Monday, April 30, 2018

Marvel Phase 4

First things first, no spoilers - #ThanosDemandsYourSilence - it is really worth it to go in knowing as little as possible

I got to watch Avengers: Infinity War over the weekend and I am still amazed by what they have accomplished.  It was a ridiculously great experience in the cinema.  You can ask Jamie, I had at least one audible "YESSSSSSSSS" moment.  And while long time comic fans knew THAT moment was possible, I do not think anyone imagined they way it was implemented.  I cannot wait for next year to get here.

A few warnings about the film.  Despite Marvel's change of title, this is most definitely a Part I film with Part II not coming until this time next year.  Additionally, this is not a good film to jump into the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time.  This is most definitely a culmination of the past ten years and eighteen films, even more so than Avengers (1) was.  In the first Avengers film, the previous solo films introduced you to the characters and one artifact, but did not dictate the story-line.  Infinity War pulls together characters and subplots to deliver one big payoff.  You are going to want some background coming into this.

With that addressed, my thoughts start going to Phase 4, i.e. what Marvel does after Avengers 4.  This is kind of what will be addressed in the If I Were Disney CEO blog series for Marvel Studios, but this is a little more granular.

Here is what I would like to see in Phase 4:

New Heroes:  While there are definitely sequels in the works (Guardians 3, Spider-man 2, Black Panther 2, and maybe Doctor Strange 2), there is a great opportunity to add new heroes to the film schedule.  Make a Black Widow movie.  Make a Hawkeye movie.  Add Nova, Adam Warlock, She-Hulk, Captain Britain, Star Brand, Thunderstrike, and Ms. Marvel.  These do not have to be in individual movies, but can be added as supporting cast where appropriate.  Ms. Marvel in the Captain Marvel movie for that introduction.

New Imprints:  Marvel has published a lot of comics in its history and has covered a lot of different genres.  I would love to see a Marvel Edge line, maybe with a black background/red text logo, to cover the 1970s Marvel Monsters.  Give me a connected Blade, Tomb of Dracula, Castle Frankenstein, and Werewolf by Night movie series, that can occur in a side pocket of the cinematic universe.  It would be ironic if Marvel could beat Universal at its Dark Universe game.

#ItsReallyAllConnected:  The early promise of the Marvel movies and television shows was that they were all connected.  And there have been small links, some more effective than others. The connection between Captain America: Winter Soldier and the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really turned that series around.  The links have grown smaller and smaller over the years, with the suits declaring it to be a little too cumbersome.  The sad part of this is that it really just needs someone helping coordinate.  The ties do not have to be strangling, but a little can go a long way to make it all feel connected.  For example, if someone could have just suggested a throwaway line for Thunderbolt Ross to say that people are getting powers from fish oil in Avengers: Age of Ultron as a reason for the Sokovia accords, that would have made a great impact.

Secret Invasion:  I know this will be the start of phase 4, but you can really look at it as the start of the third arc for the Marvel story.  Arc 1 runs from Iron Man to the Avengers.  It really reflects the founding of the Avengers.  Arc 2 runs from the Avengers through Avengers 4.  It's the build up of the Infinity Stones leading to Thanos in Infinity War.  There needs to be a shift in this upcoming phase/arc to have a different kind of approach.  A new macguffin and a singular new bad guy would just feel repetitive.  I would go with Secret Invasion.  This would allow for a completely different style of subplot that allows for a freer exploration in each individual movie, while still providing some great HOLY S^&*!!!!! moments and reveals.  Plus, the closing Avengers movie for it would be fantastic.

I do not know what is coming, but I am definitely excited for the ride.  I'll be there opening weekend next year to see whatever Avengers 4 is called (No Surrender? Heroes Reborn? Avengers Forever?).  I'm all in.

Excelsior!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Psalms 117 Laudate Dominum

I'm currently reading through the Psalms daily for my devotional.  And I've hit an interesting spot where the shortest chapter in the Bible and the longest chapter in the Bible are only two chapters apart. 

Psalms 117 has only two verses.  In the English Standard Version, it is only twenty-eight words long.  This is also the middle chapter of the King James version of the Bible.

"Praise the Lord, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!"

In researching the Psalm, it seems this psalm is probably the closest example we have of a work that is reminiscent of religious music of we would recognize.  This passage is a simple processional.  Something repeated as the Levite singers and musicians would go through their formal activities in relation to the Tabernacle and the Temple.

It's part of the Hallel (Hallelujah), a grouping of six psalms that are recited as a unit on joyous occasions.  In particular, this is part of the Egyptian or Exodus Hallel, celebrating the deliverance of God's people.  This particular part of this Hallel is the most Messianic component, looking for all nations and peoples to praise the Lord.  The Hallel is also possibly the song or hymn that Jesus and his disciples sang after the Last Supper, before heading to the Mount of Olives.  Given it's position in the Exodus Hallel regarding deliverance and it's Messianic interpretations, this is very fitting.

It has been set to music by William Byrd, Johan Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Antonio Vivaldi.  It's even in an Ace of Base song.

What really struck me in research is this:  "The main body of the song consists of two, eight bar phrases that are able to be repeated over-and-over as needed." Psalm 117. www.musicofthebible.com/psalm117.htm.

So it seems, repetitive choruses are not new to contemporary Christian music; rather they existed back in the formation of our faith.  We have other examples of this as well.  The creatures around the throne are continually saying one line over and over again.  "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"  I imagine it like Revelation Song.

Truthfully, I never understood this criticism.  Like in anything else, repetition is a useful tool: for emphasis, for unity, to teach, to explore and develop.  As a musician, though the words may remain the same, repeated choruses are where the harmonies can change, the volume can swell.  It's even where jazz style exploration can occur.  

I also do not buy into worship wars.  Good music is good music and good theology is good theology.  I do not care if it was written by Philip Bliss and Horatio Spafford, Bill Gaither, or TobyMac.  I do not care if it is played on an organ with a vocal wall of sound from a choir, if it is played by a small bluegrass quartet, or if the volume is cranked up to eleven with drums and guitars a-blazin.  Give me it all in the same service.  So long as it accomplishes the purpose, which is to bring glory to God on high.

Plus, there are some sentiments that deserve repeating.

"Holy, holy, holy, I want to see you"

"Your love, your love, your love changes everything"

"God you're so good"

"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"

"How great is our God, sing with me..."

Sing it again.
"Praise the Lord, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!"




Saturday, April 28, 2018

Why Dry Counties Do Not Work (And Have Never Worked)

Or, put another way, why there should at least be a vote on whether Buna should sell beer and other alcohol products

It can be one of the most interesting questions when settling in Texas.  Do you live in a dry county or a wet county?  Or is the county moist?  Do you live in a wet city in a dry county?  Does your city allow private club sales of alcoholic beverages?  Or does it allow the agricultural exemption for locally grown beer or wine products?

I had not planned to get into this issue, but after reading about statements made from people harassing those with the petitions, I thought I would weigh in.

The wet/dry issue is a holdover from prohibition and its repeal that has long outlived its purpose.  It does not actually accomplish the primary purposes that I believe most people would identify: 1) to reduce drunkenness and 2) to reduce DUIs.  Rather, it would seem to be only something that gives the appearance of propriety, if not the actual existence.

To me, this distinction should be done away with for a number of reasons:

1)  "Dry" counties are ineffectual
Anytime you have an activity that is prohibited in one area but not prohibited in another, the prohibition does not actually put an end to the activity in the desired area, but rather just shifts it over to the area of lesser restriction.  This is the same reason many location specific gun control measures are ineffective.

We all know this to be true.  It's why there are liquor stores literally at the county line in every direction.  Alcohol consumption in Buna (or previously in Wills Point) has not been decreased by the dry county label, the purchase has only been shifted to the neighboring counties.  There is a slight argument regarding service of alcoholic beverages at restaurants in town, but the reality of the situation is that there are very few locations in town that would serve alcohol on tap even if they were permitted to do so. 

You also find dry counties create additional related problems.  Dry counties have higher DWI fatality rates, stemming from individuals driving further under the influence (i.e. from the wet county where they can get their drink to their home in the dry county).  In Texas, a fatality statistic was nearly 3 times as high in dry counties versus wet counties.  Dry counties also appear to have higher rates of meth usage and other illegal drugs.

Opponents will often fear a rise in crime with the sale of alcohol, but that has not been observed.  Most often, the increase that people see from going wet is a tax revenue increase, not a rise in crime.

2) They are most often based on a potentially Constitutionally problematic basis
Dry counties are dry because the sale of alcoholic beverages is largely opposed on religious grounds, and to be specific, opposed on Protestant Christian religious grounds.  They are a hold over from a temperance movement born and bred in the Christian faith, led by preachers like Lyman Beecher and Christian leaders like Catherine Booth.  To put it mildly, it could be viewed as the imposition of a Christian doctrine on the general American population.  The individual county/municipality approach lessens broader Constitutional impact, but it does not lessen the concern of favoritism to a specific religion in those individual counties, especially given the broad swath of counties that are impacted across the south in particular (the Bible belt).

Let's frame the issue in a different manner.  Suppose the difference was between halal and non-halal counties instead of dry and wet counties.   So in Buna, you would only be able to buy, sell, and serve halal meats, to get non-halal products, you would need to travel across the county line.  In particular, if you want any pork product, like bacon, you would need to cross the county line.  How long do you imagine this distinction would last.  We could use kosher and non-kosher, but the problem is the same.

Yes, there are non-religious reasons for dry counties and some oppose the move to a wet county for non-religious reasons.  I understand that people oppose the change because of past/family history, because of the appearance of liquor stores, because of prohibitionism that has nothing to do with religion.  But if you look at the largest portion of opposition, it is on religious grounds.  To quote the overheard harassment of the petition workers yesterday, Buna is a "Baptist town." "Beer drinkers outta here."

We live in a society where it is not acceptable to push religious restrictions on those that do not practice the faith.  Or even among members who disagree with how the religion should be practiced.  And this is especially true when it is the majority belonging to one religion and the minority not practicing.  We are especially careful in those situations.  We should be treading lightly on these matters.  Here there should at least be a popular vote.

3) The religious grounds for opposition can be based on some interesting interpretations of the Bible
There is no specific prohibition against the consumption of alcohol in the Bible.  Rather, the Bible is ambivalent towards alcohol considering it both a blessing from God that can bring merriment (Genesis 14:18, Psalms 104:15, Proverbs 31:6-7, Ecclesiastes 10:19) and potential danger that can be unwisely and sinfully abused (Genesis 9:21, Proverbs 31:5, Isaiah 5:11, Isaiah 28:7).  Jesus' first miracle was to convert water into the good wine (John 2:10) and His last supper included wine as a symbol for His blood (Matthew 26:27-28).  Paul even includes an instruction to drink wine to Timothy for health issues (1 Timothy 5:23).  The issue then in the Bible is one of moderation.

There are two divergent arguments on this that come up from abstentionists or prohibitionists.  First, the argument is raised that wine or beer in the Bible was either not referring to a fermented drink (and therefore not one that could cause drunkenness) or was referring to one that was not near as strong.  Most scholarly interpretation precludes these views.  Wine is generally recognized to refer to a fermented drink.

"There is nothing known in the East of anything called 'wine' which is unfermented. ... The wine used by the Jews in Palestine - people most conservative in their religious customs - at Passover, is of the ordinary kind."  Hastings, James. "Wine." Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, Volume 2. p. 824

"The wine of the Bible was a manufactured article.  It was not the juice of the grape as it exists in the fruit, but that juice submitted to such a process of fermentation as secured its preservation and gave it the qualities ascribed to it in Scripture."  Hodge, Charles.  "The Lord's Supper." Systematic Theology. pp. 3:616.

Further, historically, the Hebrews made their wine stronger, not weaker.

"It is remarkable that whereas the Greeks and Latins by mixed wine always understood wine diluted and lowered with water, the Hebrews on the contrary generally mean by it wine made stronger and more inebriating by the addition of higher and more powerful ingredients, such as honey, spices, defrutum, (or wine inspissated by boiling it down to two-thirds or one-half of the quantity,) myrrh, mandragora, opiates, and other strong drugs." Clarke, commentary on Isaiah 1:22.

Second, the argument comes to the passage in Romans regarding not being a stumbling block to the "weaker brother." (Romans 14:13).  And while that is a part of the passage in Romans, it is not provided in the whole context.  The entire chapter focuses on the availability and exercise of choice in liberties in the Christian faith.  The specific example provided is regarding the eating of previously unclean foods.  Paul calls us as Christians first not judge others for their exercise of liberty ("Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him." Romans 14:3), to second use caution in our exercise of liberty to not put our liberty above another brother's growth ("Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.  Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.  It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble." 14:20-21), and finally, to exercise our liberty with the conviction of faith ("But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith.  For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." 14:23).  Removing the second bullet from this context and making it the sole focus can rob the individual of the exercise of his liberty in an appropriate way in faith.

Again, lets change the example away from alcohol.  Suppose what another brother stumbles with is gluttony (a topic we really do not like to touch in the church).  A strict focus on the second bullet would have every believer unable to ever eat a doughnut for fear of causing another to stumble, as opposed to allowing the believer to eat a doughnut in the privacy of his home, but not flaunting it in front of those who may have it as an issue.  The issue, as always, in the scripture is with motivation - an issue of the heart.  Why that doughnut at that moment.  Why that drink at that moment.  This is capped by Paul's warning about proceeding in faith at the end.  If you are worrying about whether something is the right thing to do or not, it's safest not to.  Put another way, if you are not convinced enough in faith that you are proceeding in accordance with what God has allowed you to do, then your should not do it.

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As you can imagine from above, I am for moderation.  That alcohol is rightly used in the Eucharist and can be for making the heart merry, but also has real dangers requiring it to be used wisely and in moderation.  To side with Martin Luther in that " we must not ... reject [or] condemn anything because it is abused."

I write this not to shame anyone for opposing the change of the county to a wet county, rather just to challenge the perceived status quo.  I do not want you to necessarily change your opinions on the issue, but I do want to you to think about why you hold them. Like all of my blogs, they are ultimately to hopefully lead to continued conversation, not to shut it down.  Ideally, the issue should be brought to the community for an up-down vote without intimidation or coercion.  And the will of the people should stand.

But harassing those that are raising the petition for change?  No way.


Friday, April 27, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

I have been collecting comics since 1996.  It was Heroes Reborn that got me to start my first pull-list at Book Stan' II Comics & Games in Beaumont.  From that point on, every week there was a new collection of comics in my box ready for the devouring.

Though I have read a variety of publishers and comics, my favorites were always Marvel Comics, particularly the Avengers and Marvel Heroes families of titles.  Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Fantastic Four.  The original stable of Stan and Jack titles.  After Heroes Reborn and Heroes Return came Marvel Knights with new interests.  Daredevil, Inhumans, and Black Panther.   And though I have changed formats (digital on an iPad is so much easier than keeping up with multiple longboxes of comics), the love of comics remains.

So as you can imagine, I am very excited for today.  Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been nothing short of amazing.  From a gamble on Iron Man which literally determined the fate of the company to now where there are multiple blockbusters guaranteed each year, it has been an incredible journey.

I don't know what to expect from Infinity War.  I know it's going to vary greatly from its source material, as I am pretty sure Marvel is not going to let the bad guy win and destroy everyone, only to be brought down by his own inferiority complex.  I know it will have terrific performances.  The real strength to the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been its casting.  This is also something that has never really been tried.  At one point in production, the team was juggling sixty-seven characters.  I'm curious just to see how well that worked out.  I'm fully expecting the Marvel touches of humor and character moments.  I'm ready for the stingers.  I'm ready for Stan Lee.

I'm excited for this movie to simply exist.  It represents such a big part of my life, I'm just glad to be along for the ride.  Here's hoping I get to rave about it.

And, since this is a Marvel post, of course it has to have a Stan Lee cameo.

Nerd points achieved - July 2012

 Excelsior, true believers!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Sanctuary

The following entry is another post that was shared previously on Facebook.  It is presented here as a way to raise again for discussion and archive the content.

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I've been thinking a lot lately about The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I've been listening to the cast album from the Paper Mill Playhouse production and it has quickly become one of my favorite musical compositions. The moment, of course, that always stands out to me is when Quasimodo finally breaks his chains and fights back against Frollo, yelling "Sanctuary" over and over, claiming Notre Dame as a place of refuge for all.
And that got me thinking...
When did the Church stop being a Sanctuary for all?
I know the specific laws of Sanctuary have long been overturned and those had their own unique problems, but there is something truly Christ-like about the image of anyone regardless of their background and sin being able to enter the church and claim sanctuary.
And it just doesn't seem like we live up to that any more. It seems we are more interested in the privileges and perks afforded our members, making sure they are well taken care of, than in providing refuge to the weary. A spa or country club as opposed to a fortress and refuge from the battle outside.
It's time to be honest. How do we act when a stranger comes in to the church? Does it depend on the stranger?
If an illegal immigrant sought aid from your church, would it be provided or would you report and deport?
If a Muslim sought protection from a group of persecutors or if a homosexual sought refuge from the same, would it be extended? Or would the church and its members be more likely to be the ones persecuting them?
I've been wondering if the church failing to do its job in this area is what has led to things like the new "safety pin" symbol. For those of you that have not seen the "safety pin" discussion so far, the idea is that people are starting to wear safety pins on their clothing as a symbol that they are an ally to the anyone who needs it, regardless of race, gender, sexual identity, sexual orientation, religion, immigrant status, etc. I've unfortunately seen many in the Christian Right dismiss this idea because they view it as a partisan response to the election. It actually started in the United Kingdom after the Brexit as a response to an increase in racist and homophobic persecution there, and has spread to America as a result of the increase in attacks here post-election. And it's sad that it is viewed as partisan and foolish, particularly by Christians, as it represents how Christians are truly supposed to love the world and speak up for those who are being persecuted or oppressed.
I know many are trying. I just pray that we can do better.
“God help the outcasts, or nobody will.”
"Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place." Jeremiah 22:3
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in." Matthew 25:35


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Posted to Facebook November 17, 2016, 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

If I Were Disney CEO Part 5 - The Disneyland Resort

For the last post on the Disneyland Resort, I will be focusing on the resort area as a whole.  Specifically, this post will discuss changes to parking, hotels, and use of the potential expansion pads that Disney has identified.

In reality, while new attractions and lands are the more exciting additions, these are the type of additions that Disneyland needs.  With the parks at near full build-out and given how frequently they are hitting an overwhelming capacity, infrastructure needs are the most pressing.  Particularly where to house people and where to park people.  The goal will be to accomplish these needs in the most efficient and aesthetically pleasing manner possible. 

To help envision the different steps, it's a good idea to have an overview of the resort as a whole.  This image below provides a good look at the current expansion plans (on the left of the image) and identified areas for future expansion (on the right).

Current Disneyland Resort Overview
Parking:
The current parking structure (in green above) refers to the Mickey & Friends parking garage.  Seven stories, over 10,000 parking spaces, and a quarter of a mile long.  The yellow box indicates the newly announced parking garage that will be six stories and hold 6,500 cars.  Though these two structures will hold a large amount of cars, they reflect only a fraction of the parking needed for the entire resort.

Between the two garages and the hotel area (the red box above), Disney will convert this space into better utilized surface parking for the hotels.  Disney will also be building an additional parking garage for hotel parking behind the Paradise Pier hotel (the box in dark blue above) and repurposing a surface lot for Downtown Disney parking (the box in purple).

Both areas identified on the right of the image (the eastern gateway parking expansion in orange and the potential third park location in light blue) are designated for additional surface parking.  Blue is currently being used as "remote" parking and orange will be converted shortly.

Disney is currently maximizing all space it can on the west (left) side of the resort.  They are building garages which can be masked from the inside of the theme parks and are maintaining surface parking in the other locations.  The main issue for the future is what to do on the east side.

The current long range plan as it stands is to use the orange area above for a large parking garage.  Even just last year, the parking garage was moving forward on this side, adding a garage just slightly larger than the new one to be added on the west side.  The Eastern Gateway plan. This parking garage was desired because it would be between the Disneyland parks and the planned location for a third park.  In this location, it serves as a connector for both and could be used to divert traffic away from the already congested west side.

The Eastern Gateway plot
The hitch that is required to make this work is a bridge across Harbor Boulevard directly connecting the expansion plot to the entrance plaza.  Disney has two pieces of land that they could work from, the Carousel Inn land (the top red line) and the vacant strip (the bottom green line).  The plan was to use the Carousel Inn strip to build the bridge, connecting much closer to the current Harbor entrance.  The bridge would then become the only entrance on that side of the resort, with the security checkpoint back on the garage side of the bridge - meaning all of the hotels that fill the area above between the red and green boxes would now lose their front door entrance to Disneyland.  Between these unhappy hotel owners and a less than friendly city council, needless to say, Disney went back to the drawing board to devise the current west-side focused expansion.

To further complicate the issue, the land that Disney has earmarked for a future third park has problems of its own.  While the land is large enough, it is surrounded by some residential space including low-income housing.  This can severely limit some of the use of the space by Disney including night-time festivities (like fireworks) and attractions (sound shields on a roller coaster or space shot).   Further, the city of Anaheim has its own desires for the land as well.  Anaheim would like to expand Gene Autry way to connect it to Convention Way, fully connecting the Anaheim Convention Center with the Angels Stadium.  This route of course would completely bi-sect the planned resort.  I've indicated this in the image below.

Tough to have a theme park with a wide street in the middle of it
So with this, Disney has a problem.  The Eastern Gateway land is not large enough to build a full-scale theme park on by Disney standards, but could house a couple of lands or several attractions if space is well utilized.  The third park location is ideal in size, but problematic in terms of connection to the overall resort and the city's plans.

This previews a bit of my thoughts on general future expansion, but I do not feel that the Disneyland Resort needs a third theme park.  Given the land constraints, the logistics of connecting a third park with the rest of the resort, the feelings of the city of Anaheim and the difficulty in identifying a new unique theme, I would focus on other infrastructure and other compelling draws beyond a new theme park.  To that end, I would work with the city to offer them the land for the expansion of Gene Autry Way above, in exchange for the easements needed for bridges crossing Gene Autry, Katella, Disney Way, and Harbor (in yellow below).  In the planned third park area, I would build two large parking garages, one on each side of the new Gene Autry Way, which could service at least as many cars as the current/planned western garages, if not many more.  This way, the traffic could be balanced between the two garage sets.  Further, distance from the two sets of garages would be roughly equal.  Plus, I could envision the garages being a potential draw for Anaheim (and Disney for D23) given their proximity to the Convention Center.

Proposed Expansion
This would require the purchase of the Anaheim GardenWalk and would allow the current Eastern Gateway spot to be re-purposed.  Both will be discussed in future plans below.

Hotels:
The Disneyland Resort houses three Disney hotels: the classic Disneyland Hotel, the majestic Grand Californian, and the re-purposed Paradise Pier hotel.  They are planning a fourth resort, still unnamed, on part of Downtown Disney property, replacing the AMC theaters with Earl of Sandwich and Starbucks on the corners, the Rainforest Cafe, and the ESPN zone.  I've included a rough image below indicating how the expansion will look.

New Disneyland Hotel plus my proposed additions
The new hotel (in green above) will be a AAA four diamond resort, incorporating various shops and dining into the bottom floor, essentially extending the Downtown Disney space back in this area.  Likely, Starbucks and Earl of Sandwich will both be added back in the shops in this area.  The new hotel will also continue down to connect with and "absorb" the Monorail platform, making it a perk of the hotel.

I am on board with this new hotel addition.  If possible, I think it could easily be considered just an expansion of the Disneyland Hotel, especially given the style they have shown in the concept art.  I would imagine this new hotel would continue that mid-century modern look, reflective of the 1955 opening of Disneyland.  If this is possible, I would call this addition the Garden Wing, to recall the original garden wing of the original Disneyland Hotel.  The only additions I would want to ensure happen are a DVC wing in the red square indicated above and a new Monorail Cafe down near the Monorail Platform.  Respecting the history of the resort, but making it modern.

For the Disneyland Hotel towers, I would add a fourth hotel tower, named the Tomorrow Tower.  They already have Fantasy, Adventure and Frontier.  They just need to complete the set.  For the Tomorrow Tower, I would populate this building with family suites, a growing need in the travel industry.  These rooms would be two room suites for families of four to five (potentially housing up to 8 depending on how they are configured.  This would add suites to inventory beyond the DVC units, which are usually booked well in advance.

The Grand Californian is complete and needs no additions.

For the Paradise Pier Hotel, I am envisioning a complete demolition and replacement.  The hotel serves the purpose of additional room inventory, but creates a large visual intrusion.  The hotel was not built buy Disney, but acquired and lightly re-themed when brought under Disney's banner.  This tower is highly visible in Disney California Adventure, particularly in Paradise Pier.  And in Paradise Pier, the post-modern tower clashes with the Victorian sea-side pier atmosphere they are going for.

Not the most exciting view.
For it's replacement, I would not go Victorian specifically, but would go with an inspiration that is more time-period appropriate.  I would model the new Paradise Pier Hotel after the Casa del Mar Hotel in Santa Monica.
Collection of Casa del Mar.
This hotel would provide an interesting visual landmark in the background from Paradise Pier that is theme appropriate and would allow for potentially a better utilization of the hotel space than the current single tower.

Additional hotel space would come in the expansion pads.  And please note, there are many who call for a Disney "value" hotel in California.  There are many reasons why this will not happen.  There are several hotels within very close proximity to the current park gates that would be considered values.  Disney will continue to rely on these good neighbor hotels to provide the "value" option.  Accordingly, Disney can add highly detailed and themed resorts.

Future Plans:
As stated above, I do not envision a full-scale third theme park in Disneyland's future.  To me, there are greater uses for the space.  I would focus any additional theme park additions in the United States elsewhere.  With that in mind and with the third park area now used for parking garages and a through way to the Convention Center, that leaves a couple of pieces available for expansion and use.

Repeated for ease of access
First, I would buy the Anaheim GardenWalk to use for additional retail and dining space.  The GardenWalk is desirable if for no other reason than it is the connective tissue between the eastern properties (the current eastern gateway property and the planned third park location).  This space currently has several restaurants like P.F. Changs, the House of Blues, the Cheesecake Factory, and Bubba Gump Shrimp, as well as entertainment venues like the House of Blues and the AMC theaters.  This space would provide Disney a more standard collection of vendors, as opposed to the collection of unique shops and experiences they are cultivating in Downtown Disney.

From there, with parking in the strawberry fields, the GardenWalk as a new Downtown Disney-like space, that leaves the eastern gateway open for development.  While the space is not large enough for a full-scale theme park, it could house a water park.  For reference, both Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach could fit in this space. The only problem with a water park is that it is not a year-round space, even in California.

I envision the space, though, containing a series of larger one-off attractions that would benefit the resort and restore a bit of things that have existed previously.  Disney attraction themed mini-golf.  A new Dancing Waters.  Full-scale Disney film restaurants that cannot be included in the parks like Tiana's, Harryhausen's, Tony's, The Snuggly Duckling, or a real Pizza Planet.  An Adventurer's Club bar.   A second World of Disney location.  An El Capitan-style Disney single screen movie theater for the latest Disney release and other special events, complete with organ - world premiers could be held here.  A Hollywood Bowl-like amphitheater space for rotating musical acts.   The focus here would be on things to do - entertainment, over the shopping and dining in Downtown Disney and the GardenWalk.

I would also include a Disney Hollywood Hotel, themed to the golden age of Hollywood with Art Nouveau and Hollywood Regency decor.  A great place to put a rooftop restaurant/bar for fireworks views.

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That's all for Disneyland.  I think all of these additions and changes would put the resort on good footing for years to come.

After a short break in the series, I'll be picking back up with Walt Disney World.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Why We Fight

Between 1942 and 1945,the United States made a series of seven films entitled Why We Fight.  They were propaganda films to justify to United States soldiers the American presence in World War II and to persuade the American public to support the war efforts.  All seven of the films represented the best Hollywood had to offer.  Frank Capra directed, Walt Disney Studios animated segments, and Walter Huston and other radio stars narrated.  All came together because they recognized the power of film.  The power of an image.

Every so often, we get reminders of the fight we are up against.  The reminder of the evil that is still out in the world.  And there are are the defining images that bring this reality into focus.

We have one such image now.  This picture is not a colorized photo from Nazi Germany.  It's not from the 1930s or 1940s.  This was a photo taken in Draketown, Georgia.  Last weekend.

http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/newpix/2018/04/22/06/4B6A753100000578-0-image-a-85_1524375201471.jpg

There is something festering in our country and it cannot be ignored.  This is why we continue to fight.


Monday, April 23, 2018

I Didn't Remember That Before

Last night, we decided to watch a musical with the family.  It's kind of part of our summer movie series at home (just a little early).  Last year we had our Epic Summer focusing on multi-part epics: The Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, etc.  This year will be Summer Stock, a movie musical series.

We let Avalyn pick the movie, out of about three choices.  And she chose The Wizard of Oz.  She loves this movie.  And we do too of course.  It's a classic for a reason.

Last night, though, I noticed something I had never seen before.  When the group starts out to go get the Witch's broom after seeing the Wizard, they are all carrying weapons.  This I knew and the other weapon choices all fit.  What I had never noticed before is that the Scarecrow is carrying a gun.  Go ahead and check, it's there.

This isn't an instance of something that only became visible with HD, like being able to clearly tell it is a bird not the hanging Munchkin rumor.  The weapon is very visible and prominent in the Scarecrow's hands in several scenes.  It is just something I never noticed before until last night.

This happens every so often.  A missed line, a detail noticed in the background. But it is always fun when it happens in something that is so well known.  So well watched.

This happened to us the other night with the story of Moses as well.  We are reading the Big Picture Interactive Bible Storybook to Avalyn for a second time through and noticed a small bit in the story of Moses that stuck out like never before.

"Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside her.  She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it.  When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying.  She took pity on him and said, 'This is one of the Hebrews' children.'"  Exodus 2:5-6 (ESV)

I had forgotten that Pharaoh's daughter specifically noted that Moses was a Hebrew baby.  Note this occurs after Pharaoh has already ordered that all Hebrew male babies should be killed.  By taking in Moses, Pharaoh's daughter is specifically disobeying the direct order of her father.  Her compassion put her in direct conflict with her family and with the law of the land.

We do not know what happens between Pharaoh and his daughter after this point, beyond knowing that Moses is raised in the palace, with Moses' mother as a nursemaid.  It raises interesting questions, though.  Did this action by Pharaoh's daughter create an enmity between Moses and the eventual Pharaoh of the Exodus?  Did this continue and further the mistreatment of the Hebrew people at the hands of the Egyptians?  Though we have no other information in the narrative, this one detail sets the stage for much family drama.

The more you read the Scripture, the more these details can jump out at you, even in the most familiar passages.  This process is the revelation of God.  What revelation have you experienced lately?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Heroes for My Children #1 - Mr. Rogers

I have to confess that growing up I was not a Mr. Roger's Neighborhood kid.  For one thing, we lived in an area that was not served by a PBS affiliate.  That is sadly still true.  The closest PBS affiliate comes from Lake Charles and has a very weak signal.  When we did visit locations with a PBS station, I was much more of a Sesame Street kid.  I loved the action, the colors, the characters of Sesame Street and did not really get exposed to Mr. Roger's Neighborhood at all.  And I've still never seen a full episode.

"Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

Won't you be my neighbor?"

I'm learning more about it and have been intrigued by the Won't You Be My Neighbor? documentary.  And what I'm discovering as an adult and parent is what a blessing Fred Rogers truly was.  Man, we could use more people like him.

His story is fascinating.   Mr. Rogers got into television because he was determined to change it. He was convinced television could be used to nurture, educate, and enrich those who would watch and listen, particularly young viewers.  He was a Presbyterian minister who was not interested in preaching; rather, he lived out his faith as a shining example. He refused to play a character on his show, because he knew that being genuine was more valuable.

"One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self.  I also believe that kids can spot a phony a mile away."

Through his show, he was determined to bring love and acceptance to every child, especially the lonely, the sick, the alienated, and those struggling to understand or fit in the world around them. He made accommodations to his show to make sure that his viewers understood this.  When one young girl wrote in requesting that he audibly announce when he was feeding the fish because she worried about his fish (she was blind), he made sure to incorporate a verbal acknowledgement to each show.  He wanted to teach children to love themselves and others, and to address common fears with comforting songs and skits.   He took a trip to a children's hospital to show kids a hospital is not a place to fear.  He recorded special messages after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, as well as during the Gulf War (which was re-aired during the invasion of Iraq).

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.'"

His show was also very progressive in its "radical kindness."  In the height of racial segregation amid fights to keep public swimming pools divided, Mr. Rogers made Francois Clemmons a recurring character on his show, Officer Clemmons - one of the first African-Americans to have a recurring role on a kids television program.  Mr. Rogers would sit with Officer Clemmons with their feet in a wading pool talking and singing songs.  As an uncompromising pacifist, Mr. Rogers used his first week of programming to highlight his antiwar beliefs.  This would also come up again in 1983 with a skit on the nuclear arms race and in discussions of the Gulf War.

"We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility.  It's easy to say 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.'  Then there are those who see the need and respond.  I consider those people my heroes."

He essentially saved public broadcasting with an impassioned speech 1969 to the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, resulting in an increase in funding from $9 million to $22 million.  Interestingly, he also was a key witness for the use of the VCR to timeshift, or to watch programs at another time beyond their airing.

"My whole approach in broadcasting has always been 'You are an important person just the way you are.  You can make healthy decisions.' ... I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important."

I do want to address one meme that is going around.  There is a story that is being shared that about both Mr. Rogers and Captain Kangaroo presenting them as war heroes.  The particular rumor for Mr. Rogers is that he was a combat marine in Vietnam with over twenty-three confirmed kills and that his sweaters were to cover his tattoos.  This rumor is not true.  Mr. Rogers never served in the armed forces, going directly from college to media.

And please understand me when I state that our veterans are heroes and there sacrifices should be recognized.  But Mr. Rogers story does not need anything added to it to make it more acceptable or more heroic.  He does not need some traditionally masculine aspect added to make him a better man.   Mr. Rogers is a hero and a great man because of his quiet and unassuming nature which he poured into his work.

"When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch.  That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive.  Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed."

That we all could be more like Mr. Rogers.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

If I Were Disney CEO Part 4 - Disneyland/California Adventure Second Take

And now for something a little different...

As mentioned in the blog on my thoughts on California Adventure, I have been approaching these plans and projections based on the current status of Disney parks.  This means, I have been working from the parks as they exist and with known current projects.  That meant that for California Adventure, for example, I was working from the upcoming Pixar Pier instead of the previous Paradise Pier.  Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout existed instead of the Tower of Terror.

For this post, I'm adjusting the hypothetical.  I'm presenting an alternate take on three key lands in Disneyland and California Adventure all based on a change in position of where the Marvel characters end up. 

From this comes a very divergent path for Tomorrowland, Hollywoodland, and Paradise Pier (plus the future Marvel Land expansion pad).  The rest of the parks would remain the same as presented in the previous blogs.  This post just presents a what if that is in some respects a stronger future.

Hope you enjoy.

Disneyland
Tomorrowland:
In this alternate take, I plan to use Tomorrowland as the landing spot for the Marvel characters, for a couple of reasons.  First, placing the Marvel characters in the opposite corner of the same park as the Star Wars characters would help greatly divide the crowds in Disneyland in a much more meaningful way than putting them in separate parks.  As it stands now, each property stands to be the overwhelming draw for their respective park.  If the two properties cannot just be separated out into the eventual third park in the Disneyland resort, it seems using them as balance would be a better approach.

Second, these primary Marvel characters that have caught the public's attention through the Marvel Cinematic Universe all have their origins in the 1960s start of Marvel comics and in the science hero.  There is a definite kinship between the exploration of science in the initial comic books for these characters and the early versions of Tomorrowland.  It truly is no coincidence that Howard Stark in Iron Man 2 was heavily patterned after Walt.

With that in mind, this version of Tomorrowland will borrow heavily from the Stark Expo, exploring science and technology with a Marvel twist.

Marvel Tomorrowland
In fact, the Stark Expo will take over both floors of the Innoventions building.  The first floor will be a lot like the current Launch Bay but for Marvel.  It will have a store, Iron Man Armory, Rotating Meet & Greets, and a small space for a movie preview.  The top floor will become a VOID VR experience where you get to wear the Iron Man armor.

Moving around clockwise, I would convert Pizza Planet to a Captian America themed restaurant with all-American food.  With Cap being the oldest hero, it would make sense that there would likely be a Planet Hollywood style restaurant with his memorabilia.  On the top floor of that restaurant, I would add a small Dr. Strange Magic/time travel show.

Space Mountain remains the same, but gains a Captain Marvel/S.W.O.R.D (space S.H.I.E.L.D.) pre-show.

The Honey I Shrunk the Audience/Captain EO theater would now host an Antman/Pym Particles 4D show.  A lot like Honey I Shrunk the Audience, but can also include the Microverse.

The Starcade space is revamped into a Wakandan Outreach Center, with a Black Panther Meet & Greet and technology exhibits.

Star Tours becomes Galaxy Tours.  The experience is essentially the same, but with Rocket as your pilot and baby Groot on the dash.  The soundtrack is now an awesome mega-mix and you are visiting Hala, Xandar, Knowwhere, Ego, etc.

The People Mover is reinstated just as in the other version.  The Astro Orbitor is removed and replaced by the Jet Packs from Shanghai Disneyland.  The Jet Packs are placed back on top of the People Mover platform.  The jet packs are preferred as they will fit in as training for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

A different spin and a bit more like agent training.
Likewise, Buzz Lightyear will be replaced by a Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. shooter ride.  Fighting the forces of Hydra (and other Marvel villains) to see how well the guest is to become an Agent.  Scores at the end ranking the guest in terms of status.  Plus the gift shop at the end can sell an Agents badge with names.

The Galactic Grill becomes the Shawarma Stand.  And the Star Wars Jedi Training show is replaced by a Super-Hero training show with Hawkeye and the Black Widow.

All in all, a change that works, keeping the essential experiences the same.

Disney California Adventure
Expansion Pad:
If Marvel is going in Tomorrowland, that means that a bug's land can stay and the expansion pad in California Adventure is still available.  I would keep a bug's land and use the expansion pad to add Toy Story Playland.  The land works here as the scale is near the size of a bug's land and the Tower of Terror looming in the background will help sell it.

The expansion pad can then house RC Racer, Green Army Men Parachute Drop, Slinky Dog Zig Zag Spin, and Woody's Lunch Box, as well as a few new additions.

Toy Story Playland
I would add a Tin Toy Revue, a small theater attraction like the Tiki Birds or Coutnry Bears, were guests watch Wheezy and others backed by a wind-up band sing a variety of songs.

Around RC Racers, I would see if we could add a driving cars ride, Junior Autopia style.  This is a great location, as it could be Cars and Toy Story adjacent.

I would also add a small food stand modeled after the Poultry Palace kids meal box.  It fits much better here in a Toy Story sized land than it does on the pier.

I would also add Gerstlauer style Pegatop Carousel.  This is a spinner-ride that looks like a spinning top.  A perfect addition to a Toy Story land.

This gives the park Cars Land, Toy Story Playland and a bug's land all on the East Side.  This also informs what should become of Hollywoodland.

Hollywoodland:
To complete this side of the park, Hollywoodland would then become Pixar Studios.  The framework is already there and this proves a better fit for the Pixar characters than the Pier.  This makes the entire east side of California Adventure themed to Pixar.

Pixar Studios Hollywoodland
The entry way would now get the Pixar Studios arch, raised to an appropriate height so the Red Car Trolley and all floats can go underneath.  This would be very similar to the Pixar Place entrance in Disney Hollywood Studios.

Disney Hollywood Studios version
The main thoroughfare will change from Hollywood Boulevard to Pixar Street.  This main street will be themed generally to Pixar Studios.  Gone Hollywood will become Knick's Knacks with the modern Pixar theming it currently has.  Award Wieners will become The Hidden City Cafe, a version of the cafe that Pixar animators would eat at and develop their ideas.  Here it would largely be a sandwich counter.

Disney Junior will become a dedicated Pixar shorts and preview theater.

The Animation Academy will become Pixar Animation Studios, necessitating a redressing of the outside of the building to match the brick style in Emeryville.  Within the building, Turtle Talk with Crush will stay.  The Animation Academy learn-to-draw portion will be replaced with a dedicated meet & greet Space.  The Character Closeup space will be added back with studios artifacts and the Toy Story Zoetrope.  The Sorcerer's Workshop will be replaced with Presto DiGiotagione's and will include Riley's Mind where you find your emotion and the Land of the Dead (maybe even Andy's Room).  This building will also be a great place to add the Mr. Potato Head animatronic.

The Hyperion will still be enclosed, but the musical that will be added will be a Coco musical.  What makes this a good lateral transition is that there are also two other shows that can be easily implemented in this space - Finding Nemo the Musical from Disney's Animal Kingdom and the Toy Story Musical from the Disney Cruise line.

The center area will still become a water feature, but this time it will be a fountain with the Luxo Lamp on top as a centerpiece.  The lamp can be minimally animated to shine the light around the location.

The old backlot area now becomes a Monsters Inc. sub-land.  The road around the center is now Monsters Boulevard.  The Sunset Showcase theater is replaced with a Monsters University Scare Games ride.  I know this is pressed for space, so this will have to be clever with utilization and likely two story.  The outside would look like the Monsters University Campus.

Stage 17 (currently unoccupied) will become the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, brought over from Florida.  The building here will look like Monsters Inc.

Mike and Sulley to the Rescue will remain, but the outside of the building will be rebuilt to resemble the street leading up to Monsters Inc. in the film.  That way, the End of the Line Bar can be replaced by a Tony's Grossery storefront to blend in with the new facade.

Hollywood and Dine would be rethemed to Harryhausen's Restaurant. This will be a sit down Asian restaurant with themed food and select Monsters character dining.

With this, California Adventure now has sections for Monsters Inc./University, Cars, a bug's life, and Toy Story.

Tower of Terror would remain as the Twilight Zone and the Red Car Trolley barn would still be on that side.  Guests would now walk past Tower and the Red Car Trolley barn (now appropriately themed) into Toy Story Playland.  Toy Story would have a path into Cars Land.

Paradise Pier:
With Pixar taking over Hollywoodland, the Pier is free to contain the Fab Five traditional Disney characters and the Silly Symphony shorts.  Again, in many ways this works better as it can carry a more time period appropriate look and can leave many of the rides as they are.

Paradise Pier Reinvisioned
First, the name would remain Paradise Pier.  This means several things.  First the illuminated name remains above the loop on California Screamin'.  All of the small vendor carts and stands like Paradise Pier Ice Cream can remain the same.  Further, there is no need to divide the land into Pier and Park.  Everything remains in Paradise Pier.

Ariel's Grotto can remain the same or can be changed out for Clara's Roost Restaurant, in order to contain a Mickey and friends character meal. This would be named for Topsy's Roost at Playland.  Likewise Treasures in Paradise can remain the same.

California Screamin' gets a couple of slight modifications.  First, I would slightly change the name to The California Scream.  Slightly more appropriate for the setting.  It would also get a proper Victorian style queue and loading station.  One larger building to incorporate everything (i.e. no more weird sun shade structures for the queue).

In the eastern helix, I would add a Pluto themed flat ride named Plutopia after the short.  A Dumbo-like spinner around a central fire hydrant with Plutopia in neon above it.

King Triton's Carousel becomes King Neptune's Carousel to match the Silly Symphony Short.  It gets a Victorian style cover, enabling the easy switch of the figure icon.

Toy Story Midway Mania becomes Minnie's Midway Mania.  Since this ride is largely screens, it is simply a matter of redecorating the walls and then adjusting the animation to fit the classic characters.

Next door, the games of the midway and extra space becomes Philharmagic.  As suggested when this was to be added to Hollywoodland, the newer segments would be switched out for classic movies and shorts.  The exterior for the theater would be closer to a nickelodeon.

Between Philharmagic and the shops, the ride becomes a Lonesome Ghosts Spook dark ride or A Tunnel of Love Ride.  Either way the focus is on the classic characters and adding a classic amusement ride to the pier.

Sideshow Shirts will be split into Paradise Pier Gifts and Confections, to include the merchandise for sale and sweets (particularly salt-water taffy).

In the Screamin' western helix, I would place a Three Little Pigs Helter Skelter.  I've been obsessed with a Helter Skelter ever since I noticed it in a Donald Duck cartoon (Straight Shooters).  The goal here would be to go beyond a simple slide where a guest's body is on the slide.  Instead it would be a ride vehicle going down the slide.  This Helter Skelter would look like a lighthouse, as in the image below.  I imagine a ride vehicle like a Doom-buggie from the Haunted Mansion.  This type of ride vehicle provides the greatest control in directing the guests point of view.  Here the guest would be directed to look at the outer wall as it climbs around in the inside of the tower.  Here the story of the Three Little Pigs would be projected on the walls for the guest to view as they climb.  When they get to the top, that's were the Big Bad Wolf blows the guests out of the tower and the vehicles start quickly spiraling down the "slide" giving the guests a view facing out from the tower.  I think this could be a really fun addition that gives a little height in the helix and creates a new type of small form ride.

The one on the pier would be a little larger but this gives the idea.
Everything else in the pier can remain the same.  If a Silly Symphony tie is needed, Jumpin' Jellyfish can get a Merbabies overlay.
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This was a fun exercise in re-imagining these particular lands. In many ways, I like these choices better and feel they are easier to implement.

Next up, the Disneyland Resort as a whole.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Superman

Superman is celebrating his 80th anniversary with the publication of Action Comics #1000 on Wednesday, April 18, 2018.  The series has been rebooted, the costume has changed and changed back, and Superman has died and come back (a few times), but the first superhero is still being published monthly and still fighting the never ending battle.

And boy do we need him now more than ever.

Think about it.  Everything Superman stands for seems to be under attack.

"To best be in a position to use his amazing powers in a never-ending battle for truth and justice, Superman has assumed the disguise of Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper."

The American Way was later added to Superman's fight, making the better-known phrase "Truth, Justice, and the American Way."

But what is truth when unpopular realities can be dismissed as "fake news" or a documented record can simply be denied.  When the images we see must be evaluated for their level of manipulation.  When scripted dramas are passed off as reality television.  What is truth when feelings and opinions matter more than facts.

What is justice when it seems to be applied unevenly at best.  When the color of ones skin can be the difference in a business meeting in a coffee shop and an arrest at a coffee shop or between life and death in a traffic stop.  When antisemitic,white power, and alt-right groups are on the rise.  When the gender pay gap still exists.  When affluenza is a recognized condition.  What is justice if it is not blind.

What does the American Way mean anymore.  Especially when our country is as fractured as it is.

Sadly, even the "reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper" part is going away in our society.

Superman has always existed to be our ideal.  The hero of heroes.  The greatest.  He has been a social-justice warrior before the term ever existed (look back to those initial comics where he was beating up slum lords and corrupt business men).  The Blue Boy Scout.  A father figure figuratively and literally.  The leader of gods and men.

He has been portrayed as a Messiah figure of late, though that is a little misguided in my opinion.  He is much more of a representation of Moses, the leader-deliverer.  A child sent away in a vessel, raised by adopted parents who discovers his heritage and becomes a leader and inspiration.  An important distinction given the heritage of Siegel and Shuster, two Jewish kids growing up in the Depression, with a war raging in Europe.  Into these dark times, these two guys created a beacon of hope.  A strong man who could stop all the bullies and protect the little guy.

Over time, Superman's character continued to solidify.  Powers and weaknesses came and went; some of them very, very strange.  But the core of the character remained.  Superman is honest, fair, and decent.  He is a paragon of virtue who knows and does what is right.  He is the strongest one their is, but uses that strength to protect only, not to intimidate or bully.  Strength with responsibility.

And through the years, we have seen him bubble to the surface when he is needed.  Christopher Reeves fully embodying the character more than any other actor, making us "believe a man could fly."  More than any actor, Christopher Reeve gave the character a lightness, a comfort in his own skin than shone brightly through the screen.  The movies may be a little corny and only two of the four really work, but there is no denying the sincerity of the portrayal that would define the character.

It's that character we need again.  Not the struggling, near-objectivist protagonist present in the more recent Warner Brothers films.  Thankfully, though Justice League is a terribly flawed movie, at least we had a glimmer of how well Henry Cavill could have portrayed the real Superman.

We need that paragon, that beacon of hope to inspire us again.  The example that causes us to find a better way.  That figure that causes us to lift our heads and look...

Up in the Sky!




Thursday, April 19, 2018

Top Ten Things I've Seen On Stage

I have been fascinated with the theater since a young age.  I can still remember my first role on stage, where I did not appreciate the audience laughing over my lines (jokes they may be).  I can remember seeing my first professional production with the Cats tour in Houston.  We wore the soundtrack out after the show, listening to it on repeat.

One of the great perks of marrying a theater teacher is that I have a partner who is more than willing to see a wide variety of productions, from large-scale musicals to intimate character-driven productions.  We can often go just for research into shows that Jamie would like to stage at some point in the future.  We've seen some true stinkers (The 101 Dalmatians musical), some surprisingly charming shows (the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang musical, which still baffles me in how they made the car apparently fly), and some wonderfully inventive productions that were definitely added to the future productions column (The 39 Steps).  I've had the fortunate pleasure of seeing performances in the major Texas cities (Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio) as well as New York City, Chicago, and London.

Below I've assembled a list of the top ten things I've seen on the stage, along with a couple of honorable mentions.  There are several shows included on this list because of a particularly memorable performance by an actor or ensemble.  Others are included due simply because it is an excellent show that was performed well. The rest can be summed up as "shows that made me cry."  If the performance is done well enough to pull me into the show and have me emotionally invested enough to cry, it is an impressive piece of art.

Ragtime (March 1998, New York City) - "Everything is Ragtime."
For my graduation present, I got to take my first trip to New York City with my dad and sister.  We saw three shows (one choice for each of us) that trip in addition to the many sights and tours we got in during that time. Ragtime was not my choice for the trip, it was Brooke's.  My choice was Phantom of the Opera.  And while I did love that production of Phantom and still have the one sheet signed by the entire cast that they were selling for Broadway Cares, Ragtime is the show that stuck with me.  A grand musical about three cultures in America colliding at the turn of the century.  And while there is a bit of a product placement to the show (looking at you Wheels of a Dream), it is an exceptional show and this was an exceptional production.  It was my first introduction to many theatrical voices that still inspire me. Brian Stokes Mitchell.  Audra McDonald.  Even a very young Lea Michelle.  And the music continues to stick with me; I can still play from memory the intro to the overture.  This was the music I spent months trying to learn on piano.

Jersey Boys (August 2008, Dallas) - "Who loves you pretty baby."
Unless my memory is flawed (which is entirely possible), this was the first show Jamie and I saw together while we were dating.  And this show is just one of the cases where everything worked.  The Four Seasons music has always been incredible.   The story used to tie the songs together was told in a unique and inventive manner.   The use of cameras in particular and the narrative structure using each of the four members to narrate a literal season stand out as touchstones of the show.  And most importantly, the four guys here could just flat out sing.  It remains one of the best vocal performances I have ever heard.

Fiddler on the Roof (May 2009, Dallas) - "To Life!"
This marks the first of the great performances that I have been blessed to see.  This production of Fiddler marked Chaim Topol's farewell tour in the role of Tevye.  He was 73 at the time we saw him in Dallas.  And you would never have known it.  He looked as if he had just stepped off the screen from the movie filmed 38 years prior and continued right on the stage.  He played the role with such vitality and power, it was an exceedingly great tour-de-force.  This show created a life goal to be that passionate, to be doing what I love with such energy when I am that age and beyond.

The Sunshine Boys (September 2011, Fort Worth) -
Al Lewis: "You know what your trouble is, Willy?  You always took the jokes too seriously.  It was just jokes.  We did comedy on the stage for 43 years.  I don't think you enjoyed it once."
Willy Clark: "If I was there to enjoy it, I would buy a ticket."
This production contained two great performances.  Dick and Jerry Van Dyke as Al Lewis and Willy Clark, respectively.  Two vaudeville comedians that cannot stand each other now.  It was the first time the Van Dyke brothers had appeared on stage together.  And it was magical.  The script by Neil Simon is side-splittingly funny in and of itself.  But these two brothers made it sing.  They were both in top form and we had the blessing of being just a few rows back from the stage, so we had an incredibly close view to these masters at work.  My only regret is that if I had known about the post-show meeting opportunity, I would have paid almost whatever it took to be apart.

Les Misérables (December 2011, Dallas) - "To love another person is to see the face of God."
And now we start the shows that made me cry.  While I had listened to the soundtrack and seen bits of the recorded version, I had never seen a production of Les Mis√©rables before this show.  We saw this on Christmas Eve, after coming home from working in Los Angeles and before traveling to Colorado to spend the holiday with my family.  I'll always remember this particular performance being special for two reasons.  First, the actors playing Jean Valjean and young Cosette were father and daughter and you could feel that connection.  Secondly, you knew the actor playing Jean Valjean truly believed what he was singing.  Singers of similar talent can always technically sing the song with near perfect precision.  You can though tell the difference between someone who knows not what they sing and someone who believes in it wholeheartedly.  By the time the show got to Bring Me Home, you could feel the character and the actor's desire to find rest with his Maker.  There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Anything Goes (March 2012, New York City) - "I get a  kick out of you."
I have incorrectly stated in the past that this was the first showstopper that I had ever witnessed.  That moment where the audience responds to a song or moment with such applause and force in the middle of the show, that the show grinds to a halt until the audience dies down and it can resume.  In truth this was the second.  I'll discuss the first below as an honorable mention, but I feel that one has an asterisk.  That particular moment that became a showstopper was specifically designed to do so.  It was a specific carve out for a particular actor to showcase his skills that would nearly always lead to the applause delaying the show for a few minutes.  With Anything Goes, the showstopper was completely unplanned and in response to the unique circumstances of the particular performance.  We had planned to see Anything Goes for two of its stars: Sutton Foster and the legendary Joel Grey.  Sutton Foster had already won the Tony for the role and the show itself had won Best Revival of a musical.  As we got closer to the show, we discovered it would be Sutton Foster's last performance in the role.  This performance was naturally packed and the audience was already electrified.  Raucous applause to the closing of the first act.  And then the opening number for the second act came, "Blow, Gabriel, Blow".  A gospel-esque Cole Porter Number with an incredible tap section.  The kind of dance section that musicals used to have.  And the audience blew the top off the theater when the number finished.  Standing ovation, applause for minutes following.  A true showstopper.   The show was amazing and very sweet.  At the close of the show Joel Grey gave Sutton Foster the nicest blessing as she went on to her new production.  The show was a wonderful reminder of the family theater creates for both those watching and participating in it.

War Horse (September 2012, Dallas) - "Only remembered for what we have done."
This show still amazes me to this day.  On paper it does not sound like it should work.  A play with music about a horse set in World War I using puppets.  But that description so undersells what the creative people involved with this show were able to achieve.  The sheer attention to detail and technicality involved would be impressive enough.  They made the puppets breathe! The puppeteers continually remember to make the puppet look alive even if it is not moving.  The Handspring Puppet Company deserves all the accolades they have received for their designs.  And all the technical achievements in the world would not be enough if the actors and the story did not reach their audience.  But they both delivered.  This was another instance where there was not a dry eye in the AT&T Performing Arts Center.  If you have only seen the movie and ever find yourself able to see it on stage, do yourself a favor and check it out.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (January 2016, New York City) - "The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance observes."
Truthfully, we made the trip to New York City specifically to see this play on Broadway.  We braved Snowpocalypse 2016 for this play (and Aladdin).  And it was absolutely worth it.  Jamie has been wanting to stage this play since reading it.  And she has come very close, securing the rights from the British publishers before being denied by the American ones since it was going to be starting its Broadway run.  Now, it seems every school has wanted to stage this show, so she can be a little more judicious on when to put it up.  It's popular for good reason. The show contains some of the most inventive and innovative staging that I have ever seen, particularly in how it relates the main characters disorder (autism or Aspergers) to the audience.  It was a revelation in the way stories can be told, and again, it works because of the dedication and work of the actors in conveying this story to the audience.  At its heart, it's a story about a father trying to connect with his son.  Beautifully done. Again, if you can and are so interested, it is well worth seeing.

The Fiasco Theater Production of Into the Woods (May 2017, Dallas) - "No one is alone."
I have a confession.  I'm not the biggest Sondheim fan.  I know that is a heresy in the musical theater community, but I can often find myself more impressed with the technical proficiency of the show or the level of difficulty in the music than I am with the show as a whole.  Into the Woods is an exception.  Professionally, I have seen two different versions.  The first in 2002 on Broadway with a lavish star studded cast that included Vanessa Williams.  The second, the Fiasco tour with 11 artists playing all roles and instruments and very minimalistic staging.  It's this second version that truly touched me.  Part of it can be attributed to how art speaks to us at different times in our lives.  Into the Woods is a show about growing up and parenthood in particular.  Having our second child only a couple of months before this production, the story of the Baker, his wife and the witch resonated in  way this time that they could not before.  But this production also revealed something about the magic of theater.  At its core, it is just story telling.   It does not require all the flourishes we add to it.  All it needs, all it truly requires is talented storytellers fully committed to the message of their story.  And with that, a group of 11 artists, seemingly pulling props out of their trunk to add to their story can be so much more impactful than an extravagant, expensive version.  It can strike more to the core of the story and the audience to convey its heart.

Hamilton (August 2017, Chicago) - "One last time."
Second confession.  I came late to the Hamilton bandwagon; I thought it would never work. We had missed an opportunity to see In the Heights and had not discovered Lin-Manuel Miranda there.  And I had avoided the music and the publicity about the show as it was starting.  On paper, again, this show should not work.  A sung-through hip hop musical about Alexander Hamilton, with color-blind casting - sure.  Then I listened to the album.  It's not too early to call Lin-Manuel Miranda a genius.  The amount of history that he packs into this musical is astounding (though there are a couple of things that are reordered for the flow of the show).  The musical genres that are covered are impressive.  Lyrically the show is beautiful.  And it conveys the history of our nation in a way that is resonating with a broad spectrum of people.  We went to Chicago specifically to see this show.  And the audience was one of the most diverse audiences I have ever seen.  Packed house, young, old, black, white, season ticket holder, theater box patron, and never seen a musical before in their lifetime.  And it delivered.  There are three moments in the show that can make me near ugly cry.  Washington's Farewell Address in "One Last Time," "Forgiveness" in "It's Quiet Uptown," and "the orphanage" in "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story."  I cannot wait for this to come through Dallas next year.

Honorable Mentions: 
Damn Yankees (~1995, Houston) - "Those Were the Good Old Days."
This was the show with the first show stopper.  Jerry Lewis as Mr. Applegate, the devil with an interest in baseball.  In Applegate's main song "Those Were the Good Old Days," they had built in an extensive comedy routine for Jerry to riff through.  And riff he did.  He brought down the house, getting more laughs from dropping or missing a cane thrown from offstage than from catching one.  A bit more restrained than we would typically imagine of Jerry Lewis, but nonetheless a master at his craft.

The Tuna Shows with Joe Sears and Jaston Williams (various)
I've had the fortunate pleasure of seeing three of the Tuna shows with the original actors Joe Sears and Jaston Williams.  Greater Tuna, A Tuna Christmas, and Red, White, & Tuna.  It's a shame they no longer perform these shows, though I can understand wanting to explore other things.  These shows are all hilariously funny looks into exaggerated small-town Texas life, and there are no two better actors in the roles than Mrs. Sears and Williams.  I've seen other actors and it is just not the same.  I'm still convinced that they had to have come through Buna for inspiration at some point (particularly with the cougar/puma mascot in Red, White & Tuna).