Archive for February, 2019

Six most outrageous moments during the 2019 On Cinema Oscar Special

February 28th, 2019


 

Last Sunday I stayed home to watch an exciting live event: the 2019 On Cinema Oscar Special (video available here). What, did you think I’d waste time on the “real” Academy Awards?

I mentioned On Cinema here before — to sum it up it’s a tragic comedy about a pair of would-be movie critics, Tim and Gregg, and their many personality clashes. For a complete backstory of the On Cinema universe check out this article at Vulture.

Due to the outcome of a civil lawsuit Tim lost control of On Cinema last season. The Oscar Special was advertised with Gregg appearing as the movie expert and a new host by the name of Rafael Torres. How would this turn out? Could On Cinema possibly outdo itself again?

The short answer is yes. Here are the top six most outrageous moments in this year’s On Cinema Oscar Special.

Warning: spoilers!
 

6. Dekkar’s awful cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Tim often interrupts On Cinema with his latest music, much to Gregg’s chagrin. This time Tim’s band Dekkar reunites to perform a cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” which at the very least is on topic due to the Oscar nominations of a film of the same name. Unfortunately their performance is… well, it’s a train wreck. Tim’s vocals are slurred, off-key, and it’s unclear if he even knows most of the lyrics.

I might have rated this moment in the special higher if I hadn’t seen a similar version last month at their live show here in San Francisco. It’s a solid laugh, but like any joke it’s better the first time.

 

5. Gregg’s unmentioned reference to Scientology

In a segment called “Where The Stars Were Born,” Gregg shows us the birthplaces of various Hollywood actors using shaky footage he presumably shot on his phone.

Gregg casually displays recent footage of the former hospital where Jamie Lee Curtis was born without commenting on the fact that it’s now the Hollywood Scientology building. These days the building serves a rather different purpose for certain Hollywood celebrities, including Tim’s favorite actor Tom Cruise.

 

4. Tim’s entrance and latest conspiracy theory

During a pre-taped interview with Steve Carell, Tim is heard in the background forcing his way onto the set of the special. He barges on set with pepper spray and a gun-toting security guard/actor named Mike. Somehow Tim wins back Gregg’s trust despite having blocked all the doors and exits, accidentally hit everyone with pepper spray, and forbidden phone calls (especially to 911.) The official host Rafael retreats to his dressing room after being assaulted by Tim and won’t come out.

Tim demands they run a Q-Anon style conspiracy theory video he put together regarding the allegedly impending arrest of elite Hollywood liberals — at 7:10 PM, specifically — during the Academy Awards. Gregg immediately rejects this conspiracy. When Tim’s prediction doesn’t come to pass he blames his security guard for giving him bad information.

 

3. Tim’s latest quack medicine… or is it?

Lifting his shirt to reveal a suspicious vest, Gregg is initially concerned Tim is wearing a suicide bomb. But it turns out the vest is only loaded with magnets — for health reasons. Tim claims he bought the vest at Magnets.com, and the powerful magnets have finally cured his diarrhea.

At first this seems relatively benign compared to Tim’s many other questionable health choices. But after Tim takes a tour of Gregg’s archive of VHS tapes while wearing the vest, a new problem develops. More on that in a moment.

 

2. The Living Oscar

Celebrity impersonator Mark Proksch nearly died during an on-set accident in last year’s Oscar Special; since then he’s been in a coma under Gregg’s care. For a new series of “Live Oscar” segments Gregg dressed Mark’s limp body in a tight-fitting gold suit and propped him upright. Gregg asks the Living Oscar statue questions, answering them with sound clips from Mark’s past performances.

In the final Living Oscar segment Gregg activates a turntable under the stand. When Mark becomes tangled up in the tube for his breathing device, Tim rushes over to help, accidentally knocking Mark onto the floor. The fall causes Mark to snap out of his coma. Tim’s hardly a hero though as he still refuses to let anyone call 911.

 

1. The grand finale

Gregg’s intended final segment is a “live sequel” to the movie Kramer vs. Kramer. Unfortunately Gregg loses focus on the segment because his tape of the original Kramer vs. Kramer won’t play. After Joe Estevez points out Tim’s magnets might be the problem, Gregg fumbles and curses while trying to find if any tapes in his collection are still playable.

The episode wraps up with a distraught Gregg going through his tapes while Tim’s band mates from Dekkar arrive with more liquor. Dekkar performs two songs including the aforementioned Queen cover. Suddenly the police show up — almost as Tim predicted would happen at the real Academy Awards. Tim drunkenly escapes the premises before the police can catch up to him. The police have questions about “gold man” Mark, who’s still wearing the gold Oscar suit and has blood on his face. As the episode ends Gregg is clearly talking to one police officer about Tim’s crimes against his prized VHS collection.

 
Honorable mentions

There were a few pretty crazy, but not completely outrageous moments that didn’t make my top six cut. In no particular order:

  • Gregg interviews frequent On Cinema guest Joe Estevez. Meanwhile Tim gets drunk on spiked Mountain Dew and makes loud, obnoxious comments the entire time.
  • Tim eats raw noodles from a Cup Noodles with a crazed look on his face, at one point squeezing the cup so hard it explodes sending dry noodles everywhere.
  • Gregg’s obsession with the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies continue as he hires Hobbit-themed band “Thains Of The Shire” to play despite his own personal distaste in On Cinema’s music features. When Dekkar shows up they borrow Thains Of The Shire’s instruments and equipment without asking.
  • The “Whaleman 2020″ shirt Tim wears as a reference not only to his cameo role in Ant Man And The Wasp, but also is a subtle dig at Gregg who had a cameo in the first Ant Man movie.

Moscone Center skyway lights

February 23rd, 2019


 

With the Moscone Center rebuild (mostly) complete, one element particularly stands out after dark. Every time I walk by at night I see people snapping photos of the light display in the glass-walled skyway between Moscone North and South.

I was pretty surprised when the contractors began construction on the skyway — why would a convention center that’s mostly underground need an above ground walkway? It’s particularly odd considering the new above ground space is only in Moscone South, though to be fair I haven’t been inside since the recent renovation.

But now that it’s there the skyway’s colorful LED light display fits with SOMA’s other light displays including the Metromile building, the Bay Lights on the Bay Bridge, and the video screen hat on Salesforce Tower.

While it lacks the playfulness of the Bay Lights or the detail of Salesforce Tower’s videos, the Moscone Center’s skyway lights makes up for these shortcomings in sheer intensity. Like a house covered in far too many Christmas lights you really can’t miss it. I suspect that’s why it’s becoming a spot for photos.

Here’s to hoping this relatively simple LED light show works better than the failed video art screen at Moscone West.

A visit to the Oakland Museum of California

February 10th, 2019

Oakland Museum of California
 

With so many museums in the Bay Area to choose from, I’d never gotten around to visiting the Oakland Museum of California until yesterday. It’s not that it wasn’t on my radar, I just wasn’t sure what it was aside from a funny looking building I occasionally pass by while walking from the Lake Merritt BART station to Lake Merritt itself.

The reason I finally decided to visit was the Eames special exhibit (more on that below.) A while back they had a special exhibit on Pixar and I’ve been kicking myself for missing it ever since; the Eames exhibit ends on February 18th and I was determined not to make the same mistake twice.

Before going any further, what is the Oakland Museum of California? The name tells you where it is, but not what kind of museum. Is it an art museum? Science? History? Who’s the target audience? There’s no definitive answer but I’ll provide the best one I can at the end.

I bought tickets at the museum rather than online. In the morning this wasn’t an issue, but in the afternoon the lines grew significantly longer. If you buy a “print at home” ticket you only have to wait in a short line to exchange your printouts for a sticker. As far as I know you can’t present tickets on your phone.

For backpacks and jackets they have a number of free lockers available. These work like hotel lockers where you punch in your own PIN. Be sure to test these before you leave your stuff here, I tried two lockers before I found one where the lock worked correctly.
 

Special Exhibit: The World of Charles and Ray Eames
 

Oakland Museum of California
Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

If you’re at all familiar with mid-century American furniture you’ve probably heard of Eames. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell you’d probably recognize many of their iconic designs from shows like Mad Men or even cheap knockoffs sold at chain furniture stores.

Eames wasn’t some big faceless furniture company — it was the name of a Los Angeles design firm headed by husband and wife designers Charles and Ray Eames. While they both passed away a few decades ago, many of their iconic furniture designs are still manufactured today. In fact I’m even writing this from the comfort of an Eames Aluminum Group Management Chair.

Despite the Eames name being most closely associated with furniture it’s hardly the only type of design work they produced. The exhibit doesn’t go too deep into how Charles and Ray got their interest in design, instead delving into World War II as the couple experimented with molded plywood to develop leg splints and stretchers for wounded soldiers. When this didn’t pan out they turned their focus to home and office furniture after the war, partnering with Herman Miller for manufacturing and sales.
 

Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

This is where the exhibit took an unexpected (to me, at least) twist into film. After working on a few very short films Eames was hired by IBM to create a film for an exhibition. The film was displayed on several screens and explained in simple terms how to break down a problem into a model so a computer could help solve it. One such example involved predicting the weather, using the weather data to predict attendance at a baseball game, which the stadium would use to know how many hot dogs to order. Like most old educational films it’s a little hard to judge this one by modern standards. For one thing I doubt most people need to be sold on the concept of computers anymore.

Another Eames film in a similar multi-screen format was originally shown in the Soviet Union as part of a cross-cultural program. The description said this was intended to highlight advantages of American capitalism. This film didn’t age well; the dated images of Americans driving to shopping centers came across less like a promotion of capitalism and more like a parody of suburban banality. Between the dimly lit room, slow pacing, and the Eames Lounge Chair I was relaxing in, it felt like time for a nap. Each mini-theater at the exhibit featured Eames chairs to sit in but this one felt like a particularly poor choice.

 

The last film in the exhibit surprised me the most because I’ve seen it several times but had no idea it was created by Eames: Powers of Ten. The exhibit includes three versions of the film, starting with a glorified storyboard and ending up with the final 1977 version above.

Each version begins with a guy sleeping after a picnic in a park, then zooming out exponentially in powers of ten until ending up at the limit of the observable universe. The final version also zips back in the opposite direction into the nucleus of an atom inside the picnicker’s hand. I think the film still holds up even if the graphics look a little dated. Spend the next ten nine minutes watching the video above for yourself if you’ve never seen it.
 

Gallery of California History
 

Oakland Museum of California
Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

After grabbing lunch at the museum’s cafe I headed back across from the special exhibit hall to see one of the three permanent exhibits: the Gallery of California History. Those of us who grew up in California probably won’t get much out of this one, but for kids there’s a lot of objects you’re free to touch or little doors and boxes to open.

The exhibit starts with the lives of California’s first human inhabitants, the native Ohlone people. From there time skips ahead with the arrival of the Spanish, followed by the takeover by America and the Gold Rush. Here the exhibit takes a bold yet straightforward stance: it refers to American settlers slaughtering California’s Native Americans as genocide.

This dichotomy of high and low moments continues throughout the decades as the exhibit goes on. Chinese laborers build the transcontinental railroad, only to return home to California facing racism and violence. Hollywood movie studios sprang up, but all the good roles went to white actors. The 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed most of San Francisco leaving hundreds of thousands of people scrambling to find new lives, if not outright inventing new ones due the destruction of their paper documentation. Japanese internment camps stripped over one hundred thousand people of their rights during World War II.

Black Californians began protesting for equal rights in the 1960′s and 70′s, and at this point the exhibit’s timeline starts to seem more familiar. News footage, statistics, and a list of demands from the Black Power movement still seem relevant today.

 
Oakland Museum of California

The final section of the California History gallery wasn’t 100% operational during my visit, but what was open felt both interesting yet incomplete. It focused on the achievements of Silicon Valley with Hewlett Packard and Apple starting out of their founders’ garages. Yesterday’s computers were behind glass, including an early Mac and a Palm Pilot. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt old seeing these “ancient” relics in a history exhibit.

The absence of any deeper insight of this part of the gallery was surprising. Perhaps it’s too soon to say who benefited or lost due to Silicon Valley’s rapid rise? It hardly fit the rest of the exhibit’s analysis of California’s history.
 

Gallery of California Natural Sciences

 
Oakland Museum of California

Just under the history gallery is the first floor exhibit on nature in California.

I hate to say it but this exhibit doesn’t have much going for it. The environmental info was hardly new or surprising, and the taxidermied animals felt a little creepy. Not sure who it was intended for as this exhibit was nearly deserted during my visit with maybe five or six others.

I quickly bailed on this gallery, but not after snapping the above photo of Oakland’s tree logo built out of pipes.
 

Gallery of California Art

 
Oakland Museum of California
Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

The art gallery includes many styles and forms of art from or relating to California, arranged chronologically. The first part of the gallery largely focuses on 19th century oil paintings, mostly landscapes. Yosemite Valley is a recurring theme here as well as Gold Rush era San Francisco.

Gold Rush era photographs are displayed in a small side room, which I almost missed. That would have been a mistake — although the photos are very small, they’re also quite detailed and provide a glimpse into the past most of us rarely get a chance to see.

Walking away from the entrance is like a trip forward in time, with figure paintings, photographs, Impressionism, dioramas, modern art, and lastly a few contemporary special exhibits. It’s undoubtedly a solid collection though I wasn’t clear how some of the pieces connected to California, even after reading all the descriptions.

Unlike the rest of the museum there’s not much for younger children to do in the art gallery.

Before moving on here’s a couple paintings early on in this gallery I found interesting.

Oakland Museum of California

This piece by George Henry Burgess captures an unfamiliar landscape… or does it? The painting shows Gold Rush era San Francisco featuring Telegraph Hill in the center, with what I believe is Montgomery Street (or perhaps a parallel street west of Montgomery) leading up to the hill.

If you look closely a the edge of the bay there’s a pier under construction. All the ships are much further out in the bay, since the water was far too shallow near the eastern edge of San Francisco to bring ships closer in. What’s now Embarcadero and the Ferry Building would have been underwater.

Oakland Museum of California

The above painting by Albert Bierstadt sits at the end of a hallway. At first I didn’t think much of it — it’s clearly Yosemite Valley, perhaps on a hazy morning — but the background is so overdone it looks almost cartoonish.

But in front of the painting there’s a few seats with headphones. I sat down, put on a pair of headphones and hit the play button. An unnamed narrator (who sounds suspiciously like Oakland-based podcaster Avery Trufelman) walks the viewer through a short meditation-like exercise of essentially imaging oneself in the painting.

I came away enjoying the piece more after this exercise, and wondered why museums with audio guides don’t have similar features to help guide viewers in appreciating a piece rather than simply discussing facts about it.
 

Garden

 
Oakland Museum of California
Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

A network of terrace gardens, stairways, and patios extends across and above the museum, with a grassy field at the bottom. There’s a number of outdoor sculptures to see. During my visit some of the walkways were covered in large puddles due to the rain earlier in the day.

On the field down below a Chinese New Year celebration was taking place. Not many people had turned up, probably due to the weather.

I’m not sure if you need museum admission to enter the garden. I put on a sweatshirt that completely covered my museum admission sticker and nobody stopped me or said anything.
 

So, what is the Oakland Museum of California?

With the three galleries covering different topics and exhibits for both children and adults, this museum wants to be all things to all people. Without any clear focus it’s a hit-or-miss affair, never quite going into the depth I’d expect for a museum of this size.

To me it seemed almost like three museums glued together. So it was no surprise to read this about the museum on Wikipedia: “It was created in the mid-1960s out of the merger of three separate museums dating from the early 20th century…”

There’s something else going on here too: according to the education section of the museum’s website students can “[e]xplore art, history, and natural science under one roof…” The website also includes curriculum for teachers. During weekdays the museum must act as a magnet for school field trips.

 
My recommendation: I don’t think I’d visit the Oakland Museum of California just for the permanent collection. That said if there’s a special exhibit that sounds interesting it’s worth checking out the rest of the museum too while visiting, or at least the top two floors (history and art galleries.) The cafe’s fine, though you could probably find better options nearby.

Future transbay tube fantasy planning

February 4th, 2019

Recently there’s been talk of building a second rail tube under the San Francisco Bay. This new tube would be larger than the existing transbay tube and serve two major purposes:

  1. BART could offer limited 24 hour service while still having a maintenance window if one of the tubes had to be closed
  2. Future expansion possibilities for CalTrain, high speed rail, and perhaps even Amtrak

If we put aside the question of when to build this second crossing the next question is where? There’s no pressing reason to build a second tube next to the existing BART tube between Embarcadero Station and West Oakland.

BART has previously expressed concern about a tube to Treasure Island due to soil stability issues so I won’t include that as an option (even though I personally like the idea.)

Here are the fantasy transbay tube plans I’ve come up with. All maps images are courtesy of Google.
 

Alameda connections

The distance between San Francisco and Alameda (the island, not the county) is short enough that a tube could be practical. Today Alameda isn’t well served by transit so this route may help bring visitors to Alameda’s breweries and boat adventures.

On the Oakland side BART could connect to the existing Lake Merritt Station, ideally stopping along the way at a new Jack London Square Station. There’s also an obvious place to connect to Amtrak as well.
 

Geary Street

Let’s start with the obvious: BART intended to build a subway under Geary Street since day one, but somehow never got around to it. It’s easy to see the appeal: Geary is close to the Legion of Honor, Japantown, the Presidio, and could potentially go all the way out to the beach and the Cliff House. It’s also a major shopping district with restaurants, bakeries, bookstores, etc.

On the eastern side this subway could connect to the existing Market Street BART subway before meeting at the Transbay Transit Center and exiting San Francisco through a tube to Alameda.

The biggest problem with BART adding a Geary Street subway at this point is how it would get there: Muni Metro’s's upcoming Union Square station is quite deep, probably too deep to tunnel under. Digging under the Financial District seems equally troublesome. If only San Francisco had some kind of “subway master plan”
 

Mission Bay

Connecting somewhere near Mission Bay, BART could build a new line to major event spaces like AT&T/Oracle Park, the new Warriors stadium, etc. It comes close enough to the CalTrain line to provide an opportunity for future expansion, and would serve as a connection to Muni’s upcoming Central Subway line near the south portal.

On the San Francisco side BART would have a few places to connect to its existing subway, though all of them would be expensive. The longest route would be to tunnel all the way to Cesar Chavez, the shortest would be to go under 16th Street.

The pros of this plan seem pretty clear: connecting BART to one of San Francisco’s biggest new neighborhoods is a no brainer. The cons? There’s no direct connection to BART’s busy Market St. tunnel or the Transbay Transit Center.
 

 

North Bay connections

It’s unclear BART will ever go to the North Bay, but this was part of the original plan and I have a few ideas. Just getting BART to connect with the new SMART trains in the North Bay would be a major achievement and is worth considering for that reason alone.

For better or worse these plans involve skipping the East Bay entirely and focus on the North Bay via San Francisco. Connections from the North Bay directly to the East Bay are out of scope for now, negating the ability for BART to operate 24 hours — but it’s still worth thinking about. These are fantasy plans after all.
 

Golden Gate Tube

Okay, let’s return to the Geary Street subway. Originally BART planned for the Geary line to go over the Golden Gate Bridge on the lower deck. Unfortunately this wouldn’t be feasible today without major changes to the bridge. Building a second Golden Gate Bridge presumably wouldn’t be very popular, so why not go underground?

The subway tunnel would head west under Geary, take a sharp turn somewhere near the Presidio, then go underneath the Golden Gate before connecting somewhere on the North Bay side. Clearly there’d be a BART stop in the Presidio, if not two.

How this would connect to the Transbay Transit Center is a whole other can of worms but it does provide a potential shared crossing, assuming some minor hand-waving about the details of the Transbay Transit Center connection.

 

Island tubes to Tiburon

I’ve saved my favorite for last, a costly plan best described as “a series of tubes.” Specifically three of them.

What if BART built a subway tunnel from Market Street to Columbus Avenue in North Beach to a tube system connecting via islands to the North Bay? This would hit many key areas including the Financial District, North Beach, and Fisherman’s Wharf. Tubes would be built to connect Alcatraz, Angel Island, and Tiburon.

Connecting this huge tunnel system to the Transbay Transit Center could be reasonable depending on the route configuration. While some North Bay locals would benefit from this plan, it could also be a huge benefit for tourism. Imagine coming to San Francisco on vacation and taking a train to not only Alcatraz but also into wine country. Obviously the ferry companies would strongly disagree with me here.
 

Those are my proposals. Will any of these ideas ever come to fruition? If so hopefully I’ll be remembered as a modern day Emperor Norton.