Monday, September 30, 2013

Between Books - The Deadliest Cast Member: Season One

Between Books - The Deadliest Cast Member: Season One

Jack Duncan is your typical Disney Parks fan. He enjoys spending time with his family at Disneyland. He visits as often as possible, which for him is a lot. He knows to savor the background and setting established by the Imagineers. His mind holds a wealth of Disney history and trivia. And he is a Special Forces trained security expert that is our only hope against a terrorist plot that would wipe Disneyland off the map and kill many in the area. So yeah, typical Disney fan.

The Deadliest Cast Member: Season One by Kelly Ryan Johns collects the previously released Season One installments of this story that had been released as e-books. Johns introduces us to Jack Duncan, a father, widower and the guardian of Disney’s security. Duncan’s father was a close friend and associate to Walt Disney and had created Disneyland’s elaborate security system. Jack spends most of his year living in a suite at Disney’s Grand California Hotel & Spa. Duncan had left his role as a Navy Seal to follow his father’s footsteps in the parks. Jack is also a celebrity, having completed an unexplained heroic act in the parks a few years ago. Additionally, his wife passed away in an undisclosed fashion due to the actions of his and his father’s nemesis, Nikolai Grusov. Grusov, despite Jack believing he had killed the villain earlier, is back and holds the Disneyland resort hostage with a dirty bomb. Duncan takes the lead in a story that incorporates mystery, action, speculative technology, Disney history, and maybe magic (or is that science by another name).

There are a lot of layers to pull back on this story when breaking it down.

First, as a Disney fan, this story is a dream come true. Jack and his kids basically live at Disneyland. He has a fantastic suite at the Grand Californian. And when he has to move out of his lodgings, for Johnny Depp who Jack is friends with, he moves temporarily into the Dream Suite! That just does not seem fair! Really who among us would not enjoy this lifestyle! The Duncan’s eat at Club 33 and can exclusively use rooms in the club. He can access back exits and hidden tunnels to get around in the park. He is tied to the history of the park through his father, who was Walt Disney’s “greatest friend”. It really is a dream life. And Johns knows the park, so as you are jealous of Duncan and his lifestyle, the park serves as a character within the book.

Second, this is an action story. This is a 24 type anti-terrorism story set in Disneyland. There are guns, bombs, martial arts and fighting. There is a goal of finding and defusing a bomb before an entire community is harmed. And at the center of it all is Jack the experienced and capable military operator. And I feel it worked on this level. In fact, I may never look at the park the same way again. Could a gunman be behind that corner?

Third, this story is a mystery or a puzzle. Much like a book with a very different tone, In the Shadow of the Matterhorn, readers are provided a mystery within the park. And the story is built around real locations and fake clues within the park. For Disney fans, this mystery goes back to Walt Disney himself and his hopes for his Park.

Finally, The Deadliest Cast Member: Season One is a work of speculative fiction. It is filled with Sci-Fi science, or magic, that we do not use in our world. But they do help to show how fictional magic exists within Disneyland. This element is probably the one I expected the least, and probably needed the least. This final element probably most reminded me of Midlife Mouse, yet another very different book. And despite the fact that there is a lot going on in this story, the book still worked for me with this element mixed in.

Cost wise this book sells for $4.99 on Kindle, which seems like a competitive price point. It collects 6 separate segments which sell for 99 cents to $2.99 a piece so you do save in buying the compiled version. At that price I do not believe that you are taking a huge risk in buying the novel. And if you have concerns you can sample for less than a dollar.

Overall, I enjoyed The Deadliest Cast Member: Season One by Kelly Ryan Johns. It is an escapist action adventure with a touch of sci-fi that caters to Disney fans. I will admit this is one of the first books I have ever read that has Johnny Depp as a fiction character. But in the end, I found myself joining Johns in his enjoyable story. And I for one would like to see a season two at a later date.

Review Copy Provided for Purpose of Review

Friday, September 27, 2013

Mousey Movie Preview - Thor: The Dark World TV Spot

What I really wanted to show today was the Avengers: Age of Ultron leaked trailer from San Diego Comic Con.  But everytime I go to watch it, Disney legal has gotten it taken down, likely moments before I went to view it.

So instead I give you Thor: The Dark World's recent TV promo, which was played during Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this week.  Honestly, I loved this because Jane Foster gets a chance to address relationship stuff, dude why didn't you call!    

If you have not seen it yet, here is the full trailer for Thor: The Dark World which will be released on November 8, 2013. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Between Books - The Imagineering Workout

Between Books - The Imagineering Workout

The Imagineering Workout: Exercises to Shape Your Creative Muscles by the Disney Imagineers is a collection of mostly one page essays that highlights different aspects of the creative process. Topics in the book range from using your creative license, considering the audience, storytelling, and finding inspiration. Contributors include Imagineers familiar to Disney fans such as Tony Baxter and Jason Surrell and many more who’s names are not as public. Along with the text many of the essays are illustrated or have boxes for readers to write notes to help sharpen their creative skills. The essays also have grey boxes with areas of emphasis.

This volume really is a companion to The Imagineering Way but with shorter essays. The topics and tone of both books are generally the same. The book is one that a reader could pick up and put back down to come back to later with the short essays. And it is a volume that one can search for just what you need when you need it. Honestly, I have been using it to gather quotes over the last few weeks to share at work and for a presentation. But the book itself as straight through read can be difficult as the writers switch from page to page. Overall, for anyone doing a creative task, which is really everyone, this book can provide inspiration but not detailed techniques on creating.

The Imagineering Workout is a short volume that provides inspiration from those who build the Disney Parks. It is something that can be a good creativity resource though it really is not a how to but inspiration. For those who want short and small packets of inspiration, this could be a good book to explore.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dreaming Disney - How It Should Of Ended Marvel Edition

I really do not watch a lot of online videos.  But when I do, "How It Should Of Ended" comes to the top of my list.

These videos, which have spoilers, poke fun at some of our favorite movie and their plot holes.  So they are silly but also thoughtful.  In honor of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. here is a selection of Marvel Cinematic Universe videos.

I love this Iron Man 3 video which compares Iron Man 3 to The Incredibles.  And we find out how the Avengers move on after the events of the film.

And in The Avengers edition Batman and Superman compare themselves to the Marvel team.  

This bonus scene for The Avengers shows the softer side of the alien invaders in the Battle of New York.

This parody of Captain America: The First Avenger makes me wonder if he tried hard enough!

And in this video, Batman and Superman question Odin's parenting skills!

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuts September 24th, so I hope you enjoy this videos as we get ready for more Coulson goodness.

Oh....and for a bonus video....Stan Lee inserts himself into some non-Marvel movies!

For more Marvel fun check out my podcast, Welcome to Level Seven, which will cover Agent Coulson and his team on the small screen. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Between Books - Dream It! Do It!

Between Books - Dream It! Do It!

Disney fans have long anticipated the collection of legendary Imagineer Marty Sklar’s memories into a book. Sklar having a career that spanned the opening of Disneyland to retirement in 2009, has literally seen it all. And in many cases he was a participant. Yes, this is a book that Disney fans wanted and called for!

Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney Magic Kingdoms by Marty Sklar captures the legend’s Disney memories. Sklar’s memoir covers his pre-Disney life and his long and distinguished Disney career. He is not able to cover every aspect of his Disney years, but he does give significant time to parks development including Walt Disney World, Epcot, and Euro Disney (or Disneyland Paris). He gives an insider look at presentations and creative sessions that helped build the parks we love. And most excitedly for Disney fans some reminisces include Walt Disney, for who Sklar wrote. Along with his memories, Sklar also includes business insights with a selection of quotes from Imagineering’s Conference Room walls and Mickey’s Ten Commandments and its expansion.

I am going to call this a mixed review for me. Honestly, I found the text hard for me to get into. And this made me more frustrated as I read. I really wanted to be drawn into it. The sad thing is I cannot explain why it was hard for me to break into book, which also frustrates. In the end all I can say is it did not draw me in the way I wanted it to. Also, the book reprints several stories that many Disney fans have already read or heard elsewhere. So every page does not provide new content to mull over, with some being Sklar putting in his pages stories told by others about him or by him elsewhere. But on the flip side there is plenty of new content for a Disney fan to enjoy. And it is amazingly honest content. I am shocked about the characterizations made about other Disney figures such as Dick Nunis and Roy E. Disney in the pages of a Disney Editions offering. Honestly, it makes one wonder why Disney Legal blocked the Ward Kimball biography! And the honesty is refreshing and good.

As I said, this text gives Sklar’s very honest opinions. And with Sklar having been on the the creative side it should not be shocking that he felt tension with Dick Nunis in Operations. But what was shocking to me was how far Sklar’s editors let him go in painting of Nunis of well…a bully! A comment about how Nunis abandoned Ron Miller definitely caught my attention though it was only a small line. And Sklar definitely chooses Michael Eisner in the struggle between the CEO and Roy E. Disney. But Sklar’s insights into Disney’s lack of creative input will make one think.

One thing I am glad that Sklar weighed in on was the Walt/Roy comparisons with the Eisner/Frank Wells relationship. Sklar interacted with both pairs. And he argues the relationship was not the same. With the Walt and Roy O. Disney dynamic, Roy provided little to no feedback on creative issues. Roy did not attend story meetings. Roy stayed within his business sphere. For Eisner’s tenure however it was a frequent occurrence that Wells attended creative meetings and would provide creative input. So the comparison breaks down as Wells used his years in Hollywood to serve as a sounding board on matters beyond the business. In short with Eisner and Wells the lines were more fuzzy.
Dream It! Do It! by Marty Sklar is a Between Books must have for Disney fans. And it is for the insights, opinions and perceptive that this Disney Legend brings. However, this is a book you need for the content, not because you cannot put it down.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Mousey Movie Preview - Escape from Tomorrow

Mousey Movie Preview - Escape from Tomorrow

"Bad things happen everywhere, especially here."  Hey, I think someone has been reading Realityland!

Okay, seriously, you want to see something weird, well watch this!

Yeah that was Mickey Mouse, and yep that was Walt Disney World, but nope this is not a Disney movie.

This trailer is for Escape from Tomorrow, a independent movie shot guerrilla style in the World.  It was not Disney sanctioned, but surprisingly it also has not been challenged by Disney Legal.

So what do I think of this.

It's too artsy.

It looks too scary.

If it was anything else I would never never watch it.


Mousey Movie Preview - Escape from Tomorrow

So I might just have to check this out.

Do you plan on seeing Escape from Tomorrow, if you can find it?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Dreaming Disney - Walk in Walt's Disneyland Footsteps

Dreaming Disney - Walk in Walt's Disneyland Footsteps
The Disneyland Dedication Plaque - Kicks Off a Tour of Walt's Park

For years I have had my eyes on the “Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps” tour. And with our 2013 trip to Disneyland possibly being the last trip for awhile, I made it a priority to include this walking historical trip in this summer’s trip. And the deal was sealed after last summer’s trip when it was announced that Walt’s Apartment was added to the tour. But the my favorite moment was months earlier when the Between Tween informed me that I would have company on this tour, the Tween would not be left off this adventure.

The tour is a walking tour, and walk you do. Each guest is provided an ear bud to attach to one ear that carries the voice of the tour guide. The guide walked us all throughout the park, visiting each land and discussing Walt Disney’s connection to that land. The tour guide along with the script uses audio clips of Walt Disney, such as reading dedication plaques for the lands or portions of speeches he gave. So, despite the fact that Walt passed away decades ago, his presence and voice joins you throughout the tour. The facts themselves are probably not groundbreaking to students of park history. But hearing them as you stand where Walt stood has an impact. Additionally, my tour guide was more than a fact reader. My tour guide served as a storyteller who engaged the audience in the story of Walt Disney’s theme park.

I expected that we would get some real behind the scenes looks at attractions. Honestly we did not. You only experienced two attractions. For my tour, we cut the line and rode Peter Pan’s flight as a group. And we later visited Great Moment’s With Mr. Lincoln, after a lengthy discussion of the attractions meaning and connection to Walt Disney. Honestly, I do not know how we could have taken in more attractions in the nearly three hours we toured the park as we were constantly on the go. There was a lot of content in a short time.

Now there are two stops that do provide the Disney history fan the geek out experience. The first is a visit to Club 33, the exclusive dining club in the park. Guests on the tour are able to enter the first floor of the club, but do not go up the stairs to the dining room. With a full tour of 12 it is standing room only. But the guide made sure that everyone got a picture in front of the famous glass elevator. The big highlight of the tour though is Walt Disney’s Apartment. My group was broken into two smaller parties. I found out why when I entered the super small apartment, simply it is tiny. The majority of the apartment was behind a velvet rope. But we were able to walk around and look at the apartment from different angles, including the bathroom and it’s very futuristic shower, for the 1960s. Finally, our docent took a picture of each group standing in front of the rope with the front windows, and Walt’s lamp, the background. You really need to bring a camera if you spend the money for this tour, because these are photos you do not want to miss. The tour does cost over a $100 per guest. And the Between Tween and I did see this a money well spent.
Dreaming Disney - Walk in Walt's Disneyland Footsteps
Every Disney Fan Wants Behind This Door!

Dreaming Disney - Walk in Walt's Disneyland Footsteps
Now Only If I Was Invited Up The Stairs for Lunch!

Finally, our tour ended with lunch at the Jolly Holiday Bakery, where we had been able to pre-pick our sandwiches, drink and dessert (yes, you can get a Matterhorn Macaroon). We were also given gifts. We received a Disney pin commemorating the Walking in Walt’s Footsteps tour with moving pieces. And we got a button that we wore during the tour with our name on it.

The “Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps” tour is pricey. But when you consider the three hours guided through the park, the stops at Walt’s Apartment and Club 33, and lunch the tour was well worth the expense. And now that I am back in Betweenland, my memories of this tour help me feel connected even stronger to my beloved Disneyland Park.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Comic Corner - The Star Wars #1

Comic Corner - The Star Wars

“Longer ago, in a galaxy even further away….” proclaims the cover of Dark Horse’s new comic mini-series The Star Wars issue #1. The comic visually presents for the first time the original Star Wars screenplay written in 1974. The story adapted by J.W. Rinzler, a name familiar to Star Wars fans, and illustrated by Mike Mayhew brings to fans a storyline speculated about for decades. It presents the Star Wars that may have been.

The Star Wars published by Dark Horse comics has been overseen and supervised by George Lucas, bringing his original concept to life. The story itself covers the struggle between the Jedi-Bendu Knights the former bodyguards of the Emperor in the old Empire and the current Emperor and his Knights of the Sith of the New Empire. The one Sith we get a glimpse of, Darth Vader, has a familiar name but an unfamiliar face. The action follows one Jedi, Kane Starkiller, and his sons including one named Annikin, as they return to the last Jedi refuge of Aquilae on the verge of a New Empire attack. The story ends as Starkiller makes a request of another Jedi, General Luke Skywalker the veteran leader of Aquilae’s defenses, as the attack is about to begin.

I have been waiting months for this story, if not years. Okay months since the announcement. I enjoy the Star Wars I have and Disney bought. But it is fun to explore the alternative story. For even casual fans there is plenty that will seem familiar, because as Rinzler points out in the preface the key elements are all there:
  • Princes Leia
  • A knight named Luke Skywalker 
  • Jedi 
  • Sith 
  • Alderaan 
  • Bail Antilles 
  • Stormtroopers 
  • A lightsaber battle
So even if you are a casual fan, like many Disney focused fans are, you will likely be able to pick up on key differences yet feel comfortable. The images provide by Mayhew will also make the reader be transported into a familiar Star Wars universe even if it’s not the one you are fully accustomed to. The ships and costumes all feel like Star Wars with a tweak. So it is not hard to see this story as being part of that universe.

I have been a little shocked that this story made it to print outside of Marvel. It was announced after the Disney purchase of Lucasfilm, so something this big seems like a natural fit for bringing Lucasfilm into a Marvel title. So I wonder if this story work was kicked off pre-purchase or during. And there have been a lot of rumors that 2013 was the end of the Lucasfilm/Dark Horse contract. Yet with this being an eight issue series this clearly extends into 2014. And the Brian Wood Star Wars original trilogy series seems to be booking along full steam ahead. So when and will Disney move Star Wars over to Marvel? I know there has been plenty of speculation and this only confuses and maybe discredits some rumors. Disney fans we should not forget that while Marvel was the original comic home for Star Wars, the Lucasfilm/Dark Horse relationship has lasted longer and been more successful than the original Marvel partnership.

I am reading this single issue format. I want these as they come out every month. A friend and fellow fan is planning on awaiting the collection trade of the entire story. I think one could do either and it is mostly based on your preference. I think if you are a Star Wars fan this is a must read. I think if you a casual fan/Disney fan you are likely going to be interested but should look to borrowing the trade from a library if possible. I do think it is very good, but I am writing this with a ton of fanboy behind me. To me this is an extension o f my childhood, so it is a delight.

I personally find The Star Wars as a must read for Star Wars fans and something of interest to Disney fans. Of course I am also the guy who opened his arms to both Marvel and Lucasfilm with a giant smile. I would love to see this title as part of the family as a Marvel publication. I do not believe Disney would ever green light a feature film based on this. But who knows what can happen with this tale if fans respond positively to it.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Between Books - More Cute Stories, Volume 1: Disneyland History

Between Books - More Cute Stories, Volume 1: Disneyland History

I am a big fan of It’s Kind of a Cute Story by Rolly Crump as Told to Jeff Heimbuch. I have heard Heimbuch mention several times on podcasts over the last few years that Crump had more stories than they could fit in the book. As a Disney history fan, one does not want to see these tales be lost. And thankfully they have found a new outlet to get these memories out to the fans.

In the audio presentation More Cute Stories, Volume 1: Disneyland History, Disney fans can hear Crump tell the stories himself. Heimbuch provides a brief intro but for the rest of the nearly hour-long presentation it is all Crump. I assume that Heimbuch was the original audience, and that some of the content may have been recordings assembled when they were working on the earlier book. But regardless of their original intent they are delightful to hear.

The stories in this volume are mostly early Disneyland history. Crump starts, as it should with the beginning of the park before it even opened. And Crump includes the first time he meet Walt. But my favorite cute stories are maintenance and personalities. I chuckled as he described the poor state of mainatanence in “early” Disneyland where wood rotted quickly and his account of the “ice pick test” had me laughing as I was taking a lunchtime walk. And I loved hearing Crump sharing his thoughts on other Disney Legends, especially Bill Evans and Bob Gurr. With Gurr we find out their first meeting was over an automobile, which only seems right. The stories are generally frank, factual and honest. For example, he makes it clear that not all the entertainment occurring on Grad Nights was sponsored by the Mouse!

So this is an audio presentation not a printed book. So did it work for me? Rolly Crump is not a professional speaker per say but has spoken in public often. But the stories felt more candid than a polished formal presentation given to a large theater. His frequent use of the word “Cute”, which ties back to his book, gives his presentation a folksy intimate feel. The volume is all Rolly and there is no digging deeper into the topic with follow-up questions. So it is not an interview. What I would equate More Cute Stories to is an oral history as the stream of thought is not interrupted but the subject leads the discussion. The other comparison point is podcasts. A fan may be able to get some of this material from a podcast, but should expect interruptions from the hosts instead of leaving Crump in the spotlight. And one does not have to sit through the advertising that you would typically find in a podcast.

In light of free podcasts, though one has to search, would I suggest buying the CD for $9.95? For those that like physical copies, yes I think you would want this if you are a Disney history fan. The fact that you get to hear the stories from Crump himself is a huge attraction. But if the price scares you off, you can download the volume from Amazon for only $4.99. That seems more than fair for the good content, hearing the voice of a Disney Legend recount his own stories, and the ability to make it portable. Honesty, this is volume one and I am looking forward to the arrival of volume 2. Honestly, I can think of several late Imagineers from this period that I wish had been captured in this format.

More Cute Stories, Volume 1: Disneyland History delivers to the Disney fan’s ears stories of early Disneyland from a man who experienced the park while still under the watchful eye of Walt Disney. Disney fans will enjoy hearing Crump’s cute stories. And hopefully more will be on the horizon.

Review Copy Provided by Bamboo Forest Publishing