Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Pop Locking + Mime + Contortion = Robert Muraine (Mr. Fantastic)


The very first time I saw someone do "pop locking" (a form of breakdancing) was in elementary school in Massachusetts, circa 1978 or so for a talent show. Couldn't believe my eyes -- a human robot? Thirty years later, people are still pop locking and taking this mime-like dance form to new horizons. There have been pop lockers before on the TV show "So You Think You Dance," but good heavens, be blown away by this clip of Robert Muraine (aka Mr. Fantastic), a street performer on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. I've never seen contortion added to the mix before. The guy has a natural sense of pantomime, impressive without any training. (Imagine if he DID get some training...)

What's a bit sad is that Robert quit the competition, feeling insecure about learning choreography in completely foreign dance forms. Robert, I hope you try again.

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posted by Brian at 8:45 PM 0 comments links to this post

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Bootie LA with surprise cameo from B-52's lead singer

I went to my second Bootie LA event last night. Last time around, the venue had a packed upstairs for dancing and a somewhat chill downstairs. Both played mash-ups, though the downstairs ones were particularly bold combinations (Tom Jones "It's not unusual to be loved by anyone" over Blondie's "The Tide is High", The Muppets Mahna Mahna over several different tunes, etc.) while the upstairs stuck to more straightforward, though still novel arrangements including one with Salt N Pepa's "Push It" on top of Grease's "Tell me More". The crowds at these things seem to be diverse, not your typical "L.A." crowd. At the last one, I saw people dressed as Vikings and pirates, something you'd expect at a Comic Con party, not an L.A. club.

Last night's was at a larger venue, the Echoplex. The dancing area was still a dense sea of people, but there were more places to sit or even dance further away from the main area. Unfortunately though, I wasn't quite as impressed with the musical selection this time. (I think that's most of the fun at these Bootie L.A events -- the "Oh wow" of recognition when you hear two songs you know being thrown together and having it work.) Still, there were some highlights:
  • Yaz's Situation vs. Foreigner's Urgent
  • Nirvana's Come As You Are vs. a 70s funk groove
  • Toni Basil's Mickey vs. Material Girl vs. Quiet Riot's Cum On Feel the Noise
  • DJ Dangermouse's 99 Problems vs. Nena's 99 Luftballoons
  • Diana Ross's Upside Down vs. Dead or Alive's You Spin Me Right Round
  • Fergie's Fergilicious vs Salt N' Pepa's Supersonic vs Push It
Sometime later, the DJ got up and introduced a special guest: Fred Schneider of the B-52s! So I swam through the sea of people to shake his hand.

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posted by Brian at 5:03 PM 0 comments links to this post

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Yummy Cupcakes vs. Sprinkles

At last! As mentioned before, I finally had a chance to try L.A.'s competitor to Sprinkles Cupcakes, Yummy Cupcakes. Ideally, if this were a true cupcake face-off, I would have had both side by side, taken lots of photos for the blog, done a blind taste test with friends... but a) I had no time to go to both places today, one being in Beverly Hills, the other in Burbank; and b) I was hungry and the cupcakes were far too distracting to report about properly.

So this was basically a scouting mission. (One with a glass of milk and lots of napkins.)

But I can say that you can't go wrong with these cupcakes. Cheaper, perhaps slightly less fancy or boutique-ified than Sprinkles, but larger and to my palette just as delicious. My foodie friend Jenny, her fiancé Jason (who wrote the Apple iPhone's manual!) and I sampled the Peanut Butter, Red Velvet, and Chocolate varieties. Besides that, we saw Snickerdoodle, Blood Orange (sold out just as I got there), and quite a few other kinds. The Peanut Butter was amazing... rich, peanut buttery, smooth, luscious. The Red Velvet was delicious, comparable to the Sprinkles version (but it would have been nice to have them side-to-side.) The Chocolate had a nice cream interior, much more subtle a cupcake than the Peanut Butter.

Obviously more research needs to be conducted... by me, with a gallon of milk.

(Just found out there's a Yummy Cupcakes in Santa Monica now too, so a side-to-side comparison should be much easier.)

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posted by Brian at 7:15 PM 0 comments links to this post

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Japanese Bunraku Returns!


Bunraku performers and fans gather after some late night Japanese beer following the show.

On Friday some friends and I went to see an authentic Japanese Bunraku theatre performance in Little Tokyo. Apparently, this is the first time in 20 years that an official Japanese troupe has toured in the U.S. I was happy to see it was a full house and not just puppeteers, although my friend Sam had rallied a lot of us puppeteers and got us a discount. He also acted as translator after the show when two of the performers and a few fans went out for drinks afterwards.

The staging and sets were gorgeous. A huge curtain with silk-like metallic decoration opened to reveal Japanese landscapes including a temple wall, a precipice and the Underworld itself. I particularly liked the use of a real tree, which moved organically. Above the stage, a large screen showing English supertitles. To the right, the narrator and the musicians playing shamisen (guitar-like instruments played with a big wedge pick).

What was the show like? Well, writing about a puppetry performance is a bit futile in my opinion. The whole point is to fall for the magic moment where your mind thinks that there's a living thing on stage, despite the fact that it's actually a doll with three people behind it. One great thing about this show is that the director of the theatre presented and translated a demonstration by the performers, explaining how the puppets work, what the narrator does, what the musicians do to enhance the story. This was brilliant and really made the show itself accessible to everyone. Also, in part of the show, a musician puppet came out playing a shamisen. This puppet's performance matched the music and the fingering of the real musician pretty much exactly! Great attention to detail. (When have you ever seen an animation or a puppet performance of a character playing a musical instrument where the fingering was accurate??)

The troupe and bunraku puppetry itself originate in Osaka, Japan. The government subsidizes the troupe almost entirely. Apparently, it's not especially popular in Osaka itself (indeed, my friends there hadn't even heard of it), but the shows in Tokyo are often sold out.

I asked them (over some Sapporo) how old the stories were and whether new ones were being written. They said that the most recent one was 130 years-old, but the ones considered "classics" are 300 years old. There are some new ones out there they said, but by the way they shook their heads disapprovingly, it was clear these were inferior to the classics.

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posted by Brian at 10:07 AM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, October 04, 2007

High-end Cupcake Invasion!

First it was Yogurt (Pinkberry and its copycats). Now it's cupcakes taking over.
Look out!

Sprinkles in Beverly Hills (coming soon to Boston, London, Tokyo, San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Phoenix-Scottsdale, Charlotte, and elsewhere)

Yummy Cupcakes in Burbank.

I've had a Sprinkles cupcake, courtesy of our iteration producer who brought some in for our planning meeting. It felt high-end. Made with fancy ingredients, packaged in a nicely designed box. There was a neat color-key sheet in the box mapping the colored (and inedible!) buttons on each cupcake to what flavors they are. Was it to die for? Meh. A bit sweet. But pretty-looking.

This week, they were mentioned on NPR. The founders were investment bankers who decided to change careers, get trained in pastry arts and sell cupcakes. Evidently, they are good marketers too -- the cupcakes landed in the hands of Oprah, who gave them away to audience members. Voila! Huge lines at the Beverly Hills store, and expansion into more cities is imminent.

But there is also buzz about Yummy Cupcakes in Burbank. I suspect those may be better tasting than the highly branded Sprinkles, but that will require extensive research and taste testing.

If either bakery wishes to provide me with samples, I will begin immediately.

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posted by Brian at 4:01 PM 0 comments links to this post

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Griffith Observatory: It's Back!


Late last year, the mysterious inaccessible building up in the Hollywoood Hills finally re-opened. I had seen it in episodes of Alias, wondering "Hey, what is that?" Well, now I know -- it's the Griffith Observatory, closed for several years for renovations.

My British friend Suzie and her husband Daryl were in town, so we hopped on the mandatory shuttle bus (they don't allow cars). Once aboard, we were subjected to a repeating instructional video, starring international teenagers overdosed with Prozac and Red Bull. They got us to ponder about space with 1st grade level Science Wonders, such as "Did you know there's a planet with rings?". However, they spent most of their time insisting that there were bathrooms on every floor except the roof. (Presumably, one can use it as is, or go off the side, which is a, what, maybe a few hundred foot drop down into sprawling hollywood mountainscapes? Fun with Parabolas!)

Overall, I was underwhelmed by the interior (they didn't reopen the laser show!?!? Damn them!), but we picked an incredibly clear day to go up there. Hence all my photos are of the outside and the insanely blue sky. Besides, the line for Leonard Nimoy's show was over an hour wait. Might as well just go watch Star Trek...

More photos (from my 35mm camera) pending.

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posted by Brian at 11:47 PM 0 comments links to this post

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Traffic School, Hollywood-style

Whenever I get a traffic ticket, I go to Comedy Traffic School at the Improv rather than take an online test. Sure, it's about 7 hours rather than 2, but you always meet the most interesting people! Of our 35 classmates, we had filmmakers, screenwriters, casting directors, photographers, fashion designers, an fx technician (yours truly), a number of actors and actresses, a set designer, and even a choreographer. (No celebrities this time, but the teacher mentioned that they're often in the class. Not even they are immune to traffic tickets). We literally had enough people to make a film.

I met a spunky woman who has not only acted in Hugh Grant movies and teaches Salsa dancing, but has birth-parents who rule the southern part of Sierra Leone. When she went back to meet them (after years of growing up in the States), a group of 300 met her and asked her what food she would like for her feast. Not wish to be too complicated, she asked for chicken. As it turned out, chicken is quite rare in that part of Africa, but after scouring the nearby villages they were able to find a few. Goat would have been much easier.

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posted by Brian at 2:25 PM 1 comments links to this post

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

God said, "Let there be rain."

And there was rain.

All day and all night, it rained and rained and rained and rained and rained and rained and rained...

Unfortunately, in Los Angeles where I had left all my poor packing boxes out on my balcony, shielded only by a meager Container Store bag.

Weather vs. Packing Boxes: 1 to 0

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posted by Brian at 9:12 PM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, August 08, 2003

Adventures in Southern California

Spent the last week in San Diego & Los Angeles in an unplanned adventure to find work at Siggraph and help my friend Sam with his puppet TV show pilot. Sure enough, I got a job offer from Sony Pictures Imageworks!! Wow.

It was a bit of coup getting the interview. They weren't taking reels or resumes at their booth. But for some reason they put up a sign advertising a "Production Services Technician" position over on the memoboards (where people leave notes that get placed alphabetically in vain attempt to reach other people). So after arriving at 8 AM I had the crazy idea to leave a note -- on the sign itself. Sure enough, the note was gone a few hours later, and then I got a voicemail saying I had an interview scheduled for the next day at their booth. Whoa! I guess it pays to deface posters now and then!

The interview went well. It's the only time I've had three women interview me for a tech position. Thanks to the free Starbucks frappucino cans at Dreamworks/PDI's booth, I nailed it. But the next challenge was getting to LA to stay with my friend Sam. Fortunately our LA friend Eric (whom I had seen at Comic Con a week or so earlier) had mentioned he might come down for Siggraph. A quick call to him, and voila! A ride back.

Meanwhile I was staying with a crew of Pixelcorps artists. We could have easily formed our own production company. John the Modeller, Scott the Compositor, Robby the R&D guy, Greg the Animator and me (running the thing, probably). I definitely had the most luck finding work, and getting into the cool parties. My friend Nick is moving up the ranks at PDI now and when I saw him at the booth, he gave me and Greg two invites for the exclusive Dreamworks/PDI party. Yayy! It was pretty sweet -- free booze, food, and the chance to see Jeffrey Katzenberg perform a meager puppet show describing one of their upcoming films ("Over the Hedge").

LA was fun too. Got to build and paint sets for a pirate ship filled with ogres, hamsters, and a pirate named Sid. Did I mention it was in the desert? Yep, 1.5 hours east of LA in the town of Phelan (the location of a woman I just met in Comic Con... Random!) I also performed right-hand for Victor Yerrid, a puppeteer from Crank Yankers and Greg the Bunny. Performed a hamster, and an Easter Island puppet too.

And of course, the interview with Sony! Their facility is rather nice. Marry gave me the tour and despite the weird hours, the job sounds great! They train you to do whatever you want, and try to make you want to stay rather than burn or kick you out like so many places. She told me if the crew liked me, they would email me a technical test. When I got home, it took me about a day to finish 3 questions (it didn't say anything about a deadline) involving a lot of scripting. Today I got the offer!

So I'll stop it with the "sure enough"'s and sign off so that I can go say "I got a jobb, I got a jobbb" to a dozen more friends.

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