YOMYOMF’s Summer Blockbuster Showdown — TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION!

YOMYOMF's Summer Blockbuster Showdown Part 3-01

Select Offenders will be reviewing this summer’s crop of Hollywood tentpole films with a scientifically tested set of criteria that was vetted, nurtured, dissected and regurgitated through the pop-culture gadflies who have nothing better to do than annoy other productive people in the YOMYOMF office. So, we channeled their nitpicks of the incessant reboots, remakes and rehashes that are part and parcel with Hollywood summer movies into this ongoing summer blog series called the SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER SHOWDOWN. You can read previous roundtable reviews, which are all archived here

In this edition, we tackle Michael Mr. Stage Fright Bay’s latest masturbatory opus, TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION! BTW, this roundtable review is chock full of spoilers. You’ve been warned! 

Check out Kevin B. Lee’s TRANSFORMERS: THE PREMAKE

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 6.18.13 PM

I first met Kevin B. Lee at the Berlin Film Festival a few years ago, through friends Karin Chien and Brent Hall, who had started a distribution company for indie and underground Chinese films called dGenerate Films. Kevin was also on board as a programmer and advisor. He would later relocate to Chicago to further his studies in media arts, but continued his work as a film critic and journalist as one of the late and great Roger Ebert’s far-flung correspondents.

The Video with the Asian Chick Defending the Guys that Beat Up the Asian Guy

I’m sure many of our readers are aware of the disturbing video that came out of Chicago earlier this week that showed seven guys graphically beating the shit out of an Asian man. The police have taken several young men into custody today and are questioning them.

On the heels of this news comes another new video today from a woman with the YouTube handle Raindropskeepstallin. She clearly knows at least one of the men responsible for beating the man and spends four-and-a-half minutes DEFENDING HIM (“Uh…what they did was wrong…uh…but…regardless…they had their reasons to go after him…”).

According to the YouTube page, this chick is the ex-girlfriend of “the main guy that initiated the (fight).” I don’t know if that’s true or not, but…well, just check it out for yourself:

The ‘Chinglish’ Journal: Week 7 (July 4, 2011)

DHH

Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) just opened his latest play CHINGLISH in Chicago where it is having its world premiere at the historic Goodman Theater now-July 24. DHH has graciously agreed to blog regularly throughout the rehearsal process to give our readers a glimpse into how a major theatrical production comes to life. Today, the final blog from Chicago. Next up in the fall: New York and Broadway.

It’s been quite a week. Last Monday, June 27, was our Opening Night. Joanna & Ken ordered a 35-pound roast suckling pig, which they set up backstage in the wings. About 45 minutes before curtain time, Leigh and I rushed from a Western ritual for the Goodman’s patrons and special guests, to the Asian ritual, where Joanna handed me a stick of lit incense and told me to stick it into an orange. After eating some pork, we dashed back to the Western ceremony, where I gave a speech.

Leigh and I in our opening night togs, photographed by my wonderful wife, Kathryn Layng

In many ways, Opening Nights are a cruel ritual. Why? Because the reviews, at least in New York (and I’ve now learned, in Chicago too), come out that same evening. YOMYOMF readers can probably recall scenes from old movies where critics rush from opening night to their typewriters and dash off reviews (like the famous one in CITIZEN KANE). Well, it’s not quite like that any longer. Nowadays, theatres designate one or more of the final preview performances as critics’ nights. This gives the reviewers more lead time to write their pieces. Ours was the previous evening, Sunday night. So by the time you arrive for opening, your fate is already sealed — you just don’t know what it is yet.

The ‘Chinglish’ Journal: Week 6 (June 27, 2011)

DHH

Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) is in rehearsals for his latest play CHINGLISH in Chicago where it will have its world premiere at the historic Goodman Theater now-July 24 (opening night is tonight). DHH has graciously agreed to blog regularly throughout the rehearsal process to give our readers a glimpse into how a major theatrical production comes to life.

Overture, Curtains, Lights!
This is it, the night of nights!
No more rehearsing and nursing a part,
We know every part by heart!

As a baby boomer, I can’t help but remember, “This Is It,” the theme song (written by Mack David & Jerry Livingston) from THE BUGS BUNNY SHOW, whenever I get to an opening night. This evening, Monday, June 27, 7 pm Central Standard Time, is indeed “It.”

We had a very productive week of preview performances. The new ending which I wrote and Leigh staged at Tuesday’s rehearsal seems to work very well, giving our show a “button,” and our audiences a little more to think about as they leave the theatre. Leigh continued to polish the acting and production, while I trimmed lines that weren’t buying us anything. If a moment is neither funny nor adds to our understanding of the plot or characters, it’s gotta go. Two weeks ago, Act One ran an hour and fifteen minutes, without scene transitions. Today, including scene changes, it runs an hour and eight. As a writer, I geek out over those kinds of numbers, they make me incredibly happy.

Our final rehearsal was Saturday afternoon. This is always a bittersweet moment. I imagine it’s akin to watching your kid graduate from college (which I also expect to experience in the coming decade). This has been an unusually blissful rehearsal process. The cast gets along incredibly well, and we all believe so much in what we’re doing here. This Is It: when the creative team hands over the show to the actors and running crew. It’s been ours; now, it belongs to them.

The ‘Chinglish’ Journal: Week 5 (June 20, 2011)

DHH

Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) is in rehearsals for his latest play CHINGLISH in Chicago where it will have its world premiere at the historic Goodman Theater from June 18-July 24. DHH has graciously agreed to blog regularly (tentatively every Monday) throughout the rehearsal process to give our readers a glimpse into how a major theatrical production comes to life.

The audience is laughing a lot! We’ve now played three public performances, but our show won’t officially open until next Monday, June 27. We’re going through previews.

I like to think of the audience as the final collaborators in the creation of a show. Plays aren’t really written to be read (though it’s a nice bonus when they get published). They’re meant to be performed in front of live people. I believe there’re two points in the process when you learn the truth about your play: the first time you hear it read out loud, and the first time it’s performed in front of an audience.

The audience is rarely wrong. I don’t mean that suggestions from individual patrons are necessarily right (though occasionally, they can be). I’m talking about the audience as a whole, as an organism. If I think I’ve written something funny, and no one’s laughing, it’s not funny. Period. The end. If I think a moment is deeply moving, but audience members are shifting in their seats or looking at their watches … you get the idea. If they’re not reacting the way we hoped, it’s not their fault, it’s ours – either the script’s or the production’s.

The ‘Chinglish’ Journal: Week 4 (June 13, 2011)

DHH

Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) is in rehearsals for his latest play CHINGLISH in Chicago where it will have its world premiere at the historic Goodman Theater from June 18-July 24. DHH has graciously agreed to blog regularly (tentatively every Monday) throughout the rehearsal process to give our readers a glimpse into how a major theatrical production comes to life.

We are now two weeks away from Opening Night on June 27. You try to write the best play you can, give it a home at one of the country’s leading theatres, work with the most skilled director, hire talented and experienced actors and designers – but you never really know what’s going to happen.

I’m best-known for a play called M. BUTTERFLY, which won the Tony Award back in 1988 and was a hit around the world. But when that show first premiered, in Washington D.C., the critics were far from impressed. The WASHINGTON POST wrote, “You will not have an easy time wending your way through M. BUTTERFLY … Hwang’s net is riddled with holes and the elusive prey flutters forever out of reach.” VARIETY declared, “This is not Broadway material.” One of our producers, Stuart Ostrow, continued to believe in the show and literally mortgaged his house to get us to New York, where, fortunately, the story had a happy ending. But it could’ve easily gone the other way.

The ‘Chinglish’ Journal: Week 3 (June 6, 2011)

DHH

Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) is in rehearsals for his latest play CHINGLISH in Chicago where it will have its world premiere at the historic Goodman Theater from June 18-July 24. DHH has graciously agreed to blog regularly (tentatively every Monday) throughout the rehearsal process to give our readers a glimpse into how a major theatrical production comes to life.

This is a really Big Room. I don’t mean the literal size of the room (though, actually, it does happen to be one of the larger rehearsal halls I’ve worked in). I’m talking about the number of people it takes to make this show happen. On Broadway musicals, you expect a large room. The principal creative team on a musical, besides the playwright (which musicals call the “bookwriter”), includes the director, composer, lyricist, choreographer, musical director, etc. – all of whom generally come with their own assistants and staff. That’s a lot of people.

On a play, by contrast, there are usually only two principal creatives: the playwright and director. The storytelling of CHINGLISH, however, requires a larger cast of backstage characters. Let’s say I want to rewrite a line of dialogue. I do it in English (cuz that’s all I know). If that line needs to be spoken in Chinese, it goes to Candace for translation (which sometimes involves input from Joanna, one of our two Cultural Advisors). Candace then uses an online program to convert the characters into pinyin, a Chinese system of transliterating Mandarin into the Western alphabet, which some of our actors read more easily than ideographs. The English, Chinese, and pinyin all go to Tony, my assistant, for formatting, then finally to Lou, our new literary intern, to print out pages for distribution. Also, Shawn, our projections operator, needs to redo the English supertitles.

The ‘Chinglish’ Journal: Week 2 (May 30, 2011)

DHH

Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) is in rehearsals for his latest play CHINGLISH in Chicago where it will have its world premiere at the historic Goodman Theater from June 18-July 24. DHH has graciously agreed to blog regularly throughout the rehearsal process to give our readers a glimpse into how a major theatrical production comes to life.

We’ve completed our second week of rehearsals, and things still seem to be going remarkably well. Leigh (the show’s director) keeps the rehearsal room humming with her energy, insights, and sense of humor. Our actors are digging into the script, making discoveries, and deepening their characterizations. Surprisingly, they’re all easy to work with – not a prima donna in the bunch.

As the playwright, my job in rehearsals is to provide insight into the play when appropriate, but, most importantly, to continue rewriting and fine-tuning the script. Unlike some writers, I don’t like to follow along in the text as the actors run scenes. I believe playwriting is sort of like writing music, where the notes on the staff are less important than how they sound in the air. Therefore, a part of me couldn’t care less about the words on the page. Because we’re not publishing a book, here, we’re putting on a show, and the audience isn’t going to be looking at my script, they’re going to be watching and listening to what’s happening onstage.

So I do the same: watch the actors, and listen to the scenes. I’m constantly on the lookout for stuff that feels false, forced, overwritten, cheesy – moments which neither illuminate character nor move the plot forward. When that happens, I get a bad feeling — I grow bored, or slightly nauseous.

The ‘Chinglish’ Journal: Week 1 (May 23, 2011)

DHH

Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. BUTTERFLY) has just started rehearsals for his latest play CHINGLISH in Chicago where it will have its world premiere at the historic Goodman Theater from June 18-July 24. DHH has graciously agreed to blog regularly throughout the rehearsal process to give our readers a glimpse into how a major theatrical production comes to life. And so it begins…

It’s what we playwrights work and live for. It can lead to great success, or humiliating failure. And the twists and turns it will take, not to mention its final outcome, are completely unpredictable.

I’m talking about the world premiere of a new show. This week, my latest play, CHINGLISH, began rehearsals for its opening on June 27 at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. I’ll try to give YOMYOMF readers a glimpse into this process, by posting regular updates through opening night. I’m shooting for one blog a week (on Mondays), but we’ll see. Like I said, it’s all impossible to predict.

A little background on the play itself. CHINGLISH is set in the present, and concerns a non-Chinese American businessman who travels to the Chinese provincial capital of Guiyang, to try and make a deal. I started thinking about business in contemporary China because I’ve been traveling there fairly regularly lately – about once or twice a year over the past five or six years. Broadway-style theatre has become quite popular in China, particularly in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. The Chinese government has made it something of a national priority to create a homegrown musical which will end up on Broadway. Which is both bizarre and sort of cool. I happen to be the only even nominally-Chinese person who’s ever written a Broadway show, so I started getting a lot of invitations to go over and talk about potential projects. Unsurprisingly, none of the big schemes proposed has ever materialized. But it’s been a great opportunity for me to learn about China today, arguably the most exciting place in the world. (And I would argue that Shanghai today is the world’s best party city.)

Roger Ebert, our uncle from another mother

I grew up with Roger Ebert.  And though he’s white and we’re not blood related, I always likened him to that fun uncle that came over every Sunday at 4:30 in the afternoon via the tele (vision).  There I would sit, chugging a gallon of milk and stuffing my face with Twinkies, excited and laughing with Uncle Ebert and Auntie Siskel as they yelled at and berated each other on what movies were worth an up thumb or a down one.  Little did I know that Uncle Ebert would play such an important role in my (our) life so many years later at the Sundance Film Festival.  Were it not for Uncle Ebert hoisting his large frame atop a theatre seat to loudly exclaim his opinions on the double standard imposed upon “ethnic” cinema and race expectations sprouting from it, I wonder if I’d even be working in Hollywood today.  I wonder if BLT would have had enough juice to stand above the larger, more well-funded, highly star-studded competition films.  We owe Roger Ebert a lot.  Perhaps more than he’ll ever know.  We are entwined in so many unexpected ways…

THE BALCONY. the photo's somewhat blurry b/c it was taken on a 2007 camera phone