Friday, October 30, 2009

Faye Dunaway’s ‘Master Class’ begins filming at Grand Circus Park

As the ‘Red Dawn’ people continued to film their movie just a few blocks away, a new mob of Hollywood types was in town earlier this week to start production of a movie called ‘Master Class’.

My prestigious Kage Credentials earned me a spot just a few feet off camera, which was really cool to see. The movie is set in 1971, and Grand Circus Park is doubling as a park in New York, according to one of the crewmembers.

Monday, they were shooting a war protest scene, and after seeing three or four takes, it was interesting to see how movies are made. The guy leading the protest, for instance, was holding a megaphone to his mouth but only pretending to yell. No noise was coming out of his mouth. (They must add audio later, but it really strange to see.)

Faye Dunaway, who’s starring in and directing the movie, was there, working only as a director that day. In her black sweat suit and baseball cap, I wouldn’t have recognized her if someone hadn’t yelled out her name. There must have been a hundred extras dressed as hippies and carrying anti-war signs, and they brought in at least a dozen old cars to park along Woodward for background.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Detroit getting minor facelift with Paradise Valley open space improvements

The big projects – like hotel restorations and RiverWalk developments – are easy to spot. Some you can even see from the freeway. But every now and then during a lunchtime walk, I stumble across something happening in downtown Detroit that’s a little quieter.

Smaller in scope but huge in impact, a new park is being built on a pie-shaped chunk of land in what used to be called the Paradise Valley area of Detroit. Just a few blocks from Comerica Park (you can barely see the stadium lights in the photo) but set in what feels like a quiet little neighborhood, the park will be bound by Grand River, Randolph and Centre streets. It’s across from Coaches Corner, if you’ve ever been there.

In building the park, the entire piece of property, it appears, was dug out five or six feet. Stonewalls and sidewalks wind through, and a fountain is being built. The water lines have all been installed, and when I walked past the other day a landscape crew was putting in tons of plants.

Like I said, it’s a small project. But it creates the park-in-the-big-city, Brooklyn-type atmosphere that Detroit is sorely lacking. And after you’ve spent any amount of time walking past broken storefronts and down aging sidewalks downtown, it makes an enormous difference.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Detroit’s new cruise-ship & ferry terminal to open next summer

First the RiverWalk development, and now this. As another sign that Detroit actually plans on encouraging people who aren’t wearing haz-mat suits to visit its waterfront, work is well underway on the construction of a new two-story cruise-ship and ferry terminal on the Detroit River just west of the RenCen.

Thorough investigation at the Kage (i.e. – Googling) tells us that the terminal is scheduled to open next summer. An off-shore wharf is to follow. After that? Who knows, maybe some guy from Sault Ste. Marie will finally realize that the rioting in Detroit ended, um, decades ago.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not imagining Mr. Roarke and Tattoo standing in Hart Plaza greeting mobs of people from faraway places like Milwaukee and Buffalo. But since there are already cruise lines that run regular Great Lakes routes, it’d be nice for them to be able to pull over in Detroit, at least for a Coney dog or two.

And that doesn't even mention the travel benefits to people in distant cities like Grosse Pointe Shores and Wyandotte, who on average spend roughly 14 minutes per year in downtown Detroit, but at least a weekend enjoying the exotic offerings of, say, Cleveland. Worried about drinking and driving home? No problem. The next water taxi shoves off at midnight.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Statue of Cadillac is a history lesson with some life

Everybody knows what Dodge Fountain looks like, even if you didn’t realize that was its name. (For those who don’t, it’s that huge, round fountain at Hart Plaza. Trust me, you’ve seen it.)

But seeing Hart Plaza through the passenger window is different than walking through it. If you ever get the chance, you’ll find some pretty interesting stuff. Tucked off to the left side of the Plaza (toward the RenCen), there’s a statue of a guy with one foot up on a rock, and one arm holding a flag. It’s a statue of Cadillac, and next to it is a placard that describes the story of Cadillac settling in what is now Detroit. Being a Downriver guy, I found it especially interesting. If you ask me, high school teachers should use sites like this one when teaching kids American history; it makes it feel more real.

Here’s an excerpt from the placard:

After departing Montreal June 5, 1701, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac and his convoy of 25 canoes sailed down this river and on the evening of July 23 camped 16 miles below the present city of Detroit on what is now Grosse Ile. On the morning of July 24, Cadillac returned upriver and reached a spot on the shore near the present intersection of West Jefferson and Shelby. Pleased with the strategic features, the bank towering some 40 feet above the level of the river, Cadillac landed and planted the flag of France, taking possession of the territory in the name of King Louis XIV.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

“And Action!” More observations from the filming of ‘Red Dawn’

An entire four- or five-block area of downtown Detroit was cordoned off Monday as filming of ‘Red Dawn’ continued. Watching it happen was pretty cool. A parking garage across from American Coney Island was transformed into a Police headquarters. A stage in front of the garage was built to host a fictional political speech. And the intersection of Michigan-Griswold-Lafayette was the gathering place for hundreds of working-class citizens who flocked to hear the speech.

Around the corner on Lafayette, a school bus was being loaded with extras dressed in bright orange jumpsuits. Suddenly a military jeep wheeled around the corner and shot down Griswold, another cornered onto Lafayette, and a tank rolled into the parting crowd. Along with hundreds of other people who gathered, I watched them do a few takes.

I’ve heard that the entire script for the new ‘Red Dawn’ was re-written, which makes me wonder why they called it ‘Red Dawn’. Still, I’m already looking forward to seeing the movie and looking for different parts of Detroit in the background.

(I would promise that this is the last I will say about the filming of ‘Red Dawn’, but I might go down this afternoon and try to sneak on as an extra, and I figure there might be something worth mentioning about that.)

Food Network to feature Detroit’s Coney Islands

The guy behind the counter probably said what day the show was airing. But the guy behind the counter doesn’t speak that well. Anybody who’s been to Lafayette Coney Island in downtown Detroit knows that.

He was excited, though, and he disappeared behind a wall and popped out a few seconds later holding up a t-shirt. It said something about the Food Network on it, and he gushed for a while longer about how the whole camera crew had spent the previous day filming in Detroit’s most famous dirty little restaurant, which is no small distinction!

Here’s what I gleaned from the conversation: The Food Network visited Detroit recently to do a feature on Coney dogs, and in particular the two famous downtown joints, American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island. It’s going to be on TV sometime in November. 

What I’m sure you’ll hear if you catch the show is a little background on the two restaurants, which is pretty interesting. The first Coney Island opened in 1917 by the Keros brothers, who shortly thereafter got into an argument and split into two separate restaurants. Even today, owners of each place scrap with each other about which is the true “original”. I don’t watch the Food Network often, so if you happen to catch this episode, let me know. I’m anxious to see if we can understand a word of what the guy behind the counter has to say.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

‘Red Dawn’ takes over downtown Detroit

Not to harp on the “Red Dawn”-is-filming-in-Detroit thing, but as I walked around not smoking cigarettes the other day, I happened by a building downtown that is being completely dressed up to work as a backdrop for the movie. It’s really cool to see.

Where Michigan Avenue, Lafayette Boulevard and Griswold Street come together (across the street from where the American Coney Island comes to a point), there’s a parking structure that the ‘Red Dawn’ folks are using as some sort of police station. They’ve hung a huge red banner with a fictional political symbol at the bottom. Next to it are gigantic letters that spell POLICE.

In front of the building (you can’t see this very well in the photo) is a raised platform that I think will be used as a stage.

So far I haven’t seen any actual filming going on, but someone told me they’re supposed to be taping this week. I heard Josh Peck, the kid from Drake & Josh, is in the movie. How dreamy would it be to run into him stuffing a coney in his mouth?  

Monday, October 12, 2009

Stop downtown for first-ever Blocktoberfest

If you’re looking for a good excuse to get downtown for a few hours, a new block party happening Tuesday, Oct. 13 might be the perfect ticket. What has long been an annual fundraiser bake sale in the executive garage at The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press is growing this year into an open-to-the-public party on the streets.

It’s called Blocktoberfest, a United Way fundraiser that will block off Lafayette Boulevard between First and Third streets from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. The idea started when someone here at work wanted to turn that bake sale into something bigger. They hooked up with someone at WDIV (across the street) and someone else at the Fort Shelby DoubleTree Hotel (next door) and came up with this block party idea.

Businesses from all over Detroit will be setting up booths, selling stuff and giving away prizes. I’ve also heard that from 5-8, there will be a beer garden behind the DoubleTree, with live music playing, and a dunk tank featuring a few of the newspapers’ big name writers like Terry Foster and Neil Ruben.

Best of all, at least to us at the Kage, is that they’re encouraging businesses in the area to let employees extend their lunch by an hour or two. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Downtown Detroit provides backdrop for 'Red Dawn' remake

If not for the girl in the red security jacket, I might not have realized the burned-out, broken-down building front was actually being used as a movie set. That’s the sad part, that there are still that many areas of Detroit in disrepair.

Turns out, though, that the little storefront pictured here – only a 100 feet off Woodward on Clifford – was dressed up this way by filmmakers who are recreating “Red Dawn”. On Monday, they filmed an explosion scene just around the corner from this building at Clifford and Griswold that, according to reports, rattled downtown. I wish I had heard about it ahead of time, I would’ve tried to get over there to see it. To see the picture on, it’s amazing that they could set off that kind of explosion right in the middle of the city. (Since I don’t like pilfering other people’s work, I’ll instead give you a link to the story.)

Apparantly, “Red Dawn” and a movie called “Highland Park” starring Danny Glover are both currently being shot at various places around town. What I’m curious to see is what happens to this little building when the movie crews leave town.

The Detroit Burberry Game - Round 3

Kage 3 - UMJenn 0

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Street music in Detroit is alive and well

Who said all the good music winds up at the Palace or Pine Knob? This guy was out recently with his six-string in front of the Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit, just down the street from Comerica Park.  He's no dummy. He picked a day to set up shop when 40,000 Tigers fans were filing into the stadium for the series-finale with the Twins. His guitar case looked pretty ripe with change and bills, I noticed as I tossed in a few coins.

And in case you're wondering, as I hurried past (only to see Bobby Seay give up a bases-loaded double that gave the Twins a 7-1 lead) he was playing a pretty cool version of "Imagine" by John Lennon.