Sunday, May 29, 2016

Macadamia nut milk? Yes please.

This is great news: Hawaiian macadamia nut milk has arrived.

Image snicked from the linked article.

My favorite part of the article (bold mine):
Though the company is not yet releasing exactly which regions and stores might carry the new product, they claim it will be available in groceries and natural food store shelves on the Mainland and locally in Hawaii starting this June.
Thank you very much, Royal Hawaiian Orchards! Oh, and bonus points for this (from their website):
The entire line of Royal Hawaiian Orchards products are certified Non-GMO by the Non-GMO project. We are committed to providing the best. 
If it's going to be available on the mainland, I'm thinking we have to have it somewhere here in L.A. I'm really looking forward to trying this stuff.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Nothin' but net

Thursday, May 26, 2016

And that's WHEN the ideas come

I'm gonna need a bigger desk...

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

From the Department of It's Funny Cuz It's True: If Meat Eaters Acted Like Vegans

Nailed it.

Be sure to check out some of his other videos, they're hilarious.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Food Network Star - Cinematic Debut! (Week 1)

It's baaaack and desperate to find a new Food Network Star with staying power who isn't named Guy Fieri. I do have to say it was fun seeing how accurate and how inaccurate my take on the contestants (based on their Food Network Magazine profiles) was compared to reality.

The biggest surprise was Joy. Her profile couldn't have been more boring, but she's one of the brightest stars in the group. So needless to say I didn't call the first elimination correctly. Erin didn't disappoint, but Melissa did. Ana does look amazing; she has a great look for television. The camera just loves her. Rob quickly establishes himself as the bombastic big guy. And we've got (IMO) our villain!

The first episode was all about cold opens. The contestants were marched into a soundstage and promptly made to get up in front of judges Bobby Flay and Giada de Laurentiis and perform thirty-second cold opens right then and there, without a chance to prep. And in addition to providing their own criticisms, they also called on one of the other contestants each time, which led to the first drama of the season.

Erin was called first and did a great job. Melissa described her as warm and fun. Bobby liked hearing about her bakery, but not that she didn't mention what he was going to taste. Giada: The more specific, the better.

Jernard, who started cooking young to attract girls, positions himself as The Chef of Love. He picked up on Giada's advice to Erin and tossed out some mouthwatering chicken dishes, all tied in with love. Bobby: "You like chicken...I like chicken. I wanted you to cook for me." Joy wanted to eat every dish he described. Giada thought he did a good job, especially for a first-timer. Say hello to an early front-runner.

Monterey, despite having on-camera experience, not only botched her global cuisine spiel but then succumbed to nervous giggles. It gave the impression that she wasn't serious about what she was doing. Bobby told her that if she's nervous, it makes the audience nervous. Giada wants to know what makes her unique.

Tregaye was next and struck me as a bit over the top and caricature-ish. Ana was asked what she thought and commented that it seemed, "I got a little bit of a schtick feeling," and the temperature in the stage dropped to near-freezing. Ana nervously whispered, "I've just become the bitch of the show." Thing is, I totally agreed with her assessment. Bobby and Giada didn't echo Ana's criticism, although Bobby told Tregaye that if that was really her attitude, then great, because they want the contestants to be themselves. Surprisingly, Tregaye decides that based on the feedback, she's going to, "Reel it on back and find a balance."

I don't know if every season of this show has to have their token handsome, heavily-accented Italian guy, but they had one the season I watched when cowboy Lenny won, and they have one now. Bobby even joked about it. I felt that Damiano talked about himself and his bakeries rather than his would-be Food Network show, but the judges seemed to like him.

Yaku, all 6'9" of him, does a pretty good job, except for not mentioning specific dishes. Erin describes him as a "bigger than life chef" and Giada agrees, telling him that he's very unique and should work that to his advantage. Bobby thought he held back a bit.

Aaron loves meat. However he's rough and even worse does not love the thirty-second time limit and didn't finish before it did. Giada tells him it wasn't a disaster, but it wasn't great. But she finds him charming (and I agree, although he needs to figure out how to channel it more smoothly) and wants to see more of him.

Food Network Star is also packed to the gills this season with Southern chefs. Meet Havird and his southern accent. He was a bit bland and stumbled through his bit and ran short. Bobby told him to get the energy up and Giada told him he has a great smile and to use it.

Next up is Ana and more drama. Despite having probably more on-camera experience than the rest of the group combined (she was a Real Housewife of Miami for a couple seasons) she totally bombs. Cut to Tregaye asking if there's a paint drying documentary she could be watching instead. Ana did get one good quip in, about her two grown daughters knowing how to make more than reservations. Aaaand more shade from Tregaye, and with that I officially dislike her a lot. If you turn into a vindictive bitch every time someone offers a little constructive criticism, how do you expect to make it on television? There's not much the judges can say about this disaster, but Bobby encourages Ana to get the energy up and, "Take that camera, make it yours". Aaaand yet another snotty remark from Tregaye, because while she may not be able to take criticism, she can sure dish it out. I'm now officially hoping she's the first elimination.

As Melissa takes the stage, we learn that this will be a piece of cake for her because she's filmed hundreds of cooking videos. She starts off pretty good, but quickly goes negative by talking about, "...foods that maybe aren't so good for you." Monterey felt it was "too teachery" and Giada told her that she shouldn't lead with negatives and Melissa seems to understand that, "I really need to rephrase things so that it sounds tasty to the viewers." Yup.

Joy steps up and a star is born. "I'm a former Miss North Carolina USA, but y'all I'm ready to be crowned the next Food Network Star." Boom. Nailed it. She's energetic and demonstrative without being too perky or fake and seems completely comfortable in front of the camera. She wraps her cold open with, "I want to put a little South in your mouth." Cue yet another smartass response from Tregaye, but everyone else loved it.

Rob is the final contestant and promptly belts it out of the park. He starts with, "During the day I'm a lunch lady..." and just keeps on winning until his thirty seconds are up. See Tregaye, this is what a genuine  larger than life character looks like. And on top of seeming to be a natural on camera, his food sounds fun, if not particularly the zenith of healthy eating. Everyone loved it. Ladies and gentlemen, meet your front-runner.

The contestants are then informed that they will get another shot at their cold opens. The judges used this concept of "everyone deserves a second chance" to introduce one more contestant, the winner of Comeback Kitchen, yet another competition show (on Food Network! I know, right?) that just finished up putting a group of former FNS contestants through their paces for the honor of coming back yet again. The judges then bring in Martita Jara (from Season 8) and I don't think the contestants knew that was coming. They're either too shocked or think Martita isn't dressed appropriately for the occasion (I'd say definitely overdressed for cooking) because there wasn't a peep of welcome from the group. It was really chilly in there. It doesn't help that, just to twist the knife a little, Martita was backstage the whole time watching their cold opens. She's asked for her opinion and mentions a lack of energy.

On to bigger and better things. In addition to having the opportunity to redo their cold opens, the contestants get to cook for the judges and audience who will be viewing their videos at the dinner-and-a-movie iPic Theater in Los Angeles.

We get to see them cook and there's a lot of fun, complimentary banter among the chefs that makes me miss food service in culinary school (not that we were under that kind of pressure). That's the good news. The bad news is that Ana is apparently a trainwreck in the kitchen. She's a home cook and not used to a professional kitchen, and it shows. The deep fryer is ruining her fries and at one point a pan she's left on the stove catches fire, and not the good kind of fire when you add alcohol to a hot pan. While the others yell about fire extinguishers and calling 911, Ana calmly sets another pan on top of the fiery one, promptly extinguishing it. She then quips, "No more oxygen for you." Aaron describes her as, "A hot mess in the kitchen," and she does seem horribly in over her head. She's either cool as a cucumber under pressure or is really that clueless. We'll find out soon enough.

Monterey is also in trouble. She's cooking black cod, because, "It's almost impossible to screw it watch me screw it up." And that's exactly what happens. It's probably the editing, but it looks doubtful she's going to have a dish to serve, but she plates and hopes for the best.

Now we're in the iPic, where a small audience has joined the judges. Also joining the judges are more judges. Say hello to Tyler Florence and....Valerie Bertinelli? I'm not a fan of Food Network's (and its sister net Cooking Channel's) trend in the past few years of giving out-of-work celebrities who like to cook food shows as if their expertise is on par with that of professional chefs. I can't find Amy Thielen on Food Net anymore, but a lightweight actress is critiquing professional chefs and possibly determining the next step of their careers. Okay, then.

Monterey is up first. Her cold open is much improved and her dish (Miso Poached Black Cod with Baby Bok Choy) looks lovely, so much so that Giada describes it as, "Sort of like a piece of artwork on a plate". For some reason Bobby and Tyler think it's a little too pretty, but Bobby declares it perfectly cooked. So, not the disaster we were led to believe.

Martita comes across really well. Tyler thought she was really polished but Valerie points out that she took too long to talk about her food. Her dish (Black Bean and Apricot Pico Crisp) is well-liked by the judges.

"Hi everybody, my name is Aaron Crumbaugh. I love two things, the first being..." And Aaron blanks and can't come up with the word "meat". After a long, awkward pause, he finally blurts out, "I love meat!" and finishes. He just blanked in front of the camera. Bobby hilariously describes him as an awkward teenager but in a sort of charming way. Tyler describes Aaron's dish (Coffee-Rubbed Steak with Pickled Pepper and Fried Shallots) as "a dish of garnishes". The judges seem to want to like him, but he's going to have to step up his game.

Next up is Erin, who beams her way through an adorable cold open. Martita: "She smiles and you see cupcakes." The judges love her, describing her as genuine and jovial. Her Summer Citrus Cobbler isn't as well received by Bobby and Tyler (they have issues with the texture) but Giada likes it.

Now on to Rob, who I actually thought seemed a little less enthusiastic than in his original cold open, but the judges don't seem to agree. Giada describes him as intriguing with star potential. His dish (Nantucket Crab Cakes with Maple Bacon Cream Corn) is a hit as well. I know it's early, but I'm beginning to wonder if this guy is the next Guy Fieri.

Joy effortlessly knocks it out of the park again. Even Tregaye says so. Bobby: "She's strong." Unfortunately, her dish (Bleu Cheese Crostini with Bacon and Seared Scallop) bombs. The scallops are overcooked and Bobby doesn't like the combo of scallops with bleu cheese. Giada: "Loved her presentation. Didn't love her food."

Jernard, aka The Chef of Love, jolts everyone with a pitch he didn't bust out during the earlier session, and I don't know why: "My grandpa had thirty-two kids. And guess what? I've got nine of my own." This cracks everyone up. Erin: "And you get a baby, and you get a baby, and you get a baby...I'm just like, I don't want a baby." He then continues to blow away the audience with a list of foods he'd like to prepare for them. Tyler says no doubt about Jernard's potential, while Valerie comments that she won't forget him anytime soon. They are less blown away by his dish, Shrimp and Grits with Bacon Cream Sauce. Tyler likes the dish but just doesn't think it's very original.

Ana is next and Tregaye gets the claws out. But Ana has recovered from her previous on-camera disaster. She is poised and comfortable and her pitch is going great, so of course we're treated to a shot of Tregaye looking less than happy about it. She then one-ups Jernard in the memorable lines department when she quips, "Latin flavors are enhancers, they're like a pushup bra for food," - cue Giada looking shocked - then adds, "There's nothing wrong with that." And the audience goes wild. Even Tregaye has to admit, "She was cute." Bobby plays Captain Obvious by pointing out that Ana was the most improved, but it gets even better. Clearly there was some creative editing going on with the kitchen footage, because Ana's dish of Cuban Fritas (Burgers) with Matchstick Fries draws the biggest raves so far. Bobby in particular can't shut up about how perfect her burger is. He even proclaims, "This is going to be Burger of the Month at Bobby's Burger Palace before you know it. I'm totally serious." Whatever happened to the fries (Giada described them as more like chips) apparently didn't hurt the taste and is glossed over.

Now it's time for some humble pie. Tregaye's new cold open is a shocker. She didn't just reel it in a bit, she backed the car over it several times and left it for dead. There's no spark and she doesn't even smile until the very end. They even cut to Rob pretending to snooze. Maybe they could find a paint drying documentary to help him stay awake. However, the judges like her Pan Seared Fish and Grits with Tomato Swiss Chard Sauce.

Damiano and his model good looks and nearly-indecipherable Italian accent are next. Aaron comments that Damiano could be saying anything and the women would all swoon. They prove him right. His dish (Filet Mignon Tartare with Sauteed Fennel) on the other hand is described as "flavorless". Tyler: "Do they have salt in Tuscany?" Bobby: "No." Since his pitch was about making Italian desserts, Giada wonders why he didn't go with a pastry.

Havird comes across as likeable and sweet per Valerie, but Giada points out that with all the Southern chefs, he needs to find a way to stand out. Unfortunately his dish (Curry Cilantro Chicken Salad) makes him stand out for all the wrong reasons. Earlier, while in the kitchen, we saw him having trouble with a too hot grill, and the burnt chicken has a bitter taste that puts off all the judges.

Yaku's new cold open is a bit of a puzzler. While he previous highlighted his San Francisco roots, now all of a sudden he's talking about southern cooking. His Steakhouse Bar-B-Ku gets mixed reviews. According to Bobby, Yaku didn't season his meat, but the spicy sauce is well-liked. And so far, no beard hairs in the food.

Melissa unfortunately has not taken Giada's "don't be negative" advice, as she listlessly pitches remaking "not so good for you food" and brings up her food allergies right off the bat. It's agreed that her choice of words is off-putting, as is her dish (Crab Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce). While Valerie likes the simplicity and crab taste, Giada doesn't like the sauce, with Tyler adding that the peppers were not cooked enough to lose their acidity.

So we return to the soundstage for the first elimination of Season 12.

My top three: Rob, Ana, Joy
The judges' top 3: Rob (Bobby: "You're a little bit unpredictable. I like that."), Monterey (Giada: "You have a sparkle."), Ana (Bobby started running at the mouth again about her burger: "I am totally stealing ideas from that dish.")

My bottom 3: Melissa, Aaron, Tregaye (yeah, I admit it's partially because she was so catty, but I wouldn't watch her show even if she won - I just found her off-putting)
The judges' bottom three: Melissa, Havird, Aaron

My choice for elimination: Melissa
The judges' choice: Havird

Observations: I think Melissa was lucky to escape the axe. I don't care how many YouTube videos she's done, she just didn't have any spark and ignored Giada's advice to make her message sound positive. I also have to say I was pleasantly surprised by how strong many of the contestants are. I could easily eliminate a couple more, but after that it's going to be tough to see some of these people go.

Also, they're doing Star Salvation again, which will pit eliminated contestants against each other, with the winner getting another shot on Food Network Star. Tune in next week to see who will be joining Havird in the Star Salvation kitchen.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Food Network Star is back this Sunday

My new issue of Food Network Magazine arrived the other day with a couple of pages introducing the contestants who will battle for the chance to score a show of their own. The new season kicks off this Sunday night.

Out of all the years they've done this show, I've only watched a full season twice, a couple years ago when Lenny the cowboy took the crown, and the season before that when sweet-natured Southern girl Damaris Phillips won. Damaris' resulting show (Southern at Heart) just ended recently, while some of Lenny's previous bad boy behavior that somehow didn't come to light until after his win apparently scuttled his Food Network aspirations. The only real, lasting star to come out of 11 seasons of these competitions is Guy Fieri. That's not a great track record. Makes me wonder about their casting.

Anyway, the reason I mentioned this is that when I did watch full seasons, eventually I would kick myself for not blogging/recapping the show. So I'm going to do it this time around. Hopefully they got an interesting group for this go round.

Here's the new lineup and my uninformed take on the contestants before I've even had a chance to see them in action. Hey, Food Network Magazine provided the scorecard, so I blame them. In addition, I've heard internet chat that a lot of cooking show contestants make the rounds of different shows, so I also hit up imdb to find their prior credits. UPDATE: It turns out imdb isn't a good source for cooking show contestants, so I removed that info from this post. You can see why some of them look familiar here.

Havird Usry: Nothing about him really jumps out, which is a big handicap when you're trying to persuade someone to put you on television. Hey, he owns his own cafe and event planning company, so he'll get along just fine without a TV show.

Erin Campbell: She manages a cake shop, wants to do a comfort food show, has a German Shepherd (I'm jealous) and loves chocolate. I like her already. Don't ruin it for me, Erin.

Damiano Carrara: Basically his dream show is Bakery Rescue. I think Food Network already has a few rescue/revamp/rehab shows. But hey, I don't think they have a bakery one yet, so who knows.

Melissa Pfeister: Her competitive edge quote puts her up there with Erin. Except, Food Network used  to be about the home cook. Now it's every kind of competition imaginable, precocious kids, and actresses whose acting careers are no longer keeping them busy. More power to her if she can bring back the kind of show FN used  to be about.

Jernard Wells: Not sure how I feel about him. His enormous family will probably play huge here. But he put a frozen turkey in a deep fryer and it exploded, and he lists it as a "funniest" fail? An incident like that could have put a dent even in a family the size of his. As for his dream show, pretty much any show can do a party planning episode. I guess we'll see how his approach would set him apart (or not).

Tregaye Fraser: Jamie Oliver and South Park  already tried the school cafeteria makeover thing. I'm not saying it isn't a noble proposition, just that it's been done. Props to her though for her nonprofit work.

Ana Quincoces: I don't know if they photoshopped her picture, but she looks damn good for 50. But it seems like her dream show is basically a Latin Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, and again, it's been done.

Aaron Crumbaugh: Somebody online is going to hammer him for his foie gras love, you just know it. Probably PETA. It will be interesting to see how he flips the table-back-to-farm thing. That could be interesting if executed well.

Monterey Salka: Get someone to pay you to travel and eat? GENIUS. I like her already. And having acted does give her an edge. It's amazing how many contestants have great personalities and pitches, then just fall apart when they have to perform in front of the camera, because it's harder than it looks.

Yaku Moton-Spruill: Get someone to pay you to cook for celebrities? GENIUS. I'm wondering if the sense of humor he displays in this profile will come across on camera, because if so, he's going to be one of the ones to watch. That beard though...might be a problem. I'm already dreading the moment he's eliminated because of a hair in food. When I was in culinary school everyone had to have their hair pulled up or back, because you do not  want hair in the food. We couldn't have our nails polished either (not even gels and they're pretty indestructible) because again, stuff in food is bad, mmmkay?

Joy Thompson: Her show is a peek into her work and home life. Don't you already need to be famous for people to want to see that? Maybe that's why FN has so many celebrity shows - viewers think they're getting a peek into their personal lives. Sorry Joy, but everything about her profile screams first elimination. I marvel that she A) made it through what had to have been a heavily populated casting process, and B) the magazine's editor didn't suggest to her that she punch up her profile.

Rob Burmeister: Not sure what the market is for shows about leftovers. He might be great on camera, but the concept is a head-scratcher to me. On the other hand, it's a show I haven't seen before and it might really appeal to people with families to feed.

In addition, there's a batch of previously failed contestants currently battling for a spot. I'm assuming they were fan favorites that just had a bad week, because otherwise I can't imagine why you'd bring back prior losers. We'll see, I guess. I'll update this post when I find out which one it is. UPDATE: Martita Jara from Season 8 gets another shot at Food Network stardom.

You can learn a lot more than the magazine provided about the contestants here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Sunday, May 15, 2016

5 Movies on an Island Blogathon...ONLY 5???

In honor of May 16 being National Classic Movie Day, the fine folks over at the Classic Film and TV Cafe are hosting their second annual 5 Movies on an Island Blogathon and are welcoming all comers. I've never participated in a blogathon, but since this one is right up my alley, I decided to take a shot at it. The only problem I have is narrowing it done to only five. If it was A Couple Thousand Movies on an Island I could make that work. But rules are rules, so here in no particular order are five that would help fill the hours if I was stranded on an island (with electricity, a projector and a big screen, of course).

Just a note that I decided to go with some films that don't seem to be as well-known to modern audiences who aren't rabid classic movie fans. This meant skipping some of my more obvious favorites, including All About Eve, Double Indemnity, Singin' in the Rain, Sunset Boulevard, Yankee Doodle Dandy and It's a Wonderful Life.

Twentieth Century-Fox, 1949
Starring Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Southern, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Winner of the Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay
Also nominated for Best Picture

Deborah Bishop (Crain), Lora Mae Hollingsway (Darnell) and Rita Phipps (Southern) are three country club wives about to embark on a day of charity work when they're handed a letter sent by another local woman, Addie Ross. The letter is addressed to all three and informs them that by the end of the day Addie will have run off with one of their husbands. She doesn't mention which one.

As the day progresses, each of the wives flashes back to significant moments in their marriages that might give their husbands cause to stray. At the end of the day's activities they head home to change for a night at the club and to finally learn which one of them has lost her man to Addie.

Addie is never seen, only heard in a voice over provided by Celeste Holm, who would play a much more visible role in Mankiewicz's next film, All About Eve. As expected with Mankiewicz, the cast turns in terrific performances. For me the standout is Linda Darnell as a poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks (seriously, the train literally rattles their house) who uses her stunning beauty to snag her rich boss in what feels like more of a business transaction than genuine love. Largely forgotten by modern audiences, Darnell was huge star back then and in my opinion is one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen on screen. She died tragically young (aged 41) from injuries sustained in a house fire.

For a lot of viewers, the ending is a bit ambiguous as to which husband was poached by Addie. There's a great thread here on imdb which shows the variety of interpretations. My vote is for Deborah's husband Brad.

PRC Pictures, 1945
Starring Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Edmund MacDonald and Claudia Drake
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Screenplay by Martin Goldsmith

Struggling musician Al Roberts (Neal) is hitchhiking from New York to Los Angeles to be reunited with his aspiring singer girlfriend (Drake) and everything that can go wrong does go wrong. He is picked up by a fast-talking skirt-chaser named Charles Haskell (MacDonald), who in addition to sporting scratch marks from a previous pick up is ominously popping unidentified pills. While Al is taking a shift at the wheel, Haskell dies in his sleep. When Al opens the passenger door to try and wake him, Haskell falls out and his lifeless head slams into a rock. Worried that police will think he killed the man, Al hides the body and takes off, assuming Haskell's name, identity and car, and resumes his drive west.

The next day Al picks up a bedraggled young woman looking for a ride, despite her odd behavior toward him. He introduces himself as Charles Haskell and wouldn't you know it, Vera (Savage) knows better, because as it turns out she's the one who left her claw marks on the dead man. She uses this knowledge to blackmail Al, who is terrified she will turn him into the police and he becomes her literal prisoner. Once in California he hopes to shed Vera and never see her again, a plan that is fine with her until she discovers that the real Haskell's wealthy, long-estranged father is on his deathbed and hatches a scheme to pass Al off as the long-lost son and heir and collect the Haskell fortune. With the sword she holds over his head, Al has no choice but to reluctantly play along.

The star of this show is Ann Savage. Vera is a ruthless, malevolent force of nature and Savage makes her terrifying. You have no trouble believing she can wear a man down until there's nothing left of him. Vera is repellent and devoid of humanity, yet as an audience we can't take our eyes off her. Savage manages to be compellingly watchable, despite how much we loathe her and dread her next move. It's an amazing performance.

I actually blogged this movie a couple years ago. That much more extensive review can be found here.

United Artists, 1950
Starring Peggy Cummins and John Dall
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
Screenplay by MacKinlay Kantor and Millard Kaufman (actually a blacklisted Dalton Trumbo)

Barton Tare (Dall) meets his match when a carnival featuring sharp-shooter Annie Laurie Starr (Cummins) comes to town. The collision between the two sets off sparks and they soon marry and embark on a non-carny life together. Unfortunately, Bart's new wife is more of an adrenalin junkie than housewife, plus she's not happy about their dire finances. She soon pushes Bart into carrying out a series of robberies with her that improve their finances but eat at his soul. He wants his wife to be happy, but he just doesn't have her killer instinct. In the spirit of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, their life of crime comes to an inevitable early end.

In addition to Cummins' spitfire performance, Gun Crazy is famous for a bank heist scene that was filmed in one long continuous take from the back seat of the getaway car. There's a great imdb thread about it here.

Gun Crazy  has a lot of similarities to Detour. Both feature morally corrupt women who wear down and ruin their respective men with their criminal schemes, as well as female leads who practically jump off the screen. I would go so far as to suggest neither of these films would be considered memorable today without Savage and Cummins.

First National Pictures, 1921
Starring Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan and Edna Purviance
Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Screenplay by Charlie Chaplin

This tearjerking silent film follows Chaplin's poverty stricken Little Tramp as he tries to keep from losing an orphan he found and unofficially adopted as an infant. Child actor Jackie Coogan, who was all of 7 years old when this film was released, is relentlessly adorable and staggeringly talented in a time where film was in its infancy and there was really no precedence for a performance like this from a child actor. Years before Shirley Temple was even born, Coogan gave a stunning performance in what was only his third role and the first in which he actually received credit. The kid actually held his own with Chaplin! Even better news: The Kid  recently received the Criterion treatment.

Selznick International Pictures, 1940
Starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson, George Sanders, Nigel Bruce, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Denny and C. Aubrey Smith
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison
Winner of the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Black & White Cinematography
Also nominated for Best Actor (Olivier), Best Actress (Fontaine), Best Supporting Actress (Anderson), Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Black & White Art Direction, Best Editing, Best Special Effects and Best Score

A shy, mousey young woman (Fontaine) earning her keep as a rich widow's paid companion finds herself wooed by rich, sophisticated English widower Maxim de Winter (Olivier). She quickly becomes the second Mrs. de Winter, only to find herself overshadowed by the late, seemingly flawless first Mrs. de Winter when the newlyweds return to the family home of Manderley. The twists and turns go on from there and it turns out the title character - the late Rebecca - maybe wasn't as perfect as she's made out to be.

There is so much to love about this film. You can't help but pull for the unassuming Fontaine to find a way to assert herself in her overwhelming new surroundings. George Sanders plays his usual shameless cad to the hilt. Despite their brief appearances, Cooper and Bruce are delightfully supportive as Maxim de Winter's sister and brother-in-law. Maxim's reveal about his relationship with his late wife and what may or may not have lead to her death is a shocker. And of course, there's Anderson's Oscar-nominated turn as the coldly sinister Mrs. Danvers, whose obsessive devotion to her late mistress will eventually devour Manderley.

A couple of interesting facts about Rebecca: It was the first film Hitchcock made in Hollywood and the only one of his many legendary films to capture the Best Picture Oscar. Also, just as in the Daphne Du Maurier novel on which the film was based, Fontaine's character has no first name.

Have a wonderful National Classic Film Day!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

That awkward moment...

...when you're working on a story and one of your characters needs a fake gun to make it look like she's packing:

It's for a short story. Really, officer.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Orwell's final warning

I've said more than a few times that Orwell got it right with 1984, he was just off by a few decades.

"Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." - George Orwell

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A great guide to naming your characters

Over at Final Draft, there's a great article about coming up with fitting and memorable names for your characters. Some points I thought were especially worth mentioning:

In real life a guy named Michael can be dating a girl named Michelle, or a guy named Robert might be friends with a guy named Richard, but you're writing a screenplay, and you want it to read well. It doesn't matter how engaging your story is, or how richly nuanced your characters are, if there isn't enough distinction between your characters' names, it will make it a confusing read and act as an eyesore.

Let's look at the three main characters in the original Ghostbusters: Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler. So we've go three characters whose first names all begin with a different letter. Peter and Egon both have two syllables in their names, Ray has one; and one of the names, "Egon", is an unusual name (the other two are more common). This is a good template to follow. If you were reading the script for Ghostbusters, it's likely you wouldn't have a problem distinguishing Peter, Ray, and Egon from one another. 

If you character is an "every man" or "every woman", then a common name should be used. Not that Peter and Ray are the more "down-to-earth" Ghostbusters whereas Egon is the highly cerebral one whose hobby is collecting "spores, molds and fungus." His name is appropriately offbeat. From Screech on Saved By The Bell to Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, giving the "uber nerd" or "outsider" character an unusual name is a well-tested technique.

It's good advice. I once participated in an online writing class where we had to critique each other's work. One student started all of her characters' names with the letter A. All of them. It may have seemed clever or quirky to her, but the rest of us agreed that it was distracting and made it hard to keep the characters straight.

You can check out the entire article here. It's definitely worth a read.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Queen of Twitter parody accounts

There are many wonderful things about Twitter and one of the very best things is parody accounts. A really good parody account can waste hours of your life scrolling and LOLing.

IMO, this is one of the better ones I've seen lately - all hail Her Majesty (not) The Queen!

Me too, Your Highness.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Your feel-good story of the day: Service dog included in 7th grade owner's yearbook

Look at those precious faces.

The whole awesome story (that I snicked the pic from) is here.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Hey, I get to do a PIT maneuver!

While I was wandering the grounds of the amazing and gorgeous Upton Sinclair house (see previous post) on Sunday, I got an email about something I had completely forgotten about. It was from Writers' Police Academy. When I registered in February, everyone had the option to request to participate in some extra activities outside of the classrooms. Those spots are doled out by lottery, so there's no guarantee. May 1 was the day they notified us if we made it and what we'd be doing. I was hoping to shoot, but was pleased when this popped up in my inbox:

Hello from the WPA volunteers,
When you registered for the academy, you indicated you were interested in one or more of our special classes. You have been selected for Chase Stop Maneuver.
This course was previously called Pursuit Immobilization Technique. Or how to bring a high-speed pursuit to an end. You will drive the pursuit vehicle that catches and makes contact with the fleeing suspect’s car, causing it to lose traction. Definitely a heart-pounding workshop!
Since the class involves driving a vehicle, a driver’s license check is required. Please reply to this email with your Last name, First name, MI, Date of Birth, State of residence, and Driver’s License Number. Your timeliness will be appreciated.
You will receive the time and date of your session with your registration package.
If you didn’t ask for this class or have lost interest in it, please let us know so we can release your slot to someone else.
Thank you for registering and we’re looking forward to seeing you in August,

As a Southern Californian, I am of course an expert at watching car chases on TV and yelling, "NOW!!!" at said TV for the cops to do the PIT maneuver and bring the chase to a safe end. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's going to be a bit more difficult when I'm in the driver's seat of the pursuing vehicle (that would be da cop car) than when I'm firmly planted on my couch.

From the WPA's website:

High Speed Pursuit! You will drive the pursuit vehicle that catches and makes contact with the fleeing suspect's car, causing it to lose traction. Definitely a heart-pounding workshop!

Heart-pounding and fun, and probably extremely humbling. We'll see what an expert I am.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Monrovia Historic Homes Tour

Last Sunday I took Mom to the annual Monrovia Historic Homes Tour. We'd been a number of times back before she moved out of state for a few years, but we hadn't been back to see the beautifully restored homes since then.

The tour used to be on Mother's Day, but this year the Monrovia Historic Preservation Group decided to move it to the first Sunday in May. The weather cooperated - it was a beautiful, cool day.

I didn't get a lot of pictures as interior photography was prohibited. You can see some interior shots on their site here.

We stopped at the Monrovia Historical Museum first. They had some items for sale and I picked up an old menu from The Derby Restaurant in Arcadia. I'm going to have to do some research on it, but it might be an original. The Bacon-Wrapped Filet dinner is a mind-boggling $2.75.

Part of the museum is dedicated to law enforcement in the town over the years. I just loved this part of the exhibit:

Click for a bigger image to read the
plaque: "Kids - Try on the uniforms".
Great way to reach out to kids.

The houses we visited were all beautiful. We hit a couple of Craftsmans, a Tudor and the Upton Sinclair House, which, while officially a Spanish Colonial Revival, defies description. We were so boggled by the Sinclair House that we completely blanked on visiting the last house.

California Craftsman.

Gargoyle standing watch over one
of the tour houses.

And of course, the Upton Sinclair House:

Even the front door is amazing.

The house is unusual in that the walls and floors are cement. The owner has done an unbelievable job decorating and furnishing. She has done things that don't sound like they would work, but they do. For example, she painted the walls gray. And just for fun, when the light hits them a certain way, they take on a lavender hue. My Mom kept wondering if the owner was an interior decorator or set decorator, and the place does look like something out of a movie. I snagged a couple of pictures of the interior from the preservation group's website:

They still don't do the place justice. Despite the color of the walls, the place was very bright. I told my Mom if I lived in a place like that, I'd never leave my home. We just couldn't get over it.

Originally built in 1923, the house was the home of writer Upton Sinclair from 1942 until 1966. The house was damaged in a 1991 earthquake, shifting off its foundation and suffering cracks to the walls and ceilings. The then owners wanted to demolish the house, which led to a battle between them and preservationists that lasted several years. The owners finally accepted an insurance settlement and gave up the house. The subsequent owner repaired the home by adding to the foundation where the house had come off of it. The current owner bought it about four years ago.

If you've never taken the tour, I highly recommend it if you have any interest in historic California architecture. Next year's tour is May 7, 2017.