LA Movie Studio Opens Door to Fans

Vist Los Angeles and you’re sure to come across movies being made — whether out in the street by your hotel or in one of several studios that are open for studio tours.

Today most of the studios are closed to the public except when audiences are needed for live shows or when the call goes out for extras to populate various movie scenes. But there are several that do allow tours, including some where the chances are good you’ll see a real movie star.

The granddaddy of movie studio tours has to be Universal Studios Hollywood, which now includes its movie studio tour as just one small part of a Disneyland-like theme park with elaborate rides and attractions all having something to do with the movies. Built along a hillside in Universal City, the theme park has grown over the years incorporating new attractions that match up with some of the hottest movies produced at Universal.

We first visited Universal more than 30 years ago so, on our recent visit to the park, the overall experience seemed much more of a complete entertainment package than when the tour was just a movie studio tour with few additional attractions. We had been back to the park in the 90’s but, even since then, this theme park has seemed to grow dramatically, adding new attractions on a regular basis to encourage visitors to return.

Visitors to the park are now greeted with a choice of parking, lower priced parking that requires a little walking and premium parking that is closer to the park. We chose the former because we need the exercise – but, alas, the park has installed an elaborate 21st Century system of escalators to whisk visitors all over the hilly terrain both from the parking lot, and from the theme park down to the actual movie lot.

One of the highlights of our Universal visit was a discovery we made: the Front of the Line Pass. It is a bit pricey – at $99.95 it’s about double what you’ll pay if you buy a regular pass online – but it totally changes the experience. Instead of waiting in long, hot lines all day (typical of most Southern California theme parks) we were quickly zipping between the best attractions, never standing in line more than five minutes. We felt we saw everything we wanted to see in one day, but were not nearly as exhausted as we might have been standing in lines that each appeared to be 45 minutes to an hour long.

The Front of the Line Pass is a great invention and is perfect for middle-agers who no longer want to spend hours in theme park lines.

Most rides at Universal are relatively tame – not quite the kiddie-land variety, but something less than the roller coasters at Six Flags. Hydraulic rides like Back to the Future have been popular for many years, and guests also really like the moderate thrill rides and roller coaster in the Revenge of the Mummy as well as the Jurassic Park ride, which includes an 85-foot drop.

We were especially impressed with the Waterworld show, which apparently is doing a lot better than the movie ever did. A group of actors and stunt persons puts on a show filled with acrobatic feats and pyrotechnics climaxed by an almost full-scale airplane startling spectators by landing in the water right in front of their seats.

There are numerous rides, attractions, top-notch shows – everything to keep you busy for much longer than a day. But don’t forget to take the studio tour – the thing that got all of this started decades ago. The tour is still conducted on the famous trams that snake their way through the Universal back lot. The trams have been updated to offer TV commentary by stars like Whoopi Goldberg, but the experience was much the same as it was back in the 70’s – only the TV shows and movies have changed. Longtime attractions like the original Psycho house are still there, but now the tour includes a stop on Wysteria Lane to see the Desperate Housewives. You can still see where Spartacus was filmed, but now you also drive right through the plane crash scene from War of the Worlds. A new Fast and Furious demonstration adds another thrill with two race cars hurtling toward the tram through the magic of hydraulics.

Universal Studios is one of the best and easiest ways to get a close-up view of L.A. movie-making, but there are many other fascinating locations around town. For example, the Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills was home to productions like Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, the Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas and numerous TV series. And, did you know that you can visit a Culver City industrial area that was once the “Forty Acre Back lot,” the former location of Mayberry where all the outdoor scenes on the Andy Griffith Show were filmed?

In addition, there are still other interesting studio tours you can take:

Warner Brothers Studios, Burbank – We enjoyed this two-hour tour which we took a few years back. Visitors are escorted in groups of 12 through the Warner Brothers lot, with stops along the way at television and movie sets. All of the sets and props here are real and not just for the benefit of the tourists. Visitors get to see the costume department as well as the mill that creates the sets. Since numerous productions are ongoing at any given time, you may have a better chance here of seeing a star – we didn’t, but it was fun seeing the actual sets for shows like Friends. Phone 818-972-TOUR.

Sony Pictures Studios, Culver City — this is the home of amazing Hollywood history, and was the place where they made the Wizard of Oz. It’s the former MGM Studios and offers a walking tour of the studio’s back lot, sets, sound stages and historic scenery. In more recent years, the studio is where Men in Black and Spiderman were filmed, and where shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune are taped. Phone 323-520-TOUR.

NBC TV Studio Tour, Burbank – These studios are where many a live television show has been taped, including the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The guided walking tour takes you into the warehouses where costumes and props are stored, control room areas and the tour gives you a great overview of how network television is produced. Phone 818-840-3537.

AT A GLANCE

WHERE: Universal Studios Hollywood is located in Universal City, just north of downtown Los Angeles. The theme park is easily accessed using Highway 101 North. General parking will cost you $10, while you’ll pay twice that for preferred parking.

WHAT: Universal Studios Hollywood offers the most complete experience of any movie studio tour – a major theme park and a tour through the actual working areas of Universal Studios.

WHEN: Year-round. Wear sunscreen and be prepared for summertime temperatures to be quite warm in the California sun.

WHY: While the Universal Studios tour is the most slickly produced of the movie studio tours – which is not necessarily an advantage – it offers a major theme park right next door. Any trip to Universal Studios Hollywood is as much about visiting the theme park as the movie studio.

HOW: For more information on Universal Studios Hollywood, phone 1-800-UNIVERSAL or visit http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com.

Let’s Go To The Movies

The movie was given a four star rating and my excitement at seeing it grew as I sat in the huge theater anticipating the beginning of the show. I loved the heroes and anticipated the destruction of the villains. I enjoyed the lavish scenery and loved it when evil was defeated so that justice could reign supreme. It was a typical multi-million dollar blockbuster movie that millions around the world were anxious to see.

The movie began with a beautiful bull calf, made from gold, elevated on a pedestal above a magnificently decorated alter for all the people to see. The camera panned out and showed an evil king dressed in his royal robes standing majestically before the alter surrounded by priests dancing in pagan worship. Together they offered a sacrifice to the bull. The movie picture widened again and suddenly a man in white robs appeared before them, denouncing the alter while raising his arms high into the air.

Quickly the movie scene changed with the camera picturing the sky. The once sunny clear day quickly changed filling the sky with black ominous rain clouds. A bolt of lightning cracked from the center of a particularly dark cloud with a loud earth scattering boom. It struck the alter and split it into two pieces pouring the sacrifice onto the ground.

I loved to go to the movies because it can capture your thinking and take you to places in the world that you only dreamed of going. The elaborate production reveals the lives of other cultures and spurs your mind to think beyond the realms of your own world.

I was so excited to see this movie because it was different from all other movies made up by the script writers, because it depicted a real life story. The special effects were not only spectacular but they illustrated what it was like during the times that this ancient history took place. It was an elaborate production that had a revelation element in it. A truth that could only be taught from the experiences the people went through depicting their time.

The scene changed and the movie quieted as the prophet began to speak words from the Almighty God! His voice echoed through the theater shaking our seats and filling the speakers with the sound of a deafening voice. I felt like I was right in the room with them instead of watching it at the theater.

1 Kings 13:2, “Following the Lord’s command, the prophet denounced the altar: ‘O altar, altar, this is what the Lord says: A child, whose name will be Josiah, will be born to the family of David. He will slaughter on you the priests serving at the pagan altars who offer sacrifices on you, and he will burn human bones on you.'”

1 Kings 13: 4-6, “When King Jeroboam heard this, he pointed at him and ordered, ‘Seize that man!’ At once the king’s arm became paralyzed so that he couldn’t pull it back. The altar suddenly fell apart and the ashes spilled to the ground, as the prophet had predicted in the name of the Lord. King Jeroboam said to the prophet, ‘Please pray for me to the Lord your God, and ask him to heal my arm!’

The prophet prayed to the Lord, and the king’s arm was healed.”

Many years passed with the death of the evil king and many subsequent generations of kings. Then the movie depicted the life of an eight year old boy dressed in royal robes. His name was Josiah. He had just been crowned king over Judah. He was a handsome and good child with eyes that shone as brightly as the sun as he eagerly listened to the teachings of the elders of Israel and applied everything he learned as he ruled the land of Judah with integrity.

2 Chronicles 34: 3-5, “In the eighth year that Josiah was king, while he was still very young, he began to worship the God of his ancestor King David. Four years later he began to destroy the pagan places of worship, the symbols of the goddess Asherah, and all the other idols. Under his direction his men smashed the altars where Baal was worshiped and tore down the incense altars near them. They ground to dust the images of Asherah and all the other idols and then scattered the dust on the graves of the people who had sacrificed to them. He burned the bones of the pagan priests on the altars where they had worshiped. By doing all this, he made Judah and Jerusalem ritually clean again.”

The child had grown to a tall dignified young man dressed in splendid red and purple royal robes with a gold crown on his head. His demeanor emanated with assurance over his ability to discern the difference between right and wrong for the kingdom of Israel. He looked down from his royal throne smiling as he commanded three men to repair the temple of the Lord to the former glory of Solomon’s temple, a previous king who had dedicated himself to God and blessed the nation through him.

The men quickly employed a team of thoroughly honest workman and craftsmen. As the work proceeded with the temple being restored to its former glory within the rubble of the crumbling temple a book was found. A rule book with the Laws of Moses written to guide the people on how to live a good and honest life before God.

Josiah listened to the words written in the lost laws of the Bible and realized that they haven’t been following the rules to the game of life. The life game that reveals the difference between good and evil. A Spiritual game that reveals the hatred of Satan and his demon angels against all people who are determined to follow God.

He realized that they were worshiping God just like the pagans worshiped their gods. They needed to change their ways immediately and follow the law in complete obedience. Following God’s laws would not only make them an example to the world of what is right, but it would bring rich blessings into their lives. In anguish Josiah torn his clothes and poured ashes on his head in humble submission to God.

The story painted by the directors with the help of the special effects team and the words written from the movie script suddenly made the entire audience sit on the edge of their seats. We were all captivated by the story of Josiah. We all wanted the words of this new found Law to be practiced by his country so they would find favor with God.

I felt my own thoughts change as I quickly analyzed the scene and applied it to my own life. Was I following God correctly? Had I been led astray to worship God like the world worships false gods?

The scene in the movie once again changed with King Josiah receiving a message from a woman prophet of the Lord God. As the woman began her message, we were flash forwarded to a city filled with devastation and decay, lifeless people, depicting a gruesome future of a scattered kingdom that had deserted God to live their lives like the world.

2 Kings 22: 18-20, “As for the king himself, this is what I, the Lord God of Israel, say: You listened to what is written in the book, and you repented and humbled yourself before me, tearing your clothes and weeping, when you heard how I threatened to punish Jerusalem and its people. I will make it a terrifying sight, a place whose name people will use as a curse. But I have heard your prayer, and the punishment which I am going to bring on Jerusalem will not come until after your death. I will let you die in peace.”

Flashing back to King Josiah, the epic movie ended with the entire nation of Judah listening to the words of the Law and applying them to their lives. The scene was serene, peaceful and completely beautiful. The music signifying the end of the show quieted and the audience thundered an applaud that you could hear outside of the theater. As they left their seats, everyone was moved and each thought about how this movie would change their own life.

Real life stories are the best movies. They open up your mind and make you think differently about your own life. They have the ability to teach you about a truth that you would never have known if you hadn’t seen it on the big screen. A good movie can reach into the hearts of men and help them to decide to change for the better.

God changes lives. He can lead you on an adventure in life that will open your mind to right and wrong. He is a great teacher and a friend to all who are willing to surrender their lives to Him. Dedicate yourself to God and you will defeat the evil that will try to defeat you in the world.

Movie Review: “Soldiers of Fortune”

Rating: R
Length: 94 minutes
Release Date: August 3, 2012
Directed by: Maxim Korostyshevsky
Genre: Action Adventure

“Soldiers of Fortune” opens with the line “Welcome to Snake Island gentlemen; you may never leave,” and viewers instantly know what to expect from the movie. This is the type of film wherein stellar actors have no problem chewing the scenery and giving a wink and a nod to the audience.

The film introduces viewers to Captain Craig McCenzie (Christian Slater, “True Romance”), a man who recently retired from the military after a tour in Afghanistan. The movie even shows him meeting and playing with a group of small children while in the military before showing him decimating the village with his Special Forces group. When war threatens the border between Romania and the Ukraine, a group of men hires him for a secret mission.

McCenzie must lead a band of men to the secret hideout of Colonel Lupo, steal supplies from him, and return those supplies to the revolutionaries who hired him. The only problem is that none of the men on his team know the truth about the mission. The group consists of wealthy businessmen who paid large sums of money to take a fun, extreme vacation into the jungle.

His squad consists of Roman (Sean Bean, “The Hitcher”) who made his fortune in precious metals, a cell phone millionaire named Sam (James Cromwell, “The Artist”), arms dealer Grimaud (Ving Rhames, “Mission Impossible”), and a game designer by the name of Tommy (Dominic Monaghan, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”). The men think that they will have a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, not realizing that everything they experience is real.

While “Soldiers of Fortune” lacks the excitement of a big-budget Hollywood movie, it does have some fun scenes that keep audiences entertained. Director Maxim Korostyshevsky is a relatively newcomer, but he makes it clear that he knows how to direct an action movie. He doesn’t skimp on the action scenes, and sometimes he dives right into the action himself, making viewers feel like they are in the middle of a battle scene. When he gets close to two women battling on the water while riding jet skis, viewers will be on the edge of their seats.

A common flaw with modern action movies is that the directors spend too much time on the back story of the main characters, but that doesn’t happen with this film. The movie opens with shots of McCenzie in Afghanistan, trying to save a fellow officer. Reed (Freddy Rodriguez, “Planet Terror”) is only moments away from losing his life at the hands of a rogue CIA agent. The movie then jumps to the present day, spending little time on the circumstances that forced McCenzie to take this job.

Action movies need more than just blockbuster scenes, which is why “Soldiers of Fortune” introduces some lighthearted moments. The one-liners in the movie are so unforgettable that some viewers might find themselves quoting the film for weeks to come. “The Grim Reaper always gets paid,” said in a deadpan voice, and “Let’s go kill some bad guys” are just some of those memorable lines.

Although the film does have some good moments, it also has its fair share of bad ones. Apart from the main cast, the acting is sub-par at best, and some of the scenes are impossible to believe. The director does an admirable job of creating realistic action and battle scenes, but there is only so much he can do on a limited budget. It sometimes seems like he spent too much of his budget on one scene and had to cut back on the next scene, which draws the viewer out of the film.

Despite a few problems, the movie does have great performances from Christian Slater, Bean, Monaghan, and Cromwell. Cromwell gives his character a realistic Texas accent, and he is believable as a man who might take this type of vacation. Monaghan brings a humorous element to the movie, playing the man who realizes something is wrong but is too busy having fun to do anything about it.

Bean has a history of action movies behind him, which sometimes weakens his character. When he shows disbelief or surprise at the action going on around him, viewers might find it hard to believe. The real standout, though, is Slater. While he has his fair share of straight-to-DVD movies in his background, he gives an excellent performance that might lead some to wonder why he isn’t getting more work.

“Soldiers of Fortune” might sometimes play like a TV or low-budget movie, but it does have its standout moments. While it won’t make any best-of lists, it’s a fun way to spend 94 minutes.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars