Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Audience with 'Get Smart' Actors

Two top actors in the newly-released film 'Get Smart' gave a lively and humorous audience in the Apple Store in San Fran this evening.

Masi Oka, of Heroes, and Nate Torrence star as gadget designers Bruce and Lloyd in the action comedy. Before meeting the actors, the trailer of the film was screened followed by a clipping of their soon-to-be-released companion film, Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control.

The guys are on a hectic promotion tour coast to coast. 'It's pretty insane. It was a big movie to publicise,' said Nate. Yet compere Mark commented that backstage in the store the two were 'laughing hysterically like they hadn't seen each other for weeks!'

Obviously, it was a big change from Heroes. 'It is like a dream come true...I got to improvise a lot. Movies are different from TV, both have their 'pro's,' said Masi.

They were both highly complimentary of starring actor Steve Carell of the American Office fame. 'He's like a teacher,' said Masi, with Nate adding that approval from Steve was like getting a 'merit Girl Scout cookies!'

After some informed questions about the writers and director, someone asked for anecdotes. Nate recounted wrecking a specially-made Swiss army knife on the first take, and a tale of elbow pads! Having had to faint on a tiled floor 'over and over' he was handed a pair of protective elbow pads only to discover they had the name 'G Clooney' on them. 'Some elbows! Sexy!' he quipped.

'Would any lady or gentleman from the audience like to kiss his elbows?!' added compere Mark.

Was the film fun? 'It was like being in camp every day...crazy stunts...get beat up,' said Masi. He added that also working with Steve Carell for the first time was fun. 'You just admire, idolise him,' he said.

But the questions from the audience also ranged from quirky to personal.

Last You Tube pulled up?

Nate: an interview with someone with a really high voice that cracked up the interviewer.

Masi: 'Where in the world is Matt?' a spoof on NBC's travel feature with Matt Lauer. This Matt is pictured dancing in '600 different countries!' said Masi.

The hottest, ie most attractive, actress worked with?

Anne Hathaway - who co-stars in the film - said Masi.

'I'm married. I have two kids,' said Nate. 'My wife is the hottest person I've ever worked with!'

Favourite book?

Masi: 'I am American', a humorous book by Steve Colbert.

Nate: A book about a guy who writes to corporations for freebies.

Heroes has a huge following judging from the audience comments. What was more fun, asked someone, Heroes or Get Smart?

Both, said Masi. The advantage of the film was the amount of improvisation he could do. But with Heroes he said, 'it has a lot more special effects. You get to work with people you're comfortable with, a family.'

Music preferences? 'Eclectic stuff,' said Nate and listed MIA, Magnetic Fields and Spoon. 'I like some bizarre, crazy stuff,' he said.

'These days I've been playing Rock Band a lot,' said Masi, and a cheer went up from the audience.

Someone asked a question on geeks!

'Being a geek means that you're passionate about's to be human,' said Masi, rather than to be like a robot.

Teachers of influence? asked another person.

'I just got an email from my Principal,' said Nate, explaining that he was from a very small town that supported him to the hilt.

For Nate it was a maths teacher. 'I was raised by a single mum so he was like a father to me,' he said.

Asked about how they started in acting, they both studied theatre and eventually made their way to LA. Nate started performing in Chicago, Masi moved to San Fran and trained in effects. He described his move to LA and acting as 'kind of on a whim...I wanted to give acting a shot,' he said.

Again, a question moved back to Heroes. One of the achievements of the series was it's diversity, Masi said, proud of the fact that it has advanced Asian Americans.

As to the future, there is a DVD with extra film material from Get Smart soon to be released. A sequel depends on box office takings. Nate is in two other new films, 'My Best Friend's Girl' and a lead role in 'She's Out of My League' due out next spring.

Masi has 25 episodes of Heroes and hopes to direct in the future.

The Audience was filmed by Apple and will be online as a podcost in about two weeks' time.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Battle of the Paddles, South Lake Tahoe

With loud boos and 'thumbs-down' signs, the historic Battle of the Paddles sternwheeler race splashed off across Lake Tahoe this morning.

Several hundred people, some wearing costumes of the paddle steamer era, were aboard the competing ships, the Tahoe Queen and the MS Dixie II.

Despite all the good-humoured booing and cheering, egged on by a costumed MC, we on the Tahoe Queen had to suffer the indignity of watching the Dixie slip past the finishing line first! And of course our young captain had to pay the ultimate penalty: walk the plank, or rather in a modern version, run and dive into the cold waters of the lake.

Taking part in this fun, historic race across Lake Tahoe is one of the best events of the Opening Days summer season launch of South Lake Tahoe.

A champagne breakfast, live rock music and pirate antics accompanied the part cruise - part race. With the sun shining beautifully and the Sierra Nevada Mountains forming a majestic backdrop, it is a truly memorable experience.

On the top deck, passengers were encouraged to run from side to side and up to the stern to help the ship turn quickly for the return leg! While below, great food was served and resident, talented musicians, the Steve Walker Band, played a tremendous selection of popular rock.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Tahoe Queen, the ship has been beautifully refurbished and a recommissioning ceremony was held prior to the race.

According to the special supplement of the Tahoe Daily Tribune, the race began in the 1980s on Memorial Day weekend but petered out due to poor weather. A similar fate met a second attempt on Labor Day weekend.

But moving it into the Opening Days programme has secured its success! On board were camera crews and a group of writers from various magazines who were thoroughly enjoying the occasion.

After the race we cruised gently and then paused for a parade of small craft decked in a Disney theme to circle us. All of a sudden there were shouts from the lower deck as one of the motorboats misjudged a celebrity twirl and knocked into us. Not quite what Captain Hook, Tinkerbell, Donald Duck and the other Disney characters had been expecting!

But with the quick response of a crew member standing on the outer rim of the ship and some help from the errant driver, the boat was levered away.

When the parade was over police on one of the accompanying launches inspected the side and gave us an 'all clear' before we returned slowly to the landing. Behind us, police on another launch could be seen having words with the over-enthusiastic motorboat crew.

Earlier that morning, the lake had also seen the World's Highest Parasailing Competition take place.

For a report on Saturday's events see previous blog.

South Lake Tahoe Opening Summer Season

Thousands of visitors swarmed to the tiny, picturesque village of South Lake Tahoe this weekend for the fourth annual Opening Days festivities to mark the launch of their summer season.

With an elaborate street party, gondola rides up into the Sierra Nevada mountains offering stunning views of snow-capped peaks and the lake, the World's Highest Parasailing Competition, a paddlewheeler breakfast and race, and top casino shows, the event is a wonderful Californian occasion.

And with Californian temperatures rocking in the 90s for much of the time to fantastic free music, what more could be asked for?!!!

On Saturday morning as myriad stalls and stages were being set up along the main street, we headed for the 'gondola' - cable car -station in the Heavenly Village. Once inside our gondola we glided smoothly over the chalet-style buildings and began a spectacular ascent to Adventure Peak. Below us, Lake Tahoe, 22 miles long and the third deepest lake in North America, sparkled with shades of light greeny blue to dark blue, while around us snow glistened on distant peaks.

On the way up is an observation post at a cool 9,156 ft where we stopped to appreciate the scenery and take photos. Standing on a wooden platform that juts over the mountainside with such a breathtaking panorama is a wonderful experience.

Once back in a gondola we completed the ride to the top. For those who struggle with heights, take heart: the ride is smooth and hugs the mountain at around the height of the nearby firs. For more info and a professional video see

At the top, the station is set in a hollow offering shelter with a cafe, outdoor seating and a novel bar housed in a round, glass hut. There are also three hiking trails, clearly marked with their degree of difficulty, and an enormous electronic board advising of weather conditions.

But above, for thrill-seeking adventurers, there is the longest zip line cable in North America! This is Lake Tahoe's new edition this year, and for the uninitiated, what this means is that you can strap into a harness from a nearby peak and fly down over 3,000 ft at up to 50 mph dangling from a cable. Apparently, the views of the lake are incomparable from this vantage point! For a flier's view and info see this excellent professional video:

However, we strolled along the easiest of the trails and returned to the Heavenly Village as rain clouds were approaching. Soon after, the gondolas were closed as there was a possibility of lightning strikes.

Back in the village, the street was thronging with people as the Block Party had started. The stalls selling artefacts, and fantastic food for just a few dollars, were showcases for local businesses. There were also recreation and art expos, a craft fair, a motorcross show, Flying Elvi Skydive Team, a display of Harleys and Hot Rods with a Ferrari slipped in for fun and a Miss Hawaiian Tropic Northern Nevada pageant.

And there was amazing music. During the afternoon three stages rocked to bands including Zoo2, a cover band for U2, and star performers Tosh Meets Marley, an incredibly talented reggae mix of former members of Bob Marley and the Wailers and Peter Tosh's band. For an after-party by the ice rink, the village rocked to California Dreamin', described as 'A Musical Journey Through the Golden State'.

In the casinos ticketed shows featured an enticing choice: Motown great Smokey Robinson, Yesterday: a Beatles tribute, and singer songwriter Judy Collins.

But a wonderful alternative is to take a sunset stroll along the narrow curved beach and sit on a wooden jetty overlooking the waters of the lake to watch the last of the orangey sun's reflections, until it slips behind the grandiose mountains.

For Sunday's celebrations, see my next blog.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Same-Sex Marriage June 08

It was a crowd celebration laced with cyanide as vehement proponents on both sides of the same-sex marriage divide gathered outside the Civic Centre yesterday evening. Inside, Mayor Gavin Newsom performed the first symbolic wedding and oversaw the issuing of licenses to over 160 other same-sex couples who will marry later.

As the California Supreme Court's controversial ruling to allow same-sex marriage came into effect after 5 pm yesterday, hundreds of supporters and demonstrators gathered to mark the proceedings.

It was a noisy, contentious event as the crowd stood outside waiting for couples to emerge, waving their licenses. It was at times abusive with placards and posters, some with graphic words and illustrations, being waved around.

The crowd reflected all shades of opinion. 'I'm 'straight',' said Rebecca, 'but I'm really excited about this because I've always felt this is the way things should be.' Her friend, Anna, enthused, 'I second that. And I'm 'straight' too!'

Opposition appeared to come from churches and organizations from outside of the city with no sign of local church involvement. Clinging to a long white pole beneath a banner opposing homosexuality was 17-year-old Mike. He belonged to a group under the internet name of

With the legal battle of same-sex marriage not yet over - there will be a popular vote in November that may overturn the Supreme Court ruling - I asked him if he thought they would win.

'It's kind of hard to tell if we're going to win or not but we have to do our duty. The result's are God's,' he said.

'! F... you!' almost spat a guy as he walked past us.

From the front of the Civic Centre the song, 'We're going to the chapel, and we're going to get married!' could be heard over the plaza.

A group of young girls from the extreme, independent Kansas church, Westboro Baptist, accused of hatred against homosexuals, waved the most graphic placards, some of which had drawings and said, 'God hates fag enablers' and 'Dykes wed.' The girls were coralled by the kerbside in a pen made of metal barriers, probably for their own safety as their placards attracted intermittent shouts.

The group also had a vehicle covered in posters touring the streets.

Do you think your posters are a little graphic? I asked one girl.

But she replied, referring to homosexuality, 'It's an abomination to the Lord.'

'Ignorance and stupidity,' cut in a man beside me.

Discovering that her name was Victoria and she was only 15-years-old, I asked how she felt about being there. 'I feel very honoured that my Lord my God has given me this chance to be here,' she said.

In front of the group a woman walked past carrying a placard...'Eating Lobster is an abomination too.' Behind them men dressed in priests' attire taunted, 'We're getting married!'

'I think it's about time that all religious laws are distinct from State laws and I'm really happy to see it,' said Tim, the 'it' referring to the evening's event. A lady standing with him agreed. 'The signs are horrendous,' she said, pointing particularly at one by the steps of the Civic Centre that read, 'Homo sex is a threat to national security.'

Anonymously, another man said, 'I think it's a wonderful day.'

By this stage, a slow steady stream of people were exiting the Civic Centre and waving or giving a 'thumbs up' sign. They were couples, accompanied by family and friends, who had been granted licenses in readiness for marriage ceremonies, some of which were held today. Each time a small group emerged, many in the crowd clapped and cheered, some also waving red roses.

I crossed the road and stood in the melee near the steps of the Civic Centre. In front of me two young men kissed affectionately, arms around each other.

A broadcast journalist with a microphone came down the steps to interview people. 'Love! Love! Love! shouted the crowd.

'I know who the 'abomination' is!' said one woman behind me in derision at a poster.

It was then that a small surge of protest occurred around Bill, from Fremont across the Bay. Bill held aloft another of the large white posters that said, 'Homo sex is sin,' and wore a hard hat inscribed with 'sexual pervert.' He looked ready to battle with a mob.

To chants of 'Christian fascists go away!' Bill shouted back, 'Jesus Christ is God and you will all bow before Him,' and arguments broke out, Ruth, an older lady, said to me, ' As a 'straight' San Franciscan I am absolutely delighted that lesbians and gays will have similar rights to me and I hope the rest of America will catch up.'

Someone shouted at Bill, 'How would you feel if someone said being 'straight' is a you are defiling this place with your bigotry.'

'All homophobes are secretly gay,' shouted Michael.

''The bible is a book of fiction,' Lisa called out.

The sight of Bill's poster enraged George. 'I love! I don't care who I do it with!' he yelled at Bill. 'God loves me! I am gay!' he asserted. And then sung an old childrens' chorus...'Jesus loves me this I know, For the bible tell me so.....'

'You're just completely full of crap!' Ruth added to Bill.

Meanwhile the chants continued. 'We don't want your hypocrisy! We don't want your theocracy! Christians, go home!'

But Bill, dressed in his hard hat was undaunted and ready to battle. 'Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah! That's what Jesus is going to say to you,' he yelled back.

'Blah! Blah! Blah!' echoed the noisy crowd.

Two other men shouted, 'God says "never to judge",' and 'Christian fascists go back to your patriarchal cave.'

I retreated, and found myself standing with Lisa. What did I think?' she asked. I was honest and said that I did not support gay marriage, but that I also thought the posters and opposition were too strident. And suddenly, with Lisa, a self-confessed agnostic with a Jewish background, I was in an oasis of civility. She raised the fundamental issues that underline this debate and we discussed them. Whilst she profoundly disagreed with me, we enjoyed our conversation and shook hands as we parted.

Across the plaza, as the crowds were thinning - it was about 7 pm by now - there was another contretemps.

'Homophobia is totalitarian,' boomed a guy with a megaphone.

'Jesus is Lord. He's the Saviour of the world,' a guy holding a pole with a large placard loudly responded.

'There is no dictator in the sky telling us what to do with our .....!'

'Homosexuality is still sin!'

And at that point I left, only to suddenly bump into two young guys at the end of the plaza who had got their license to marry and had just finished an interview with a TV journalist.

Beautifully dressed, with one carrying a bunch of lilies, they radiated happiness. 'We're nesters not roamers,' said one as they walked down the pavement with another lady and me.

It turned out they were married four years ago in a brief legal opportunity that was rescinded shortly after. So today will be their second wedding.

Whatever one's view, they didn't deserve the humiliation and haranguing meted out by some of the protestors.

As thousands of gay couples are expected to tie the knot over the summer, Christian and Conservative opposers have acted legally. They have caused the issue to be included in the November 4, 2008, General Election ballot when votes for the next president of the USA will be cast, and each state votes on a range of it's own issues.

Should the popular vote overturn the Supreme Court's ruling, same-sex couples will once again only be able to register for a domestic partnership.

Pictures of the event are available on my Web Gallery

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Summer in San Francisco! 13 May 2008

It's summer in San Francisco!

The city is basking in what is likely to be one of the hottest weeks in the year. Temperatures are in the 90s and are forecast to climb into 'three digits' - as the newscasters say - over at least the next two days.

And there is no surer sign of summer in the city than this stunning display of attire and tattoo. Susan's proud-as-a-peacock arm and rainbow-hued dress lit up the area as she waited for a bus on Market Street.

Susan loves tattoos. The peacock, which covers half her arm, made its feathery debut last year and she had her first tattoo at the age of 14 years.

But alas, San Fran will not see much of her over the summer as she is preparing to migrate to London for three months.

'I'll be doing a work-study programme. I'm an Art History Major so I'll be taking classes for the first six weeks and then interning at the Westminster Archives,' she said.

She has visited London once before as a child. 'I don't remember a lot,' she said. 'I remember climbing to the top of the Tower of London and the Changing of the Guard, and that's about it. But I'm a complete Anglophile,' she enthused. 'I love British humour, Britpop and Sixties mod rock.'

The streets of London may not be paved with gold but they will be all the brighter for her presence.

PS Pigeons of Trafalgar Square take note: you have a rival coming!