how well organized this Expo turned out to be.  The online reservations in no way ruined the experience, and in fact resulted in not much change overall.  Hopefully they can revise the reservation process in the future, but it wasn’t the cumbersome disaster that I was worried that it was going to be.   And just like past Expos, it’s still hard to fit in everything even over 3 days.  There’s just so much to occupy yourself with.  Maybe it’s because priority one for me is to get into the big Hall D23 shows, which involves me waiting for significant amounts of time in line.  If I focused on other things like shopping, I might have spent more time on the show floor, but shopping at the stores, which were quite busy throughout the Expo, was never high on my list.  So, I can say unequivocally that I had an excellent time at this year’s D23 Expo.  I hope that Disney continues to give make this celebration a special thank you to all the fans out there.  As the company grows even bigger, the more elaborate this Expo has gotten, and it will be interesting to see what it will look like at the next one in 2021, or even the 2023 Expo, which will mark the Disney Company’s 100th anniversary.  In any case, 2019’s D23 Expo was enormously satisfying and I’m glad I went once again.  Keep making the magic happen Disney.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland – Film Exhibition Report

When movies have blockbuster openings, it’s no big deal, because that’s always been a part of the business.  But, when the opening of a new attraction at an amusement park starts to take on the same characteristics, that’s when people begin to take notice.  And those moments usually coincide with something movie related as well.  Of course, the ones who really brought the worlds of theme parks and cinema closer together to begin with was the Walt Disney Company, with their groundbreaking Disneyland.  Though not all of the attractions in their parks have a correlating film that inspired it, there is a fair amount of their rides and attractions that do; and in a couple cases the rides inspired their own movies.  For the most part, Disney has used their own properties as the basis for theme park attractions at Disneyland, but in the mid-80’s, they brought an outside source into the park for the first time.  Looking to replace their aging Tomorrowland attraction Adventures Thru Inner Space with something more technologically advanced (in this case, based on flight simulator technology), they struck upon the idea of basing the new ride around the blockbuster Star Wars trilogy.  However, Star Wars was not a Disney property (at the time) and they needed to convince the series creator, George Lucas, that Disneyland was the best possible home for an attraction based on his franchise.  Luckily, Lucas agreed, choosing Disneyland over other movie based amusement parks like Universal Studios, and the landmark deal would lead to the creation of the popular ride known as Star Tours.  Star Tours opened in 1987, and has continued to occupy it’s place in Tomorrowland successfully for over 30 years.  It’s success even convinced Lucas to bring his other major creation, Indiana Jones, to Disneyland with an even more advanced park attraction placed in Adventureland.  But, with the $4 billion sale of George Lucas’ properties to the Disney company in 2012, Disney felt that just one ride wasn’t enough to make effective use of Star Wars in their parks.  So, at the D23 Expo in 2015, Disney CEO Bob Iger made the huge announcement that Disneyland was not only getting more Star Wars in the park, but that it would be getting a whole land to itself.

Thus began a four year long construction project that literally reshaped the map of Disneyland.  The Rivers of America, a central body of water that encompassed a quarter of the park’s footprint and has existed unchanged since Disneyland first opened, was shortened by nearly half in order to fit the new land in the back corner of the Disney property.  The Disneyland Railroad that encircles the entire park had to be rerouted for the first time in 60 years, and was out of commission for a year and a half as the first leg of construction commenced.    The new boundaries were completed in the summer of 2017, but even still, a whole 2 more year were still needed to complete what lied beyond it.  One of the impressive feats of engineering from Disney’s Imagineering team is that not a single glimpse of the Star Wars Land construction could be seen from any vantage point beyond the boundary; not even from the elevated Railroad line.  The only glimpses inside could be found from the top of the second lift hill on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller-coaster, and even then you had only seconds to make out any details.  Disney kept the details of their mega-expansion a closely guarded secret, hoping to build up the hype as opening day loomed ahead.  The lead up to opening day almost felt like the marketing for a new film in the Star Wars franchise, and indeed the hype proved to be almost exactly the same.  Closer to opening day, it was revealed that the first month of operation at Star Wars Land was only going to be open to those who set a reservation ahead of time.  The reservations sold out in only a short 3 hours, much like how advanced movie or concert tickets disappear in a blink and you’ll miss them amount of time.  Luckily, I was one of those lucky enough to land a reservation (albeit in the last available window), and with it I was able to get a stunning first impression that I’m going to share with you now in my first theme park report ever on this blog.  Usually I reserve these reports for film related exhibitions, but when it’s a new theme park land based around a single film franchise, and opens up with the same amount of hype that’s usually reserved for a cinematic experience, I feel that it should get the same attention here, so here is my first look at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Thankfully, being a Los Angeles based local with an Annual Pass to Disneyland, there was not much difficulty in getting to the park itself.  All I needed was the reservation, which itself was free on a first come first serve basis.  Everyone who registered in time was given the choice of a four hour block on any day between opening day on May 31 and the last day of reservations, June 23.  I got my time frame on the second to last day, June 22, in the middle of the afternoon.  Sadly it wasn’t sooner, but it did afford me a time frame during the peak sunlight hours, which was better for photography.  Once at the park, everyone with a reservation needed to check-in at the Star Wars Launch Bay, located in the old Carousel of Progress building in Tomorrowland, where they would receive their wrist band for entry.  After getting mine, I was told to arrive at the Critter Country entrance to the new land, which is one of three entries scattered throughout.  They had us enter through this way because it was the least crowded due to the fact that the westernmost section of Galaxy’s Edge is mostly vacant.  This is where the future ride called Rise of the Resistance is going to be located, but it is opening at a later date.   For now, it’s just filled with landscaping and a few full size recreations of Star Wars space ships.  It makes sense to hold the crowds of people waiting for their reservation blocks to start here before they’re all taken into the real heart of the land.  Once it became time to proceed into the land proper, we were welcomed to some truly spectacular sights.  Even before entering the land itself, I just found myself being wowed by the immense scale of what I was seeing.  Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge truly immerses you into this world.  It’s 360 degrees of Star Wars all around you, and that’s even before you enter the heart of the land.  One thing that should be noted is that this isn’t a Star Wars experience that is specifically drawn from the movies; there are few if any movie references at all in the park, apart from the ones that need to be there.  Instead, it’s all meant to be a world that exists within the Star Wars universe, but is it’s own world with it’s own story to tell.

The setting for Galaxy’s Edge is supposed to be the planet Batuu, a far flung world on the edge of the galaxy that has become a favorite outpost for interstellar travel in the Star Wars universe.  It’s a planet with climate not unlike Earth (how convenient), and it’s primary geological feature is what are known as the Black Spires.  The spires are large stone monoliths that jut up from the ground pretty much everywhere you look, and range in size from the trunk of a tree to colossal mountains in the distance.  These spires have given this particular location it’s name, which is Black Spire Outpost, which is a collection of shops and eateries all catered to serve travelers from across the galaxy.  It’s a simple, but effective backstory to explain the existence of this place in the Star Wars mythos, but even more impressive is the commitment that Disney put into making everything within part of the Star Wars world as well.  Everything, from the merchandise, to the food, to even the cast members who serve you inside the land are in character.  The Cast Members speak to you as if they exist in this world, calling guests things like “weary travelers,” and whenever you make a purchase, they ask for credits as opposed to dollars (it’s all the same by the way).  The merchandise even is made to be in-world, like something that was handcrafted by people in this universe, as opposed to manufactured for retail in stores everywhere else.  And the food of course has it’s own Star Wars characteristics, which I will talk about more later.  Overall, it’s a level of immersion that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in a theme park setting, especially to to this degree, and this more than anything is what is going to put Galaxy’s Edge into the history books when it comes to theme park entertainment.

But let me start to talk about the park itself in more detail.  From the moment you begin to reach the heart of the new land, you can see where the maximum effort of the Imagineering went.  The world evokes Star Wars, while at the same time introducing you to something new, and it all feels authentic.  One of the things that I have always admired about Disneyland is their ability to make something brand new feel like it has always belonged there.  This has to do with the great amount of detail that the park puts into making their structures look weathered and old, like they have stood in this spot for hundreds of years, despite the fact that they were only just built.  The Indiana Jones ride, for example, represents this, and that ride is only 25 years old, but it feels ancient.  Galaxy’s Edge does this too.  It’s all brand new, and yet you feel the history of this place with all the weathering and stains applied to the walls and all the props strung throughout.  The landspeeder props that I saw looked especially worn out, and that really helped to play into the immersion.  It makes sense that the land would have parts with a bit of a grungy look, because that was a characteristic of the original films that made them stand out.  It’s not a pristine, clean science fiction world; it’s a world littered with all sorts of clutter, which adds character and history to the world.  Not that this is an unsanitary environment (quite the contrary).  Every corner has a new story, from the power converters littered throughout the land, to the graffiti on all the walls, to the droids that are found up and down the avenues that sometimes interact with guests.  There honestly was no place around that didn’t serve well as a photo opportunity.  Immersion was the Imagineers goal, and they succeeded immensely.

But, of course, the big draw of any new land is the rides.  Surprisingly, given the big build-up to the opening of Galaxy’s Edge, the entirety of the land only has two rides to speak of, and one of them is still not ready to open.  So, Disney is banking heavily on the appeal of their one and only opening day ride at the park.  That ride goes by the name Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, and is naturally centered around the titular star ship.  Marking the only notable element from the movies to make it into the park, apart from the walk-around characters, the ride’s entrance is spotlighted with a full size recreation of the iconic ship.  This marks the first ever time that the Millennium Falcon has been fully and completely realized in true life, albeit as an environmental element and not as a real space ship.  The Falcon has only been presented on screen before as a scale model, or as a partial set.  But this Falcon is not smoke and mirrors; it is a fully built, true to scale model that you can walk all the way around and appreciate in all it’s detail.  Naturally, this was a popular photo spot for many, and I took my opportunity as well.  In addition to seeing the Falcon, the courtyard that surrounds it is also impressive in scale.  The facade of the ride behind the Falcon is huge (the tallest part of the land actually at over 100 ft. in height, and it’s here that you really appreciate the scale of this whole land.  The facade looms high and is easily the most impressive structural part of the entire land.  But this is only where the journey begins.  To the left of the Falcon is the ride’s entrance, which separates into three different queues for standby, Fastpass, and Single Riders.  The standby line takes guests into a garage area where it gradually ramps the line to an upper level.  In the center, you see a land speeder being worked on, and occasionally the voices of unseen mechanics are heard.  They discuss the different tests they are putting the speeder through, and the speeder prop will come to life during each test, helping to give people waiting in line something to look at during their wait.

At the second level, the line passes by large windows that look out at the Millennium Falcon.  From here, you can see all the rich detail put onto the roof of the Falcon prop below.  Past the windows is the first end point of the queue, where guests are split up into two groups and ushered into a large room.  On the upper part of the room, there is a very impressive animatronic character called Hondo Ohnaka.  Hondo is actually an established character in the Star Wars universe, appearing in the popular animated shows Star Wars: Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, and this marks his debut in a non-animated form; though his original voice actor, Jim Cummings, has still been carried over.  The animatronic is one of the most advanced to date, getting pretty close to life-like, and it’s very nice to see the attraction utilizing this tried and true theme park feature here.  He details the premise of the upcoming ride, that we’ve been selected as the crew for the Millennium Falcon, which has been loaned to us by Chewbacca himself for a special mission to smuggle a rare element out of the possession of the evil First Order.  After the intro, the two groups are taken down a corridor and are further split up into groups of six, each with their own color coded tickets.  Every guest is given a special task, to be either a pilot, a gunner, or an engineer.  Because I was riding by myself, I got engineer every time.  Past this point, the corridor opens up into a place that will be very special to Star Wars fans, a full recreation of the interior of the Millennium Falcon.  In this space, which looks very much like it was pulled right from the set of the movie, guests can lounge around until their color is called up by cast member.  Once that happens, they are taken to another corridor, which then opens into a recreation of the Falcon’s cockpit.  In the cockpit is where the actual attraction takes place, and it will feel familiar to fans of the Star Tours attraction as it utilizes pretty much the same kind of flight simulator technology.  The only difference is, everything you see in front of you is influenced by your actions within the cockpit.  There are buttons and levers all around the cockpit seats, and each one has a corresponding effect on what happens in the projected ride movie.  It’s essentially a life size video game, where you are in control of how well the mission goes.  The outcome and most of the twists and turns are pre-determined, but depending on how well you play along with all the buttons and levers, you can prevent things like crashing into the walls or how many TIE fighters you’re able to shoot down.  While not a particular game-changer, it’s still an enormously fun ride, and more than anything, it gives you the experience of flying the Millennium Falcon, which will be a dream come true for most Star Wars fans.

Because of the single rider option, I got in four rides total during my four hour block, which helped me get a good sense of all the random variations that can play out during the ride, as different groups present different levels of experience.  Thankfully, it also allowed me plenty more time to check out the rest of the land without worrying too much about getting through the centerpiece ride.  One of the other noteworthy things I checked out on my visit were the interiors of the different shops in the park.  The marketplace, just off to the side from the Falcon ride, was one of the most picturesque spots to be sure.  Looking like a Middle Eastern open-air bazaar, each little shop was unique in it’s own way, with merchandise only found in this area of Disneyland.  Because everything had to be “in-World,” all the merchandise has to fit that theme as well, and in place of all the plastic action figures found in Tomorrowland, here we had cloth dolls and wooden figures of all the famous Star Wars characters, like they were hand-crafted by someone familiar with the legends that have spread across the galaxy regarding these characters.  In the same spot, you could also find a place to buy your own Jedi robes, or a plus version of some of the famed Star Wars creatures.  Separate from the Marketplace is a bigger store called Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities.  Here you can find some neat looking Star Wars memorabilia, like carved busts of the famous characters, as well as other odds and ends like a replica of Yoda’s walking stick.  But the neatest feature is an animatronic figure of Dok-Ondar himself behind the cash registers, as he manages the store within his office.  All on the walls are other neat ornamentation like the head busts of some fearsome looking creatures.  Next door is an attraction that I’m sure will be a hit for many called Savi’s Workshop.  In their is a “Build Your Own Lightsaber” experience, where guests can piece together a high quality lightsaber piece by piece.  And when I say high quality, I mean $200 per person.  Since this was out of my price range, I decided to skip it.  I did get a glimpse of the Droid Depot experience nearby, where guests can build their own droids in a more affordable experience.  I didn’t participate in this either, but I saw what it looked like, and it took place in this neat little assembly line layout.  If anything, it’s neat to see Disney giving guests the opportunity to craft their specialty merchandise in addition to having them buy it.

Of course, in addition to shopping, every theme park land needs a good place to stop for refreshments, and Galaxy’s Edge has plenty of those as well.  There are the typical popcorn and bottled soda stands available, but even these are given the Star Wars twist.  The popcorn is specially colored and flavored, while the Coca-Cola product sodas are specially bottled in these Star Wars themed bottles that can be found only in this land.  The Coke bottle I bought had this ball grenade shape as opposed to the typical curved bottles found elsewhere.  It shows just how far they went with the theming to where even Coca-Cola had to redesign their products just to fit in.  The main restaurants are both located near the Falcon ride, the largest being Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo.  Docking Bay 7 is a counter service restaurant with neat interior design that makes your dining experience feel very in world.  Here, you find the interesting answer to something that I’m sure the Imagineers of Disney thought long and hard about; what would the food of Star Wars look and taste like.  In this restaurant for example, they serve up familiar dishes like barbecue ribs and chicken, but they are presented on the plate with this alien, Star Wars-y aesthetic.  I’m sure a lot of planning went into the design of each dish, making them look like they belong to this world, and though the aesthetic may be strange, the food is actually quite delicious.  Nearby, another restaurant called Ronto Roasters offers up a Star Wars spin on an old theme park standard; the hot dog.  Only here, the dogs are actually pork sausages wrapped in a pita bread.  Again, it looks alien, but is actually just a clever redressing of a familiar meal.  And the decor of Ronto Roasters is impressive as well, with a huge spit-roast barbecue pit as the centerpiece.  Something that might actually remind a lot of guests of the worlds of Star Wars is the famed milk seen in many of the movies.  You’ll find it available here as well at a Milk Stand within the First Order section of the land.  The stand serves up milk in a small plastic cup in two different colors, blue or green, and thankfully it’s processed there and not milked straight from the sea cow like Luke Skywalker did in The Last Jedi (2017).  The milk tasted fine (a slushy mixture of cream and lemonade), but it was a tad overpriced at $9 a cup.  Still, for those who wanted to know what the Star Wars characters had for their own sustenance, Galaxy’s Edge presents a very good idea of what it may be like.

Though I did get to see a lot, there was one big thing that I sadly missed out on.  It was the final eating establishment in the park called Oga’s Cantina.  In this place, from what I’ve observed from other accounts, is a bar like setting reminiscent of the Mos Eisley Cantina from the original movie.  Because of the limited capacity within the establishment, and the high demand from guests wanting to see it, they had to cut off return times for people waiting in line, and sadly I was one of those who unfortunately came too late.  I have seen some of the pictures of the interior, and it does indeed take heavy inspiration from the movie’s famous cantina scene, but doesn’t replicate it entirely.  The most notable difference inside is that in place of the cantina band, there is a DJ droid providing the music for the venue.  And not just any droid, but one re-purposed from Star Tours.  Before Star Tours had it’s refurbishment in 2011 to update it with a new randomized experience, each cabin that park guests would ride in would have a droid pilot guiding them through called R-3X, or Rex.  Voiced by Pee Wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens, Rex was a fixture of the ride until the update, when he was replaced with the more well-known C-3PO.  Though a couple Rex droids were placed as decoration in the new Star Tours queue, label with a defective sticker, it was still a loss to many long time fans of the ride who had grown attached to the one-of-a-kind character.  Thankfully, Imagineers found a way to bring the character back to life in Galaxy’s Edge by granting him a new job as the Catina’s DJ.  I don’t know if it’s one of the actual original droids from the ride, or if Paul Reubens reprised his role as the voice, since I didn’t get a close up look to tell if that was the case, but even still, I applaud Disney Imagineering for re-purposing something beloved from the old Star Wars attraction and paying homage to the franchise’s past as a part of the park’s overall history.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before I get a better look inside for myself.  Though I don’t drink alcohol myself, there are other options to indulge in there, including a larger portion of the milk served outside.  This also breaks a long standing rule set by Walt Disney himself to never have alcoholic drinks served in Disneyland itself, which is an interesting precedent to break.  All in all, at least now I’ll have something to look forward to for my next visit.

To sum it all up, the many years of waiting for this place to open were well worth it.  I was blown away by the absolute quality of craftsmanship put on here.  I think it makes sense to cover this as a part of my coverage of movies, because more than any other case I have found in theme parks I’ve visited, this is the best example of movies brought fully to life that I’ve seen.  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios is another impressive example, and I wish I had thought to cover that when it opened a couple years back here in Hollywood, but even still, the space used to create the world of Harry Potter doesn’t come close to being as big as what Disney used for Star Wars.  Galaxy’s Edge encompasses a staggering 14 acres, bigger than any land that has ever been added to any Disney park anywhere.  Even the impressive Cars Land across the way in Disney’s California Adventure park only filled out 12 total acres.  This is a mind-blowing accomplishment in theme park engineering, and we haven’t even seen it fully utilized yet.  I can’t imagine what there is left to see when Rise of the Resistance opens later this summer.  For now, I believe everyone will be content with what they’ll find on the other side of the walls separating Galaxy’s Edge from the rest of Disneyland.  What interests me now is what will happen to Star Tours now that Galaxy’s Edge is open.  The ride still exists, but seems a bit obsolete now that Star Wars has it’s own land on the other side of the park, and even a ride that shares a similar experience.  It may be only a matter of time before it is phased out and replaced, much like the ride it took over for.  It will be sad to see such a ground-breaking attraction see it’s final days, but it’s understandable at the same time.  Star Wars has a bigger piece of the park devoted to it now, and that means it’s place in Tomorrowland will ultimately be redundant.  Walt Disney always intended for Disneyland to be this ever-changing and evolving place, Galaxy’s Edge taking the place of Star Tours is another step in that evolution.  It’ll be interesting to see the ripple effect that comes from Galaxy’s Edge’s opening, not just for Disney but for theme parks in general.  Disney has again set the bar high, and this new land will be a benchmark in both theme park and cinema history for many generations to come.  So plan your visit soon and may the force be with you all.

TCM Classic Film Festival 2019 – Film Exhibition Report

Every mid to late Spring here in sunny Los Angeles the film industry usually takes a breather before it kicks into high gear for the Summer, but I have managed to find a special yearly event that hits the right sweet spot for cinephiles from all over here in town.  Turner Classic Movies has put on this annual Film Festival right in the heart of Hollywood, and I have been fortunate enough to not only be able to watch one movie there, but several, even in a single weekend.  It’s a great event for both industry insiders and casual fans alike to gather together and see all our favorite classic films in the way they were intended to be seen, on the big screen.  Every year, I watch a collection of movies that I’ve seen before but never on a big screen, and sometimes I manage to catch a movie that is completely new to me in the hopes of finding that new discovery.  In addition, TCM goes out of their way to bring the actual people involved with the making of these movies to appear and introduce the film we are about to see, making the experience all the more magical and worth the price of admission.  This is, however, a special year as the TCM Film Festival celebrates it’s 10th anniversary.  Playing within the same venues throughout it’s decade of operation (the theaters along historic Hollywood Boulevard), the TCM has grown steadily in popularity every year, and has also managed to get even better over time.  I’ve been fortunate to have caught the last 7 festivals, with this year being my 8th.  And each year, I’ve been topping my total number of films attended.  Even with the unexpected schedule conflict of Avengers: Infinity War keeping me from going on the first day, I still topped my record by seeing 9 films last year.  It’s quite the bump since my first year, when I only saw the one.  Thankfully, Avengers: Endgame is still two weeks off, so I have a pretty good chance of hitting the double digits for the first time this year.

This year, to keep my thoughts and reactions fresh for all of you reading, I will be covering this year’s festival again live as I’m attending.  With updates on each previous day’s experiences throughout the weekend, my hope is to give you an accurate first hand experience of this festival, hopefully encouraging those reading this live in the Los Angeles area to at least give it a look while it’s still going on.  I’ll be sharing all the sights and sounds of my festival experience, telling you what I saw, who I saw, and just anything interesting that I end up seeing throughout the festival.  I’ll even try my best to include pictures along the way, depending on how well my phone’s camera processes them.  One of the most interesting new things about this year’s festival is the addition of a new venue.  This year, films will be screened for the first time at the nearby landmark Hollywood American Legion Post 43 facility.  This art deco styled structure has served the Hollywood Veteran community for many years, and it’s great to see them open their doors to festival goers to watch movies in their well furnished auditorium.  Hopefully, if things turn out well, I’ll be able to include a screening here as part of this year’s festival.  It’s neat to see yet another historic landmark celebrated alongside the Egyptian, the Chinese, the Cinerama Dome, and all these other monuments to cinema, which is another thing that sets this festival apart.  So, with intros out of the way, let’s enjoy this 10th TCM Classic Film Festival.

APRIL 11TH, 2019 (DAY 1)

The afternoon launch of the festival thankfully coincided well with my work schedule, so I arrived just as things were getting started. As they’ve done the past few years, the Festival is launched with a special red carpet screening in the primary venue of the TCL Chinese Theater. This one is limited only to special guests and the highest level pass-holders. Because of that exclusivity, every red carpet screening have to be a special one. Last year marked an even more special event for guests, because it marked the first presentation of the Robert Osborne Award. This newly christened honor is going to be given out each year to a recipient whose work toward preserving and promoting classic movies deserves special distinction. Named after the late TCM host, the first year’s honorees was director Martin Scorsese, who was introduced by actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Of course, this is the special kind of exclusive event deserving of the red carpet treatment, and I’m sure that anyone who attends these certainly gets their money’s worth. I haven’t quite reached that level yet, but there’s still plenty left to see at this Festival.

This year, the red carpet was rolled out for the 30th Anniversary screening of the classic romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally. In attendance for this special screening was not only the director, Rob Reiner, but also the film’s stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. From what I’ve read, this is the first time all three have appeared together since the film’s release, so for any long time fan of the film, this had to be a real once in a lifetime experience if they managed to get in to this screening. When, I arrived, the red carpet was still rolled out, and attendees were still walking up to The Chinese. As close as I could get was to the outer wings, where many other bystanders were looking over the barriers to see who was there. I was amazed to see how many people had dressed up for this. This is very likely the only screening at this Festival where this level of class was necessary. Inside, before the screening, the special guests sat down for an interview with TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz, whose schedule for the next few days is likely going to be full of these introductions. In addition to participating in this opening night show, the Festival also has a hand-print ceremony the following morning in front of the Chinese, where one of the night’s special guests gets to add their own mark to the other prints left in the famous theater’s front court. In this case, it’s Billy Crystal who has the honor. But, this is another event that I unfortunately cannot attend, so let’s begin talking about what I did see.

Running almost at the same time as When Harry Met Sally there were other screenings in the Chinese Multiplex next door. These smaller theaters have their own set of classic movies for the Festival, and usually they are of the hard to find kind. For instance, the first movie I ended up watching was a movie called Dark Passage (1947) which was a Bogart and Bacall movie that I’d never even heard of before. After their breakthrough films like To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946), Warner Brothers sought to capitalize on this dynamic film partnership that turned into a real life romance, and this film was one of those results. The movie was introduced by Eddie Muller, who is the host and curator of TCM’s bloc of film noir centered programming called appropriately enough, “Noir Alley”. Muller is ideally suited to introduce a film like Dark Passage because it is quintessential noir. He told us a lot of interesting behind the scenes tidbits, such as the fight that producer Jerry Wald has with Jack Warner over the plan to hide Humphrey Bogart’s face for a third of the movie. It’s an unusual storytelling device, especially given Bogart’s star power, but it makes sense in the context of the film. Muller also talked about the author, the music and all the other things that made this movie stand out in it’s time. As noir films go, it’s a really unusual one, and that’s saying something. This is the kind of movie I especially love to find at these festivals, because they are what you’d call the discoveries. So, with one movie down, it was off to the next.

Since I missed out on one of the special nitrate screenings last year at the Egyptian Theater, I figured it was best to not waste any time this year. With a short two block walk down Hollywood Boulevard, I made it to my next show with plenty time to spare. The Egyptian, operated by American Cinemateque and soon to be under the ownership of Netflix, specializes in screenings of all film formats, and especially with the very rare screenings of the extremely volatile nitrate film stock. For this particular showing, we were being treated to a presentation of the classic Cary Grant screwball comedy The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1948), co-starring Myrna Loy and a teenage Shirley Temple. This was yet another movie I had yet to see, so watching it both on the big screen and with a rare nitrate print was especially fortunate. Even more remarkable, as we the audience learned from the brief introduction, this print not only came from the Academy archive, it was also donated to them by Shirley Temple herself. The movie is lighthearted fluff, but it’s a great showcase for both Cary Grant and Shirley Temple’s incredible on screen charisma. With that, my first night comes to a close, and after working my morning shift in my day job, I’ll be back and ready for day 2.

APRIL 12, 2019 (Day 2)

While cutting it close coming here directly from work, I still managed to get into my first movie of the night. Making my way to the Chinese Multiplex in the Hollywood and Highland Center I got in line for the early evening screening of Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973). The French New Wave classic is Truffaut’s ode to the process of film-making, pulling back the curtain to show the behind the scenes dramas that take place around a film set. For this screening, the film was proceeded by a special pre-show interview with the film’s star Jacqueline Bisset. Talking with Noir Alley’s Eddie Muller once again, the interview was a nostalgic journey through Ms. Bisset’s long career, and in particular, her experiences working on Day for Night. She described what it was like working with Truffaut, with the cast members, and how making films in France was so different from how they are made in Hollywood. One of her most amusing anecdotes was about the confusion they had on set because of the way it was a movie about making a movie. Because Truffaut played the part of the director himself, the cast sometimes were confused about whether he had called “cut” for real, not knowing if the scene was in fact finished. Jacqueline was very gracious in her recollections, and it was a treat to hear her stories before the movie began, especially with the context that her own behind the stories offered. And after this, it was time to head over to the Chinese for the night’s premiere screening.

Over in the Chinese, this second night was reserved for a special 30th Anniversary screening of Spike Lee’s now legendary Do the Right Thing. Introduced by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz, it was especially pointed out that this movie was a product of it’s time, but also just as timely today as it was then.  Ben’s introduction was followed up with an interview with three ladies who were very important to the making of the movie.  One was casting director Robi Reed, costume designer (and recent Oscar winner for Black Panther) Ruth E. Carter, and actress Joie Lee who played the part of Jade in the film, and who is also Spike Lee’s real life sister.  All three had many wonderful insights about their experiences working on this film, as well as taking a moment to reflect on the movie’s important impact in both cinema and society.  Joie had the most interesting reflections about what it was like working with her brother, who she acknowledged could be a handful at some points, but always respectful of those who worked on his films.  Ruth discussed the very crucial aspects of the film’s making, including the steps they took to make the feel of a scorching hot day come through in the wardrobes of all the characters.  And Robi Reed discussed how the amazing ensemble cast was formed, which included legendary performers like Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, some of Lee’s favorite frequent cast members like Samuel L. Jackson and John Tuturro, as well as fresh newcomers whose careers were going to take off in the years ahead like Rosie Perez and Giancarlo Esposito.  The interview concluded with their thoughts about the recent Oscar win for Green Book, which none of the ladies were particularly happy about, especially given the fact that Spike Lee’s own film BlackkKlansman lost out to it.  Given that I share their same frustrations, this made me very happy to hear from them, because it needed to be said.  The movie was given a new 4K restoration in anticipation of a just announce Criterion release, and the film looks incredible, especially with the colors which really pop off the screen.  This concluded my second, short day of the festival, but starting tomorrow, it’s nothing but movies morning to night, with hopefully my first glimpse of the American Legion Post.

APRIL 13, 2019 (DAY 3)

If everything went off without a hitch, this would be a day where I could see as much as 5 films in a single day.  To start off this marathon, I arrived extra early to the Chinese Multiplex to see the the first film of the day.  This movie would end up being the 50’s technicolor Sci-Fi epic When Worlds Collide (1951), produced by special effects extraordinaire George Pal.  It fit with my goal this year to watch more newer movies than I have before, plus it was also short, which allowed me more downtime to breath between films.  The extra treat of this show was that it also included a brief interview with one of the film’s stars; the graceful Barbara Rush.  For someone who’s just turned 92 years old, she looked absolutely fabulous and is still in wonderful shape and spirits for her age.  She was interviewed by comedian and guest TCM programmer Dennis Miller, who you can tell is a fan of these classic Sci-Fi films from that era.  Both Miller and Rush had a fun, spirited discussion about the film, with Barbara remembering what it was like to work with her co-stars, as well as the many other projects she worked on before and since making this particular film, talking fondly about how her work has withstood the test of time pretty well.  She even talked about getting to work with giants like Marlon Brando and Paul Newman in other films later on.  After the interview, we were presented with a beautifully restored digital presentation of the film, which really brings the colorful cinematography to full brightness.  The film is what you’d expect, a cheesy relic of it’s time, but the audience was certainly appreciating it.  After that early morning start, it was off to one of my most anticipated moments of this festival; my first movie in the brand new venue.

In a two block walk up hill along the always busy Highland Avenue, the newest theater added to the festival’s venues is found.  The Hollywood Legion Post 43 is a stunning, but often overlooked landmark in this neighborhood of iconic structures.  The outside is this beautiful art deco facade, with plagues dedicated to all the servicemen who have been in charge of operating it over the years. Standing since 1929, the Post has served war vets of the Hollywood community for decades, and it’s members have included the likes of Clark Gable, Charlton Heston, and even Stan Lee.  Though the outside of the Post is impressive enough, it’s the inside that really inspires admiration.  After walking through the subtle but lofty atrium, two wooden doors open up to the structure’s most impressive feature, the auditorium.  Though not as lavishly ornate as the Chinese, the Legion Post’s expansive auditorium has this wonderful cathedral like elegance to it, with arched buttresses descending from the ceiling.  You honestly would never have expected this auditorium to have been this big based on the front facade.  I can see now why TCM wanted to add this to their list of venues, and I’m very glad that the Legion decided to open it’s doors to festival goers.  For a first time visitor like me, see this place in all it’s glory was definitely one of the highlights of this year’s festival.  The venue has always had a projection room, but has not screened films on a regular basis.  I’ve heard that this is about to change as the Legion is planning to have more film events in the future.

Interesting enough, my first experience in the Legion Post was not for a film, but rather a multimedia presentation, which is also part of the usual programming at each festival.  This one in particular was called Fox: An Appreciation.  Of course, the subject was the 20th Century Fox studio and it’s history, which was interesting to watch, notably after the finalization of Fox’s merger with Disney last month.  The presentation was put together and hosted by Fox archivist Schawn Belston, who not only gave us a very fascinating and broad in scope overview of the history of Fox, but he also told us a great deal about the incredible hard work it has taken to preserve all of these cinematic treasures over the years.  Between each point of his presentation, he would present a clip from each of the respective films in his discussion, and by showing all of them, you really get a great sense of the overall impact that Fox left on Hollywood throughout the whole history of cinema.  You sometimes forget how many great and important movies have come out of one studio, and from all different eras as well.  In the course of the 90 minute presentation, we saw the likes of Sunrise (1927), How Green Was My Valley (1941), All About Eve (1950), Cleopatra (1963), Planet of the Apes (1968), M*A*S*H (1971), Big (1988), Die Hard (1988) and Titanic (1997).  He also made special mention of the stars that put Fox on the map, like Henry Fonda, Marilyn Monroe and, of course, Shirley Temple.  It was a great presentation that really renews your appreciation for this once mighty studio.  It also made my first time at this new venue a pleasant one.

Heading back to Hollywood Boulevard, and after getting in a quick lunch, I arrived for my next movie at the Chinese Theater.  It was a screening of Mike Nichols’ 1988 film Working Girl, starring Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford.  The special guest for this screening is also spotlighted as one of the main honorees of this entire festival; veteran casting director Juliet Taylor.  A giant within the industry, Ms. Taylor has cast numerous films that have gone on to become classics, including numerous Woody Allen flicks, The Exorcist (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Terms of Endearment (1983) and Schindler’s List (1993).  For the screening of Working Girl, she was interviewed by actress Ileana Douglas, who asked her about the assembly of the film’s all-star cast.  She talked quite a bit about how she had to make the tough decision to change the casting of the male lead in order to meet the studio’s demands.  Originally, Alec Baldwin was cast opposite Melanie Griffith, but the studio wanted someone more established so they got Harrison Ford.  Baldwin graciously bowed out and took the smaller role of Griffith’s ex boyfriend, and she Taylor was told that her handling of the situation helped to make the transition smooth.  She also talked about how the movie helped launched both Griffith and Baldwin (who were still fairly green) into stardom, and helped establish Harrison Ford in a romantic comedy role, which he was not very well known for.  It made for a fascinating interview and it’s nice to see someone of Ms. Taylor’s significance getting the recognition that she has at this festival.

After that, I made my way back up to the Legion Post where my next film was. It was a screening of the classic William Wyler adaptation of Wuthering Heights (1939) starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon.  I’ve actually never seen this movie before in it’s entirety, so this was a perfect opportunity to do so.  Also, what also drew me to see this movie on this day was the fact that it was being presented by long time Jeopardy host, Alex Trebek.  Trebek recently announced that he is currently in treatment for very advanced cancer, so the fact that he’s made the time to attend this festival and participate in it as well is a really courageous thing to do on his part.  From what I saw, he seemed to be doing alright at this time, not showing any signs of his illness outwardly.  His introduction to the film was an excellent one, discussing his own personal connection to the film such as his first time watching it at a Drive-in theater in his native Canada, to visiting the English countryside that inspired the original book and the home of it’s author, Emily Bronte, with his wife many years back.  It remains one of his favorite movies, and you could tell that talking about this movie meant a lot to him.  As he finished and left the stage, the audience gave him a spirited ovation, showing that they both appreciated his presence at this Festival, and that they are all wishing him the best of luck in the days ahead.

With four down, I had one more shot to make it a 5 for 5 day.  The only question was what was it going to be.  The choice was tough, because this night had two solid options; a screening of the original Star Wars (1977) in the Chinese Theater or a screening of Escape From New York (1981) in the multiplex, with director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell in attendance.  I initially decided on Escape from New York, because it’s yet another movie I haven’t fully seen plus, it had the bonus of the two main people responsible for it there, including the reclusive Carpenter.  Unfortunately, the film sold out very early; even pass-holders were turned away, because the demand was so high.  So, I tried my back-up option of Star Wars, which was thankfully still seating.  Though I came halfway through the opening discussion, I was still able to get a glimpse of the special guests at the screening.  In attendance were sound designer Ben Burtt, Visual Effects Artist Dennis Muren, and Special Photographic Cinematographer Richard Edlund.  They of course were talking about the ground-breaking visual effects used in the movie, and how much they have gone on to shape the way movies are made today.  Right before the end of the discussion, Ben Mankiewicz asked each one to list how many Oscars each of them have won, and the tally goes Burtt: 4, Murren: 8, and Edlund: 4.  That’s an incredible 16 Oscars between all of them, and Star Wars is what initially propelled their rise in the industry.  Though I have seen Star Wars many times before, I’ve never seen it projected on a big screen.  And let me tell you, it’s an incredible experience.  Also, seeing it in the same theater that it had it’s premiere over 40 years ago gave me a real sense of what that first night must have been like.  Though it was my back-up, I have to say this was one of the highlights of my festival so far, and with one day left, it was a great way to finish my most robust day ever at the TCM Film Fest.

APRIL 14, 2019 (DAY 4)

Three days into the festival, and I’ve already tied my best number to date, so everything today is icing on the cake.  I got up again for an early start (with only about 5 hours of sleep after Star Wars ran past midnight) and made my way to the Chinese for film number one.  This was a 50th anniversary screening of the lavish Gene Kelley directed musical Hello, Dolly (1969).  The film was a financial disaster when it was first released, mainly because of cost overruns and the fact that it came out too late to capitalize on the brief rise of widescreen epic musicals of the 1960’s.  In the years since, it has found a following and has turned a modest profit for it’s studio, 20th Century Fox.  One of those who’s deeply devoted to the movie is super fan Christopher Radko (the guy behind the Christmas Ornaments), who was the special guest at this screening.  He talked about how much the movie has left a big impression on him, to the point where he now lives in the town of Garrison, NY, where much of the on location shooting was done.  He also talked about the special anniversary festival in Garrison to mark the start of the film’s production in their town that he got to plan himself.  Like Star Wars the night before, this is another movie that benefits from showing on the biggest screen possible.  Though the movie does have many flaws, it’s lavishness is impressive to look on on a screen that can contain it’s full majesty.  It makes you long again for a time when movie musicals had this much ambition behind them, but then again it’s that same ambition that made these kinds of movies too expensive to produce after a while.

After Hello, Dolly, I got right back in line for the next showing in the Chinese theater.  This next film is one that I’m perhaps the most ashamed to confess that I haven’t watch the whole way through before.  That film is the now universally beloved The Shawshank Redemption (1994).  This Oscar nominated film has eluded me, purely because I was looking for an opportunity like this one to finally watch; namely seeing it on a movie theater screen.  Shawshank has garnered this nearly unfathomable reputation as this absolute masterpiece, and I was worried that if I watched it the wrong way that it wasn’t going to live up to the hype.  So, thankfully, I now had the opportunity to see it for the first time all the way through in the right manner, and in the Chinese Theater no less.    To make the experience even better, director Frank Darabont was there to introduce the film beforehand.  Interviewed by Ben Mankiewicz, Darabont revealed many interesting details about the making of this movie, like how he turned down a huge sum of money for the script so that he’d be able to direct it himself, and also how the producer came up with the novel idea of casting Morgan Freeman in the part of Red, even though he was originally written as a Irish-American white guy.  He also talked about the challenges he had in adapting the original Stephen King novella, and how he was hesitant to include the film’s very upbeat ending at first.  It was very cool to hear the director’s own take before seeing the movie itself.  Though it’s not going to be anywhere near my all time favorite movies, I can definitely say that this is a movie deserving of it’s lofty reputation and I’m happy to have finally checked this one off my list.

Taking a longer lunch than usual, I was looking to close out my festival experience with just one more film.  I made my way over to Egyptian for their next showing, which was going to be a special type of program that occasionally is presented at the TCM Fest.  They were going to screen the Greta Garbo silent classic A Woman of Affairs, only instead of a pre-recorded soundtrack, it was going to be accompanied with a live, small orchestra.  The introduction was going to be made by critic Leonard Maltin and this year’s Osborne Award recipient, film Preservationist and Filmmaker Kevin Brownlow.  The orchestra would then perform under the direction of Conductor Carl Davis, who himself has composed new scores and orchestrations for many classic silent movies.  Unfortunately, this special presentation was in high demand, and it ended up selling out before the standby line where I was queued up in could be let inside.  So, I was left with two options, leave the festival early disappointed that I couldn’t get into my last show, or try to rush to another venue quick to watch one of the other film starting at the same time.  Strangely, I not only chose the latter, but I chose to rush over to the venue furthest away from the Egyptian; that being the Legion Post.  Even though I ran as fast as I could go, the movie had already started, and I missed out on the introduction done with comedian Mario Cantone and Jennifer Grant, daughter of Cary Grant.  Here, they introduced one of Cary Grant’s popular early screwball comedies, My Favorite Wife (1940).  Since I started my festival with another Cary Grant comedy, I guess it was fitting to end it with one too, and in the venue that was my favorite discovery of this entire festival.  An added plus, the movie was shown on 35mm film, which I know for sure because the projector has a malfunction during the showing.  As a past projectionist myself, I found this amusing since it’s the first time I’ve ever seen this happen at the festival, helping to reinforce the authenticity that we are given a true cinematic experience.  And thankfully, the malfunction was nothing serious.  So, after that, it was time to head home.  I could have fit in one more movie if I wanted to, but having already brought my number up to 12, I felt it was time to head home finally, feeling very satisfied.

With the long weekend finally behind me, I now have a full year to be ready for the next festival.  This was an extra special festival, because of the milestones it was hitting.  TCM as a broadcast channel is marking it’s 25th year of existence, with it’s founder Ted Turner being celebrated throughout the fest, especially for his long history of seeking to preserve and promote classic films.  And, of course this was the 10th year of the festival itself, which some of the TCM personal proclaimed excitement for in each of their presentations.  Some thought it might not last past the first year, so the fact that it’s still going ten years strong is something quite miraculous to many of them.  For me, I feel fortunate to have been living in Los Angeles long enough to have attended 8 out of the 10 festivals.  Though I started off slow, with maybe one movie a year the first couple times, I have continually become more and more determined to experience the full extent of the festival, and this year I managed to hit my best number yet.  I watch a whopping 12 movies in 4 days, and if I didn’t have to work Friday morning, I probably could have seen more.  What is especially great about these festivals is meeting complete strangers in line or sitting next to you in the theater and striking up a conversation out of a mutual love for the movie we were about to watch or for classic movies in general.  It’s a wonderful place for movie lovers of all kind to socialize and appreciate the true bonding experience that watching a film in a theater with an audience can be.  Not only that, but we get to watch these classics in living monuments to film history like the Chinese and the Egyptian.  I especially love that this year they added the Legion Post to the number of venues, because it’s a buried treasure that you didn’t know was hiding in Hollywood this whole time, unless you were already a member of the American Legion of Hollywood.  I’ve covered these festivals 6 times now for this blog, and this was indeed one of my favorites.  I hope that next year’s offers plenty more excitement.  I hope eventually I’ll get the point where I’m earning enough money to have a pass to some of the more exclusive events, but I’ve done alright with the standby lines to feel like I haven’t missed out too much.  Anyway, thank you for reading through my extensive coverage of this year’s festival and hopefully you’ll be back to read next year’s as well.

 

TCM Classic Film Festival 2018 – Film Exhibition Report

There are a lot of things that I love about living in the City of Angels called Los Angeles, but chief among them is the fact that I live only a stones throw away from the heart of Hollywood.  Hollywood of course is not definitively one singular place here in the Southland, but an industry spread across the whole city.  But when one refers to a place named Hollywood itself, it is often used to describe the stretch of road called Hollywood Boulevard between the intersections of Vine Street and Highland Avenue.  This is where you will find the world famous Walk of Fame which continues to draw tourists from across the globe.  And then of course, you have the legendary movie palaces of the El Captain, the Egyptian, the Cinerama Dome and the Chinese, which are probably the most famous movie theaters in the entire world.  World premieres are held in these venues, a tradition that dates back to cinema’s early days and continues up to right now.  They also have in recent years become the home to an annual event that helps to celebrate the wonder that is cinema in the place where it was born.  Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has over the last decade made their Classic Film Festival a special treat for those of us living and working in Los Angeles, giving us the opportunity to watch legendary and classic movies the way they were intended to be seen, on the big screen, and also be given the extra pleasure of hearing from the people involved with their making as special guests.  This year has been my 7th overall and 5th that I have covered for this blog, and every year I manage to improve my overall experience at the festival.  I’m attending more movies, planning my days out better so that I don’t miss the ones that I want to see, and checking off a lot more titles off the list of classic movies that I haven’t watched yet.

This year, I had to adjust a lot more of my planned schedule due to some unfortunate timing.  With Marvel’s early release of Avengers: Infinity War last week, I had to miss the opening night events in order to watch that movie instead so I could write my review.  Because of this, everything on this blog has been pushed back a week, including my full report of this festival.  It’s likely that I wouldn’t have seen much on the Thursday night opening of the festival anyway.  They had a special award ceremony in the Chinese Theater that was exclusive only to special passholders and invited guests, both of which I was not one of.  This new award is called the Robert Osborne Award, named after the longtime host and face of the Turner Classic Movies channel who sadly passed away last year.  The Osborne Award is intended to honor artists and filmmakers who have left a significant mark on the industry and are dedicated to preserving the treasures of cinema’s past with their work and advocacy.  Naturally, the first ever recipient for this award is noted cinephile and master filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who was there to accept the honor, introduced by Leonardo DiCaprio.  Despite not being there at this event, I have watched Martin Scorsese’s acceptance speech online, and it’s one that already has stirred up some debate as the famed director took a few shots at websites like Rottentomatoes.com, stating that they’ve negatively affected the industry by turning films into rated products rather than art that’s looking to be discovered.  the same opening night also included a 50th anniversary screening of The Producers, with director Mel Brooks in attendance.  I don’t feel too bad about missing out on this, considering that I’ve seen Brooks twice at this festival in previous years.  So, despite missing opening night, I did make the most out of the rest of the festival, and that is what I’ll be sharing with you right now.

FRIDAY APRIL 27, 2018

Because I work a regular job in the morning, I wasn’t able to make my way to Hollywood Boulevard until after 5:00pm.  After a quick rush to use the city’s transit system, I managed to arrive at the Chinese Multiplex in the Hollywood & Highland Center (also the home of the Oscar venue, Dolby Theater) where I got in line for my first film of the festival.  It was a screening of the classic Universal Studio’s monster flick, Creature from the Black Lagoon (1945), with the added treat of being presented in it’s original 3D presentation.  Unlike the original two strip 3D process, which required red and blue glasses to get the full effect, this screening of Creature was given a digital makeover, allowing for current 3D technology to make the film both pristine and up to date.  Unfortunately, even despite arriving with enough time to spare, the event staff had a hard time filling all the available seats.  I did manage to get in, but it was very late into the presentation.  Basically, I sat down as the movie was running, with the opening credits already complete.  I missed the entire opening presentation, which was conducted by comedian and radio host Dennis Miller, who is an avid fan of these classic monster movies.  Despite being disappointed by missing the opening, I did see most of the film itself, which was a first time for me.  It was really neat to see a classic film shown in 3D, as early films in the process liked to show off the technique a lot more than most modern day films do.  The underwater photography in particular really holds up in the 3D process.  A screening like this is something that only a festival like TCM’s  can make available to the public, as classic 3D movies are hard to find nowadays, especially on the big screen.  Thankfully, missing the opening for this presentation was the only time this would happen for the rest of the festival for me.

Upon exiting the film, I managed to get immediately in line for the late night showing in the Chinese Theater, which would end up being something that would end up continuing for me for the rest of the festival.  This night included a screening of the classic horror movie The Exorcist (1973), with director William Friedkin in attendance.  Despite the long standby line that I stood in, I was able to make it into the theater and got a pretty decent seat as it turns out.  TCM host Ben Mankiewicz welcomed director Friedkin to the stage with a warm round of applause from the audience.  Despite there being chairs on stage for a sit down interview, the energetic Friedkin refused to take a seat, feeling much more comfortable standing on stage, even despite admitting that he had a cracked rib from a prior injury.  Mankiewicz and Friedkin began talking about the movie’s making in general, and connected it with the recent premiere of the director’s new documentary, The Devil and Father Amorth (2017), which covers the same subject matter as The Exorcist.  They also talked about the unorthodox casting of playwright Jason Miller in the role of Father Karras, as well as the inspired casting of classic film actress Mercedes McCambridge as the voice of the demon.  Afterwards the discussion was opened up to people in the audience.  The one thing that stuck me about this presentation is that William Friedkin likes to talk.  You give him a question, he’ll give you a twenty minute answer.  And yet, none of us were bothered by that because everything he shared, from the casting choices to the decision to use “Tubular Bells” as part of the soundtrack was fascinating to listen to.

Perhaps the highlight of this discussion was after one audience member asked Friedkin if there was any truth to an urban legend about the movie.  Apparently, an extra in The Exorcist named Paul Bateson, who plays a radiologist’s assistant in the film, went on to become a real life serial killer in the years after.  This is an already known fact, but audience member wanted to know if the rumor was true that this real life serial killer ended up being the inspiration for the serial killer in Friedkin’s later film Cruising (1980), starring Al Pacino.  Mankiewicz interjected immediately, believing that this was purely an urban legend and that Friedkin’s answer was going to be a definitive no.  But, then the director, to Ben’s surprise, actually went on to confirm that it was true.  The look on Mankiewicz’s face when Friedkin said this was priceless.  From that, Friedkin went on to detail how he actually approached Bateson, after he had been caught and convicted, by visiting him at Rikers Island and interviewing him about the details of the murder.  And those interviews with a real life serial killer, who Friedkin had been in contact with before through The Exorcist, did provide the backbone of the murders portrayed in Cruising so many years later, and Bateson was indeed an un-credited consultant for the film, confirmed by the director himself.  It’s fascinating revelations like that which make these discussions before the movie so worth it.  Friedkin talked for a full hour before the movie even started, but despite making the night longer than expected, it was still worth it.   I’ve seen The Exorcist before, but watching it on a big screen made the experience even more special, and it made my first night of the festival very rewarding.

SATURDAY APRIL 28, 2018

Because the previous night went long (The Exorcist didn’t finish until nearly 1 am in the morning) I slept in past the first run of movies presented in the early morning.  One that I wished I had seen was a presentation at the Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard called Windjammer: The Voyage of the Christian Radich (1958), which apparently was the one and only film ever shot in the short-lived widescreen process called “Cinemiracle” which was similar to the Cinerama process that the Dome was built to present.  I’ve watched movies in the Dome before, but never one in the Cinerama process, so I missed yet another opportunity here.  But, I was already on little sleep to begin with, so I had to make a choice to rest up for the rest of the festival.  My first choice for this second day was to go to the Chinese again for a screening of the Steve McQueen classic, Bullitt (1968).  Unfortunately, the movie sold out even before they began to let standby patrons in, so even though I got there on time, I was out of luck.  This would thankfully be the one and only time that would happen this year.  I quickly made my way to the multiplex upstairs, where the next available movie was being played, which was Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), the Oscar winning film from Robert Benton starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, which was about divorce, single parenthood, and custody battles in the late 70’s.  Director Benton was there as a special guest, interviewed by critic Leonard Maltin.  Because I came to the movie late, I only caught the tail end of their pre show interview, but thankfully, they would return after the show for more.

Both Maltin and Benton stayed to watch the movie with us, and afterwards an emotional Leonard clearly was very touched having seen the movie in it’s entirety again after a very long time.  They arrived up front to talk more about the movie and were joined by producer Stanley Jaffe.  They discussed the decisions in adapting the Avery Corman novel to the big screen, which resulted in a more even handed portrayal of the divorce between the two leads in the film, making Streep’s character a bit more sympathetic than she is in the book.  They also discussed Robert Benton’s approach as a director, which Leonard Maltin described as capturing “moments” rather than directing a plot.  In the film, it’s clear that Benton took a much more hands off approach, allowing his actors to play out their scenes naturally instead of drawing attention to the fact that they are performing for the camera.  This results in a movie that has a much more natural, real life quality to it.  They also talked about how crucial it was to find the right young actor to play the pivotal role of Billy Kramer, the child at the center of the story, and how they land on the casting of then 7 year old Justin Henry, who is still to this day the youngest nominee ever for an Oscar.  It was an informative discussion and helped to make up for me missing the first half of it prior.  The movie still plays well after nearly 40 years, and the audience, like Leonard Maltin, was still moved by it’s story.  So, after this, I immediately made my way outside the multiplex to wait in line for the next movie in the same exact theater as the last one.

After a break of about an hour, in which I got a quick lunch, I entered the theater for my next film, which was the groundbreaking Merchant Ivory classic Maurice (1987).  Though not as widely known as many of the other movies at the festival, and certainly not the most heralded of the Merchant Ivory films either, Maurice was actually the best new discovery that I left an impression on me at this festival.  I hadn’t seen this one before, but having watched it now and on the big screen, I was struck by just how relevant this movie continues to be even 30 years later, and how it plays in a different context today than it did back when it first premiered.  The main reason why I wanted to go to this screening, however, was to see director James Ivory in attendance before the movie.  89 year old Ivory recently made history becoming the oldest Oscar winner ever for his screenplay for the movie Call Me by Your Name (2017), and his work on that script was no doubt influenced by his work on this film, which was called attention to in the interview with Ben Mankiewicz.  Ivory discussed how they took a chance adapting E. M. Foster’s controversial novel about gay romance in Edwardian England in the middle of the peak of the AIDS crisis across the world.  In a time when homosexuality was still a taboo during the 1980’s, this positive portrayal of a sexually repressed young man at the turn of the century coming to terms and embracing his sexuality was a bold project to undertake, especially after James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant’s internationally successful A Room with a View (1985).  The movie has a frankness about it’s subject matter that still makes the movie as prescient as ever, and it was interesting to hear James Ivory’s perspective on the film’s legacy.

What’s even more pleasing is that even at nearly 90 years, Ivory is still not slowing down.  He is already working on another screenplay for director Alexander Payne and he plans on trying to get back behind the director’s chair once again, this time for an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard II.  He also thought it was interesting how both Maurice and Call Me By Your Name work together as a dual package of queer themed movies.  He observed that one is a tragic story of pain that concludes with a happy ending and the other is a happy story of love that has a bittersweet finale.  In a way, he is grateful that time has made some things better for LGBT people, and that movie’s like Maurice may have had some positive influence in changing the culture, but he also stressed that there is still a lot more that can and should be done to achieve full equality.  It was a very rewarding experience hearing from the director himself, and I found the movie very touching as well.  Though the Merchant Ivory style isn’t exactly what I typically go for, I still found it’s portrayal of a young man’s discovery of his sexual identity in such a repressive culture very relateable and affecting.  I wonder if it’s actually time for this movie to gain a new revival after Ivory’s success at the Oscars, because this is a movie worth rediscovering.  The fact that there is even a scene where the main character goes through a type of conversion therapy (which features a cameo from Ben Kingsley as the therapist) makes the movie feel sadly all too timely as well, as so-called therapy is still being used to “fix” a person’s sexual identity today, despite it being debunked as junk science.  I’m very glad I made the time to catch this one at the festival and it’ll probably be a movie I revisit again in the future.

I decided to skip the next round of movies so that I could get a prime seat for the final film of the night at the Chinese Theater.  This was going to be a 20th Anniversary screening of the Coen Brother’s classic comedy The Big Lebowski (1998).  After Maurice, it was a four hour gap in between, in which I passed over other movies like Heaven Can Wait (1978), The Lost Weekend (1945), and silent comedy Show People (1928) which played with a live orchestra.  And the reason why I took this long of a break was because I did not want to miss Lebowski, mainly because they were going to have the “Dude” himself, Jeff Bridges, there as the special guest.  Thankfully the planning worked out and I got in without worry.  Apparently, I didn’t need to take special measures because everyone got in regardless if they were in standby or if they had a pass.  The theater was packed for this one still, and even though I’ve already watched Lebowski a dozen times already, I have never watched it on a big screen before.  Ben Mankiewicz arrived to open the discussion, and he stated that after speaking with Bridges backstage, he believed it was better to just toss aside his notes for the interview.  And sure enough, once Jeff was on stage, the entire program became a much more free-wheeling talk between the two.  Bridges even started things off with a moment of meditation with the entire audience.  You knew that the moment that he walked on stage that we were about to have a fun time.

He talked about the inspirations that influenced the persona of the “Dude”, which he acknowledges is one of his favorite roles.  An interesting tidbit is that the famous slacker wardrobe, like the sweater and the clear plastic sandals, were actually clothing articles that Jeff actually owned, meaning he is responsible alone for crafting the look of the character.  He talked a lot about working with the Coen Brothers as well as with his co-star John Goodman, whose character was heavily influenced by maverick filmmaker John Milius.  He also fondly looks over the legacy that the movie has left behind, noting how he loves to visit the annual Lebowski Fest, where he sees so many people dressing up like characters from the film, including as he mentioned someone dressed like the sketch that Jackie Treehorn scribbles in the film.  After the interview, he said he would stay and watch the film with us, because he hadn’t seen the whole thing since the film’s premiere.  Grateful for the reception, he left the stage and the movie began.  It was a whole different experience watching this with an audience, because every time a classic moment would happen or a popular character would show up, the audience would erupt in jubulent laughter and applause.  The movie is still funny after 20 years, and even the passage of time hasn’t diluted it one bit.  Combined with the pre show interview and the big screen presentation, this was the highlight of the festival so far for me.  Only one full day left after this, and it would be a big one too.

SUNDAY APRIL 29, 2018

I started early this morning to make it to the Chinese Theater in time for a 9:15 am screening of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).  After two long days before, catching a nearly three hour Spaghetti Western in the early morning was going to be an endurance test for me with the minimal amount of sleep I had gotten each day.  Thankfully, I did make it through and managed to watch this Leone classic for the first time all the way through, all the more rewarding given that it was on the giant Chinese theater screen.  The film was introduced by director John Sayles, himself a filmmaker of some modern day revisionist Westerns like Lone Star (1996).  He wasn’t interviewed, but instead gave us the audience a background history on the movie we were about to watch.  He detailed the fact that this was Leone’s first ever film backed by a major Hollywood studio (Paramount) after so many years working within the Italian film industry.  He also pointed out that because of movies like this, an extreme close up of an actor’s eyes has been given the term the “Italian Close-up.”  The movie, while sluggish at times, was neat to watch on the big screen, especially with it’s beautiful widescreen panoramas and the iconic Ennio Morricone score.  Afterwards, I quickly went to the cineplex to watch Frank Capra’s classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), another movie I had never watched the whole way through.  I arrived just before the movie started.  Thankfully there was no pre-show interview, but instead an introduction from a TCM host, so my last minute arrival didn’t make me miss much.  For a first time viewing, it was interesting to see this movie with knowledge of our current political climate.  While hokey and a little naive at times, it’s still inspiring to watch Jimmy Stewart’s passionate performance in this film, and makes you wish that a figure like him still existed in politics today.

After my two films in the early morning, I made my way over to the Egyptian, which would surprisingly be my one and only time at this venue this year.  Past years, I usually caught one film a day here, but considering there were so many that I wanted to watch at the Chinese this year, this was the only time I could fit in a movie at this venue.  The Egyptian has become a special venue for this festival, because it is now the only one equipped to present movies in original film prints.  Over the course of the festival, the theater presented movies in everything from 70mm, to 35mm, to the extremely volatile Nitrate prints.  Though also equipped for digital presentations, the festival has made the Egyptian entirely their film print theater.  Thus, this was also my one and only time to see a movie that was actually film running through a projector.  For this showing, I managed to watch the film Bull Durham, again another first time for me.  In attendance was director Ron Shelton and also a previously unannounced guest, actor Tim Robbins.  Interviewed by Ben Mankiewicz, Shelton and Robbins were asked about the different life influences that they brought with them into the movie.  Shelton himself was a minor league ball player before he got into film-making, so the movie clearly is semi-autobiographical in a way.  Robbins talked about how he was a right handed actor who had to learn how to throw left-handed, which led to Ron and Ben making the joke that he’s a “right-handed lefty,” kidding him of course about Robbins outspoken political views.  Mankiewicz also joked if it was difficult to get Susan Sarandon to act like she was attracted to Robbins in the movie, and Robbins replied saying that the movie resulted in three children with Sarandon, his real life partner, whom he met on this film.

Ron Shelton also talked about the difficulties of shooting the movie on location in Durham, North Carolina.  Apparently, the film was shot in the middle of Winter, despite it taking place in the Summer, and Shelton points out that he had his actors chew ice before each take in order to minimize the visible breathe vapors that would have shown up on film in the cold nights they were shooting in.  Both men are clearly proud of their work on the film and are happy that it still holds up after thirty years.  Having never seen it before, I was happy that my first experience was with actual film projected on a big screen.  Film just has a different texture to it, and helps to give the movie an aged quality that enriches the experience.  I’m not that into sports movies in general, and I wouldn’t exactly say that Bull Durham converted me over either.  I still enjoyed the movie, especially every moment with Kevin Costner on screen, who really makes the film entertaining with his snarky character.  Sadly, I would have to miss out on catching the last Nitrate screening of the festival, something which was a highlight for me at last years fest, because I had to conclude my festival this year over at the Chinese.  For the last big show of the night, TCM was setting us up for their biggest gathering yet, with a 40th anniversary screening of National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978).

This was clearly intended to be a major reunion for much of the cast and crew.  In attendance were director John Landis, executive producer Sean Daniel, actress Martha Smith, songwriter Stephen Bishop, and actors Tim Matheson, Bruce McGill, Jamie Widdoes and Mark Metcalf.  Being a long time fan of this movie, this was a screening I did not want to miss, especially with all these people in attendance.  Not only do I think it’s one of the funniest movies ever made, but the film holds a special place for me because it was shot in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon.  Using the University of Oregon as the setting for the fictional Faber College, the film is one of only a handful of films ever shot in Eugene, and easily the most famous, and just watching it again is kind of like a short little homecoming for me.  I was clearly not the only one in the audience from Oregon, as the mention of Eugene, nearby Cottage Grove and the University in Ben Mankiewicz’s intro brought a cheer from some people in the crowd (myself included).  Ben also scored some points with me by responding to the cheer by adding “Yeah, Go Ducks.”  Afterwards, the large group of guests were brought on stage, easily the biggest of the whole festival.  John Landis led the charge for most of the discussion, talking at length about the many hurdles it took to get the movie made by the very skeptical studio execs at Universal.  Apparently, Landis passed over Chevy Chase and Dan Ackroyd in some of the lead roles, in favor of fresher faces, and only wanted to keep John Belushi out of the cast members coming from Saturday Night Live.

Some of the best stories though revolved around the many tumultuous encounters that the cast had filming on the Oregon campus, including numerous fights started with students in the local fraternities.  They also talked about working with Belushi and also the recently departed Stephen Furst, whose widow was also there in the audience and was given a special mention.  Casting of established actors like Donald Sutherland and John Vernon was also talked about, and it was interesting that they had the full confidence of Vernon from the very beginning, who was not like the stuffy character he plays in the film and believed from day one that this raunchy comedy was going to be a hit, giving the troubled production a much needed seal of approval.  They also talked about shooting the climatic parade scene in Cottage Grove, Oregon, which Mankiewicz pointed out to the classic film loving crowd was also where Buster Keaton had filmed his classic, The General, all the way back in 1927.  In addition to the often hilarious stories (including one where Bruce McGill stole a piano and brought it to his hotel room), singer Stephen Bishop even performed the two songs he contributed to the film; the title song in the credits as well as the ballad he actually sings in person in the film before John Belushi takes his guitar and smashes it on the wall in a famous moment.  Needless to say, the movie is just as funny today as it was 40 years ago, and it’s take no prisoners raunchiness and politically incorrect attitude is even more refreshing now in a world where comedy is too often deconstructed and minimized.  And I got to see a time capsule of my hometown on a giant screen, which proved to be a perfect way to bring this year’s festival to an end.

So, there you have my lengthy review of this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival.  It’s not much different from previous years, and that’s a good thing.  I like that after nearly a decade of running this festival that the TCM crew has managed to run this thing as smoothly as they do in the hectic center of Hollywood where it takes place.  I myself have managed to figure out how to make the most of my experience, and this year I managed to break my own record and watch a total of 9 movies.  Some were ones that I have seen many times, including all the final shows of the night, but there were a few that were new to me that I’m grateful that I waited for in order to watch them on a big screen.  I even shocked myself in realizing that I’ve never watched the entirety of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, or have missed out on lauded films like Once Upon a Time in the West and Bull Durham.  Also, discovering Maurice at this year’s festival was rewarding and has given me a renewed interest in the works of Merchant Ivory.  But, what I love best about this festival is getting the opportunity to see the people behind the movies in person before every screening.  The fact that TCM can organize the schedules of this many legendary actors and filmmakers over the course of 4 days and many different films is quite astounding.  It definitely shows you the quality and pull of the TCM brand that they can attract this much talent into one place.  The volunteer staff are always nice and helpful as well.  The introduction of the Robert Osborne Award is also a wonderful addition to this year’s event, and I look forward to seeing it become an important tradition continued in the festivals from here out.  Next year, TCM Film Fest hits it’s 10 year mark, and I hope to be there for that too, hopefully shattering another personal record and maybe getting into events I hadn’t before been able to in years past.  So, here’s to another successful festival this year and once again TCM reminds us all of the importance and wonder of cinema and how special it is to be close to the history of film itself, both in Hollywood and in our homes as well.

 

D23 Expo 2017 – Film Exhibition Report

The wait is long and arduous for all of us Disney fanatics out there, but every biannual summer this magical weekend finally comes around and leaves us with a sense of wonder and amusement that makes the wait worth it in the end.  Once again, I am here to document my experience at The Walt Disney Company’s extravagant D23 Expo in Anaheim, California.  This is my third trip overall, dating back to the first year of this blog in 2013.  I can tell you that even in just the last three Expos, this event has grown by phenomenal proportions.  The 2013 Expo didn’t nearly cover the massive floor space of the Anaheim Convention Center.  Now, not only does it cover most of the acreage there, but every booth seems to be crammed tighter now with barely enough space left for the growing number of guests to walk through.  Certainly the acquisition of Marvel and Star Wars to the Disney family has increased the level of interest in this event.  Thankfully, with two Expos already under my belt, I was better prepared now more than ever to face the challenges of this event, and check off all my must sees and dos of the list.  Given how busy I was during this whole event, I unfortunately unable to give a live account like I had last time.  That is why I am writing this now midweek, instead of my usual weekend post.  That way, I’m giving you a more polished account rather than a rushed through retelling.  In addition, instead of breaking things down day by day, I decided to account everything by the experiences, such as the panels, the show floor, the atmosphere, etc.  So, let’s take a look at this year’s eventful D23 Expo experience.

THE SHOW FLOOR

On Friday morning, me and a large crowd of eager patrons made our way towards the convention center.  Already, I could tell that previous years had taught Disney a thing or two about crowd management, because they managed to keep things orderly as people lined up.  Those of us waiting to enter the show floor once the doors opened managed to benefit from some indoor queuing on the second and third levels of the convention center.  The convention also smartly had placed security check points well near the back end of the lines, allowing us to proceed on through much quicker.  By the time the doors opened, most of us were already securely inside the convention center.  It took only about 40 minutes from opening for my section of the line to make it to the show floor.  And once inside, the feeling of grandeur hits you.  Everywhere you look, there was immediately interesting to see.  Across the way was Center Stage, where various acts would perform throughout the day.  To it’s right was the extremely busy Marvel booth, where much of the Expos activity centered.  From there, you would be able to find several enormous booths dedicated to all sections of the Disney company; film, television, theme parks, consumer products, etc.  The unfortunate thing is that some booths should have been given more space than they had.  Marvel’s booth was way too small for what they needed throughout the weekend, and the vicinity around it was always jammed with traffic.  Also, it’s position right next to the center stage also made noise levels a problem.  Other than that, I was satisfied with the way the Expo handled queuing at this event.  Lines were clearly marked throughout the show floor, and most of the booths were easy to find once you had a lay of the land.  Also, it was pleasing to see a distinctively centralized position for the small vendors in the Emporium section, placed right next to the D23 Expo Arena, where some of the big shows were taking place, showing their importance to the Expo as a whole.  Apart from space usage, I found this a very inviting experience on the show floor.

THE BOOTHS

Of course, one of the big draws of the D23 Expo is the different experiences found in all the surrounding booths.  The most popular of these turned out to be the Scrooge McDuck Money Bin Dive experience, meant to promote the upcoming Duck Tales reboot on Disney’s XD television channel.  It was so popular in fact, that every day required guests to stand in line just to receive a timed wrist band for re-entry later.  And every single day saw an early sell-out of wrist bands, meaning that most people who visited the Expo couldn’t even experience it.  I myself was left out in the cold too, so I could only observe and not participate.  The booth itself was essentially a ball pit made up with plastic coins instead, but surrounding it were cameras all along an overhead canopy, which apparently can capture a 180 degree snapshot of each guests dive into the bin, which they could then share on their social media.  It looked like fun, but it’s popularity also unfortunately made it very exclusive as well.

Also on the show floor was this year’s presentation from the Disney Archives.  A mainstay of the D23 Expo, the Archive Exhibit is essentially a museum set-up, showcasing different artifacts found within Disney’s extensive collection. Previous years that I attended presented exhibits dedicated to the movie Mary Poppins, featuring actual props and costumes from the film, and also dedicated to Disneyland’s then 60th Anniversary, showcasing various artifacts from it’s long history.  This year, the exhibit was devoted to Disney’s storied exploration into the history and lore of Pirates.  Of course, all eras were showcased here, with drawings dating back to the 1930’s of cartoons made featuring Mickey Mouse fighting against evil pirates, going all the way to more recent pirate adventures like Muppet Treasure Island (1996) and Treasure Planet (2002). Captain Hook, from the beloved film Peter Pan (1953), is even given a section of his own here.  But of course, the majority of the exhibit is dedicated to one particular pirate themed brand from the Disney company; that being Pirates of the Caribbean, both the famed attraction and the blockbuster film series.

On one quarter of the gallery was the section devoted to the theme park attraction.  I really found this area to be a treasure trove (so to speak), as many of the most interesting artifacts found here pertained to the development of the ride.  Here you would’ve found early concept art, as well as models crafted to sculpt and build the then state of the art animatronic characters.  One thing that really caught my eye was the original script written for the ride dialogue itself.  The Archivists who set up the exhibit even turned the pages of the script to some of the more famous lines from the ride, like, “Another broadside and ye goes down with the tide,” or “Avast, ye scurvy scum.”  The original sheet music was also exhibited in this same area.  Of course, this section wouldn’t have been complete without parts of the actual ride itself.  Among the ride artifacts, there was a prop cannon, unused models of one of the pig sty animatronics as well as the jailhouse dog, and most prominently, one of the pirate animatronics itself; one that’s clearly an older model no longer in use.  This section in particular is probably what prompted the theme for the exhibit itself, as the attraction is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year.  And while it mostly presents a sense of the attraction’s history, it also presents a look into it’s future, with pieces of the state of the art animatronics found here from the recently opened Shanghai Disneyland attraction, centered more closely with tie-ins from the films.  And that segways into the remaining part of the exhibit.

The remainder of the exhibit focuses exclusively on the now five film series based on the ride.  The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise’s extensive collection of props and costumes take up a huge footprint in this gallery, and front and center is an area devoted to the famed Black Pearl itself.  Throughout the film section are scale models of the many ships featured in the film, but the largest by far is the Pearl herself.  This massive model is the first thing you see upon entering the exhibit, and is given it’s own moody lighting, making it an especially great photo opportunity for all guests.  Right next to the model are life sized props used on the real Black Pearl seen in the film, including the figure head and the steering wheel.  Nearby, a section devoted to props found on the ship, The Flying Dutchman, are displayed.  The Dutchman, being the ship captained by the villainous Davy Jones, is visualized through an infestation of barnacles and other sea based rot, so it’s really neat to see that detail put into all the props here.  The largest single prop in this area also happens to be Davy Jones massive pipe organ, which itself immediately catches the eye right when you enter the gallery.  Much of the remaining space is devoted to various character costumes.  Of course, Jack Sparrow’s costume is given the extra special presentation, with it’s own shroud of misty fog being blown up from behind the base it’s sitting on.  A couple other neat artifacts here, like the heart of Davy Jones, the map to the Fountain of Youth, and the costumes for the monkey Jack no doubt would excite die hard fans of the movies.  I certainly found it to be a very interesting exhibit, again showcasing just how glorious the Disney Archive collection really is.

But, as popular as this exhibit was, it didn’t nearly create as much traffic over the long weekend as the Theme Parks booth did.  This year, the Park booth was devoted solely to showing one single attraction to Expo guests.  And it was a major attraction.  Inside their booth was a massive scale model of Star Wars Land, currently under construction at both Disneyland and at the Disney Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida.  As far as models go, this one was epic in scale.  Approximately 20 ft. in length, spanning all the way across the booth, the massive model gives a very strong sense of the massive scale that is going into this amazing project.  Several Disney Imagineers who are in charge of developing this project were on hand to tell us more about the project as everyone arrived to get a closer look.  They described the setting of the land as a remote outpost within the Star Wars universe; original and unique to this land concept, but containing elements familiar to fans of the series.  It will be home to two massive attractions, one of which allows guests to pilot the legendary Millennium Falcon spaceship.  It was especially neat to look up close and get a sense of what the architecture and terrain of the of the land will look like once completed.  Knowing that large crowds would be lining up just to see it, the booth was accommodated with a winding queue that was filled up for most of the Expo.  As people waited, they were also treated to a demonstration of a droid character that rolled it’s way freely across the floor.  Piloted remotely, this droid is likely going to be a street atmosphere element that will interact with guests in the land, and it was neat to see a preview of it there at the Expo.  It certainly was a star attraction at this year’s Expo, and was probably very likely the most photographed element on the entire show floor.

THE PANELS

Of course, for an avid film fan like me, the real draw of this Expo is the exclusive first looks presented in the big Studio Presentations.  Just like last the last Expo, the big shows were held in Hall D23, which is a sectioned off portion of the show floor big enough to seat 8,000 guests.  Think of it as Disney’s Hall H, which is the famous big hall of San Diego Comic Con.  Here, the major reveals were made in Disney’s upcoming slate of animated features, live action films, and theme park attractions.  The first show in Hall D23, however, was dedicated to the induction of this year’s new Disney Legends.  Acting as a lifetime achievement recognition. the Disney Legends has become the company’s way of honoring the best and brightest that have helped the company become what it is today.  Among this year’s honorees were posthumous recipients like animation director Clyde Geronimi, comic strip artist Manuel Gonzales, film director Gary Marshall, and legendary Marvel comic artist Jack Kirby.  Alongside them were honorees present to accept this honor; some of whom were also there at the Expo to promote upcoming projects.  Among them were Oprah Winfrey, Imagineer Wayne Jackson,and theater director Julie Taymor.  The highlights of this show however had to have gone to the legendary Stan Lee of Marvel Comics making an appearance at the show only one short week after losing his wife of almost 70 years, as well as actor Mark Hamill accepting the honor not just for himself, but for the late Carrie Fisher as well.  While I would’ve greatly enjoyed being at this presentation, I unfortunately had to miss it in order to wait in line for the following show.

Thanks to my experience at the last Expo, I made sure to not waste a single opportunity to wait in line for the big shows.  I managed to get in line early enough to have a decent enough seat in the first presentation on Friday afternoon.  This one was devoted to Disney’s animation output, from both their home studio and Pixar Animation.  Hosted by animation head John Lasseter, there became a running gag throughout the show that we were seeing things so early in the development process that there weren’t even final titles set for every film we were seeing.  The show started with a reveal of another Cars spin-off, this time set in space, and then it proceeded into a showcase of the upcoming Frozen Christmas Special called Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.  Actors Kristen Bell and Josh Gad were present to talk about the new short, and Josh even sang a live performance of a new song as well.  There was also a mention of the upcoming Frozen 2, but nothing but a working title was shown.  Next came a big segment devoted to the upcoming Wreck-It Ralph sequel called Ralph Breaks the Internet.  Introduced by actress Sarah Silverman from the film, the presentation showcased an extended scene from the movie where her character Vanellope Von Schweetz and Ralph end up crashing the Disney website.  What followed was a hilarious string of inside jokes aimed at the Disney company.  It hit it’s high-point once Vanellope meets all the princesses in a spectacularly funny scene.  Afterwards, John Lasseter revealed that all the princesses were being voiced by their original actors, and one by one all of them were invited on stage.  It became a fantastic moment that was definitely the high-point of the show.

From there, the show went into it’s Pixar segment, with a first look at the upcoming Incredibles II, coming next year (a full 14 years after the first).  Director Brad Bird came up on stage, and even indulged us with a little routine involving his character from the film, fashion designer Edna Mode.  He discussed a little about what to expect with the new plot, and even showed us a little clip as well, centered on the baby of the family, Jack-Jack.  Afterwards he invited the cast of the film out, which included Craig T. Nelson (Mr. Incredible), Holly Hunter (Elastigirl), Sarah Vowell (Violet), newcomer Huck Milner (Dash), and Samuel L. Jackson (Frozone).  Afterwards, John Lasseter returned to the stage and delivered the somewhat shocking news that he was no longer going to be directing Toy Story 4, which comes out in 2019.  He instead was handing directorial duties to first time director Josh Cooley, who was welcomed warmly on stage.  He promised us that he was going to work hard to make his film live up to the previous ones.  After that, there was an announcement of a new project in the works at Pixar; a yet untitled film about suburbia, only re-imagined through a fantasy angle.  It was neat seeing early artwork for this project, which shows fantasy creatures like trolls, fairies and unicorns existing in a suburban environment.  Following that, we were finally treated to an extended look at this fall’s upcoming Pixar film Coco (2017).  Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina showed us two extended scenes which gave us a good sense of what to expect.  Then, at the end, the voice of the film’s main character Manuel, young Anthony Gonzalez, started a performance of the film’s theme song titled, “Remember Me.”  Following his impassioned performance, he was joined by actor Benjamin Bratt, who plays the mythical Ernesto de la Cruz in the film, and he too sang along.  They were joined by a large grouping of Mexican dancers, who filled all the aisles up in the audience, immersing us in the experience.  It was a fine closer to a solid show from Disney and Pixar Animation.

As much as this was a packed house show, it wasn’t the hardest one to get into.  That was the one that followed in the next morning.  I was extra prepared for this one and stayed overnight at the Convention Center; camping out in line.  It proved to be worth it though as I managed to get a coveted seat for the Live Action Presentation.  This was the one that discussed all of the upcoming live action films from Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars.  First up was a presentation of the upcoming adaptation of the classic sci-fi novel, A Wrinkle in Time.  We were shown the premiere of the first trailer for the film, and on stage we were graced to see director Ava DuVernay, as well as the stars Storm Reid, Chris Pine, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kailing, and new Disney Legend Oprah Winfrey.  They talked about the movie and then revealed the new one-sheet poster, which we learned that we’d be getting a free copy of.  Oprah took it a step further by parodying her famous audience gifting spiel, shouting, “you get a poster; you get a poster; everybody gets a poster!!”  Afterwards, we were presented with a look at an upcoming film based on the Nutcracker story called Nutcracker and the Four Realms, starring Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman in the ensemble.  There were also announcements about upcoming remakes of Mulan and Aladdin, including the casting of Will Smith in the role of the Genie.  Then, we watched a video from director Tim Burton discussing his upcoming re-imagining of Dumbo.  This then led to a presentation of the upcoming sequel to a Disney classic, Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda.  Director Rob Marshall and Emily Blunt were both there to premiere the first footage of the film, and to make the moment even more special, it was scored by a live orchestra, conducted by composer Marc Shaiman.  Disney’s segment of the show concluded with a first look at the upcoming Lion King remake, and it looked spectacular.  Director Jon Favreau came on stage afterwards and thank us all for the support of this project, and hoped that it would be a satisfying appetizer for what’s to come.

Next up was Star Wars, with a particular emphasis on the upcoming continuation in the saga, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.  There was little mention of the already troubled Han Solo stand-alone film, and it was passed through with only an overlook of the cast.  Then writer and director Rian Johnson came on stage to introduce the cast of the film, which included Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), as well as newcomers Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico), Laura Dern (Amilyn Holdo) and Benicio Del Toro (DJ).  They all shared their excitement for the film, and what they all love about Star Wars in general.  But, of course, the real highlight came when Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, came on stage.  He expressed his excitement for the project and his joy of working with Rian Johnson on the project.  After that, a new behind the scenes montage was presented, which offered a neat look at some things to expect in the new film.  It was especially touching to see any glimpse of the sorely missed Carrie Fisher.  Afterwards, it was Marvel’s turn to close out the show.  Surprisingly, no mention at all about the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok or Black Panther.  This was entirely devoted to the highly anticipated Avengers: Infinity War.  Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige was there to acknowledge that this was the studio’s 10th anniversary, and then he welcomed onto stage the voice of the Infinity War’s main villain Thanos, Josh Brolin.  Brolin briefly talked about his excitement for the film, and then was joined by nearly half the cast of the movie.  Instead of naming them all by actor, I’ll just quickly say which characters were there to challenge Thanos: Vision, Scarlet Witch, War Machine, Mantis, Winter Soldier, Drax, Falcon, Nebula, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Hulk, Thor, Spider-Man, and of course the one who started it all, Iron Man.  That amazing line-up would’ve been a highlight enough, but after a 10 year montage, we were blessed with our first glimpse of the movie itself.  I can tell you that I was on the edge of my seat watching the full wrath of Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet in this brief first look.  This alone made the overnight wait totally worth it.

Following this show, I managed to get more easily into the Theme Park showing.  There were some more interesting details revealed about the upcoming Star Wars Land, including the official name: Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge.  After that, more announcements about a new Mickey Mouse ride in Disney World, a Guardians of the Galaxy ride in Epcot, and a Star Wars themed Resort in Orlando rounded out a very busy conference.  One benefit for this year’s D23 Expo was the availability of the Anaheim Convention Center’s arena showroom.  The domed structure was unavailable at the last Expo due to renovation and expansion, but this year it was reopened, helping to free up some much needed space.  Dubbed the D23 Expo Arena, this room played host to some of the mid-level conferences; ones that are too popular for the showrooms upstairs, but not big enough to fill the Hall D23.  My first show in there was for a little history presentation called Melodies in Walt’s Time, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and Leonard Maltin.  It was part lecture, part concert, as a live band and choir was there to perform as well.  Following the Live Action show in Hall D23, I made my way into the Level Up panel in the Arena, which focused on Disney’s upcoming video game slate.  Sadly this was a downgrade after the dissolving of Disney Interactive in the last year, which included the cancellation of Disney Infinity, which was a game I was particularly invested in.  Most of the talk centered on the upcoming Kingdom Hearts 3 and Star Wars Battlefront II.  Battlefront even included a special guest appearance from actor John Boyega from the film franchise, who himself is a fan of the games.  Kingdom Hearts 3 showcased a reveal of a Toy Story themed level, which got a huge reaction from the crowd I was a part of; as did the announcement of a 2018 release.

The final day of the Expo had me focusing mostly on walking the floor and taking in all the experiences that I had missed in the first two days, but I did fit in one panel, and that was a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the film Hercules.  I’m not a particular fan of the movie, but was nevertheless fascinated in the behind the scenes stories behind it.  Hosted by the film’s directors, Ron Clements and John Musker, they walked us through a full history of the movie, from inception to development to animation.  They were accompanied by animators Ken Duncan (who drew the female lead Megara) and Eric Goldberg (who animated the character Phil).  Throughout the show, they presented some interesting behind the scenes footage, including rough animation, live action reference, and some early tests of the amazing CGI animated Hydra in the film.  There was also a brief video made by the film’s designer, artist Gerald Scarfe, who unfortunately couldn’t attend but still wanted to share his thoughts.  Afterwards, actors Tate Donovan and Susan Egan, who played Hercules and Megara respectively, were welcomed out.  They shared some of their anecdotes about working on the film, and we were also shown a recording session video of actor James Woods, who played the villain Hades.  To finish the show, actress Susan Egan blessed us with a live performance of the love song “I Won’t Say,” which brought the show to a nice strong finish.

So, as you can see, the majority of my experience at this Expo was devoted to experiencing these exclusive panels.  It can take away some precious walking around time, but if what is shown is worth the long wait, then it absolutely is worth it in the end.  I certainly am happy that I got into both of the biggest shows at the Expo, so it’s worth missing out on the other things.  Still, there were a couple of panels that I wish that I hadn’t missed, like one discussing the Duck Tales reboot, as well as one celebrating The Lion King.  Also, it would’ve been nice to have had the time to catch the Legends ceremony early in the morning.  But, as I have learned from previous Expos, you can’t fit it all in; not even with 3 full days.  There’s just too much to do, and so little time to do it, so you have to pick and choose in the end.  I’m sure any convention is filled with these kinds of decisions; especially the biggest and most exclusive ones.  Overall, I was very pleased with how these panels worked out in the end, and the fact that I didn’t miss out on the most important ones of all.

THE ATMOSPHERE

Lastly, I want to talk about the feeling of being there in the show room floor and among all the other guests at the Expo.  From the moment you set foot through the front doors, you immediately feel this warmth of a great, loving community coming together.  All throughout the three days of the D23 Expo I had more conversations with complete strangers than any other part of the year combined, and it was all geared around a shared love for the same thing.  No matter where I was, I could converse with anyone else in line and share the same enthusiasm for what we’ve just seen or were about to see.  I also got to have some interesting conversations with people who work for the Disney company as well.  I got to speak with an Imagineer at the Star Wars Land model, and he shared his unique life experience which had him start off his career by answering a help wanted ad in the Los Angeles Times which many years later led him to working on this massive Star Wars expansion in Disneyland.  Apart from conversations with fellow Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars fans, it was also just neat to see the varying kinds of cosplay that people came to the Expo with.  Some of them were especially intricate, showing just how serious some fans are when it comes to showing their appreciation for this stuff.  I also enjoyed the many opportunities to collect plenty of free swag; the best of which was a talking Star Lord action figure.  And more than everything, it was just a warm inviting experience.  Despite crowding issues in some places, all around you would be beautiful sights and sounds everywhere.  I especially loved how they even worked in special parades throughout the day on the show floor, which included a marching band, giant balloons, and carriages carrying special celebrity guests.  Also, Center Stage played host to acts that never required a line or pass to enjoy.  Overall, it was another great show put on by the Disney Company.  My hope is that they clear their own high bar next time around, as this thing gets bigger with every passing year.  The next one is in 2019, and my hope is to be at that one as well, covering it for all of you just as I have before.  Until then, I’ll be Wishing Upon a Star for a another great Expo in two years, and I’ll feel forever grateful to have been a part of this one too.

 

TCM Classic Film Festival 2017 – Film Exhibition Report

The Turner Classic Movies Channel (TCM) offers up one of the finest programming line-ups that you’ll ever find on cable television, especially if you are a classic movie fan like me.  Knowing that their fan-base is strong and growing, TCM has given those of us in the Los Angeles area a special treat in their yearly film festival, held in the heart of Hollywood.  Spread across several theaters on Hollywood Blvd. (The Chinese, the Egyptian, and the Cineplex of Hollywood & Highland), the TCM fest offers up four days of nothing but the best in classic cinema.  In addition to seeing these classics on a big screen, those who attend are given the added treat of having their films introduced by notable celebrity figures who have some involvement in the film’s making, or are themselves enormous fans of the films they are introducing.  Also, there’s also just the atmosphere of Hollywood alone that makes this festival unique.  More than likely some of these movies probably had their world premieres in the very same venues, so the festival is not just a weekend of entertainment, but a dive into the history of cinema itself, with each grand old movie house acting as a living museum to cinema.  This year marks the fourth in a row that I am documenting this festival for you, my readers.  However, unlike previous years, I tried to do something different for this year’s fest, which was to cover all four days of the festival.  I’m happy to say that I did get all four days in, having to manage it around my work schedule.  It unfortunately gave me little down time to do anything else this weekend, hence why I’m writing this on a weekday, as opposed to my usual Saturday posts.  Thankfully, with experience under my belt, I was able to schedule everything out in order to make it into all of my top choices each day, with only one roadblock in my way.  So, let’s look at the TCM Classic Film Festival of 2017.

DAY #1 (APRIL 6, 2017)

The festival runs a different theme every year to spotlight in their line-up of movies.  This year, the theme was Comedy.  Most of the marquee attractions this year were meant to be a good rundown of all the different eras of comedy in Hollywood, from Monkey Business (1931) with the Marx Brothers, to the work of Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and the Abrams/Zucker parody flicks.   Even the more recent Christopher Guest mockumentaries were spotlighted.  It makes sense that this was a running theme since the guests of honor at this year’s hand-print ceremony in front of the Chinese Theater were comedy legend Carl Reiner and his son, director Rob Reiner.  This festival was also significant this year being the first without iconic TCM anchor Robert Osborne, who has long been the face of the channel.  His passing a couple months ago could be felt across the board at this year’s fest, with several of the TCM staff sharing their fond memories.  Each of the opening night films included a brief memorial video of Robert that was very well done and appropriate as a way of stating his importance to the festival as a whole.  The opening night also included a special red carpet screening of In the Heat of the Night (1967), which celebrates it’s 50th anniversary this year.  In attendance for this showing, TCM brought in director Norman Jewison, composer Quincy Jones, producer Walter Mirisch, and stars Sidney Poitier and Lee Grant.  Unfortunately, standby tickets were unavailable for this showing, and since I was limited to standby seating the whole festival, I couldn’t go in myself, as much as I wanted to.  Instead, I opted for a screening of a classic movie I had never seen before; the Bette Davis film Jezebel (1938).

The early evening screening of Jezebel took place in one of the smaller auditoriums in the Chinese Multiplex theater in the Hollywood & Highland complex.  Because of the limited space, fewer seats were available, and I just barely made it in from the standby line.  All that were left were front row seats, which were not at a particularly good angle for watching the film.  They did however give me a good, up close view of the pre-show introduction.  Before the movie, TCM personality Tiffany Vazquez walked on stage to introduce the very enthusiastic (and flashy) guest speaker, Richard Skipper; an east coast journalist and producer who was invited to speak at this festival after winning a contest.  Richard spoke of his fan-hood for Ms. Bette Davis and his love of the movie, Jezebel, which we learned from his speech was a consolation film for Bette after she was turned down for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939).  He also talked about how Bette got along with director William Wyler and co-stars Fay Bainter and Henry Fonda.  Interesting enough, we also learned from the historical background that Fonda had to leave the film immediately after it wrapped in order to be there for the birth of his daughter, Jane.  It was a thankfully information filled introduction from a true fan that helped us appreciate the movie even more.  For me, I enjoyed it, but couldn’t help but think of Gone With the Wind the whole time, and how much grander it is.

From there, I tried to rush my way down the busy, tourist filled sidewalks to the Egyptian Theater a few blocks away.  Thanks to a heads up alert from social media, I learned that the theater had a special screening of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) planned, utilizing a brand new projection process that allows the theater to screen ultra-sensitive nitrate film stock.  That alone would have interested me, but the alert also indicated that director Martin Scorsese was going to be there to introduce the movie himself, and discuss the preservation of nitrate film, which is a particular passion of his.  I managed to make it outside the Egyptian, and received a number for the standby line.  When it got close to the start of the show, the festival crew let in only a small handful of standby tickets holders.  After twenty or so people, it was announced that there would be no more let in, and I unfortunately was among those left outside.  It would have been neat to have seen Scorsese in person, but this is the unfortunate outcome that you have to expect when you roll the dice waiting in standby.  It was worth the try in any case.  After that, I decided to skip all the other available screenings, and call it a night.  It was an opening night disappointment, but there was plenty of festival still left.

DAY #2 (APRIL 7, 2017)

Coming straight from work, I made my way to the Chinese cineplex again to catch a screening of James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News (1987).  I was thankfully there in time to get a good seat and it was also bless-fully in one of the larger auditoriums, making seats readily available for all standby tickets.  Before the show, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz arrived to conduct the opening introduction.  Now, I should point out that at this point in the festival, the souvenir guide books indicated that director James L. Brooks was going to be the pre-show guest.  But, in front of us on stage, there were three chairs waiting; one for Ben, one for James, and one for someone we didn’t know.  Well, that third chair was saved for comedian and actor Albert Brooks, who was a surprise last minute addition.  This surprise almost makes up for missing out on Scorsese the night before.  Both actor Brooks and director Brooks discussed their experience making the film, including the lengthy amount of research that went into accurately portraying the inner workings of a broadcast newsroom.  They talked about co-stars Holly Hunter and William Hurt, as well as how this movie reflects on the state of media today.  Albert naturally gave the audience quite a few laughs to enjoy, but James L. Brooks was equally as entertaining in this intro.  Seeing the movie itself was a first time for me, and I quite enjoyed it as a whole; particularly with the stellar performances.  It was a good start off to the day, but my primary goal was to make it into the nighttime showing in the Chinese Theater immediately after.

The reason I desperately wanted to get into this next show was because it was going to feature one of my all time favorite filmmakers; comedy legend Mel Brooks.  His spoof of Hitchcock films, High Anxiety (1977), was the featured show, but it was really seeing Mel live in person that interested me.  I had managed to catch an appearance of him several festivals back, but it was in one of the smaller venues and not from a great viewing advantage.  Thankfully, I got into this screening, which is thankfully in the very large Chinese Theater, and I managed to get a close up seat only a few rows from the front of the venue.  Mel Brooks, at 90 years old today, is in remarkable shape, and is just as full of comedic energy as he has ever been.  Ben Mankiewicz was there to conduct the interview, but Mel completely took control and did most of the talking himself, leading poor Ben to not know where the interview would go next.  Mel did offer up some interesting stories, like his meeting with Alfred Hitchcock and his pitch to him about the movie High Anxiety.  Hitchcock loved the final film by the way.  He also discussed working with his co-stars, including Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Harvey Korman.  More than anything, it was just fantastic to see a comedy legend still be able to make all of us laugh, and show that old age hasn’t slowed him down at all.  It was also pleasing to watch High Anxiety on a big screen.  I’ve watched the film before, but not like this, and never with a full audience either.  So, I went 2 for 2 on day 2 and my hopes were up for the rest of the festival.

DAY #3 (APRIL 8, 2017)

Because of my work schedule, I was unavailable to attend most of the morning shows, which included some very promising screenings I would have liked to have attended.  This includes a screening of This is Cinerama (1952) in it’s original format in the Cinerama Dome, and of The Jerk (1979) with director Carl Reiner in attendance.  I haven’t seen the 90 year old Reiner yet, and something tells me that fewer chances will come my way in the future, so this was unfortunate.  Still, there were a few more promising screenings that interested me on this day.  I got to the Chinese complex again and received my standby ticket for a screening of Christopher Guest’s 2000 classic Best in Show.  For this screening, we were privileged to have four members of the cast there to speak before the film.  On stage there were actors John Michael Higgins, Jim Piddock, Bob Balaban, and Fred Willard.  The longtime collaborators discussed their improvised style of comedy, which is a trademark of Guest’s mockumentaries, and what they brought to their own characters.  Higgins talked about what it was like playing one half of the film’s sassy gay couple (opposite Michael McKean), and Willard and Piddock talked about what it was like playing the hilariously mismatched color commentators in the fictional dog show competition.  Amazingly, we learned that their scenes were all shot in one day.  Balaban unfortunately couldn’t speak because he was battling laryngitis, but still his presence there was appreciated.  I had seen the movie before, but again, watching it in a theater with an audience gave it an extra bit of enjoyment.  From there, it was off to the Chinese again.

The nighttime presentation at the Chinese Theater on this third day was the universally beloved Mike Nichols film, The Graduate (1967).  Another film celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year, the film was a popular draw this night.  Thankfully, my Best in Show screening finished with enough time for me to get in the standby line for this film.  I managed to get a pretty good seat in the theater; not too close and not too far.  It gave me a good view of the stage up front, and a good view of the screen, which is quite big (it’s built for screening IMAX).  For this show, we were privileged to be joined by the film’s screenwriter, Buck Henry.  Buck, while still witty at times, clearly wasn’t as spry as Mel was the previous night, but at the same time you can excuse him for that.  Ben Mankiewicz kept the interview moving along, despite the fact that Buck was giving him long stares most of the time (which were sometimes funny in of themselves), but some interesting tidbits did come out in the interview.  We learned about what it was like working with Mike Nichols as well as stars Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft.  We also learned about stars who nearly made it into the movie, like Robert Redford and Gene Hackman (who in fact was fired right before filming began).  It was pleasing to see a legendary writer like Buck Henry participate in this festival, even in his old age which has more or less made him a little more ornery than usual.  It wasn’t my first time seeing this movie, but again, on a big screen, it’s a whole other experience and what can I say other than this is still a classic for all times.  And with that, another day down, with one left to go.

DAY #4 (APRIL 9, 2017)

This final day gave me something that none of the others had, and that was a wide open schedule.  A day off work meant that I had the entire day to catch anything that I wanted.  So, to start the day, I made my way to the Chinese complex to catch a showing that I knew would have some significance at this year’s festival.  It was a screening of Postcards from the Edge, a movie written by the late Carrie Fisher, loosely based on her experience with drug addiction and growing up under the shadow of a famous mother.  Starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine as the fictional daughter and mother respectively, the movie is a fascinating window into Carrie’s relationship with her real-life mom Debbie Reynolds, who also shockingly passed away only hours after her daughter last year.  This gives the movie an added poignancy and for a first time viewing on my part, this film truly was one of the highlights of this year’s festival.  After the movie, Ben Mankiewicz welcomed on stage two special guests.  One was Todd Fisher, brother to Carrie and son to Debbie, as well as previously unannounced surprise guest, actor Richard Dreyfus, who had a small part in the film.  The discussed the film very little, and of course devoted most of the interview to sharing memories of the two legends.  Dreyfus, who was a close friend to Carrie, even broke down into tears during the interview, showing how the grief is still affecting him today.  Todd shared some interesting family stories as well, and stated how much of the film captured the essence of both of them.  It was a really enriching experience, and one that I felt great about choosing for this year’s festival.

From there, I made my way to the Egyptian Theater and had better luck this time getting in.  It was for a screening of the Ryan O’Neal and Barbara Streisand screwball comedy What’s Up Doc? (1972), directed by Peter Bogdanovich.  Bogdanovich was himself there to introduce the movie, and it was a special treat to see him in person, knowing his contributions to both film-making and film criticism.  He talked about what it was like working in such a different style of comedy than what he was used to at the time, just coming off of the Oscar-winning The Last Picture Show (1971).  He also talked about working with O’Neal and Streisand, as well as placing Madeline Kahn in her first ever screen role; one in which she becomes a scene-stealer.  He also talked about all the challenges he faced filming the climatic chase scene through the streets of San Francisco, which included several instances where they caused real physical damage to some of the city’s infrastructure.  He finished his interview by treating us to his Jimmy Stewart impression, which was not bad.  The movie itself was a first time viewing for me, and I’m happy to say that I enjoyed it.  I got more out of the supporting cast than I did from the main stars to be honest, but what really impressed me was the confident direction from Bogdanovich, which really captured the screwball style of comedy that was perfected so well in the 30’s and 40’s.  After that, there was only one film left to go.

I chose to remain at the Egyptian for my final film, mainly to experience a screening of one of these heralded nitrate prints that the festival was spotlighting so strongly.  I tried to the first night screening with Scorsese in attendance and failed, and the second and third nights conflicted with other movies I wanted to see.  Those other two prints were of the classic Otto Preminger noir drama Laura (1944) and the Powell and Pressburger technicolor classic Black Narcissus (1946).  The final night’s nitrate screening belonged to the Ginger Rogers musical extravaganza Lady in the Dark (1944).  This technicolor film looked very interesting on a nitrate print, which had a smoothness to the frame rate that was noticeably different than celluloid.  The colors also had a different hue to them, more muted than most other technicolor prints I’ve seen.  The film itself was a mixed bag however. Actress Rose McGowan arrived to introduce the movie beforehand and shared with us her appreciation for the artistry of the movie, particularly with the art direction in the dream sequences and the stunning costumes designed by Edith Head.  However, she did pre-warn us of some of the more outdated social attitudes presented in the film, which are a bit problematic.  Watching the movie, I can see what she meant, because the movie is hilariously old-fashioned.  The film is so blatantly misogynistic and ill-informed about the science of psychoanalysis that you’ll just laugh throughout at just how politically incorrect this movie is today.  Well, at least we were given warning beforehand.  That made for an interesting finish to my festival experience.  At least I got a sense of what nitrate film projection looks like and it’s something that I hope continues in future festivals.

And with that, the TCM Film Festival of 2017 comes to a close.  I honestly felt very happy to have finally gotten in the full four days of the festival.  Sure, I had to work it around my work schedule, which prevented me from seeing some of the films I was interested in, but for the most part, I did get to see what I wanted.  The only disappointment in the whole thing was not getting into that screening where Scorsese was going to premiere, and even there I still was almost successful.  Overall, I caught 8 movies total, which is not bad at all, and 5 of them were first time viewings.  Buying a festival pass would have given me better access and a better choice of seats, but my success rate was still good in the standby line, and was an especially good option for someone who’s on a budget like me. I was especially happy to see legends like Mel Brooks and Buck Henry live in person, as well as see other greats like the Best in Show cast and Peter Bogdanovich.  Also, the Postcards from the Edge discussion centered on remembering Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher was an especially worthwhile moment.  But, even apart from the movies themselves, I also just enjoyed talking to other people in line who like myself are huge fans of classic cinema.  I was talking to a couple guys in line just about stuff like the philosophical meanings behind the films of Stanley Kubrick, and in another line, I met an older couple who said that their first time seeing The Graduate was on one of their first dates in high school.  It’s a shared communal experience like that which make festivals like TCM’s so enriching.  I hope to get in a full experience in like this again next year, so until then, I hope you appreciated my lengthy report.  And please, watch and support classic cinema whenever you can.

 

The Science Behind Pixar at the California Science Center – Film Exhibition Report

Up until now, the film exhibitions that I’ve reported on for this site have mainly focused on one or two things; mainly film history or film art, or a combination of both.  I have also taken a look at festivals that give a look at the future of film-making.  But, this week, I decided to take a look at another new exhibit in my area that focuses not on film history or art, but rather the science of film-making.  Taking advantage of my Los Angeles residence, I took a short trip downtown to the California Science Center located in Exposition Park (across from the University of Southern California campus).  Started in October of last year and running through April this year, the scientific institution is showcasing a special exhibit dedicated to the technological breakthroughs accomplished in the movies by Pixar.  Created in collaboration with Pixar themselves, the exhibit doesn’t necessarily showcase Pixar related artifacts, but instead offers up hands on demonstrations about how their movies get made.  It’s little different than what you would usually find in Science Centers across the country, where every exhibit is meant for learning and play.  But, when given to a film-making giant like Pixar, you get that extra special presentation and polish throughout.  The exhibit is worth checking out if you are an especially ardent fan of Pixar films (myself included), because it really gives you a deeper understanding of all the rigorous hard work that goes into the making of each one.  Some of it is pretty mind-boggling too.  It’s also worth checking out for anyone who is just interested in the mechanics behind film-making, even when it’s entirely done within the computer.  So, with a healthy sampling of pictures taken by me from inside the exhibit, let’s take a look at “The Science Behind Pixar” at the California Science Center.

You first enter the exhibit through a modest doorway and enter a tiny theater for a short 5-minute introduction.  The video is basically a tour of the Pixar Studios in Emeryville, California, with two of the staff artists leading us through the many different departments.  In the video we meet two key founders of Pixar, John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, both of whom represent the creative drive behind Pixar and the scientific innovation drive; the two primary factors that make Pixar who they are.  Through each department shown, we get a glimpse of how every person at Pixar is encouraged to push the boundaries of what can be done in their field and constantly push the medium forward.  But apart from stating the mission statement behind Pixar, the video also gives those of us that about to enter the exhibit a good primer about what we are going to see.  Essentially, the making of Pixar movies boils down to several distinct stages; story and concept, design, modeling, rigging, surfaces, sets & camera, lighting, simulation, animation, and finally rendering.  Each of these departments ultimately make up the exhibits that we will find in the next room.  After the conclusion of the video, which includes a recorded etiquette spiel from Pixar director Bob Peterson, voicing two of his more notable characters from Pixar movies (Mr. Ray from Finding Nemo and Roz from Monsters Inc.), the doors open and we are welcomed into the exhibit floor.

The room is loosely laid out for everyone to choose their own path through the exhibit.  Of course, every section is spotlighted with large overhead signage, and in a few cases, also by large, full sized figures of some famous Pixar characters.  Not only do they give this gallery a pleasing aesthetic, but the figures are also popular photo opportunities for guests.  The exhibit is broken up into two rooms, the first concentrating on the more scientific elements of Pixar’s work.  Story and Concept doesn’t get it’s own section, because I think that it was mainly laid out in the introduction.  It’s basically where all movies start; an idea.  Pixar takes their ideas and then moves them over to Design, where the first artistic representations of those ideas help to shape what the movie will ultimately look like.  Many of those images are then turned into storyboards, which are then filmed together to create a blueprint for the movie as a whole.  It is from Design that the movie finally moves to construction, and that’s where the science behind Pixar finally starts to kick in.  There is no section dedicated to Design either, but several recreations of original art are littered throughout the gallery, just to give us a sense of the long journey it takes to bring an idea and make it a reality in three dimensions.  So, going in order of production, let’s look at each section individually.

After Design, the next stage of production is modeling.  This is where the artists take what’s drawn on the page and crafts a 3D representation of it which will then be animated in the computer.  This starts with sculpting, which can be accomplished in two different ways.  Some things can be sculpted by scratch within an axis based construction within the computer, but Pixar has also achieved the same with scanning hand made sculptures within the computer.  They have sculptors create Maquettes, which is primarily used for character models.  The maquettes are small sculptures made out of clay (a practice that goes all the way back to early Disney animation) and helps to give the artist a full view of what the final appearance of the character will be on all sides.  The maquette is then scanned in high resolution, which then creates a fully, three-dimensional sculpture within the computer.  But, this is only meant to finalize the model.  Making it move is a whole other step.  The section focuses mainly on the Toy Story films, with maquette recreations of Buzz Lightyear and Lotso from Toy Story 3 (2010) displayed for a hands on interaction.  There is however a display case featuring real maquettes on loan from Pixar’s archive, which includes Remy from Ratatouille (2007), Russell from Up (2009) and Heimlich from A Bug’s Life (1998).  After learning about the way these characters are built, we then move over to see how they are given movement.

Rigging is the next section, with Monsters Inc. (2001) and Monsters University (2013) being the primary focus here.  The Rigging department is responsible for taking the models sculpted in the Modeling department and giving them an internal skeleton that will help it move.  It is here that we find the first of many demonstration stations littered throughout the exhibit.  At each station, guests are able to work with a computer simulation of the actual programming that Pixar artists use.  In the Rigging demonstration, we are shown how every character is built up with a series of rigid arms that are ultimately given movement through joints.  Much like how joints work inside our own bodies, these virtual joints not only create movement but also flexibility.  The demonstration allows us to select between different numbers of joints, and shows us how the greater number of joints we add, the greater freedom of movement we are allowed for the model, and it’s shown through a difference between one rigid joint and eight floppy joints.  There is also a separate station that shows the rigging done on character faces, which itself is a tricky science.  The station gives us the opportunity to change the expressions on the face of Jessie from Toy Story, and believe me, it’s not as simple as that sounds.  It’s a nice, easy to understand demonstration of how Pixar creates the mechanics behind their characters.  Essentially this where they put the strings on their puppets, which can end up being upwards of many hundreds of strings, depending on the character.

Next up is Surfaces.  This is where character models go to receive their final dressing.  Up until now, characters are just three dimensional, featureless objects that have an internal skeleton that will help them move.  It’s in Surfaces where they go from smooth and featureless, to textured and life-like.  Crafting the skins of an object is just as difficult as crafting the actual model, because you have to take into account things like the roughness of the skin, it’s transparency as well as it’s reflective-ness.  The Cars movies are spotlighted here, mainly because those films offered up an especially hard challenge for the Pixar artists.  With a cast full of anthropomorphic cars,  the filmmakers had to take into special account the different properties that real cars can have and apply those to the characters.  This varied from Lightning McQueen’s super reflective surface to Mater’s very rusted surface.  Both of those skin surfaces react to their environment in different ways, so that’s why special care was devoted to making them look as natural as possible. The big demonstration station here allows us to change the appearance of different engine hoods, combining a variety of different things like sparkling paint, logos, and rust to the surface.  Another station let’s play with the texture of objects, showing how fine details add to the overall life like image of what we’ll see on the screen.  Essentially, this is the final stage of character modeling, and the last stage of crafting all the pieces needed for the film.  What follows is where the actual art of film-making begins.

The next section is Sets & Camera, and it is spotlighted by a stunning recreation of Ant Island from A Bug’s Life.   The level of detail on this model is astounding, right down to the little “altar of offering” that is a focal point in the film.  The best thing is that there is a crawl space underneath that has little glass domes in the middle that allows you to look at the model from a bug’s point of view.  Unfortunately, the crawl space is tiny, and is meant more for younger visitors.  Still, if you don’t mind squatting through a tight space, it’s a neat view.  The model also includes live cameras that you can shift up and down.  This is obviously meant to represent how camera perspective is used to tell a story; in this case, viewing the world from the point of view of a bug.  But, this section also demonstrates the amazing work that goes into composing the shot of each movie.  So much detail is put into the sets of Pixar movies, and most of it will be unseen by the viewer, and this is mainly because they need to apply the same rules to virtual film-making that apply to actual film-making.  And that means never having anything in frame look out of place.  The remarkable thing about computer animation is that everything is done from scratch; including set dressing down to the smallest detail.  But, even with the limitless freedom computer generated imagery can give us, Pixar still applies the same rules to film-making from the real world into their virtual one.  The camera that doesn’t exists still has to act like a real one; like it’s there rolling on a set.  That’s why they build programming to recreate camera effects like shallow focus, depth of field, wide angle distortion, etc.  These are all demonstrated on a nice full size replica of the robot Wall-E, with a live camera demonstrating all the same properties.  This section in particular really drives home how science not only influences the construction of computer animation, but also the basic storytelling tools of film-making.

Next up is Lighting.  This is a stage where Pixar artists must take everything that’s been built for each scene, and give it lighting that makes it look natural and film like.  Just like everything else, light sources are virtually created in the computer, and can be dimmed or brightened depending on the necessities of story.  Lighting influences mood, so it becomes an instrumental part of the storytelling of a film.  For this section, the exhibit highlights Finding Dory, because it’s the film that represented the biggest challenge to the Pixar artists in this respect.  Not only did they have to create natural looking light for each scene, but they had to also add the extra prism of lighting through virtual water.   Needless to say, a lot of research went into seeing how light dispersion works underwater and that’s demonstrated very well in this exhibit.  Spotlighted in the middle is a nice demonstration on a figure of Dory.  Here, you can change the brightness of the light, as well as the color, and it shows how much those changes change the appearance of the character, how it sets the mood, as well as the environment around Dory.  There’s also another neat station that allows you to set up the lighting in a scale model of the living room from Carl and Ellie Fredrickson’s home in Up.  It demonstrates how source lighting affects a scene in the same set in many different ways.  Plus, it’s just neat to look at the house from up recreated in miniature with an interactive element.  At this point, this is where the film will start to take on it’s final look, but not before some final tinkering.

Next is Simulation.  This is where they tune everything built up to now to react to it’s environment in a natural, realistic way.  This is usually everything that is attached to their models and is meant to act automatically without having to be directed with it’s own animation.  This can be everything from the clothing that characters wear, to leaves on trees, to even flowing water.  Pixar’s Brave is spotlighted here because of one particular element that they had to innovate with in order to make it work on film; that being Princess Merida’s wild, untamed head of hair.  The hair on her head had to act like normal hair would, including having the same springiness to the curls as you would see on a real person.  That’s difficult to simulate in the computer, so what this demonstration shows you is how they create an internal structure just for Merida’s hair and allowed it to move naturally as the character moves, without having to animate it separately.  The demonstration also showed how they applied this same programming to clothing, running water, as well as large crowds.  It’s surprising how much automation is put into things that you wouldn’t expect.  There is also a neat demonstration station nearby, where the exhibit had constructed a tilting see-saw that runs real water down a slide, alongside round pellets and digital recreations of animated water, just to show the different stages of how they get virtual water to act like the real thing and how they can make it an automatic thing in the computer.  It’s this fine tuning that really shows the level of detail that Pixar puts into every frame.

From there, we move out of the first room and out into the last, which is on the outside terrace looking over the lobby of the Science Center.  Here, we see all the science mechanics come together to create the story itself.  And this begins with Animation.  Spotlighted by Brad Bird’s classic The Incredibles (2004), we see how all the elements of Modeling, Rigging, and Simulation is put into motion to allow the digital puppets to finally act.  This is where the illusion of life truly happens.  The demonstration station has several scenes from the movie playing on screens above, and in front are wheels that when turned slows down the image rate of the playback.  The slower the turn, the slower the frame rate.  Essentially this is meant to show how each frame of character movement reveals the mechanics of what we have just learned in the previous room, and how they all work together to reveal character in the models.  It’s fitting that a life size figure of fashion designer Edna Mode stands nearby, given how much each frame of a movie, especially Pixar ones, require so much work in their design.  Nearby, there’s a neat little demonstration activity that allows quest to craft a short stop motion film, using a prop Luxo Lamp Jr. (Pixar’s mascot) as their subject.  You can move the Luxo Jr. along a wall, posing anyway you want, and snap a photo from a stationary camera, and through the magic of film, you can create a short second of animation right there before you.  It’s of course meant to show how many frames a film needs to fill up a second of screentime, and given the lengths of these films, the incredible work it takes to build just one frame.

From here we enter a rotunda that illustrates all the previous stages of development needed for Pixar’s films, all shown simultaneously in a select scene from 2015’s Inside Out.  It’s a neat showcase to see all the stages shown together and how many steps it takes to get to that final step in computer animation; Rendering.  This is the animation equivalent of picture locking, but it’s a far more complicated step that is incredibly time consuming.  Basically this is the step where everything we’ve seen up to date is run into Pixar’s server to create a full, seamless high definition image that will then be used as their original source image for distribution.  It removes all of the imperfections, locks all the animation movements down, and smooths out all of the aliasing pixels to make the image flawless.  And the staggering thing you learn from this section is that it takes 36 hours to render just one frame.  Considering how long some of these movies are, it could take up to close to half a million frames at least to make up a single movie.  So, from this station, we learn that Pixar has hundreds of computers at their offices that do nothing but render images, and these computers run round the clock endlessly in order to get a movie completed on time.  Not only that, but some are rendering multiple projects at the same time.  The station here demonstrates the final render process, showing how each image is constructed from it’s bare wires to it’s final life like image.  From here, you really get the sense of how science comes together to create beautiful imagery, and how that has become Pixar’s hallmark.

After this, in typical Disney fashion, we exit into the gift shop, with Toy Story’s Woody smiling back as we walk out.  Overall, it’s an impressive way of demonstrating to the average person how Pixar movies are made.  Naturally, with this being a Science museum, the focus is on the many scientific breakthroughs Pixar has made in the field of computer animation, and how they’ve used all of that to create this impressive filmography.  But, at the same time, the exhibit shows that none of these breakthroughs would’ve meant anything had there not been stories worth telling that supported them.  One of the best elements of this exhibition are the little video stations found in each section, where it allows you to listen to individual artists in each department tell their story, and how they brought their knowledge of science and discovery into the work they do.  It’s that mixing together of scientific innovation and creative storytelling that has always been at the heart of Pixar’s soul, and it’s represented fully by the people who work there.  This exhibit not only let’s you share in the warm memories of seeing all these again, but also understanding the mechanics that went into them.  Back in the 1950’s, Walt Disney showcased on his Disneyland television series several shows that actually demonstrated the craft of animation, and that in turn inspired future artists to want to do the same thing, and out of this arose the next generation of inspired animator, of which includes many Pixar employees.  My hope is that an exhibit like this creates that same kind of fascination for younger audiences, and inspires them to take an interest not just in learning about film-making, but in the sciences as well.  The exhibit runs through April, so if you are in Los Angeles before then, it’s worth a look.  Young or old, you’ll find a lot of joy in seeing art and science work together in such a beautiful way.

https://californiasciencecenter.org/exhibits/the-science-behind-pixar-exhibition

Guillermo Del Toro: At Home With Monsters at the LACMA – Film Exhibition Report

Del Toro Exhibit Entrance

A few years back, in the early days of this site, I took a visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (aka LACMA) where they were holding an exhibition of the art and artifacts from the various movies of Stanley Kubrick; an interesting exhibit in it’s own that you can read about in my previous report here.   Keeping in that tradition, the LACMA museum complex frequently holds special exhibitions like the Kubrick one to spotlight the great contributions filmmakers have made to the artistic world in general.  In particular, certain visually driven filmmakers or special artistic movements in the history of cinema are featured.  This year, LACMA’s selected person of interest is renowned Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, whose body of work and visual style feels quite at home in the company of the museum’s extensive collection of artistic wonders.  Del Toro has made a career out of delivering captivating visual treats; mostly within the world of the macabre and the weird.  His films are vivid representations of a fertile creative mind and it’s great to see such an exhibit assembled to illustrate the cinematic imprint that he has left on the industry.  Unlike the Kubrick exhibition however, this exhibit was produced conjointly with the filmmaker himself, with many of Del Toro’s own personal assets and collections making up a good portion of the exhibit’s artifacts on view.  And also different from the Kubrick exhibit is the way that it is laid out.  Whereas the previous gallery was set up to take us across the progression of a director’s career, film by film, the Del Toro exhibit is built more around themes and motifs; ones that have inspired the director’s creative process over the years.

Inspiration is at the heart of this gallery, as much of the sights on view showcase the process in which ideas are born from experiencing the works of art from a wide spectrum of sources, and how they’ve manifested in Del Toro’s own work.  As stated in the gallery’s pamphlet and on the various plaques throughout, the exhibition is based off of Guillermo del Toro’s own privately owned gallery, where he houses all of his favorite collections of art and artifacts that he’s accumulated over the years.  Apparently it’s a second home that he bought just for the purpose of housing all of his stuff, when his own living space became too crowded, and he has given it the special title of “Bleak House,” named after the famous Charles Dickens’ novel.  This exhibition is clearly modeled after his private museum, and it’s great to see both Del Toro and LACMA collaborating together to give us a little taste of what it’s like to visit this private den of his and see where he draws his inspirations from.  The gallery takes the home interior motif, and allows the different themes of Del Toro’s films to occupy each of the proceeding rooms, each displaying some of the artifacts on loan from Bleak House, as well as props from his movies, original artwork, and various pieces from LACMA’s collection that fit within the exhibit’s theme.  I visited the gallery this weekend to give a thorough report of what I saw, complete with pictures.  And like previous exhibitions on display at this immense museum complex, it’s an experience well worth exploring.

Del Toro Exhibit 2

Del Toro Exhibit 1

Upon entering the front facade on the ground floor of the Art of the Americas Building, you are greeted by the first of what will be many wax figure recreations of different characters from Del Toro’s films.  This “beauty” that you see above is the Angel of Death character from Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), played by frequently used Del Toro actor Doug Jones.  Of course, the grotesque but stunning sight gives you the perfect introduction for what else you will be seeing in the rest of the gallery; a mixture of the beautiful and the disturbing.  Beyond this imposing figure is the first room of the gallery.  Here you can see the visual motif of a home interior clearly visible, as the different walls lining the gallery are topped off with rafters, rising above each hallway, but with no roof to hold up on top.  The first room’s theme is  “Childhood and Innocence,” which is a theme that Del Toro explores in many of his movie, particularly with regards to the loss of both.  Standing center in the room is the second wax figure, this time depicting the character Fauno from Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), also played by Doug Jones.

Del Toro Exhibit 3

Del Toro Exhibit 4

The “Childhood and Innocence” room also documents the years of Guillermo’s upbringing in Guadalajara, Mexico.  On the walls, you will find a few childhood pictures on display as well as artwork from many of the different influences that shaped his imagination early on.  Folklore and fairy tales were a big influence on him and none more so than Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.  A copy of the book is displayed here, opened up to one of the illustrations that clearly left an impression on young Guillermo.  Other works of art displayed include the works of Edward Gorey and Kay Nielsen, both artists who melded darkness and joy very well in their work, which was something that clearly appealed to Del Toro.

Del Toro Exhibit 5

The next room takes us into one of the more obvious visual motifs found in Del Toro’s body of work, and that’s the influence of the Victorian era aesthetic.  Dubbed “Victoriana” this room shows how the period style manifests itself visually within his many films, either overtly or subtlely.  Of course, his most recent film Crimson Peak (2015) is spotlighted here, with authentic props and costumes from the film being displayed.  Front and center is a collection of dresses, worn by Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska in the movie.  Across from them, you find a mixture of different influences that came from the Victorian period that inspired many of Del Toro’s different films.  He often cites Charles Dickens as an inspiration, given the author’s sense of detail for the era, as well as his fascination with the dark and macabre in many of his stories.  Del Toro borrowed the name “Bleak House” for this reason.  You’ll also see how modernizing this aesthetic in the “steam punk” style also finds it’s way into Del Toro’s films, particularly in Hellboy (2004), and there’s a neat looking parody of a Victorian portrait featuring the comic book character in this room.  My favorite artifact though is the painting of Madame Sharpe from Crimson Peak, a great prop that illustrates perfectly the fine line that Del Toro walks between the sinister and the silly.

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Adjacent to the “Victoriana” room is a small section dedicated to Del Toro’s other favorite visual motif; Bugs.  Insects find their way into almost every Del Toro film, whether they are the small creepy kind like those seen in Pan’s Labyrinth, or the large monstrous kind seen in films like Mimic (1997), or even the alien kind seen in Pacific Rim (2013).  A cabinet displaying different kinds of bug life research is shown here, as well as different visual treatments drawn during the development of Del Toro’s movies.  Accompanying these is another costume display; this one of the Ghost of Edith’s Mother from Crimson Peak, a creepy looking dress that carries over the insect motif, as you’ll see moths sewn into the fabric of the dress.

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The next room covers the theme, “Magic, Alchemy,  and the Occult.”  Here, different influences from many different genres are spotlighted, mainly to show Del Toro’s fascination with the world of the paranormal.  You see a mixture of magic and science mixed in here as well, as mechanical gadgets such as automatons are mixed in with magical artifacts like crystal balls and tarot cards. A giant wooden hand that was used on the set of Hellboy II is prominent here, as is a wax figure of one of Del Toro’s primary influences: H.P. Lovecraft.  Many of the figures throughout the gallery were crafted by artist Thomas Kuebler, and his Lovecraft figure may be the most striking in the gallery.  It’s so lifelike that I almost thought it was a real person standing there at times.  Lovecraft, one of the most influential horror and sci-fi writers of the last century is a favorite of Del Toro’s, and he has stated many times that he intends on adapting the author’s classic At the Mountains of Madness into a film one day.  Also included here is a nod to another of Del Toro’s dream projects; a painting of Medusa found in the Disneyland attraction “Haunted Mansion.”  It’s interesting to see the influence of Lovecraft and Disney mingled together in this room, and yet both are true to the theme of magic that has clearly been a big part of Del Toro’s creative process.

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As you make your way down a lengthy hall to the next room, you see a wall cut out with a ghostly figure staring back at you through it.  It’s another wax figure of one of Del Toro’s creations.  This time, it is the ghost boy Santi from the film The Devil’s Backbone (2001).  As you approach the display, there is a nice effect to replicate the way that the character looked in the movie, with transparent skin and a ghostly flow of blood blowing out of his head.  This is done with the same effect that is used to create the ghosts at the Haunted Mansion, and it’s a nice little spectacle in this gallery.  Perhaps more than anything else in the exhibit, this was the display that was being photographed by the most people.  And like the Lovecraft figure, I’m impressed with the level of creativity and detail that was put into this attraction.

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Del Toro Exhibit 13

Into the next room, we see another huge influence in Guillermo del Toro’s life, and that is Pop Culture, particularly with Comic Books and Movies.  Titled “Movies, Comics, Pop Culture,” this room presents many examples of the different comic books that Del Toro read during his childhood and up through his film career.  The pamphlet states that Del Toro arguably had amassed the largest comic book collection in all of Mexico growing up, and whether or not that’s true, it’s undisputed that his films reflect a sense of love for the medium.  Naturally, Hellboy is spotlighted here, with some of the props from the film on display, including the jacket for the main character, worn by actor Ron Pearlman.  On the wall are various panels of comic book art from some of Del Toro’s favorites, as well as artwork from Mike Mignola, the creator of the Hellboy character.  At the opposite end, there are tributes to two of Del Toro’s most beloved icons in the film industry; stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen and make-up artist Dick Smith.  Harryhausen is represented by another lifelike figure, reclined in a chair, surrounded by some of his skeleton puppets from the movie Jason and the Argonauts (1963).  Across from this is a larger than life bust of Dick Smith, the man behind the amazing make-up work on films like The Exorcist (1973).

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Adjacent to this room is a small little section made to look like a 60’s era living room.  Here, you’ll find more comic book artwork from around the world, including European artist Moebius. In the center is a pair of recliners and a table, facing a screen that’s playing a parody of a Mexican horror movie called The White Angel.  It’s a short film that Del Toro made himself for the TV series The Strain, mocking the old horror B-Movies from Mexico that he himself probably grew up with, with a luchadore wrestler fighting off a cult of vampires. It’s the perfect kind of cheesy, which Del Toro likes to indulge in occasionally in his movies.

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The next room’s theme is fairly obvious, as it celebrates the most singular of cinematic influences for Guillermo del Toro; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Titled “Frankenstein and Horror,”  the section not only celebrates the titular monster, but the overall visceral effect of brutality that Del Toro finds interest with, in the horror genre.  You enter the section passing under a massive recreation of the monster’s head (one of the actual artifacts on loan from Bleak House), and you see numerous visual representations dedicated to the legendary novel and the classic film that was inspired by it.  The highlights of this particular section are a couple of wax figure tableaus devoted to Frankenstein.  The first one shows actor Boris Karloff in the process of having his make-up applied, showing the casualness of the performer before he must transform himself into a monster.  The next tableau depicts a domestic setting, with Frankenstein and his Bride attempting to be intimate, while a menacing looking Dr. Pretorius looks on.  Even as still figures, you get a nice sense of storytelling going on in these tableaus, and they make a welcome addition to the gallery.  Also in this section, you see a cabinet full of macabre, cadaverous artifacts, including specimens in jars, skulls and books on the occult.  Just like previous rooms showed the mystical and magical side to Del Toro’s work, this room begins to show the darker, more violent side of his movies; ones where he fully delves into some brutal imagery and themes.  And it only gets weirder from there.

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Del Toro Exhibit 18

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The next room is entitled “Freaks and Monsters” which carries over the fascination of the grotesque from the previous room.  Here, the gallery spotlights the many creatures and abnormal human beings that inhabit the worlds of Del Toro’s stories.  In the center, you’ll find wax figures of characters from another one of Del Toro’s favorite films; Todd Browning’s Freaks (1930).  The film centers around a group of circus sideshow performers, and featured people with real physical abnormalities.  But, what I’m sure Del Toro found fascinating about that movie was how each of the so-called “freaks” found strength and identity through their physical handicaps and were able to overcome prejudice from all the “normal” people out there.  It’s that embracing of your peculiarities that Del Toro likes to explore in his movies and it’s why the movie Freaks is focused on here.  The same film’s dark atmosphere and macabre sense of humor is also an influence that affected Del Toro, and you see a focus on how monsters and “freaks” are represented in his movies.  Small figures of the Kaiju in Pacific Rim are found here, as is a replica of one of the Mimic creatures.

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The final theme room is titled “Death and the Afterlife,” and it should be obvious what is focused on here.  Ghost stories have long been a favorite genre for Del Toro to work in, as evidenced with The Devil’s Backbone and Crimson Peak, but it’s also the fear of death that characterizes many of his ghostly tales.  Here, the specter of death is prominent, with representations of demons and vampires shown vividly around the room.  A cabinet in the center includes nods to F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) as well as Francis Ford Coppola’s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).  Also at the corner of the room is a vivid figure recreation of the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth, one of Del Toro’s most frightening creations ever in any of his movies.  I found it really interesting that this room is situated right next door to the room dedicated to childhood, seeing as how these two themes of Innocence and Death seem to combine very frequently in Del Toro’s movies.  I don’t know if that was by design, but it definitely fits the narrative for this gallery.  And it’s also fitting that situated right behind the Pale Man are costumes for the character of Mako Mori from Pacific Rim, a character whose whole drive in life was born out of the death of her family.  Death and Rebirth, side by side.  That spells out the gallery as a whole as the exhibit comes full circle.

Del Toro Exhibit 25

Del Toro Exhibit 26

But, passing by this finale to the tour, guests will notice a passage leading down to the middle of the gallery, hidden from all the other exhibits.  You pass walls showing artwork from all of Del Toro’s favorite influences, from Gorey to Disney, and even portraits of his literary icons like Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, and you finally find yourself in the final room of the exhibit.  It is called “Del Toro’s Rain Room,” and it’s based off of a real space that Guillermo had made for himself in Bleak House.  In the real room, Del Toro had it manufactured to where the windows would be rear projected to look like rain is falling from outside at all times, enhanced by little silicone droplets hanging down the glass plane and thunder sound effects playing in accompaniment.  It’s a nice effect to make it look like a real rainstorm is going on outside, which I’m sure is the atmosphere that helps Guillermo find inspiration whenever he’s working in this room.  Situated in the middle of this recreated space is the final wax figure of the gallery, one of Edgar Allen Poe, looking as content as he could be reclined in a chair in this macabre room.   It’s a nice little added surprise, and I love the atmosphere that it emulates, especially with the digitally projected clouds on the ceiling.

Del Toro Exhibit 27

Del Toro Exhibit 28

I should also point out that in addition to all the different artifacts that the exhibit has from Guillermo del Toro’s different films, as well as from Bleak House, the gallery also makes use of actual pages from the director’s personal notebook.  The notebook in question is a documentation of all the ideas he has put down when he’s been developing his movies.  Written in a mix of Spanish and English, it’s a neat little insight into the mind of a filmmaker.  Even more interesting are the little sketches that he’s drawn within on some of the pages, showing the first ever visualizations of some of characters and creatures that would inhabit his movies.  Various pages are found throughout the gallery, pertaining to that room’s theme, and in addition, there are touchscreen tablets that allow you to flip through scans of the entire book as a whole.  I especially liked seeing what were ultimately the first ever drawings made of things like the Elemental in Hellboy II, or Young Mako from Pacific Rim, or of the entrance to the Labyrinth in Pan’s Labyrinth.  Del Toro’s creative genius is found in that notebook and it’s a great little treat for him to share such a thing in this gallery.

Del Toro Exhibit 24

So, there you go.  I loved this exhibition and would recommend it to anyone, even if you’re not a fan of Guillermo del Toro’s movies.  I understand that his style is not for everyone, but when you see such a well laid out presentation like this, even his detractors will find something fascinating to find.  It’s not just a great presentation of one filmmakers body of work, but an examination of the processes that make a filmmaker who they are.  It’s about the influences that shape an individual and gives them a voice.  Here, you’ll find different kinds of art mingled together and how they came to influence certain films.  It’s as much about the history of art as it is about the history of a filmmaker.  You could create an exhibition like this for many other filmmakers, but Del Toro makes the ideal subject because the confluence of all these influences have yielded such an interesting result in his body of work.  And as a movie fan, I just enjoy seeing cinema celebrated alongside other works of art on display in a museum.  Guillermo del Toro’s exhibition is a worthy addition to LACMA’s long history of standout presentations and I would recommend it to anyone living in the Los Angeles area, or to those just passing through.  The exhibit runs until November 27, so there is still plenty of time to view it.  For a film buff like me, this was definitely worth seeing, and I’m happy to have shared it with you.

Del Toro Exhibit 30

http://www.lacma.org/guillermo-del-toro/about-the-exhibition

 

TCM Classic Film Festival 2016 – Film Exhibition Report

Once again I am in the heart of Hollywood catching the annual Classic Film Festival held by the Turner Classic Movies channel.  Like every year before, the festival allows audiences the opportunity to see many of the best films of yesteryear as well as hear directly from many of the people involved in their making. Whether it be directors, actors, or film experts as the special guests, it’s a treat for anyone who considers themselves a film buff to be here. The festival is a four day event spread out across all the legendary theaters on Hollywood Boulevard.  I am here on Friday, the second day of the festival, with the intent of being here two days this time, instead of my usual one. This will be a two part coverage for you my readers, so hopefully I will have plenty to cover.  The focus of this year’s festival is inspirational films, with coming of age stories, underdog films, biblical epics, and movies about beating the odds taking the spotlight. These include classics such as Rocky (1976), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Boyz in the Hood (1991), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), and even Bambi (1943).  Political films are also highlighted. Last night included a special screening of All the President’s Men (1976), with journalist Carl Bernstein in attendance, as well as Spotlight (2015) director Tom McCarthy. The guest of honor for this year however is Francis Ford Coppola, who in addition to having a film screened at the festival, is also getting his handprints added to the legendary Chinese Theater.  His film The Conversation (1974) is the first film I hope to see and if I do, I will give you a detailed account of the presentation. So, let’s see how this festival turns out.

Day 1 (April 29, 2016)


To begin, my first show was the day’s spotlighted feature; Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. This presentation came only a couple hours after the hand print ceremony that was honored to Mr. Coppola. Given the importance of the attendee, this could have been a hard show to get into. And judging by the crowd inside, it indeed was a packed house. Thankfully careful pre planning got me inside, even if it meant waiting in the hot California sun for a couple hours. Anyone without a pass like me should take note; get there early so that you can snag up one of those remaining standby seats. Once inside, the show began with a brief introduction by frequent festival host and TCM regular Ben Mankiwecz. After a brief description of the film we were about to watch and the man who made it, Francis Ford Coppola was welcomed on stage. Naturally, he was met with a thunderous standing ovation. Ben Mankiwecz’s interview went over a few of the director’s career highlights, particularly those from his peak years in the 70’s, in addition to discussing The Conversation itself. Some of the interesting tidbits that Coppola talked about was his often hectic state of mind during those years, being both a professional as well as a family man, and having to balance the two. One of the reasons why Coppola says he made The Conversation was because it was a time when he was interested in telling a personal story, and this was a story that appealed to him, since it deals with issues of stress and privacy in such an interesting way.


Coppola has plenty of story’s to tell about one of the most important eras in film-making and most of the interview only delved into a little bit. Of course The Godfather movies were discussed, and it was interesting hearing from Coppola the experience of dealing with the studio executives who balked at some of his direction on the films. The studio for one thing didn’t want Al Pacino for the part of  Michael Corleone; or even Brando for that matter, because he was thought to be too difficult to work with.  Of course Coppola got some things through the studio system, and the end result is now considered one of the greatest movies ever made.  The amazing thing about The Conversation was the fact that it was made at the same time as The Godfather Part II (1974). Coppola especially wanted to point out the special work done by Sound Designer Walter Murch in the film, which is definitely some stand out work.  Coppola also gave us an interesting insight into the performance that was given by star Gene Hackman. He pointed out that Hackman felt uncomfortable in the role of the character.  He doesn’t know whether or not it was because Hackman disliked the character himself or because he probably felt it was too reflective of the person he really is, but over time Gene has accepted the performance as one of his best. The movie is one I’ve seen before, but never on the big screen, so this was a special treat to take in. And with Coppola there in person it made the show even better. After a good start to the day, my hope is that the rest of the day can follow it up well.
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For the second show of the day, I made my way to the Chinese Theater Cineplex, located within the Hollywood & Highland Complex nearby, to watch the screening of John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood (1991).  This is the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking movie, so it’s inclusion in this festival was both a fitting inclusion for the theme and a great way to celebrate the milestone as well.  The pre-show interview was conducted by film historian Donald Bogle, an expert in African-American cinema who has written extensively about the work of directors like Singleton.  After his introduction, he welcomed John Singleton and they discussed the making of and legacy about the film in question.  Singleton’s recollections were really fantastic to listen to.  He was only in his early 20’s when he made the movie, coming just out of film school at USC, and he pointed out that this script was something he was working on all throughout college.  The movie, as he put it, was sort of a semi-autobiographical account of his life growing up in South Central Los Angeles.  The film obviously has a personal statement to make, and as Singleton stated, this was his attempt to bring a defiant black voice to mainstream cinema; something that was only beginning to become accepted at that time in Hollywood, thanks to the success of filmmakers like him and Spike Lee.  Singleton also pointed out his influences, like Gangster flick, Kung Fu movies, and Blacksploitation films.  The Blacksploitation films in particular had a big effect on him as he stated in his best line of the interview, “Pam Grier’s breasts steered me into film-making.” (I’m paraphrasing this of course).  Like the interview with Coppola, it was great hearing about the film-making progress straight from the director himself.  His casting choices were also fascinating; apparently he wanted to have the entire group of NWA to play roles in the film, but in the end, he only managed to secure Ice Cube, who did give a great performance in the end.  After the film ended, I tried my best to fit another screening in for the night, which was to be The Manchurian Candidate (1962), with a special appearance by star Angela Lansbury.  Unfortunately, this show sold out before I got in, so this concluded my first day of the festival.  Even still, I managed to see two legendary filmmakers and watched their movies on the big screen, so I can’t complain.  So, hopefully, my Day 2 experience will turn out just as well.

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Day 2 (April 30, 2016)

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My second day began earlier than the first, because a mid morning showing of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) was my next “must see” at this year’s festival.  Screened in the same multiplex theater as Boyz in the HoodCuckoo’s nest was a popular draw for the morning crowd, but thankfully I was there early enough to secure a seat.  Ben Mankiewicz once again acted as host for the screening and he let us know that we needed to wait until after the film to meet the special guests.  Those guests turned out to be actors Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd, both of whom played supporting roles in the movie; the first big screen role for Lloyd as we learned.   The interview gave us a interesting look into the making of the movie, especially with regards to director Milos Forman’s sometimes unusual tactics.  They mentioned that the hospital was a real working one that had authentic mental patients that Forman strongly encouraged his actors his actors to interact with, in order for them to gain more insight into the conditions that their characters are dealing with.  The two of them also talked about their experience of working with Jack Nicholson, which could sometimes be an adventure in itself.  Naturally, DeVito did most of the talking during the interview.  Lloyd maybe said no more than five words total during the interview.  Not that it was a bad thing; showing up in the first place was more than enough for him to do to make this showing worthwhile, in addition to Danny DeVito being there.  This was a nice highlight for this festival, and one that the festival runners managed to make happen at the last minute; the interview portion wasn’t listed on the programs, and the only way people could know about it is if they followed the festival on social media.  Thankfully, I managed to learn about it and work it into my festival schedule.  It’s a treat when you can hear about the film from the actor’s perspective, and here we got two from some genuine legends.

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Next up, I went back to the marquee venue of the Chinese Theater and waited in line for the presentation of Rogers and Hammerstein’s The King and I (1956).  There was a window of opportunity where I could have fit in another movie, which if I had it would’ve been Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep (1946) , which was playing at the Egyptian down the street.  Instead, because of the sell-out I experienced the night before, I decided to play it safe and wait in the standby line for over three hours, just so I could have a chance this time.  Thankfully, I was in the front 20 of the line, and it was early enough to get a seat for the show.  As the Chinese Theater once again had a jam packed crowd in attendance, we were treated to a pre-show interview, this time conducted by film critic Leonard Maltin.  His guest was one of the film’s stars, Rita Moreno; a legendary actress of both the stage and screen who is still active today at the age of 84.  She played the role of Tuptim in the movie and as Maltin pointed out, this was only one of the trio of classic Hollywood musicals that she played a part in; the others being Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and West Side Story, which won her an Oscar.  She shared with us her experience working on this movie, which she fondly remembers.  Some of the interesting tidbits she shared was the difficult orchestration the film-making team had to pull in order to stage the famous ballet sequence from the movie, as well as her experiences with her co-stars.  Her story about Deborah Kerr flashing her panties at her in the dressing room was an especially hilarious story.  She also mentioned her early years in Hollywood, including her brief fling Marlon Brando, something which allowed her to slyly plug her new memoir.  Overall, the interview was a treat and it was a perfect prelude to the feature itself.  Though I had seen The King and I before, I hadn’t watched it on a big screen until yesterday, and on the Chinese Theater’s massive screen, this was an especially worthwhile show.  Definitely worth baking outside in the California sun for.

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Because of the extra-long length of The King and I, I only had a 10 minute window to get to my next and final show.  I quickly shuffled out of the Chinese Theater and rushed down the world-famous Walk of Fame to the Egyptian Theater a couple blocks away.  Thankfully, it was just enough time and because it was a late night show (9:30pm) in a non-marquee venue, there was plenty of seats still available.  To end my festival experience, I chose to do something unconventional as watch what was essentially a lecture presentation instead of a full movie.  This interested me because the entire presentation was on the History of Widescreen film.  The presentation was put on by Leonard Maltin, who showed up sporting a VistaVision logo t-shirt, and he was assisted by film technician and historian Christopher M. Reyna.  Together, they went through all the different widescreen film stock that has been used by filmmakers in and out of Hollywood over the years.  They began with some of the earliest know examples of Widescreen, including the famed Polyvision used in French filmmaker Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1926), which was presented in a clip projected on 70mm.  Next, they talked about the earliest known Widescreen film to still exist today, titled The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight from 1897.  From there they showed 1930 film The Big Trail, which was shot on an early process known as Grandeur 70.  After that came more popular processes like Cinerama, Cinemascope, Todd-AO, Technirama, VistaVision (Leonard’s favorite), and Ultra Panavision, and examples of each was shown to us with clips from movies like The Robe (1953), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Sleeping Beauty (1959), Oklahoma (1956), and To Catch a Thief (1956).  The collection of clips really gave a good sense of the fascinating history of the process and it was treat to see them on a big screen as well.  The power point presentation also did a good job of not feeling boring and helped to give us more visual details of the mechanical aspects behind the creation of a wider frame.  Thankfully, the show concluded with some of the most spectacular scenes ever put on Widescreen film and that was the Raid on Aquaba scene from Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and the chariot race from Ben-Hur (1959).  Maltin even gave us a special surprise with a Tom and Jerry cartoon that was made in Cinemascope.  It was a nice, unconventional way to end my festival experience for the year, and I’m pleased that the festival devoted time and effort to putting this one together.  It spoke to both the film buff and the one time movie theater projectionist that I once was.

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So, as I’ve said in other years, if you are a resident of Los Angeles, or are just passing through, and you’re a devoted fan of classic films, this is a experience not worth passing up.  There are so many great films selected for this each year, and the fact that the festival runners go out of their way to bring in the people involved who made them to be a part of it only makes this even better.  Even though I had the unfortunate bad luck to miss out on that Manchurian Candidate screening, it still didn’t ruin my overall experience this year.  I still got to see Francis Ford Coppola, Rita Moreno, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd and John Singleton in person, and that made it all worth it.  If you have the money, a festival pass would be worthwhile, especially ones that get you VIP access.  But, the festival is also open to the casual viewer too, just as long as you don’t mind waiting in line for the last available seats.  So far, I’ve been going the standby route, and I’ve found a good seat in each showing I’ve been too.  Hopefully when the festival returns next year, I will be able to include more days and hopefully take in the full experience.  But, this was my first go at attending multiple days at the fest, and it turned out to be great.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my account of this year’s festival.  I hope the selection of film’s at the next one will be just as strong as this year’s.

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D23 Expo 2015 – Film Exhibition Report

The Walt Disney Company has amassed so many great properties over the years, both through their own in house production studios and also from their multiple acquisitions over the years. And within the last couple years, their massive family has expanded to include the likes of Marvel Comics and Star Wars. With these fan favorite properties, the Disney company has in turn become the most wide reaching media company in the world, and with an audience as vast as the one they have now, there naturally needs to be a place for them to gather and celebrate.  So, started in 2009, the Disney Company has made the destination for all their many fans at the spacious Anaheim Convention Center with the D23 Expo.  Now in it’s fourth biannual presentation, the D23 Expo has become just as big as any major media convention like Comic Con, and with properties like the ones I mentioned, it is just as much a haven for nerds all across the world.  You, my readers will remember that I covered the 2013 Expo in my previous article from the convention floor. And in that previous trip, I learned that a lot of pre-planning was required in order to see the really cool stuff; namely the big media presentations. Well, this year I got myself a three day pass and made sure to find out exactly where to queue up for the big shows, so that this year I will be able to deliver the full experience to all of you from my first hand accounts. So, for the rest of this article, I will give you my day by day experiences at the D23 Expo and help to bring you up to date with all the special experiences and surprises that the Disney company will have in store for everyone here.

DAY 1 (AUGUST 14, 2015)

pizza planet truck

Walking right up to the front gate already gives one a sense of excitement because up front is Buzz Lightyear looming over the main entrance.  It’s the very same balloon recreation of the space ranger that Disney had flown in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Of course, past the wingspan of the famed Pixar creation is the entry into the massive Anaheim Convention Center.  The place was already filled up by the time I made it through the line, which snaked endlessly in the baking California heat.  I walked around the floor and already I saw many of the same wonderful highlights that were present at the last convention, plus a few extra new treats in store.  One new addition I noticed was the inclusion of special photo op areas scattered throughout the floor.  Many of them were standalone figures of some popular characters like Olaf from Frozen (2013) or R2-D2 from Star Wars (1977).  But, there were others that were especially unique like the pizza planet truck, as seen above; fully recreated by a team of expert auto body shop workers.  Naturally something like this caught many people’s eye and plenty of photos were taken throughout.  Beyond that, exhibits were set up to showcase both the old and new treasures of the Disney company.  Some of the new items on Display were costumes and even a few set and prop features from many of the upcoming Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars films.  The old was highlighted in the Archive exhibit, which this year focuses on the 60th Anniversary of Disneyland.  I have yet to set foot into this exhibit, but will do so in the days ahead.  The Collector’s Forum also returned with a lot of specialty booths set up by company’s that either are loosely connected to Disney, or are run by Disney Fan Sites or Marketplaces.  I visited a special exhibit there that highlighted the current restoration effort to preserve Walt Disney’s childhood home in Chicago, which is a very worthy effort.

shanghai disneyland 1

But the biggest exhibit that I visited on my first day belonged to Walt Disney Imagineering.  There were two particularly significant presentations here related to their biggest current projects.  One of them is the massive Shanghai Disneyland project, currently slated to open in Spring 2016.  Shanghai Disneyland received a big chunk of space at the exhibit, with displays highlighting all of the upcoming rides and attractions in the park.  Like most other Disneylands around the world, Shanghai Disneyland will feature sections like Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Adventureland. But, what is interesting is that none of these lands are going to be complete knocks of all the others.  Each land is going to be massive in size and completely encompassing in theme, with rides and structures that will dwarf all other counterparts.  For example, the centerpiece Castle will be the biggest one that Disney has ever created, with a restaurant, store, and ride all within it’s structure.  The Tomorrowland will be themed closer to the popular movie Tron (1982) than the nostalgia influenced ones we find elsewhere in the world.  Pirates of the Caribbean will not only get a swanky new upgrade, themed around the popular movies, but it will also have an entire land devoted to it.

shanghai disneyland 2

shanghai disneyland 3

shanghai disneyland 4

The other section of the Imagineering exhibit was devoted to the upcoming Avatar (2009) themed land going into Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida.  There wasn’t much shown here other than a massive scale model of the land.  In it’s center there will be recreations of the famed floating mountains seen in the movie.  There will also be a river themed ride going through a large section of land, plus a whole lot more amazing and high tech attractions.  Outside, there was a mock up of the main character from the movie itself (the character played by Zoe Saldana), which of course was set up for picture opportunities.  I was impressed with what was shown here, namely all the many exhibits for Shanghai Disneyland.  I talked with many of the staff on hand that were there to talk about the different projects, and like the last Expo I attended, most of them come directly from Imagineering itself, which is very cool.  I talked to one guy in particular, who was very informative, and tried to prod him for anything else that might be coming to the parks.  Of course he was tight lipped, but he indicated that they are always working on cool things for the future.

avatar land

disney animation pavillion

But, what took up most of my day was waiting in line for one of the main presentations; the ones where they show exclusive stuff that won’t be public for months and in some cases years.  This was the kind of show that I just had to see.  Luckily I made it into a big one, which was the Disney Animation and Pixar Studios Presentation.  Here, the studio highlighted the upcoming animated films coming from both studios in the next couple years, and even announce a few that haven’t been made public yet.  The show was hosted by the head of Disney Animation, and former Pixar chief, John Lasseter, who his usual playful and enthusiastic self.  He was introduced to the audience with a playful joke about all the different shirts he wears; all of which are themed to the movies released by the studio.  Those same shirts were also put on display outside for guests to see on the floor.  After making reference to his shirt, Lasseter showed off his brand new design that he was wearing, and offered free samples to the audience.  But, because this was a playful show, he brought out the T-Shirt girls from nearby Angels Stadium to shoot out the shirts from one of their T-Shirt cannons.  It turned out to be a playful start to an exciting show.

lasseter shirts

First up was the Disney Animation presentation.  We were treated to exclusively premiered scenes from the upcoming film Zootopia, which releases in March of next year.  They did a good job of highlighting the film’s sense of humor, particularly with a scene showing literal sloths working at a DMV.  Next up was the presentation of a newly announced Disney film called Gigantic.  This will be Disney’s own full-length feature take on the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk.”  Nothing has been animated yet on the film, but preliminary artwork was shown, and the whole thing looks beautiful at this early stage.  The filmmakers did reveal that the character Jack’s place of origin will be Spain, and that one of the characters he will encounter in the Land of the Giants will be a spunky young giant girl who treats Jack like a toy, before becoming his friend.  The team also broke the news that the songs in the movie will be written by the same songwriters of Winnie the Pooh (2011) and Frozen; the Oscar-winning husband and wife team, Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.  The Lopez’s also performed a song from the film, with storyboards from that particular scene in the movie.  Afterwards, the presentation presented us with our first look at animation from the highly anticipated Moana, set for release on Thanksgiving 2016.  It’s a Southern Pacific Island set story about a Samoan princess who sets out into the wide open Pacific Ocean to explore new land.  Along the way, she encounters a demi-God named Maui who guides her on the journey.  Some beautiful animated scenes were presented, including one that introduced Maui and Moana themselves.  Afterwards, we were greeted with an appearance by Maui’s voice actor, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  He seemed genuinely happy to be a part of this project and help to welcome a closing act of an authentic Polynesian rock band, who sang a song from the movie.  I was a beautifully done presentation for a film that holds a lot of promise.

d23 line

Lastly, there was the Pixar presentation, which kicked off with a celebration of the new hit film Inside Out.  John Lasseter welcomed the director Pete Doctor, who introduced a new animated short that would be accompanying the movie on it’s upcoming home video release.  We got the see the short in question called Riley’s First Date, and it is a fitting follow-up to the movie, depicting exactly what you’d expect.  Next was the presentation of the upcoming Pixar movie, The Good Dinosaur, coming this Thanksgiving weekend.  The Good Dinosaur director Peter Sohn presented many clips from the movie (which looks beautiful) and detailed the overarching story.  He also shared a heartwarming story about how his mother helped to instill in him an interest in movies and animation, which he helped to tell with some charmingly drawn storyboards.  After that came the presentation of Finding Dory (Summer 2016) which is the long awaited sequel to the hit film Finding Nemo (2003).  After a brief scene setting up the premise (shown first here) we were greeted by the film’s star, actress and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.  She was her usual playful self, and got some good laughs from the crowd, but she stressed how happy she was that this long awaited sequel was finally happening.  Along with the film’s director Andrew Stanton (who also made the original) they introduced the new cast members which included Modern Family’s Ed O’Neill and Ty Burrell, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Kaitlin Olson.  After this, we got our first look at two films in development, which included a film about the Mexican holiday called Dia de los Muertos titled Coco.  The presentation reel for this one was especially beautiful.  And lastly, we got an announcement for the upcoming Toy Story 4, which will mark the return of Bo Peep to the series as it turns out in what John Lasseter calls “Pixar’s first love story.”  He also revealed that he himself would be directing and that Randy Newman would be returning to do the music.  Newman himself closed the program with a live performance of You’ve Got a Friend in Me which closed the show on a perfect note.  So, there you go, Day One complete.  So, now I’m going to get in a guick sleep so that I’ll be ready for the big live action panel tomorrow.  Fingers crossed that I can get in.  Because we all know what’s coming next on the live action front.

stormtroopers

DAY 2 (AUGUST 15, 2015)

disney studios marqee

So, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t take any pictures within the big presentations during this Expo.  Well that is because all audience members had to check all their electronics at the door so that no pictures of any kind could be taken.  Each panel was meant to show exclusive footage and behind the scene material that the Disney Studios doesn’t want to make public just yet, so all of us who managed to make it into the massive Hall D23 would have the honor of getting the first public viewing and spread the word out thereafter.  I already lucked out in making it into the first big presentation regarding the Animation department at Disney, but my chances for getting into the live action presentation were much slimmer.  When I arrived this morning, the queue line was already packed, and I was sure that I wouldn’t make it in.  To my surprise, there turned out to be plenty of room.  Albeit, I wasn’t as close to the center of the room like I was at the show the previous day, but I made it nonetheless.  And what a show it was.  First up was Marvel Studio’s presentation.  To begin, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige introduced a video message from Benedict Cumberbatch, who was unfortunately busy in London and could not be there, who told the crowd how grateful he was to join the Marvel Universe as the mystical Doctor Strange.  The movie of the same name has yet to start filming, but Kevin Feige shared with us a sizzle reel of artwork to give us a sense of what the film will look like.  Next up was the hotly anticipated Captain America: Civil War.  Anthony Mackie (The Falcon) was introduced and he soon welcomed Captain America himself to the stage, Chris Evans.  Evans seemed particularly enthused to be there and to show us what appeared to be the first trailer, which won’t premiere for a few months.  And, holy crap does the movie look amazing.  So many Marvel characters, you could even consider it another Avengers movie.

Next up was Walt Disney Pictures.  Their presentation began with the winter release, The Finest Hours, which stars actor Chris Pine, who was there in attendance to talk about the movie and his experience shooting it (which involved having endless rounds of cold water splashing over his head).  Next was the upcoming live action remake of The Jungle Book.  To talk about the movie, director Jon Favreau was welcomed on stage and with him were three of the movie’s co-stars: the young actor playing Mowgli named Neel Sethi (who really charmed the crowd), as well as Oscar-winners Lupita Nyong’o and Ben Kingsley.  All of them told us how wonderful they feel having been apart of the movie and they two were treated like the rest of us in the audience to a first look premiere of footage from the movie.  Let me tell you, what we saw took everyone’s breath away.  It is a gorgeous looking movie and it was also a treat to finally see how the animals would look in the movie, including Baloo with the voice of Bill Murray (yeah!!) and King Louis, voiced by Christopher Walken.  Afterwards, we got our first look at the Pete’s Dragon remake, with star Bryce Dallas Howard there to speak about it.  Then we got an intro to the Beauty and the Beast remake as well.  No cast or crew were present, but the star of the film Emma Watson (Belle) did record a greeting.  And then finally, a presentation on the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.  This fifth installment in the franchise didn’t have any footage to show, but a special guest did make an appearance.  Out walked Johnny Depp, not as himself, but fully in character as Jack Sparrow, munching on grapes.  After throwing some of his grapes into the very pleased audience, Jack Sparrow promised to sing for us, which was promptly interrupted by the end of the segment.  It was a remarkable and very unexpected surprise for the audience and I was glad to witness it.

star wars 2

star wars 1

But, we weren’t through just yet.  Of course the finish to the presentation had to be the much anticipated Star Wars films.  One big announcement to come from this panel was that Jurassic World  director Colin Treverrow is now confirmed to be the director of Star Wars Episode 9, which won’t release until 2019.  The Star Wars spin-off movies were also highlighted, which includes one that goes into Han Solo’s backstory, as well as another standalone feature called Star Wars: Rouge One.  Rogue One is currently filming now, under the direction of Gareth Edwards (Godzilla), and we were treated with the first ever image of the full cast.  But, of course, the big highlight was when they talked about the upcoming film Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens.  A very tired looking J.J. Abrams was introduced and with him he brought three of the new castmembers: Oscar Issac, Lupita Nyong’o, and Daisy Ridley.  There was no new footage to show, but they did reveal a very cool looking poster made by Drew Struzen that everyone in the audience was going to receive a copy of.  On the poster, we saw the presence of Han Solo, which got a good reaction from the crowd.  But they weren’t done there.  All of a sudden, J.J. Abrams welcomed the stage Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford.  It was a huge surprise the brought the roof down in the auditorium.  Harrison may have had a brief showing there, but wow, what a great surprise.  But, even that was the end.  After that, Disney CEO Bob Iger walked onto stage and broke the news that Disney Imagineering was currently working on a Star Wars themed land for both Disneyland and Disney World.  It was yet another amazing surprise that completely floored the audience.  I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have witnessed all that in person, as this has easily been the highlight of my Expo experience so far.

toy story 1

toy story 2

After the show, I walked around the show floor to take in all the different experiences available.  Nothing new had been added overnight, but I was finally able to spend a little more time on the floor to see stuff I’ve been missing.  I did wait in line for nearly two hours for the Disney Infinity exhibit an my reward was a green screen picture with The Hulk and a complimentary figure from the game itself, which hasn’t yet reached retail outlets; so there’s a nice score.  After these couple of hours wandering around, I decided to complete my day with one of the smaller panels; one in which I did get to keep my camera.  It was a panel celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the release of Toy Story.  John Lasseter was on hand and as he put it, this was the presentation that was going to make him and all his fellow panelists feel old.  The other panelists included Lasseter’s fellow filmmakers, who themselves have gone on to make award winning films themselves; Andrew Stanton (Finding NemoWall-E) Pete Doctor (UpInside Out) and Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3).  Each of them shared a lot of fascinating stories about how they went about making what would be the first computer animated movie ever made.  The discussed the evolution of the story as well as how the characters evolved over time (Woody was apparently much larger than Buzz Lightyear in the early phases of development).  Lasseter also pointed out how Mattel passed on making Toy Story character toys for the films original release; something that he continually likes to remind them about to this day.  It was a very introspective presentation and it was great to hear these old time collaborators and friends reminisce about making history.  Overall, my second day at the Expo proved to be an eventful one and I can’t wait to be back tomorrow morning to get in my one last taste of this amazing convention.  It’s going to be tough to top today’s events, but you never know what kinds of surprises D23 might have in store.

D23 emporium

DAY 3 (AUGUST 16, 2015)

disney interactive

Well, it’s been a long couple of days, but the many sights and sounds have made all the tiring hours worth it.  On this day, I once again arrived super early to get into the final big media presentation of the Expo.  This morning show was set aside to highlight Disney Interactive, the video game publishing wing of the company.  Though not as hard to get into as the live action presentation, there was still a healthy helping of hardcore gaming fans who were eager to see what new surprises the Disney company had to share about their upcoming games; especially with two in particular.  First up, news was shared about the Kingdom Hearts 3 game that is still in development.  Game manufacturer Square Enix has collaborated with Disney on this series since it’s inception, and members of the game’s production team were present to announce that the hit movie Big Hero 6 would be used as a level in the game, much to the crowds’ approval.  Next up was news of upcoming mobile games, as well as an interactive play game called Disney’s Playmation, which involves online connectivity with action figures.  Next, a whole bunch of Star Wars game news, including the reveal of a brand new arcade console called Star Wars Battle Pod, which looked really interesting and immersive.  Star Wars Battlefront from Electronic Arts was also highlighted in anticipation for it’s fall release and Sony PlayStation spokesman Adam Boyes was on hand to reveal a new limited edition Darth Vader PlayStation 4 console that will hit the market during the holidays.  Yet another reason for me to get a PS4.  But, the part that I was most excited for was saved for last when Disney Interactive detailed what was in store for their blockbuster game Disney Infinity.  I’m an avid player of this game, and I was happy to see all the new surprises that they had in store for the game, including new characters.  Not only that, but everyone in the crowd walked away from the show with a free Mickey Mouse figure that’s playable in the game, as well as a limited edition game power disc that you could only get at that conference.  I think I may have found an exclusive prize even more valuable than my Star Wars poster.

yoda disney infinity

disneyland exhibit

With my last show out of the way (there was a Frozen fan celebration in the Hall D23 afterwards, but I wasn’t interested enough to attend) I was able to use my last few hours at D23 Expo to do all the things that I hadn’t done in the last couple days.  Chief among them was finally making a visit to the Disney Archives exhibit on the show floor.  A couple years ago at the last Expo, I reported that the Archives exhibit was dedicated to the film Mary Poppins (1964), highlighting it’s then 50th Anniversary.  This year, the exhibit was devoted entirely to celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the park right across the street from the Anaheim Convention Center; Disneyland.  In all the 60 years that Disneyland has operated, it has amassed a great many attractions, some of which have been cleared out to make way for the new.  In this exhibit, the Disney Archives laid out on display some of the more notable artifacts from the park’s long history.  Up front, you will find many articles of material related to the creation of the park, including land markers and survey equipment.  The next section is dedicated to the park’s opening, and there I saw the very first Disneyland ticket sold (bought by Walt’s brother Roy, for a $1) along with a copy of Walt’s opening day speech.  Beyond his for the rest of the exhibit were displays devoted to pieces of the park removed over the years to make way for something new.  Some of the most interesting artifacts seen here were old animatronic figures, like the recently removed Abominable Snowman from the Matterhorn attraction, figures from defunct shows like Country Bears Jamboree and America Sings, as well as the old dragon’s head from the popular Fantasmic show (the single largest artifact in the exhibit).  It was especially neat to get an up-close look at all these pieces of history collected by the Disney Archives, especially the ones from attractions that are long gone.  It really gives you a sense of the passage of time in the parks history, celebrating it’s timelessness while also appealing greatly to our sense of nostalgia.  It certainly makes me excited to see what new exhibit will be there at the next Expo, and what will be on display then.

disneyland exhibit matterhorn

disneyland exhibit mouseketeers

disneyland exhibit fantasmic

With the hours running down, I tried to take it in as much as I could, because even with three days, it’s still difficult to take part in every experience.  This year’s Expo worked really well for me thanks to better planning and giving myself more than one day to experience it.  Had I just done the one day like I had at the previous Expo, I wouldn’t have truly experienced much at all, because this year Disney made it a much bigger and better experience than before.  The last Expo utilized only about 2/3 of the total floor space at the Anaheim Convention Center.  This year, it nearly took up the entire ground floor, with only a little room to spare.  It makes me wonder if the Expo might outgrow even the immense acreage that the ACC occupies, which I’m sure is being taken into account because the Convention Center is currently under renovation in it’s north wing and inside the domed arena.  I’m just happy that Disney is putting more and more effort into this Expo the more popular it becomes.  It’s only fitting that the world’s largest media company would go to great lengths to entertain and please their fans in the best way possible.  As a lifelong Disney fan now in adulthood, this D23 Expo appeals both to the grown up part of me that is fascinated with all the behind the scenes workings of the company, as well as the inner child who still enjoys playing with the characters, singing the songs, and getting excited about what’s coming next.  But, what I especially like about this Expo is the sense of community that comes out of it; something that is true for most other conventions as well.  It’s a place where you can meet a complete stranger, strike up a conversation and bond over the same common thing, that being a love for all things Disney.  I met a lot of nice interesting people at the Expo this year, and part of the fun was just sharing our different experiences there as well as discuss our connections to the Disney fandom that we all share.  Disney’s marketing slogan this whole year has been “show your Disney side,” and there has been no better place to see that in full bloom than at the D23 Expo.  I look forward to what is coming next in 2017, but until then, I will have fond memories of my 3 days at this hot spot of Disney fandom.

d23 front entrance