Friday, July 31, 2015

The Westside’s Starring Role in ‘Role Models’

As a prequel based on the director’s ‘Wet Hot American Summer’ hits Netflix tomorrow, David Wain recalls the West Los Angeles shoot of his 2008 Paul Rudd-starring hit comedy


Thanks to the giant success of Marvel’s “Ant-Man,” Paul Rudd has suddenly shot into the superstardom stratosphere. But roll back eight years ago, and the wiry, Chardonnay dry-witted actor—best known for comedies such as “I Love You, Man” and the “Anchorman” movies—was just a hop, skip and a meltdown away from Pacific Palisades, filming a little comedy called “Role Models,” co-starring Seann William Scott and Louie C.K., on the streets of Santa Monica and Venice.
David Wain, the movie’s director, has a long-running personal and professional history with Rudd and fellow actor/writer Ken Marino, both of whom co-wrote the “Role Models” screenplay with him. Wain produced (and almost directed) Marino’s festival-circuit indie drama, “Diggers,” which co-starred Rudd; and he directed Rudd in the 2001 coming-of-age feature film spoof “Wet Hot American Summer.” Tooday, a long-in-gestation prequel, “Wet Hot 
American Summer: First Day of Camp,” debuts on Netflix.

Director David Wain

Game Face, Bro!”

Bred on the comedy of Woody Allen, Harold Ramis, Cameron Crowe and Blake Edwards, Wain, a recently transplanted New Yorker, was hired by Universal Studios seven years ago to lens something called  “Little Big Men” only six weeks before production began. This had Wain, Rudd and Marino furiously re-working the screenplay —previously converted from a drama to a broad comedy by Timothy Dowling—as shooting was about to begin.
“This was my first big budget studio film. So it was kind of intimidating,” Wain told the Palisadian-Post.  “But when we started the shoot itself, we really got into it.” 
The feature film was originally written to take place everywhere but “I thought, ‘Let’s not go generic, let’s get some real quality,’” Wain continued. “The Westside is a cool, interesting, photogenic place.”
Re-titled “Role Models,” the comedy starred Rudd and Scott as Danny and Wheeler, respectively; ne’er-do-wells stuck in brain-dead jobs as energy drink pitch men (Wheeler’s mantra to Danny before embarking on their soul-crushing work: “Game face!”) who, after Danny’s public meltdown at an elementary school, get sentenced to the community service punishment of participating in the Big Brother-esque mentorship program Sturdy Wings, run by reformed coke addict Sweeny (Jane Lynch). Matched with their “Littles” — medieval live-action, role-playing freak Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and foul-mouthed African-American kid Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson) —“Bigs” Danny and Wheeler embark on what at first appears to be the mentoring journey from hell.
But the cynical duo and their Littles eventually warm up to each other: Wheeler and Ronnie bond over big breasts and the rock band KISS while Danny realizes how important the “Lord of the Rings”-style re-enactment game LAIRE is to Augie. The Bigs wind up learning life lessons from their 
ostensibly unsalvageable Littles.
Rounding out the proceedings: excellent performances by Elizabeth Banks as Danny’s attorney girlfriend Beth, Ken Jeong as LARP ruler King Argotron and Marino as Augie’s step-father; plus a who’s who of Wain’s comedic comrades from the 1993 MTV satirical show “The State.”
Despite shooting vituperative scenes with underage kids (including a running off-color joke featuring Palisadian Ben Affleck as a punchline), Wain said there was no resistance from studio executives regarding the movie’s raw humor.
Judd Apatow’s stuff was very popular at the time,” Wain said of the former Palisadian.

Louie C.K., director David Wain, Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott shooting a scene outside Walter Reed in Studio City.
Shot Just Down the Hill
Aside from a third act shot at the Disney Ranch in Santa Clarita and South Pasadena’s Kaldi Coffee and Tea (“We took a private shop that was a little more hipster and turned it into a Starbucks,” Wain said, chuckling), the first two-thirds of “Role Models” were almost entirely shot just down Pacific Coast Highway in Venice and Santa Monica.
The Venice Canals’ 2419 Strongess Avenue doubled as Wheeler’s bachelor pad. Meanwhile, two Venice addresses served as the Littles’ family homes: 822 Valetia (Augie’s house) and 3111 Stanford (Ronnie’s).
Then there’s the shindig where Wheeler, distracted by a sex-crazed schoolteacher, loses Ronnie.
“The party scene was filmed on Venice Beach,” Wain said. “That was a really fun night on the beach.”
Amazingly, the Venice Canals were new to Wain: “I had never seen these Canals before. I remember walking those canals and the location people were ‘Uy-yoy-yoy! So expensive…’”  
Permits cost more to shoot there and it was not as filming friendly or even hospitable as other neighborhoods. However, “you can get something a little different,” he said.
Besides, the Canals fit Wheeler’s oft-vapid personality.
“He has a slightly surfer mentality,” Wain said of Scott’s character.
Sure, Scott had cut his teeth doing comedy (“American Pie,” “Dude, Where’s My Car?”) but “it was a different style. Paul likes to improvise. Paul and Seann are very different. That was built into the characters’ [dynamics].”
The high school appearing at the start of “Role Models” is El Segundo High School, the same school used two years previously for the hit Apatow comedy “Superbad” (the very film that made Mintz-Plasse—as McLovin—a breakout star), which was used for the auditorium and hallway scenes. The more audacious exterior stuff with the Minotaur truck, the towing guy and the security guard (played by Louis C.K.) was shot in Studio City at Walter Reed Middle School.
“He was not a star at the time,” Wain noted of C.K. “He was mostly known as a TV actor. His stand-up was just starting to get notoriety. This was long before his FX show.”
On Sept. 21, 2007, Wain shot the scene in which Sweeny shows up just as Ronnie commandeers the SUV, locking out Wheeler and driving in circles at Eddie Junior’s Market and Liquor at 825 Pico Boulevard. That part might as well have been an action movie shoot, said the director.
“For me it was! We had cameras up in the air,” Wain recalled. “They altered the sign. These days, they would never change a sign.”
The Sturdy Wings scenes were filmed at Venice Boys and Girls Club on Lincoln and Venice Boulevards.
“When we saw it, I knew it was perfect,” Wain said. “There are a lot of boys and girls activities happening during the shoot.”
The Club’s activities continued unabated as certain areas were blocked off for the production, which demanded several classrooms just for the movie people to keep their gear.
“We had a huge crew of 200 people: lights, catering, extras,” recalled Wain, for whom this was the biggest-budgeted, most mainstream film he had ever undertaken.
As for the running motif stemming from Wheeler’s KISS infatuation, “that was primarily my push. Craig Wedren [the “Role Models” score’s composer] and I in college had our walls plastered in KISS posters,” Wain said of their New York University days.
“Role Models” (its third title) was originally developed as a drama.
“[Screenwriter] Tim Dowling came in before I was even involved,” Wain said. “I wasn’t hired to direct it until six weeks before the shoot.”
It was Dowling who had re-written it as a comedy.
“He created the broad strokes. He turned the story from one parent with a kid to two guys and two kids,” Wain said. “Ken and I worked as a team. We basically sit at the computer and type it up.”
The script overhaul by Wain’s team was extensive enough to land Wain, Marino and Rudd writing credits. “Then came [the Writers Guild of America strike running from November 5, 2007 to February 12, 2008] and we had to stop writing,” he said. From that point on, they were forced to shoot the script they had, which luckily was evolved to Wain’s satisfaction. Post-strike, Wain shot a few pick-up shots.
Ultimately, the Universal comedy turned a tidy profit following its November 2008 release. For a film based on a $28-million budget, grossing $92 million in theaters worldwide plus an additional $40 million in DVD revenue achieved the goal of making at least triple the budget to qualify as successful.

Wain’s World
Today, “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” reunites Wain with co-writer Michael Showalter and a formidable cast who were barely rising stars when the 2001 original was released, including Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper and Banks. Things have certainly changed career-wise for everyone since that first trek to Camp Firewood circa 1981: the location of the new movie says it all. While the original was done on a shoestring in the Poconos in Pennsylvania, this prequel was shot, as Wain put it, “in the wilds of Malibu.”  
“There’s definitely a big reunion flavor. It was a total blast. In some ways, it felt similar,” said Wain, who added that this project has long been in everyone’s thoughts. “We’ve been thinking about it for years and years, regarding reuniting the actors, many of whom [Cooper, Poehler] have since shot to superstardom.” This prequel included everyone’s participation by no less than “a sheer force of will. We wanted to do it. The cast wanted to do it. Finally, the stars aligned our scheduling.”
It’s easy to see why a “Wet Hot” follow-up took so long. Not only did the original’s actors go on to star in projects such as “American Sniper,” “Parks and Recreation” and “Ant-Man,” Wain’s “Children’s Hospital” series (featuring Marino) just completed its sixth season on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. On June 23, Wain debuted a new Comedy Central series, "Another Period,” a jokey historical satire starring Wain, Michael Ian Black, Christina Hendricks and Jason Ritter which follows the lives of the obscenely rich Bellacourt family and their many servants in turn-of-the-century Rhode Island.
And now comes “First Day of Camp.”
Yet after all that water has passed under the Canals’ bridges, Wain admits he’s very interested in revisiting “Role Models” in a sequel; maybe even a spin-off involving LAIRE.
“Sure. I loved ‘Role Models,’” Wain said. “We have talked about it. We just haven’t gotten around to it.”
Given the 14-year wait between “Wet Hot American Summer” movies, we should be officially halfway to watching 
“Role Models 2” in 2022. Game face, Westside!

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Doors, 50 Years Later: An Appreciation

"[Music in the future] might rely heavily on electronics, tapes, I can envision maybe one person with a lot of machines, tapes and electronics set up, singing or speaking and using machines."  -- Jim Morrison, age 25, in 1969

Photo credit: Henry Diltz.

The Doors, 50 Years Later: An Appreciation

By Michael Aushenker

You know that age-old question “Beatles or Stones?” My answer has forever been The Doors.
Of course, there is no right answer. Both question and answer are highly subjective.
And yet, even if you don’t enjoy their music, it’s undeniable that the Venice-formed Doors were one of the most important and influential rock bands in history.
Fifty years ago this summer, a chance encounter on Venice Beach between a pair of freshly graduated UCLA Film School acquaintances—Santa Monica resident Ray Manzarek and enigmatic, avid Nietzsche and Huxley reader Jim Morrison—led to the formation of the biggest band ever to emerge from L.A.’s Westside.
“What about you, Jim? Working on anything?” Manzarek recalled asking Morrison.
“Yeah, I’ve been writing some songs.”
Then Morrison recited the poem that became “Horse Latitudes/Moonlight Drive,” organist Manzarek brought in Psychedelic Rangers drummer John Densmore, Morrison knew guitarist Robby Krieger, and the rest, as they say…
In those early days, Morrison, who crashed at Manzarek’s Dogtown pad, ate soul food at Olivia’s and got around on the Big Blue Bus (supposedly referenced in “Soul Kitchen” and “The End,” respectively).
Across its brief six-year existence with Morrison, The Doors landed 15 singles in Billboard’s top 40, eight of them chart-toppers. Three—"Light My Fire", "Hello, I Love You" and "Touch Me"— were million-selling singles.
Baroque, nihilistic and subversive, front man Morrison, using The Doors as his vessel, not only introduced darkness to the pop charts (let’s just say there wasn’t another band in the epoch singing about patricide and Oedipal complexes), he embodied it during live performances; his writhing, often drunken theatrical antics all but anticipated the stage diving and mosh circles of punk.
Dead by 27 in 1971, Morrison only recorded six studio albums and a live record with The Doors. Yet they covered much ground across a scant six years. Despite the band being categorized as “psychedelic rock,” there are traces of metal in the song “Waiting for the Sun,” touches of disco in “The Soft Parade,” classical strings and a tour de force jazz saxophone solo (courtesy of Curtis Amy) in “Touch Me.”
Then there were the ballads — lush, sensitive, otherworldly—“Hyacinth House,” “Wintertime Love,” “Blue Sunday,” “Indian Summer”; deep album cuts worthy of single-dom.
Thanks to album re-issues, the Doors saw a huge revival in the 1980s—roughly book-ended by a pair of prominent film usages: 1979’s “Apocalypse Now” and a 1991 “Doors” biopic.
“Los Angeles for The Doors is as Liverpool was to the Beatles,” said drummer Lucky Lehrer of first-wave L.A. punk band The Circle Jerks. “The songs were about L.A. and the Doors’ jams were legendary. The Doors motivated legions local groups to break molds and cut their own path.”
In 2001’s “We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk” by Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen, the oral history book’s first chapter is slugged in the table of contents as “a case is made to declare Jim Morrison of Los Angeles, California the godfather of punk.”
Manzarek discusses proto-punk leader Iggy Pop’s Morrison infatuation.
“When Iggy was still Jim Osterberg, he checked us out when we played at the University of Michigan.” Manzarek goes on the describe the mismatch of a bill there during homecoming weekend as the Doors, led by a “drunk as a skunk” Morrison, played “the worst fucking show ever…All they wanted to hear was ‘Light My Fire,’ but Jim kept on hollering freeform.” Morrison insisted on playing the blues, and Manzarek explains how the “huge refrigerator-sized football players” and even the university’s dean turned on the band as a defiant Morrison refused to leave. “Afterward, Iggy said: ‘Holy fuck. True anarchy prevailed. You guys were great. I loved it.’ Who knows what that night did to Iggy’s head, ‘cause he’s been doing that show ever since.”
Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton confirms Manzarek’s narrative: “Iggy watched Morrison and learned how to use and abuse the audience and get them into the act. Morrison wore a pair of brown leather pants, so Iggy had a pair of brown vinyl pants ‘cause he couldn’t quite afford the leather, you know.”
John Doe and Exene Cervenka, leaders of seminal L.A. punk band X, also acknowledge the Doors’ influence. (Manzarek produced X’s first four albums and X did a cover of “Soul Kitchen.”)
 “I was attracted to the Doors as a teen because of the dark imagery,” Doe said.

Photo by Henry Diltz.
The Doors’ influence is not regulated to just music. In 1974, Marvel Comics artist Rich Buckler created his futureshock odyssey “Deathlok the Demolisher” in the pages of “Astonishing Tales,” employing Doors song names and lyrics as story titles. 

From "Astonishing Tales" #28 (1975). "No One Here Gets Out Alive" is a lyrical quote from The Doors' 1968 song "Five to One." Art by Rich Buckler.
The “Deathlok” feature only appeared in a dozen issues but elements of this short-lived sci-fi saga are obvious in such films as “Escape From New York” and the original “Robocop” while last year, a version of Buckler’s character (portrayed by J. August Richards) surfaced on “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”  
Buckler, who in those days at Marvel’s New York offices would plug his headphones into a portable radio while working, loved blues-based rock bands but the Doors, in particular inspired him.
 “It was so emotion-charged and surreal,” Buckler said.
Buckler expressed a deep appreciation for Manzarek’s organ-playing, Krieger's “knife-edged bluesy guitar work” and Densmore’s “soulful” percussion. And then, of course, there was Morrison’s lyrics and phrasing.
“All of those rock n'roll story titles…fit so perfectly, I couldn't resist,” said the artist. “You know, I always thought if Deathlok had a soundtrack, it would definitely be hard rock.” 
Today, Morrison is long gone but he still haunts Venice Beach. His visage stares back at us, not only from hippie-dip T-shirt shops and the canvases of boardwalk artists but from Rip Cronk’s two story-high apartment-building mural at Speedway and 18th Street.


Morrison’s voice, through immortal recordings such as “Light My Fire” and “Break On Through,” floats out to the bicycle path from the inside of the cafes and clothing stores.
Yeah, he was ultimately self-destructive, yet despite some obvious character flaws he succumbed to, Morrison, in life, was an old soul: highly intelligent, shrewd and forward thinking. Morrison was asked in 1969 where he thought music was headed. Prophetically, he responded:
"[Music in the future] might rely heavily on electronics, tapes, I can envision maybe one person with a lot of machines, tapes and electronics set up, singing or speaking and using machines." 
On September 11, 2001, Morrison was posthumously propelled into the 21st century via Jay-Z’s "The Blueprint," specifically on the track in which Jigga escalated his feud with rival Nas. Produced by Kanye West, "The Takeover" sampled a choice morsel from "Five to One:" a slithery reptilian bass line; Morrison yelping "Gonna win, we're takin' over! Come on!"
Who knows how that prescient 25-year-old would have been affected or influenced by the EDM and hip hop he seemingly predicted in 1969 had he come up today. Or perhaps he never would have made it; drowned out by the shambolic state of today’s music industry and the mediocrity produced by today’s YouTube/”American Idol”-era democracy  .
Thankfully, The Doors came along when they did.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Attack of the Killer Potatoes: Restaurateur Eric Ong's Humble Journey

Attack of the Killer Potatoes

Restaurateur Eric Ong sees community involvement and philanthropy as an extension of his Humble mission

by Michael Aushenker

May 8, 2015. The Humble Potato owner Eric Ong greets guests to his new Culver City restaurant one week after its grand opening. Photos: Michael Aushenker
A funny thing happened to Eric Ong en route to creating the patio garden at his new Humble Potato restaurant.
A few months ago, Ong was driving around Westchester, looking for inspiration, when he reached the end of a road. At the cul de sac, he gazed upon the perfect lawn of succulents he was after.
The owner of the house came out, almost antagonistically interrogating what Ong was doing parked outside her home. After Ong explained, she invited him inside and they talked.
Cut to a few months later, and Ong, with the consultation of the homeowner, attorney Jesse Croxton, was able to create the garden he was after.
“This was all concrete,” Ong said, proudly overlooking the drought-tolerant garden. “I’ve never done landscaping in my life.”
Drawing upon the talents of members of the community around him is typical for Ong, not to mention in the spirit of his endeavor down to the restaurant’s name.
With the original Humble Potato on Lincoln Boulevard in Westchester since Halloween 2012 and now a brand new location on Culver City’s popping Washington West district, the resourceful Ong has not only imported some much needed quirkiness to the Westside on a visual and epicurean level, he has drawn on the respective communities to execute his vision and further the Humble Potato philosophy of modesty and gratitude (as spelled out on the wall of Humble Potato’s original restaurant: ‘Simple food. Happy people. Humble lasts, hunger shouldn’t. Where there’s good will, there’s good eats. Eat well. Feel good. Live humbly”).
All the while, his capacity for these traits was put to the test in the past year as a series of obstacles led to the opening of his Culver City outlet seven months later than scheduled.
The shotgun-style interior of Humble Potato Culver City leads straight back to a rear patio with drought-tolerant garden.
A Humble Beginning
If Ong, 35, is not your typical local restaurateur, well, his Humble Potato outlets are not your typical eateries.
The colorful, cartoony J-Pop vibe at the original Westchester eatery brings a dash of Sawtelle’s Giant Robot store (or even San Diego Comic-Con) while its purposely finite menu strong-headedly attempts to deliver with perfection comfort food (hamburgers, hot dogs, steak and chicken sandwiches) with a twist that is equal parts Indonesian and Japanese.
The steak sandwich and new chicken wings appetizer at Humble Potato Culver City.
A veritable celebration of localism, Humble Potato enlisted Otis College students to paint the 1970s-style anime-laden decor, where imagery and figurines from “Gatchaman” and “Speed Racer” stare down from the shelves alongside Marvel superheroes, Superman, Super-Mario, Garfield and Darth Vader.
“I’m a hybrid,” Ong told The Argonaut in 2013. “I love design. Simple words, light colors, making it fun.”
Born and raised in Jakarta by a Taiwanese mother and Indonesian father, Ong spent four years living in Japan, where he was exposed to its cartoon pop culture.
“My dad launched a Japanese fast food concept in Jakarta,” he said.
His father grew Hoka Hoka Bento into one of Indonesia’s biggest franchises.
Ong originally arrived to L.A. to attend Santa Monica College, later receiving his degree in business administration in technology at Cal State-Northridge.For 12 years, Ong managed the data center infrastructure at Beach Body as the Santa Monica fitness enterprise grew into a billion-dollar company.
However, the corporate life proved too confining. In 2012, Ong converted a failed Quiznos on Lincoln Boulevard into the first Humble Potato. And so began Ong’s daily odyssey of people asking if his place specializes in potato products (no, although several varieties of French fries, including Shichimi and garlic-parmesan, are offered).
Humble features Angus burgers bearing wacky names (the Hambàga, the 9 to 5) and fusion-y items such as Yuzu jalapeño slaw. Ong insists on Indonesian-style tempehover soy or garden patties for vegetarian customers. The only shake offered is a practically unsweetened confection—an ice-blended avocado confection perked up with a drizzle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup — that nonetheless makes for a compelling signature drink.
“There’s no strawberry or chocolate shake,” Ong said. “That’s not who we are.”
The year 2012 holds meaning for Ong for other reasons, too. Ong and wife Keiya becames parents to daughter Kendra, now 3. It also brought his mother’s battle with breast cancer (she has since recovered).
Charity as a Boulevard to Success
Ong feels as humble as his restaurant’s cartoony potato mascot Ma-San for “being able to connect with people and being part of a community (through his restaurant). I get so much warmth and people from different cultures. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Although the longtime Palms resident currently lives near Beverlywood, Ong has exercised an emphatic outreach to the communities where his Humble Potatoes stand.
He has already become a prominent mover and shaker in Culver City, where he is working with Elaine Warner of Culver City Business Development to further consolidate what is being dubbed as the Washington West Business District.
 “Elaine and I are working closely together in hopes to create awareness and creating marketing campaign around the neighborhood for the new business district,” said Ong, with a goal to turn the Washington Boulevard strip into a formidable restaurant row. (Roy Choi’s A-Frame already stands across the street from Ong’s new joint.)
"I have been a huge fan since Humble Potato Westchester,” said Michael Flannagan, co-owner of neighboring Culver City restaurant Fin, who enjoys the new store’s “great vibe with hip decor. I love the Hambaga and Humble Dog. Best comfort food ever!"
In the past three years, Humble has joined forces with Pastor Doug Lee and his Catalyst Church in Westchester on American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, held at Venice High School, where Ong donated Hambagas— as well as during Thanksgiving time to feed the homeless.
Philanthropically, Humble also supports Westchester Science Magnet School via many fundraisers.
“He exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit,” said Ronald S. Mito, professor of Clinical Dentistry and associate dean of Academic Programs and Personnel at UCLA School of Dentistry. “Eric’s goal was to create a restaurant with a unique menu and become a staple of the community. Even though the restaurant was only open for a few weeks, he enthusiastically jumped at my request for him to support some of our community activities including the Westchester Science Magnets and the Race 4 Success,”
“He has a good balance of knowing what he wants versus letting artists do their thing,” said Emmet Ashford, whose Street Craft L.A. team—a pool of troubled but talented kids mentored in the fine arts—worked closely with Ong to execute Humble Culver City’s interior design. “Eric has a very clear vision but he is also open to innovation and variation.”
With Joey Furutani, Ong recently organized a fundraiser at his Culver City location to benefit Bresee Youth Center, an after-school programs for underprivileged youth nonprofit.
Longtime Westchester resident Mito knows an Eric Ong who is selfless and giving, no matter the circumstances.
“I remember the financial and operational stresses he was incurring during those early days, but that did not deter him from donating back to the community,” Mito said. “Now that several years have passed, Humble Potato Westchester is an integral part of our community and Eric continues to support community fundraising.”
Bumps Along the Road to Culver City
Last month, Ong —seated in his newly opened Culver City on a gray, wet day a few weeks shy of obtaining his beer and wine permit — recalled, with even emotion, its botched completion.
The original plan was to open the second Humble Potato (shorthanded “HP2” by Ong) in Culver City by Halloween 2014, rhyming with the Westchester original’s Halloween 2012 grand opening.
Destiny had other plans.

For a stretch, things seemed to go according to plan with this larger, more expensive Humble, Ong says, as the contractor he had hired embarked on building this new one from scratch.
By January, “he ran out on us. They just walked away from the job,” leaving the edifice in “a rough stage. There were a lot of mistakes with the plumbing and framing.”  
At the time, the young restaurateur turned to his wife for emotional support: “Usually, you have partners you can lean on, but I’m a one-man show. It’s a new experience opening it up by yourself.”
By January, Ong brought in Karl Kelm, who had done some woodwork for the original store, to help complete HP2. Kelm found Martin Alvarez to handle plumbing.
“They saved the day,” Ong said.
On May 1st, Humble Potato Culver City finally opened its doors offering a similarity in spirit with the Westchester original, albeit with an array of different details.
Every menu item offered at the Westchester store can be found at HP2, plus new additions such as spicy chicken wings and the Blondie Bar, a bed of granola topped with a scoop of black sesame ice cream.
The goal with HP2’s menu is “to see how we can elevate it,” Ong said. “We’ve grown up a little bit. There’s always room for improvement.”And, of course, there is the ambiance. Arriving at HP2, one finds a shotgun-style restaurant receding all the way back to a patio replete with warming lamps and picnic benches. Adorning the interior of each bathroom are cartoony, freewheeling black-and-white murals (the woman’s restroom sports a female Godzilla with lipstick).Whereas the original boasts figurines and Ma-San on the wall, HP2 depicts a Cartoon Network-worthy samurai mural over the front entrance while walls are plastered with posters of Japan-flavored kitsch, including the Japan-set James Bond film “You Only Live Twice” and a Japanese “Batman ‘66” ad, plus images of Japan’s veritable ambassadors to America: Godzilla and Ultraman.

And then there is the curious dated-looking, staid black-and-white photo in the eye of this J-Pop tsunami.
“That’s Keio University,” Ong said. “It’s the school where my parents met.”
The Humble Potato Team. 
Ladies: Sydney, Liony. Gents: Luis, Minh, Johnny, Jaycee with owner Eric Ong (far right). Photo Credit: Andrew Humphries Photography.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

NEW BOOK ALERT! Michael Aushenker to debut full-color TROLLS at LONG BEACH COMIC-CON in SEPT. 2015

Hey, Flophousers! There's an all-new full-color CARTOON FLOPHOUSE comic book on the horizon, and you're not going to believe this one....

Michael Aushenker's TROLLS debuts at LONG BEACH COMIC-CON 2015 this September!

"Trolls" is slang for "Air Traffic Controllers," the fine men & women working in airport control towers who help launch and land millions of commercial airliners each and every day around the world.

For months now, I've been using my journalistic skills to infiltrate local air traffic control towers incognito, trading Playboy magazines and packs of cigarettes for the straight dope on what really goes on behind the prohibited doors inside our nation's airports' control towers. This is their story.

So meet Edward and Wayward, a couple of sitting ducks (literally!) who work in said profession. Then one Friday, because of some crazy outside circumstances, Ed and Way can not go back home to their apartments. So they decided to pull a double-shift at work within Sky Harbor International in Phoenix, Arizona, and, since their boss won't be back till Monday morning anyway, why not throw a little workplace party and invite over the girls from Security? And yeah, um, some complications ensue and things spiral out of control.

Let's be candid here: I originally intended this comic book to become the next installment of my occasional series THOSE UNSTOPPABLE ROGUES (even hinted at the plot in the last ROGUES comic I did called "McDONALD MISSION," which took place in Quartzite, Ariz.)

However, I was flooded with some new inspiration that led me to make this comic book it's own thing, featuring two brand new characters: Edward and Wayward.

I will though include some UNSTOPPABLE ROGUES material and references within TROLLS as 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the original THOSE UNSTOPPABLE ROGUES comic book (which featured a foreword by one of my favorites, Gumby & Pokey creator ART CLOKEY).

No airs here: I'm super honored to have been invited by THE DEVASTATOR, L.A.'s premiere satirical comic book magazine, to be a part of their curated humor comics section at LBCC.

So I've decided to step up the pace on production and ready my newest, most colorful funny animal book yet for September's LBCC show.

See you there, Flophousers!

~ Michael Aushenker

Friday, February 13, 2015


Weds., March 25th is shaping up to be a big release day for cartoonist Michael Aushenker of fame.

First off, there's the debut of Acme Ink's new line of biographical heavy metal comics written by Aushenker (with various artists) and it launches Mar. 25 with SLAYER, about the kings of thrash and Aushenker's all-time favorite metal band (thanks to the Rick Rubin-produced SEASONS IN THE ABYSS, SOUTH OF HEAVEN and REIGN IN BLOOD - not to mention Kerry King's guitar solos on Beastie Boys cuts FIGHT FOR OUR RIGHT (TO PARTY) and NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN.

A preview version of SLAYER, edited by Acme Ink king Mel Smith, has been selling out at every convention sold in 2014, including San Diego Comic-Con and APE in San Francisco.

After Mar. 25th's SLAYER, Aushenker's work on JUDAS PRIEST, TESTAMENT, EXODUS and NOFX will hit the shops in the months to follow.

Also dropping Mar. 25 - Aushenker's COMIC BOOK CREATOR article on married creators Corinna Beckho and Gabriel Hardman (CATACLYSM ON THE PLANET OF THE APES). Aushenker is the associate editor of COMIC BOOK CREATOR, edited by Jon B. Cooke (COMIC BOOK ARTIST).

Ok, you've been warned! SLAYER is almost here! "Lightning, you motherfuckers!"

Friday, January 16, 2015

ARTICLE: Hilary Swank's Nov. 12 HOLLYWOOD MASTERS convo at LMU

Million dollar appearance

Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank closes out The Hollywood Masters series for 2014 at LMU

by Michael Aushenker

Of meeting her “Million Dollar Baby” director for the first time at his Warner Bros. office, Hilary Swank described the filmmaker this way: “He was a tall glass of water. He was refreshing and so handsome. He is Clint Eastwood.”
The actress could have used a tall glass of water on Nov. 12, when the Hollywood Reporter’s Special Features editor Stephen Galloway interviewed Swank in a conversation closing the exclusive The Hollywood Masters series for 2014 at Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television. Swank’s voice was hoarse from promoting “The Homesman,” which co-stars director Tommy Lee Jones and came out last Friday. She asked for some cough drops and received them from a screenwriting student in the audience.
This, on top of running late because she was trapped within her own home.
“The power went out and my gates are electric,” said Swank, who nevertheless scaled said walls. “My next job is Spider-Woman!”

Prone to positivity, effusively espousing lines such as “There’s no biggest obstacle than ourselves,” Swank handily won over her teen audience of aspiring entertainment professionals with her upbeat nature as she recalled the classicism she experienced growing up in a Lincoln, Nebraska trailer park and how she and her mom lived in an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme for three weeks upon arriving in Hollywood.
But it was worthwhile. Swank landed a plum part on “Beverly Hills 90210.”
Too bad the Aaron Spelling soap had jumped the shark by this—its eighth season— and was quickly canceled. Swank was depressed.  
Then, two months later, she landed the role of real-life tragic transgender figure Brandon Teena for which she won her first Academy Award.
“There are no negatives,” Swank said. “I think it is how we choose to look at it. It would not have happened if I were still on ’90210.’”
What Swank deemed “the little movie that could,” “Boys Don’t Cry” became the breakthrough film making it possible for her to work with “Interstellar” director Christopher Nolan on 2002’s “Insomnia” (“I feel like he’s not just a director, he’s a visionary”) and Eastwood on 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby,” which landed her a second Oscar.
“I felt like I was shot out of a cannon with that movie,” she said of the unlikely success of micro-budgeted indie “Boys,” for which she only received $3,000 (not even qualifying her for SAG health coverage, then a minimum $5,000).
Swank has since portrayed uber-teacher Erin Gruwell (“Freedom Writers”) and doomed aviator Amelia Earhart (“Amelia”).
“I’ve pretty much made a living out of playing real-life characters,” she said, laughing.
Proud of her “Boys,” acting opposite then-rising actors Chloë Sevigny and Peter Sarsgaard, “I didn’t know it was going to be a catalyst for a bigger talk about gay, lesbian and transgender people,” Swank said.
In fact, following her talk, she could not stick around long to chat with students because that very evening, Swank was receiving an award at Outfest, thanks to this little movie she made 15 years ago.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Holidays 2014-15 from Michael Aushenker & Cartoon Flophouse Humor Comics!

Yeah, so I hijacked the Halloween Kidder himself, my pal Rhode Montijo, to help wish all you dedicated Flophousers a funtesticle Chanukah, Christmas & New Year's Eve 2015!

Listen, it's been a good year for Cartoon Flophouse, with two new releases -- GO, GENIUS, GO! # 1 & 2--and a side project --HELL'S KITTY: LOST IN LOS ANGELES, written by Nicholas Tana--available through my website and via Amazon.

However, 2015 is gonna be a GREAT year because Aushenker's at it again with the SLAYER comic debuting at Wonder Con in April, a top secret new funny book debuting at San Diego Comic-Con 2015 (think in the spirit of THOSE UNSTOPPABLE ROGUES) and another project aimed for third quarter 2015.

Plus: visit and join to keep updated on a special charity project in development for late 2016 based on the life of blues rock guitar virtuoso Mike Bloomfield.

Happy holidays, Flophousers! Warm wishes for a facetious, fun-filled '15!