January 22, 2013

Video Vault: BBC's Chronicles of Narnia

The following article originally appeared on ScreenInvasion.com:  

Depending on what side of town we were doing errands in, sometimes we would rent movies from the public library instead of Video Vault.  The selection at the video store was always preferred, but there was one thing that the library had that could not be found anywhere else:  The Chronicles of Narnia BBC television serial.  And I rented the Turkish Delight out of each double VHS box!  The three series produced were The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1988), Prince Caspian/The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1989), and The Silver Chair (1990).  Each series is split in to six half hour episodes and takes approximately 3 hours to watch.   Of the many stage and screen adaptations of C.S. Lewis’s classic fantasy series, this will always be the definitive version in my head.

The first installment, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, famously tells the tale of the four Pevensie children who stumble through a magical wardrobe into the land of Narnia, currently under the snowy rule of the evil White Witch.  With the help of Aslan, the godly lion, they must fight to restore Christmas, sunshine, and all that is good back in Narnia.  The second series combines two of Lewis’s books, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  In the first half, the Pevensie four are sent back to Narnia to help Prince Caspian claim his rightful thrown and make peace between the Old and New Narnians.  The second half sees the younger Penvensies and their bratty cousin Eustace Scrubb on a nautical adventure to several magical islands with Prince Caspian to find 7 lost lords.  Eustace is back in The Silver Chair.  Along with his friend, Jill Pole, the pair are sent by Aslan on a scavenger hunt that leads them to the kidnapped and cursed missing heir to the now King Caspian.  Do human children ever get to have a good time in Narnia or are they always just solving its problems?

The first word that comes to mind when describing BBC’s Narnia is charming.  Even with third tier British TV actors and special effects that were outdated at the time of release, they don’t need to try too hard for me to love them.  The magical creatures of Narnia are a combination of puppets, 2D hand-drawn animation, and actors dressed as animals (think Cats or Zoobilee Zoo), and yet it still manages to create an engrossing fantasy world.  Extensive location shooting in English countryside definitely enhances production value.  Soundstages are kept to a minimum, the kids ride horse drawn sleds over ice and it is actually snowing without the help of a snow machine.  A memorable and haunting orchestral score is another major strength.  Because of the nature of the production, action sequences are minimal, which allows the characters and story to shine (in glorious soft focus).

With the exception of the Prince Caspian segment, these are better and more faithful adaptations than the recent Walden Media film releases.  Plus, this may very well be the only screen version of The Silver Chair we ever see.  I also prefer William Todd-Jones’s  (The Muppet Christmas Carol) voice performance as Aslan to Liam Neeson’s.  A fun fact of note: Warwick Davis portrays both the plucky mouse Reepicheep in BBC’s Prince Caspian/Voyage of the Dawn Treader and the traitorous dwarf Nikabrik in Walden Media’s The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.  I would venture to say that this makes him the only actor to portray different characters in multiple adaptations of the same novel.  Overall, I have enjoyed BBC’s The Chronicles of Narnia all throughout my life and I would highly recommend it the next time you are in the mood for an epic, juvenile, literary fantasy.  I’m still anxiously waiting for screen versions of the back half of the Narnia series.

Check out more Video Vault columns and follow @RealBrianRudlof and @ScreenInvasion on Twitter for more reviews, interviews and news!  

20 Things to Love About Downtown Los Angeles

This article originally appeared on EventTeam.Com: 
Our 20 year anniversary party is non-stop!  Today we will take a look at the 20 things we love about Downtown Los Angeles.  While it has not always been at the top of L.A. visitors’ attraction lists, an extensive renovation over the last decade has transformed downtown into a thriving cultural center.  From history to shopping to food and entertainment, you will find it all in downtown L.A.!

1. L.A. Live:  L.A. Live is downtown’s new $2.5 billion entertainment complex consisting of apartments, ballrooms, bars, concert theatres, restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, and the Grammy Museum. The state-of-the-art 7,100 seat Nokia Theatre hosts music superstars, several award shows, and American Idol finales.  The complex also houses ESPN’s broadcasting studio as well as an ESPN Zone restaurant.  In the evening L.A. Live lights up like a mini Times Square at Nokia Plaza with giant synchronized LED screens at this red carpet special event site.

2. Olvera Street:  Part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, Olvera Street is Los Angeles’s oldest historic site and now home to a vibrant old world Mexican marketplace.  One can tour the many historical structures, barter for souvenirs, and dine in authentic (and historic) Mexican restaurants.  The block becomes an exciting fiesta of music and dance during Mexican-style festivals and holidays.

3. Restaurants:  Meeting the needs of a rising and youthful residential community, downtown L.A. has become one of the country’s hippest dining scenes.  Celestino Drago, John Rivera Sedlar, and  Wolfgang Puck are only a few of the celebrity chefs who’s establishments are found here.  Ultra popular choices are Bottega Louie for Italian, Church & State for French, and Wurstkuche for gourmet sausages.  A diverse population has led to infinite varieties of international cuisine.  For the traditionalists, Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet, Philippe The Original, birthplace of the French dip sandwich, and The Original Pantry Café have been serving Angelinos since the early days of the city.

4. Walt Disney Concert Hall:  With a breathtaking architectural design by Frank Gehry and exceptional acoustics, the multi-purpose Walt Disney Concert Hall is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Master Chorale.   One can experience a guided tour of the complex before enjoying the world class music inside.  Patina, the world- famous restaurant by Joachim Splichal, serves up French and California cuisine at the hall.

5. Nightlife:  There is no shortage of bars, lounges, and nightclubs downtown offering high-energy to low-key evenings.  From the exotic Latin celebration of The Mayan to the retro-chic glam of The Edison (built inside a 100-year-old power plant), there is surely something for everyone.  Villains Tavern, Icon LA Ultra Lounge, Trader Vics, The Standard Rooftop Bar, and Library Bar are only a handful of the many popular watering holes.

6. Los Angeles State Historic Park:  Run, walk, bike, picnic, kite, and watch for urban wildlife in the 32 acre Los Angeles State Historic Park.  Fun and creative community events celebrate the city’s diverse culture and history in this space that was once the rail maintenance area for the Southern Pacific Transportation Company.

7. Hotels:  You can stay right in the center of the action at one of downtown’s many fabulous hotels.  Bask in Asian opulence at Miyako Hotel or enjoy modern luxury at the recently renovated Omni Hotel atop historic Bunker Hill.  Be immersed in nightlight at L.A. Live’s two-hotel hybrid skyscraper that contains a JW Marriott on floors 4-21 and a Ritz-Carlton on floors 22-26!

8.  Exposition Park:  Sports, history, nature, and science converge at Exposition Park across from the University of Southern California.  This attractive public space houses the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Los Angeles Sports Arena, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the California Science Center, Exposition Park Rose Garden, the EXPO Center, and the California African American History Museum.  Once the site of an agricultural park and racetrack, it is now a scenic escape of grand museums and natural greenery in the middle of a concrete jungle.

9. Jewelry, Fashion, Flowers, & Toy Districts: The jewelry, fashion, flower, and toy districts offer a variety of products in a unique shopping atmosphere.  Hundreds of blocks of wholesale prices and amazing deals are found in these specialty areas dedicated entirely to shopping!  If you still cannot find that perfect item, perhaps one of three retail shopping centers will provide: Macy’s Plaza, 7+Fig, and the Bonaventure Galleria.

10. MOCA:  The Museum of Contemporary Art’s permanent collection of over 6,000 works primarily features American and European artists, post-1940.  Established in 1979, the museum takes a multi-disciplinary approach to modern art and showcases artists’ retrospectives and art historical investigations.  Here you will find contemporary masterpieces as well as new works by emerging local artists.

11. ArtWalk:  Once a month, people from all over Los Angeles venture downtown to experience ArtWalk, a showcase of the best galleries, artists, photography, restaurants, bars, and shops.  This hip local festival has become the happenin’ place for souveniring, people watching, and exploring with friends.  This is also a great event for experiencing one of L.A.’s many famous food trucks.

12. Chinatown/Little Tokyo:  Although not as large or dense as San Francisco and New York’s counterparts, Los Angeles’s Chinatown still welcomes with a serpent gateway and lights up with neon pagoda lights and lanterns.  This is the place for authentic Chinese cuisine and specialty products from the Far East.  Just next door you will find Little Tokyo, home of the Japanese-American National Museum.  Its gardens, restaurants, and shops will give you a true taste of Asia.

13. The Staples Center:  The Lakers, Clippers, Sparks, and Kings are all tenants of the 950,000 square foot Staples Center.  This multi-purpose sports arena also hosts the world’s biggest musical acts including Beyonce, Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift, and Bruce Springsteen.  Outside at Star Plaza you can pose with statues of L.A. sports heroes like Magic Johnson, Wayne Gretzky, Chick Hearn, and Jerry West.

14. The Orpheum Theatre:  Originally opened in 1926, The Orpheum Theatre is the most restored of Los Angeles’s historic downtown movie palaces.  Some of history’s most legendary performers have entertained inside these walls including the Marx Brothers, Will Rogers, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin and Little Richard.  Today it is still a popular venue for live concerts, but movie shoots, premiers, and television broadcasts have been added to its schedule of programming.  A Beaux Arts façade and Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ are a few remainders from the theatre’s Vaudeville days.

15. Pershing Square:  Pershing Square is a one square block park in the center of downtown whose history dates back to the 1800’s.  Renovated in 1992, the small park now contains a 10-story purple bell tower, fountains, public artworks, a concert stage, a seasonal ice rink, and small plazas with seating.  It is a popular landmark seen in many movies and video games.

16. The Downtown Independent:  The Downtown Independent is the community’s premiere venue for independent features, local music acts, comedy shows, and special programming.  They often host boisterous movie drink-alongs and many free events!   This is THE place to come for off-the-beaten path arts and entertainment!  Their facilities can also be rented out as a unique event space.

17. Los Angeles Convention Center:  The Los Angeles Convention Center is L.A.’s major event and trade show facility.  A leader of sustainability, the convention center was the first ever of its age and size to be awarded The United States Green Building Council’s certification in Leadership of Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings.  It is well-known for being the site of the world’s biggest annual video games expo, E3.

18. California Plaza:  Grand Performances present free concerts and performing arts shows at California Plaza, a beautiful complex made up of several eateries and an outside stage.  This cultural venue situated just above Angel Knoll’s Park celebrates the diversity and community of Los Angeles in a lively atmosphere…and you can also bring your own alcohol! During weekdays it is a peaceful spot for lunch.

19. Union Station: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the grand Los Angeles Union Station is known as the “Last of the Great Railway Stations”.  Designed by John and Donald B. Parkinson, the complex combines elements of Dutch Colonial Revival architecture, Mission Revival, and Streamline Moderne style.  Completed in 1939, it now serves as L.A.’s main transportation center and services Amtrak, Metrolink, and bus lines.  It is planned to be a future hub for the much-anticipated California High-Speed Rail System.  From here you can reach almost anywhere in Southern California!

20. Unique Event Venues: At night, downtown Los Angeles comes alive! Towering buildings with glowing lights pressed against the backdrop of a starry black sky make for jaw-dropping views and amazing event locations. From sky-high indoor/outdoor venues like the Oviatt Penthouse and LoftSEVEN, to historical landmarks like Los Angeles Union Station, there are no shortage of unique options for your next downtown LA event!

Follow @RealBrianRudlof on Twitter for travel news, tips, and reviews.

January 15, 2013

Video Vault: Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown

The following article originally appeared on ScreenInvasion.com:  

The last time 1977’s Race for You Life, Charlie Brown received an official release was in 1995, on VHS and laserdisc.  This is an inconceivable crime!  It was a staple of my childhood and is a fondly remembered installment in the Peanuts canon by many fans. Written by Charles Schulz and directed by Bill MelendezRace for Your Life, Charlie Brown is the third of four feature length Peanuts films produced from 1969-1980 and chronicles the misadventures of the Peanuts gang in their most epic story to date.

The movie begins with the whole Peanuts crew heading off to summer camp and a determined Charlie Brown committed to building character and developing leadership skills while there.  “I decided to come to camp, because I’ve never been much of a person,” he admits.  Our heroes immediately become involved in a multi-day river raft race through the wilderness against a group of bullies and their evil cat, Brutus, who have cheated their way to victory every year they have competed. Along the course, Snoopy, Woodstock, and the elementary school kids are faced with a series of harrowing threats including a storm, a blizzard, being lost, being stranded, explosions from a demolition, waterfalls, the bullies’ sabotage, and themselves. It is a nail-biter to the finish line as Charlie Brown tries to lead his crew to victory and everybody learns a thing or two about the meaning of cooperation, friendship, and perseverance by the time they leave ‘Camp Remote.’

 An animated slice of Americana, Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown stands out from the rest of the Peanuts tales for many reasons.  Firstly, the wilderness setting and grandeur of the plot give it a cinematic quality absent from any other Peanutsinstallments.  The unique background art is also reflective of this fact.  They are not just chatting around the school grounds or baseball diamond here.  There is no doubt that the Peanuts friends have never experienced more perils and danger than in this race.  This is also the first time we see real antagoinists outside of the usual group and a true adversary for Snoopy.  The film’s folksy western inspired score, appropriate for the context, is notably different from the usual Vince Guaraldi jazz scores synonymous with the early Peanuts shorts.  This also happens to be the first feature produced after Guaraldi’s death.

It is not entirely new territory in these woods though.  The classic Peanuts group dynamics are in full swing among Charlie Brown, Linus, Sally, Lucy, Schroeder, Franklin, Peppermint Patty, and Marcie.  Snoopy and Woodstock are often out on their own dialogue-free, visual gag filled subplots.  There is a rather catchy theme song.  Although the voice cast is entirely different than 1965’s seminal A Charlie Brown Christmas, they do their best to capture the idiosyncrasies of the originals. The differences are minimally noticeable, unlike the more recent Peanuts adaptations.

 Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown is a fun screen adventure for the Peanuts gang that certainly deserves a release on a current media format, but perhaps the most culturally significant thing about this movie is that it is the esthetic basis for many of the Peanuts-themed theme park areas and attractions found at Cedar Fair owned parks across the nation.  What would Camp Snoopy at Knott’s Berry Farm be if Charlie Brown had never decided to go to camp to become more of a person?  At King’s Island in Ohio you can even go on “a splash-filled water adventure for guests of all ages as they float through an excursion in the wilderness and race to the finish line” at Race For Your Life Charlie Brown, the ride. Appropriately, it is a log flume attraction featuring a trip over a 40-foot waterfall.  While kids today may not actually be able to watch the movie, they can certainly experience its cultural legacy.

Check out more Video Vault columns and follow @RealBrianRudlof and @ScreenInvasion on Twitter for more reviews, interviews and news! 

January 10, 2013

20 Things to Love About San Diego's Gaslamp District

This article originally appeared on EventTeam.Com:

What better way is there to continue The Event Team’s 20 year anniversary than exploring San Diego’s most famed entertainment district, The Gaslamp Quarter!  These historic 16 blocks are brimming with shops, art galleries, trendy restaurants, lively bars, and exciting nightclubs.  Whether you are a tourist or a local, there is always something new and fun to explore here.  Let’s check out 20 things we love about The Gaslamp Quarter!

1. Live Music:  The Gaslamp Quarter is the center of San Diego’s live music scene.  Representing a wide range of musical genres, you will surely find a melody that moves you!  Check out the House of Blues for big name acts, Croce’s Restaurant and Bar for jazz, The Field Irish Pub for lively drinking music, Sevilla for South-of-the-border musical flair, or Dick’s Last Resort for classic rock on their entertainment stage every night of the week. Jimmy Love’s, Patrick’s II, and Gaslamp Tavern are also popular venues for a diverse group of local music.

2. Hotels:  Elegance and comfort combine in Gaslamp’s many luxury hotels.  From classic to modern and historic to brand-new, this is the place to stay for full immersion into San Diego’s most famous entertainment district.  Whether you’re looking for a boutique hotel with quaint charm, or a luxurious resort and spa with all the amenities, The Event Team can help match your group to the perfect property.

3. Shopping:  One could spend days browsing unique boutiques and specialty shops along the Gaslamp Quarter’s 16 blocks.  Visit G-Star to fulfill your denim dreams or Eyes on Fifth for a new pair of shades.  Two floors of specialty wines are available at The Wine Bank Inc. and there are travel bags galore at Le Travel Store.  Quicksilver Boardriders Club, Puma, and Oakley provide San Diego with all our sporting good needs.

4. Nightclubs:  Unleash your inner dance god at one of the district’s many incendiary nightclubs!  From local fav Stingaree to the ever changing interior of FLUXX to the underground electricity of Belo or Red C, the Gaslamp District is the ideal place to let loose and party the night away.

5. Festivals/Block Parties:  Gaslamp Quarter is home to many popular festivals throughout the year including Mardi Gras, ShamROCK, Halloween Time, and the San Diego Film Festival.  Locals look forward to June when the Taste of Gaslamp festival allows participants to explore and sample food from several restaurants in the district. The Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade is not to be missed in December! The Event Team can even arrange for your company to have their very own block party, smack dab in the streets of The Gaslamp!

6. History: This National Historic District was founded in 1867 when Alonzo Horton bought the land for $256.  It contains many Victorian-era buildings and a rich history, some of which is of a less-than-wholesome nature.  After becoming a red light and gambling district for sailors in the early 1900’s, a massive preservation and redevelopment effort in the 70’s and 80’s transformed the area into the internationally renowned destination that it is today. The Event Team offers walking tours of the Gaslamp, featuring local historians and reflections of its diverse past are seen throughout the area’s architecture.

7. Horton Plaza:  A five-level architectural marvel, Horton Plaza is downtown San Diego’s retail sanctuary.  Macy’s and Nordstrom’s are the massive complex’s featured department stores. With a movie theater, event space, diverse dining options, a gym, the Lyceum Theater, and even a dog park, this is much more than just a mall!

8. Petco Park:  Located at 19 Tony Gwynn Way, the beautiful Petco Park is one of San Diego’s newest traditions.  Opened in 2004, this uniquely-designed home of the Padres offers state-of-the-art fan amenities and spectacular views of San Diego Bay, the San Diego skyline, and Balboa Park.  Integration of the historic Western Supply Co. building and the grassy “Park at the Park” that slopes above the outfield are only a few of the features that distinguish this spectacular baseball stadium.
Did you know The Event Team can organize your next event on the field fo Petco Park? Fireworks, batting cages, player meet and greets - the works!

9. Searsucker:  Celebrity Chef Brian Malarky has opened 5 ultra-popular restaurants throughout San Diego including his the mega-hit, Searsucker, which is located in the heart of the Gaslamp District. Time Magazine named it America’s #2 hottest restaurant!  Featuring an open kitchen and airy design, Searsucker serves local seafood with local lagers and ales.

10.San Diego Convention Center and San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau:  The San Diego Convention Center is the city’s premiere, award-winning facility for major conventions, trade shows, meetings and special events. Situated along the harbor just a short walk from the main Gaslamp area, the attractive complex is a steward of San Diego with a commitment to sustainable practice and community leadership. In the same vein, The San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau works extremely hard to bring “happiness” to locals and visitors alike, highlighting all the places to stay and things to do in the city’s popular neighborhoods, like the Gaslamp! Our partnership with both of these organizations allows us to offer the very best San Diego has to offer!

 11. Harbor Cruises:  The many cruises around San Diego Harbor offer scenic escapes away from the bustle of the city.  You can eat and drink in style aboard a pleasure ship while enjoying the freedom of the water.  For the more audacious, Pirate Ship Adventures provides the opportunity to join a buccaneer crew and participate in swashbuckling activities while exploring the Harbor.
The Event Team offers public mix-in harbor cruises, or we can even arrange for your group to charter a private dinner cruise!

12. The Culy Warehouse:  The Culy Trucking Warehouse is a 4,400 square foot multi-purpose event center located in the Gaslamp’s East Village.  Once the base of the Culy Trucking Company, founded in 1914, the venue now consists of a completely blank interior, perfect for flexing the creative muscle and designing inspired event spaces.  When combined with the adjacent entertainment venue, Block No. 16, the complex has the ability to accommodate a capacity of over 1,500!
13. Civic Theater:  Catch a Broadway show, an opera, or a ballet at the San Diego Civic Theater, the region’s largest performing arts and community gathering center.  Opened in 1965, the theater contains 2,967 seats and a chic interior.

14. The New Children’s Museum:  Visitors and locals with children can think, play, and create at the innovative New Children’s Museum.  This dynamic educational environment celebrates kids and the language of art, providing a safe space to learn and grow.  The environmentally sustainable facility consists of galleries, interactive exhibits, open studio space, and an Arts Education Center.

15. Lucky’s Lunch Counter:  Though new to the scene, Lucky’s Lunch Counter has quickly become a San Diego favorite.  Themed like a retro Chicago lunch counter, the eatery serves traditional, high quality diner fare all day long.  Located just across from Petco Park, Lucky’s is the perfect place to catch a meal before or after the big game!

16. The Trolley:  Cars and taxis are not necessary here.  The Gaslamp Quarter is conveniently located along the San Diego Trolley Orange Line.  From San Ysidro to Santee, downtown’s entertainment district is easily accessible via an efficient and comfortable trolley from all over San Diego.

17. Copley Symphony Hall:  Home to the San Diego Symphony, this multi-functional facility was originally The Fox Theater movie palace, built in 1929.  State-of-the-art digital sound and lighting capabilities have been installed in this continually updated venue, but, rest assured, the original look of the lobbies and performance chamber have been preserved.  A full-sized Robert Morton pneumatic pipe organ and two carbon-arc film projectors are featured within the performance chamber.  This symphony hall is not just for music though, it can accommodate comedy shows, corporate and civic events, and film screenings.

18. The San Diego-Coronado Bridge:  Though not directly in the Gaslamp, this stunning structure provides an amazing backdrop to the neighborhood. Majestically arching over the bay and linking downtown San Diego with the resort city of Coronado, The San Diego-Coronado Bridge is a local landmark. Its two mile length is uniquely designed as a 200-foot high curve to accommodate the large Naval ships that pass underneath. The bridge’s eastern support pillars are located in Chicano Park and feature the largest collection of Chicano art murals in the world.

19. Segways:  Explore the Gaslamp Quarter aboard the latest in electric, two-wheeled personal transportation technology, the Segway! History and culinary tours can be experienced aboard these fun and quirky vehicles. Quickly maneuvering down the sidewalk by leaning back and forth is the best way to navigate Gaslamp’s many blocks.

20. Seaport Village: Just a short walk from the Gaslamp, along the scenic San Diego Bay, sits the waterfront shopping, dining, and entertainment complex of Seaport Village.  Cobblestone pathways, ponds, lakes, fountains, and tropical landscape wind through a plethora of architectural styles housing a variety of boutique shops.  Everything from San Diego souvenirs to high-end apparel and art galleries can be found in Seaport Village’s 54 shops, 13 casual eateries, and 4 fine dining restaurants.  Musicians and street artists inhabit this nostalgic seaside village year-round and an 1895 antique Charles Loof carousel is another major attraction!

Follow @RealBrianRudlof on Twitter for travel news, tips, and reviews.

20 Things To Love About Santa Monica

This article originally appeared on EventTeam.Com:

The Event Team’s 20th Anniversary Celebration continues with a look at one of our favorite Los Angeles suburbs, Santa Monica! This laid-back beach community is the perfect place to catch some rays and experience the softer, sunnier side of Los Angeles! Check it out:

1.  Santa Monica Pier:  Recently celebrating its 100th birthday, Santa Monica Pier combines the nostalgic charm of a turn-of-the-century seaside pleasure park with many modern attractions.  Whether it is the carnival rides, midway and arcade games, souvenir shops, fishing, artists and entertainers, dining, the aquarium, or trapeze school, there is surely something for everyone at this historic Los Angeles landmark.  After dark, the pier lights up in a brilliant display of multi-colored lights.  The pier’s Seaside Pavilion is an incomparable venue that can accommodate groups from 25 to 300.

2. Commitment to Sustainability:  Santa Monica has its own intensive Green Business Certification Program that encourages resource conservation and waste reduction.  It is also the first city to buy 100 percent renewable energy.  With green building incentives, hybrid transportation fleets, reduced dry weather pollution, “A” rated clean beaches, and free charging stations for electric vehicles, Santa Monica ranks among the top green cities in the country.  The pier’s LED light-clad Ferris wheel is even solar-powered, a world’s first!

3. Third Street Promenade:  A variety of stores, restaurants, bars, theaters, art galleries, and entertainers line Santa Monica’s famous 3-block, pedestrian-only shopping district, the Third Street Promenade.  This lively outdoor mall is the perfect place to shop, eat, and people watch. Find a variety of organic California-grown produce at the certified farmers market here on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

4. The Beach:  Santa Monica’s world-famous beaches offer a bevy of recreation opportunities from surfing to sunbathing.  Bicycling, volleyball, and yoga are also popular along this pristine shoreline frequently seen in film and television.

5. Healthy Dining:  Home to innumerable innovative and world class eateries, Santa Monica’s wealth of healthy dining options is unequaled.  Assemble custom salads at Greens Up!, devour vegan versions of food favorites at Euphoria Loves RAWvolution, and sample whole bean brews at Urth Caffe, the country’s first all-organic coffee company.  An array of tasty and nutritious eateries will fulfill all your fresh, seasonal, and organic desires.

6. Beachside Hotels:  Dine, meet, and relax at a collection of luxury and boutique hotels lining the Santa Monica coast.  Business and pleasure travelers are bathed in beach-side elegance at Shutters, Casa Del Mar, Viceroy, Shore Hotel, Sheraton Delfina, Lowes, and JW Marriott, among many others.

7. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area:  Hike up to glorious views of the mountains, ocean, and city at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the world’s largest urban national park.  Miles of trails stretching from the beach to the mountains showcase California’s biodiversity in this unique coastal ecosystem.  Just outside the city, Will Rogers State Historic Park offers opportunities to hike, bike, horseback ride, and tour the legendary singing cowboy’s historic ranch house.

8. Pubs:  While there is no shortage of fantastic drinking establishments in Santa Monica, it is the traditional (and not so traditional!) English pub scene that is deeply rooted in the city’s culture.  Anglophiles can enjoy soccer, darts, and English ales at The Daily Pint, Cock ‘n’ Bull Pub, Britannia Pub, and the atmospheric Ye Olde King’s Head (home of world-famous fish and chips!).

9. Aero Theater:  A restored 1940’s-era movie house, Aero Theater is home to the American Cinematheque, a non-profit, viewer-supported organization dedicated to the celebration of the Moving Picture.  Everything from classics to abstract art films not generally available to the public are screened and often followed by Q&A sessions with cast, crew, or film historians.  Celebrity sightings are not uncommon at this cinema-lover’s haven.

 10. Bergamot Station:  Formerly a historic Red Line trolley depot, Bergamot Station has been transformed into Southern California’s largest art gallery complex and cultural center.  Home to the Santa Monica Museum of Art and over 30 galleries, it is a true artist’s paradise.  For a break from gallery hopping, the Bergamot Café offers a creative menu and eclectic lunch crowd.  It doubles as a unique event venue as well!

11. Museum of Flying:  The newly remodeled and expanded Museum of Flying honors the history of air travel and aviation traditions.  The nearly two dozen aircraft, a flight simulator, and ride-film experiences are popular attractions at this museum that highlights the history of Santa Monica’s famed Douglas Aircraft.  A 40-seat screening room and the well-known Donald Douglas Boardroom make this a special venue for events of all kinds.

12. McCabe’s Guitar Shop:  Opened in 1958, McCabe’s is Los Angeles’s largest and most famous stringed-instrument shop.  They offer rentals, lessons, repairs, and world-famous concerts.  The sound waves of musicians ranging from the extremely famous to local prodigies have rocked the walls of McCabe’s.

13. Annenberg Community Beach House:  This five-acre public beach club was originally built as a 100-room mansion by William Randolph Hearst and became a popular Hollywood A-lister hangout.  Awarded the 2010 “Best New Venue” award in the BizBash L.A. Event Style Awards, the beach house features courtyards, a pool, beach courts and fields, children’s play area, splash pad, historic Marion Davies Guest House, gallery, and a viewing deck.

14.  Spas:  Pampering a who’s-who of Hollywood celebrities and star athletes, Santa Monica’s huge selection of luxurious day spas is sure to excite even the most experienced relaxation seekers.  The variety of wellness treatments are limitless and include massages, manicures, facials, peels, waxes, tannings, steam rooms, and deep-heating Japanese enzyme baths!!

15. Burgers:  For the less health conscious, Santa Monica has become a renowned burger mecca.  Design your own burger at The Counter, indulge in the Wagyu beef burger at Cora’s, or try the extravagant $28 bison-meat burger at Josie.  While Chef Sang Yoon’s “no substitutions” Guyere and Maytag blue cheese burger at Father’s Office may be the most famous, it is the creative burger innovations at newcomer Umami Burger that have become the local favorite and burgeoning burger champions.  The truffle burger and secret menu cheesy tots are a perfect pairing!

16. Palisades Park:  13 blocks of palms and greenery perched on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean is the romantic Palisades Park.  Rose gardens, cobblestone gates, and an Arts and Crafts pergola give this city escape an old-world feel.  A crushed asphalt running path traverses the charming 1.6 mile park.

17. Santa Monica History Museum:  The Santa Monica History Museum houses a treasure trove of artifacts, photographs, and memorabilia celebrating the rich culture of this famous city.  The museum is one of the largest in the country for a city of its size.

18. Santa Monica Playhouse:  A local tradition for over 50 years, Santa Monica Playhouse is an intimate professional theater that has played an important role in the California theater community.  With children’s programs ranking among the top in the world, the playhouse also offers year-round Main Stage productions, Family Theatre musicals, workshops for adults, classes in private and public schools, and birthday parties.

19. Automobile Alternatives:  Unlike most of Los Angeles, cars are not a necessity for exploring Santa Monica.  With a total 8.3 square mileage and primary tourist districts in close proximity, the city is easily navigable by foot or bicycle.  In fact, well-marked lanes, routes, paths, and bike racks give Santa Monica the distinction of being one of America’s most bike-friendly cities.  Santa Monica’s Mini Blue Buses, small and eco-friendly, provide quick and cheap transport around the neighborhood for the less fitness inclined.  For a more unconventional mode of travel, Segway tours and rentals are readily available.

20. Santa Monica Place:  Santa Monica Place is the city’s newest state-of-the-art shopping destination.  A roof-top dining deck offering spectacular 360 degree views of the area tops this A-list retail complex.  The open-air mall, with a one-of-a-kind design inspired by the city itself, features a brand new Nordstrom’s and a custom-built Bloomingdales.

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Video Vault: The Phantom Tollbooth and the 1970's TV Specials of Chuck Jones

The following article originally appeared on ScreenInvasion.com:  

Children’s entertainment is filled with stories of kids stumbling in to magical and imaginary lands; one of my favorite of those lands is the Kingdom of Wisdom from Norton Jester’s literary masterpiece The Phantom Tollbooth.  While the novel is often essential elementary school reading, legendary Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones’s 1970 musical cinematic adaptation has largely existed on the fringe of popular culture.  Filled with clever puns, word play, and literal interpretations of English language idioms, the experience of reading The Phantom Tollbooth can never fully be translated to the medium of film. However, Jones’s mostly faithful adaptation is an enjoyable and enchanting interpretation of the beloved material. While my own complete comprehension and appreciation of the novel came later in life, my love of the tale of Milo and his eccentric companions is one that began with frequent rentals of The Phantom Tollbooth from my local Video Vault.

Bookended by live action segments, The Phantom Tollbooth was the last release from MGM to feature animation.  The film tells the story of Milo (The Munsters’s Butch Patrick), an ambitionless child bored by the world around him who one day comes home from school to find a miniature tollbooth in his home.  Having nothing better to do, Milo gets in the provided toy car and drives through the tollbooth into the animated Kingdom of Wisdom, currently in turmoil due to the kidnapping of the Princesses Rhyme and Reason.  Reluctantly tasked with the duty of rescuing the princesses and re-uniting the kingdom, Milo is assisted by several colorful characters along the way including Tock the Watchdog, Humbug, Spelling Bee, Whether Man, Faintly Macabre, King Azaz, and Awful Dynne.  Creatively evil monsters such as The Terrible Trivium, The Demon of Insincerity, and Senses Taker attempt to thwart the boy and his companions.  Thanks to his newly-found self-empowerment and a series of gifts he is given throughout the journey, Milo successfully returns Rhyme and Reason to restore order in the Kingdom of Wisdom and learns an important life lesson.  Upon returning through the tollbooth, he realizes that the world he lives in is every bit as magical, interesting, and worth being a part of as the fantasy land he just left.

 Being a Chuck Jones film, the animation and voice acting are first rate.  The original songs and score are exceptional as well.  The Kingdom of Wisdom translates well via the Chuck Jones style.  Mel Blanc (voice of the Looney Tunes), June Foray (voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Cindy Lou Who, Granny), and Daws Butler (voice of Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss) lend their exceptional talents to multiple characters.  I think that the reason I connected quickly to The Phantom Tollbooth is because: 1) Unlike Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz it featured a male protagonist. 2) It is a modern fantasy (Milo lives in a San Francisco apartment) that addresses more modern evils.  The villains are sly, deceptive, and often attractive at first.  A sequence that has always stuck in my mind is when Milo accidentally drives into the Doldrums where a group of goopy globlins known as Lethargians begin to sing the life out of Milo, putting him to sleep while slime slowly consumes him.  The scariest part of the film is an encounter with the faceless, bowler hat wearing, Terrible Trivium, “demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs, ogre of wasted effort, and friend to lazy and foolish people everywhere.”  I am sure that my disdain for stupid and pointless jobs, wasted time, and inefficiency stem from this cinematic moment.  Overall, it is an excellent merging of director and source material.  The Phantom Tollbooth is an fantastic animated feature definitely worth revisiting, however, the most important thing about this film is that it paved the way for Jones’s fabulous television specials of the 1970’s.

While the Looney Tunes will always be Chuck Jones’s legacy and 1966’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is his most popular television special, it is his adaptations in the 1970’s that he himself has said were his favorite.  Beautifully animated and brimming with heart The Cricket in Times Square (1973), Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (1975), The White Seal (1975), and Mowgli’s Brothers (1976) have always been special to me.  There is a timeless classic-ness and classiness about them.

The Cricket in Times Square is based on George Selden’s Newbery Honor Award winning children’s book of the same name.  It is the story of, Chester, a musically talented cricket from Connecticut who accidentally winds up in a picnic basket headed to New York, is adopted by an Italian family who own a failing newsstand, and helps them turn their business around by giving classical music concerts at the newsstand.  After deciding that he will not be happy unless he returns to his home, Chester gives an epic final concert that stops all of Times Square and several New York City blocks while everyone listens to his music.  It is a simple, yet elegant, tale of friendship, the power of music, and the importance of stopping to appreciate beautiful things in life.  Jones magnificently animated New York cityscapes and Les Tremayne’stouching voice work as Chester make this a perfect 24-minute family film.  Jones wrote and directed two sequels A Very Merry Cricket (1973) and Yankee Doodle Cricket (1975).  While certainly not bad, the sequels do not come anywhere close to capturing the magic of the original installment.

Rikki-Tikki-TaviThe White Seal, and Mowgli’s Brothers are all adaptation of stories from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.  They are widely considered to be the most faithful screen adaptations of Kipling’s writing.  All three are superb and maintain that classic literary feel to them.  Narration by Roddy McDowell and Orson Welles certainly does not hurt. Roddy McDowell narrates The White Seal, and Mowgli’s Brothers, but Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, narrated by Orson Welles, is the true masterwork of the series.  It is the story of a courageous mongoose, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, who protects a 19th-century English family living in India from a pair of cobras planning on killing the family to take over their garden and make a home for their unhatched babies.  It is a rather serious and frightening tale as Rikki risks his life several times while graphically destroying the cobras and their eggs.  It is a product of a time when children’s entertainment could still involve actual threats, danger, and violence.  Jones’s translation of the exotic and enthralling material is impeccable.  The notable score exceptionally highlights the action.  It is impossible for this short film not to make an impression on its viewers; the love for this film by its fans of all ages is prominent across the Internet.  Unfortunately, it still does not have the cultural prominence and appreciation that it deserves.

The Phantom Tollbooth and the 70’s TV specials showcase more mature and artistic aspects of Jones’s talents.  It also proves that he is one of cinemas greatest translators.  They are lovingly crafted timeless family entertainments bursting with heart and essential additions to any family’s movie collection.  You should probably pick them up from your local video store’s VHS bargain bin or you can find them on DVD.  I’m still waiting on Blu-Ray releases.  The Cricket in Times SquareA Very Merry CricketYankee Doodle Cricket, Rikki-Tikki-TaviThe White Seal, and Mowgli’s Brothers can all be found on one DVD set called “The Chuck Jones Collection.”  Maybe check out these next time you are considering watching Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. You likely won’t be disappointed.

Check out more Video Vault columns and follow @RealBrianRudlof and @ScreenInvasion on Twitter for more reviews, interviews and news!

Video Vault: The Three Caballeros

The following article originally appeared on ScreenInvasion.com:  

The film that I am looking forward to the Blu-Ray release of most has got to be Disney’s The Three Caballeros (1945). During childhood it was a frequent VHS rental from my local Video Vault and remains one of my all-time favorite animated features.   Unfortunately, I do not think the film has ever received the appreciation and recognition it deserves.    The Three Caballeros is the second of two features that were the direct result of Walt Disney’s goodwill tour of Latin America in 1941, pre-Pearl Harbor.  As part of the Good Neighbor Policy, the United States Department of State sent Mr. Disney and a team of 20 of his artists to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Peru as goodwill ambassadors with the goal of swaying Latin American governments away from Nazi Germany’s influence.  The Disney characters were very popular in Latin America at the time. The ultimate goal of this trip was to produce a film that represented Latin American culture and strengthen ties with the United States.  The details of this government-sponsored vacation are fascinatingly chronicled in the documentary Walt and El Grupo (2008).  Unfortunately, Disney’s first attempt Saludos Amigos (1943), though popular enough at the time, would not be what I would call…a good movie.  The Three Caballeros, on the other hand, is an immensely entertaining musical journey though Latin America and a significant achievement in animation history.

The Three Caballeros, combining animation and live-action, is split up into 7 distinct segments ranging from narrative to the surreal and are connected through a frame story involving Donald Duck opening presents “from his friends in Latin America” on his birthday.  He is joined by the smooth, cigar-smoking, samba-dancing Brazilian parrot, Jose Carioca, and a manic gun-toting rooster, Panchito Pistoles.  Several Latin American stars of the time also appear in the film.  Sterling Halloway, voice of Winnie the Pooh and The Cheshire Cat, narrates a particularly comical segment about a penguin that journeys to the Galapagos from the South Pole for a warmer climate. The film brims with lively music based on traditional and popular songs of the time from south of the border.  The fully packed 72-minute running time unfolds like a finely crafted music album – exciting climactic emotional peaks interspaced with beautiful, reflective interludes.

When reflecting upon The Three Caballeros there are two sections that stand out as being particularly memorable.  The first segment, “Las Posadas,” tells the story of the Mexican Christmas tradition of children reenacting Mary and Joseph’s search for a room in Bethlehem.  Accompanied with a lovely choral score, the tale is told truth a sequence of beautiful Mary Blair paintings, the only animated portion on which are candle flames.  Mary Blair is the famous artist who designed the classic Disney attraction It’s a Small World and whose concept art was the main influence for the looks of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Cinderella.  Blair was an unknown working for Walt Disney at the time she was invited to join him on the goodwill tour of Latin America, but her signature style was developed during the trip.  While her influence is seen throughout many Disney features, The Three Caballeros perhaps bears her most prominent fingerprints, and this section is the most blatantly Blair.  Her vibrant colors, abstract backgrounds, and sweet child characterizations bring the tradition of Las Posadas to life perfectly.  Also of note is a fantastic transitional sequence in which Donald takes a train to Baia, the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia, which is signature Blair-style animation.

Donald’s infatuation with many live-action Latin beauties throughout his cultural journey culminates in the film’s psychedelic finale called “Donald’s Surreal Reverie,” the pinnacle of several abstract musical sequences in the film.  Donald becomes drunk on love and is immersed in a “Pink Elephants on Parade”-esque extravaganza of flowers, dancing cacti, and live-action Mexican women.  It is an incendiary animated experience unlike any other.  The film concludes with Jose and Panchito blasting Donald away on firecrackers in the shape of a bull.

While I personally find Disney’s earlier episodic musical feature, Fantasia, tedious at times, The Three Caballeros is an exhilarating dance on a flying sarape through the music and culture of Latin America.  It is pure entertainment and gorgeous animation. Any missteps taken in the production of Saludos Amigos were surely made up for with this joyous triumph of sight and sound.  Also, I’m fairly certain this movie is the reason we won the war.  Go check this out if you are not already a fan so we can petition Disney to pull this fiesta out of the vault and onto the Diamond Edition Blu-Ray release it deserves.

Check out more Video Vault columns and follow @RealBrianRudlof and @ScreenInvasion on Twitter for more reviews, interviews and news!