Car Thoughts: The Last Jurassic Park Ford Explorer

It’s not uncommon for theme parks that leverage movie properties to create replicas of items to put in theme parks. Often artifacts from summer blockbusters and tentpole films are too intrinsically valuable to a franchise to sacrifice to the wear and tear of theme park display, however this Jurassic Park Ford Explorer bucks that trend.

Universal Islands of Adventure Jurassic Park Ford Explorer

…this Ford Explorer from the 1993 film Jurassic Park appears to be the real deal.
Installed in Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure theme park roughly 18 years ago (accounting for construction and soft opening), it has undergone a couple of rehabs in its time.
In its early days, it retained the original curved bubble roof and its side windows were still transparent and likely still glass. The side windows were later converted to plexiglass and painted black on the inside to discourage people from both peering in the vehicle, and smashing the glass to take home a souvenir from the film.
The bubble roof eventually succumbed to warping, discoloration, and leaking and was replaced with a hastily formed sloping roof that did not match the the shape of the original. I speculate that this is because Universal theme parks (at the time owned by the Blackstone Group investment fund and NOT Universal itself) failed to pay for the tooling or moulds used to make the roofs along with the SUVs themselves.

That’s right, there was no connection to the movie studio and the theme parks for a long time. Comcast has since bought the theme parks back from Blackstone.

Eventually, the replacement roof went tool and the truck has since had another roof put on, this time opaque fiberglass that was bonded to the body of the car (ie no longer sealed with weatherstripping), and painted black to appear tinted.

But there are way too many words, and not enough pictures here, so let’s continue:

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Movie Thoughts Roundup: BlacKkKlansman, The Meg, The Happytime Murders

I know it has been a while since I’ve seen or written about movies but I have been going and loving the new AMC A-List service as an excellent alternative to the now imploding MoviePass. I’m going to hit the three major flicks that I’ve seen recently (BlacKkKlansman, The Meg, and The Happytime Murders) in this roundup or digest, or whatever you want to call it.

Movie #1: BlacKkKlansman

Okay, see here’s the thing. You can have a great true story with compelling characters and an important message and loads of talent….and still not make a good movie, as was the case here. I have to keep this short since this is a roundup, but as a movie and a story, Blackkklansman misses the mark. I humbly believe that Spike Lee’s hubris got in the way of making what could have been a truly amazing feel-good and fun movie about battling racism and winning – and YES you can have a feel-good summer movie on this topic – a passable and meandering tale that barely clings to its plot which teeters on the edge of story structure oblivion.

Continue reading “Movie Thoughts Roundup: BlacKkKlansman, The Meg, The Happytime Murders”

[UPDATED] Movie Thoughts: Touring the Creature Effects Shop StudioADI

StudioADI Amalgamated Dynamics Inc

[UPDATE: Added a slideshow of photos on 7/18/18] When I was a young lad (still am by the way…) I attended a Showbiz Expo at the LA Convention center in 1992. One of the booths was for a publisher called Cinefex, who was promoting their latest issue of their incredible behind-the-scenes special effects magazine, and the upcoming film Alien3. This was my first introduction to the work of Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr and their company, Amagalmated Dynamics Inc., aka StudioADI.

Okay that’s a little refresher of the flick if you haven’t see it [in a long time]. The pair were(are) alumni of the Stan Winston studio and have gone on to create the creatures for a litany of sci-fi, horror, comedy, and well any other genre of movie you could think of.

My tour was led by Alec Gillis, a gentleman and scholar who has a rather hilarious IG account and should add comedy to the list of services provided by StudioADI (an abbreviation Amalgamated Dynamics Inc. later adopted). The tour was of particular interest to me as Alec not only covered the making-of and cultural aspects of the effects industry, but also the business-of-the-business and memories of the Winston days as well.

At times along the tour, we were allowed to take photos, (which can be found in the gallery), and then there were times when we couldn’t due to the nature of upcoming projects or works that Gillis knew studios wouldn’t be happy with him sharing the aftermath of a given project with the world.

The trophy room (that’s what I’m calling it), was spectacular and contained souvenirs of their work dating back almost thirty years, including items that had been screen used in Alien3 and featured in that first Cinefex I got (FYI Cinefex did exist before Alien3). You can see a plethora of them in the panorama at the top of this screen (utilizing my recently refined technique of course…) and it’s a challenge to try and name every single movie that has an artifact displayed here.

Of course there was more than this to see and I do encourage a visit to the gallery, and after you’re done there, you should hop on over to StudioADI’s YouTube channel as it’s full of great behind the scenes videos showing how some of our favorite movie creatures were made and then operated behind the scenes.

Local Thoughts: The Los Angeles Theatre and Perfecting My Panorama

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of the seminal movies of my life and holds up better than nuclear fuel rods, so when I heard that it was going to be screened at the iconic Los Angeles Theatre in Downtown LA, I knew I had to go see it and also capture a panorama of the interior. We all know the Los Angeles Theatre well from a variety of movies, TV shows, and excellent commercials. For example:

  

Okay that’s enough pop-culture referencing for the moment. The point is, you probably knew about this place, and as theaters go, it’s pretty epic inside, although not in the greatest of shape, as are none of the formerly grand Broadway movie palaces of the early 20th Century.

The theatre is part of the LA Conservancy’s annual ‘Last Remaining Seats’ festival that screens classic cinema in formerly glorious and ornate movie palaces mostly located in the Broadway Theatre District in Downtown Los Angeles, but also in other locations around Los Angeles as well. Previously, I had seen Citizen Kane at the Orpheum Theatre. Not sure which theatre I’ll see something in next time. For better or worse, the conservancy did not let us in to the theatre until 45 minutes prior to the screening of Roger Rabbit and so I had limited time to document the interior, but then I remembered: technically, the glass is always full and I can always come back. I shot this hasty video as I was more interested in photos this time out. Perhaps at a future screening, I’ll get better video:

What I really wanted to get, however, was a humdinger of a panorama of that glorious interior (barbershop quartet notwithstanding) and I put to use many bits of wisdom I had learned over the years from taking many many many less-than-satisfactory-to-me panoramas.

The first thing I learned was:

1. NEVER EVER EVER take a panorama with your smartphone. They suck. Of course I say that based on the assumption that you take photos with something other than a smartphone when you go out. Sure, a smartphone can stitch together a panorama in real time but the end result is incredibly distorted, has no additional stops of dynamic range, makes use of heavy JPG compression, and has to be quite cropped to account for variations in the user’s y & z axis jitters when panning. I could continue onward as to why smartphone panoramas are bad bad bad, but I won’t. Moving on.

2. While you should never use your iPhone, you should use your iPhone’s orientation (ie vertical) for taking panoramas. A normal camera’s horizontal bias (ie 4:3 or 3:2) may seem like the way to take panoramas, but this leads to a lot of distortion and eventual cropping of image data at the top and bottom of your photo and if the point is to capture as much area as possible, then you want to take more pictures in a 2:3/3:4 format to get maximum coverage.

2. Identify the center of your panorama and take a reference photo first to determine the look and focus and feel of the end result. Switch to full manual mode. Set your focus, shutter speed, aperture, ISO. All the things. Now take the picture of the center, and do not change any settings. Including focus. This is important. Most helper-functions on digital cameras have you start your panorama from the left or the right side of your perceived frame and base their settings for the entire panorama off of how the far left or right of the picture looks. The helper function is also typically limited to jpg output which crushes bit depth, compresses colors, bakes in white balance, and a slew of other undesirable things to your pictures, so that’s why we go full manual for this. Your camera is now ready.

3. Depending on your disposition, now start taking your photos from left to right, or right to left (in your camera’s RAW format). Remember. Your camera’s settings are locked from step 2. You haven’t changed anything right? Good. Here’s how many photos I took to capture this panorama:

Los Angeles Theatre Panorama Component Images

4. Load your raw files into your editor of choice. Mine was Adobe Lightroom CC Classic. (Note: Lightroom CC can’t handle this project. Adobe stripped features from the newer version which baffles me).

5. Again, process your middle photo first to taste, and then use those settings for every other photo in the series. Lightroom makes this very easy with the standard ‘cmd+c’ and ‘cmd+v’ allowing you to copy+paste your settings from one photo to another. Very natural.

6. Merge your photos. Again, this is handily done in Lightroom or Photoshop. I prefer Lightroom because it preserves raw data and still allows you to perform additional non-destructive final adjustments to your merged photo.

7. Happy with it? Good. Here’s how it came out:

Los Angeles Theatre Panorama - 20,000 Thoughts

And that, folks, is how I take panoramas these days. I guess you could just use your phone too though.

Seeing Who Framed Roger Rabbit was great as well. In person to take about the film was Don Hahn, Charlie Fleischer, and Joanna Cassidy, and the print used was an old film print instead of a digital file. This was nice because it fit with the theme of the old movie palace, and the visual effects held up better since they were designed to work in the more forgiving 35mm Vistavision format. When you watch a restored HD or 4K version, you can spot the old effects. Notsomuch here. It was great.

I do hope to return to see more flicks in the grand movie palaces downtown. If you’d like to know more about the LA Conservancy and Last Remaining Seats, please do check them out.

Movie Thoughts: Hotel Artemis Was Great But Needed to be 30-40 Minutes Longer

Hotel Artemis could have, and should have, and probably was, better than what came out and so I’m going to say I liked it based on what I speculate was cut.

Hotel Artemis felt like it had all the substance cut from it, and had its B&C plots tossed in a blender with the main plot to cut down running time.  Perhaps it was an exercise in efficiency, but my hope is that a director’s or uncut version will eventually be released to streaming or home video as this was a movie that was way too short…in my humble opinion. To that point, it was the product of Drew Pearce, a really talented writer who cleared earned the right to direct a movie based on his previous body of work. Hotel Artemis’  production design is gorgeous, everyone turns in great, if short performances (again it seems like so much was cut), and of course, I love the fact that it was shot in LA, and just as importantly, felt like LA. In many films now, Atlanta is doubling as LA, which is just silly and dumb and you can pretty much tell every time.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but the final shot just got me in the feels and I loved the notion that a franchise could come out of that one scene that, sure, maybe nobody but me (and every other intelligent moviegoer) would go to see. But it probably won’t and that makes me sad.

Anyway, a good movie with all the good stuff cut out. That’s The Hotel Artemis.

Travel Thoughts: The Sidney Business District is Totally the Matrix

When I say the downtown Sydney Business District is totally The Matrix, I’m not joking, at all. It’s the frickin’ Matrix.

While this wasn’t the primary reason for my visiting Australia, I admit I became a little tied up with experiencing it for the wealth of movie filming locations from that film. While I believe in Film Works and keeping production local to Los Angeles, I realized that Sydney was in fact, the perfect place for this movie to be made twenty years ago. The reason was simple: Sydney’s metropolis was, at the time, not instantly recognizable to most of the world and as such was the perfect surreal backdrop for a  world that may (or may not be) real.

The thing that made the Sydney Business District even more matrixy than The Matrix though, was the fact that it was practically impossible to get lost. All one really had to do was park at the Sydney Opera House (a later post), and walk back into the city, and somehow you can always find your way back. I cannot say this of Manhattan which, despite being laid out as a grid, I can’t find my way around to save my soul. It’s bad there. Sydney not so much! The other notable thing is that Sydney isn’t in a grid pattern, so you would think it would be harder. My theory is that “the machines” programmed the layout of Sydney into my brain with that thingie that’s plugged into the back of everyone’s necks.i

In addition to the spot where Neo called the machines at the end of the film, I also came across a couple of other locations while I was there, including the Martin Place Fountain (where the “Woman in the Red Dress” program was run:

Another non-location was the staircase inside the Westin Hotel in Martin Place. While IMDB lists this as the filming location for the staircase, as do many fan sites, however it’s most likely not…unless there’s another staircase in the bowels of the hotel somewhere. See for yourself, below is video of the staircase, followed by video from the original film. While they might share trim bits, they are most definitely not the same staircase:

There is one other possibility that’s not completely crazy: That the original staircase was torn out and a new one built in its place that used the same trim pieces. I say it’s not crazy, because I’ve seen large facilities tear out and replace structural elements like this all the time, due to things like failed safety inspections or interior redesigns, or new building code requirements and it’s clear that Martin Place had seen a bit of a renaissance since the Matrix was filmed there with the facades on many of the buildings receiving major facelifts prior to and even during my time there. I can’t even be sure that the Westin was a tenant in that building at the time the Matrix was filming. Many of the seedy locations used for the industrial and alleyway sequences in Sydney went on to gentrify in the years following the production. Most areas are unrecognizable and cannot be tied to the production.

This of course, was but a small part of my visit to Australia, and I’ll cover the other aspects of it in subsequent posts.

These photos were taken back in 2015 with what I thought was an underdog and unsung hero of a camera, the original Canon EOS M. Derided for slow autofocus, a lack of available lenses, and poor battery life, I thought it did a decent job, I debated whether or not to put any of these photos in the hi-res gallery, and in the end, opted to wait until I had put up additional subject specific posts on Australia and will then do a consolidated “greatest hits” album.

Movie Thoughts: Upgrade Is a $1 million Movie that Deserves $1 Billion in Ticket Sales

Yes, Upgrade is the kind of movie that should scare MoviePass (see because they pay full price for your tickets). You all saw Upgrade and remember who Leigh Wannell is right?

He’s the guy who wrote Saw. You remember Saw? No? It’s that Hitchcock-style thriller that didn’t actually show any gruesomeness and cost $1 million to make and went on to gross $100 million BECAUSE IT WAS EXCELLENT.

Welp Wannell’s done it again with Upgrade. Upgrade is just exquisite storytelling and you can tell this movie was made for [relative]pennies but comes out looking like a big budget film. I love Wannell’s work. It’s easy to follow, there are no plot holes, only justifiable ambiguities that persevere the suspension of disbelief, and Wannell’s endings are, unlike Shamylan’s sham twists, AWE-SOME. Don’t worry, no spoilers.

I also love that Upgrade, like Saw, didn’t rely at all on big name talent. Logan Marshall-Green, a very talented actor in his own right, but not a house-hold name (yet…), is the biggest star in the film, and it doesn’t matter because the story carries everyone (as does Wannell’s direction).

Seeing Upgrade makes me wonder what Wannell could do with a Disney tentpole budget, the possibilities abound, but I believe its fair to say that he deserves a spot next to James Cameron, if not for behavioral style, then at least chutzpah and energy in seeing his vision realized.

The ending though. Gosh what a great ending. No, no spoilers here.

Movie Thoughts: Solo – A Star Wars Story was GREAT!!

Ok I’m baffled at the bad press surrounding Solo: A Star Wars story. It was great. I absolutely loved it and I have to say that I’m really liking this whole Star Wars Anthology approach to things.

Now, as promised after seeing Deadpool 2, this was next on my list. Read on. Continue reading “Movie Thoughts: Solo – A Star Wars Story was GREAT!!”

Movie Thoughts: Deadpool 2 was Meta-Fantastic

Mind you, I may be a little biased  toward Deadpool as I think all the X-movies have risen to the occasion and been better than I had expected they would be going in.

It’s rare to go see a movie that just tosses all the rules (except for Rule #2: Label everything in the refrigerator) to the four winds. What else really is there to say? A fair amount actually… Continue reading “Movie Thoughts: Deadpool 2 was Meta-Fantastic”

Movie Thoughts: Red Sparrow was a Slow Burn Espionage Thriller that Deserves More Credit

My mother saw Red Sparrow, and didn’t like it. A lot of critics saw Red Sparrow, and didn’t like it. I saw Red Sparrow, and I liked it. Which means I know more about movies than any of the people mentioned above.

No hear me out for a sec.

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