Sunday, April 30, 2023

April Words of Wisdom

Agriculture is the first and most important of all the arts and the tiller of the soil still represents the natural order of things willed by God. --Pope Pius XII
There's more beauty in the truth, even if it is a dreadful beauty. --John Steinbeck

I would rather stand and have everybody my enemy than to go along with the crowd to destruction. --A.W. Tozer
The more you tell the truth, the stronger you become...And of course, the opposite is also true. The more you lie, the weaker and more terrified you become. --Tucker Carlson
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. --John Steinbeck
We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men. --George Orwell

There are few modest talents so richly rewarded - especially in politics and the media - as the ability to portray parasites as victims, and portray demands for preferential treatment as struggles for equal rights. --Thomas Sowell

More of your conversation would infect my brain. --William Shakespeare (Coriolanus)

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Recent reading: "In-N-Out Burger"

In-N-Out Burger:
A Behind-the-Counter Look at the Fast-Food Chain That Breaks All the Rules
by Stacy Perman

This is a wonderfully comprehensive story of the legendary Southern California-born burger chain that has remained family-owned through three generations. Founded in Baldwin Park in 1948 by Harry and Esther Snyder, the first In-N-Out was a modest operation that grew into a beloved institution that has always kept food quality and exceptional service at the forefront of its operations, while resisting pressure or temptation to take the path of franchising or going public as other successful chains have done, often to their detriment.

The Snyders had a simple philosophy of offering great food and service while treating their associates (as In-N-Out has always referred to their employees) like family. Well paid and often staying with the company for years, associates start at the bottom and are given ample opportunity to move up through the ranks; in fact, In-N-Out prefers home grown talent.
A large part of In-N-Out's history has to do with the California car culture. Snyder was one of the first to utilize the concept of the drive-through lane. As the company grew, stores were strategically located near on- and off-ramps as Southern California's notorious freeway system expanded over the years. It wasn't until the 1990's when they began opening in more urban areas beginning with an In-N-Out in Westwood by UCLA. 
Harry and Esther had two sons: Harry Jr. (known as Guy) and Rich. Harry developed a love for auto racing and speed in general leading to a 1970's motorcycle crash, the injuries of which would lead to a prescription drug addiction that would eventually kill him. Rich, considered the more mature and business-like of the two brothers, took over as the head of In-N-Out when Harry Snyder passed away in 1976. When Rich died in a private plane crash just before Christmas 1993, he had expanded the chain from 18 to 93 locations while maintaining the dedication to quality established by his parents.

After Rich's death Guy took over with Esther, who would survive until 2006, at his side. Although he had held a Vice President title, by this time Guy's drug-abuse had sidelined him from pretty much any In-N-Out activities and Rich was in the process of buying him out altogether. But since the paperwork hadn't been signed, Guy was still in. He kept In-N-Out's limited expansion and high standards in place by basically following the blueprint developed by Rich. Guy was devoted to the family business, but continued to struggle with drug addiction and no one seemed to be able to force him to face up to his demons. As a result his health deteriorated and he died of heart failure brought on by his drug abuse in 1999, and since Rich had died childless, Guy's daughter Lynsi became the sole heir to In-N-Out Burger.
One thing I didn't notice until I finished the book is that it was published in 2010, so there's been a lot of In-N-Out growth since then. And yet the company still remains in the hands of the Snyder family, still offers great food and service, and remains a beloved Southern California icon with a fanatically devoted following. I'd love to see a more updated version. If you decide to purchase the book, look for the 2010 paperback that includes an update to the original 2009 edition.

The book begins with coverage of an April 2007 opening of the first In-N-Out Burger in Tucson, Arizona, describing the frenzy that accompanied the store's first day of operations as fans descended on it, then tells the story of Harry and Esther and their little burger stand from the beginning. It's a terrific read about the power of family, integrity, and hard work, with some local Southern California history as a backdrop of the story. Just a warning, though: this book will make you crave In-N-Out.

From the book:
One of In-N-Out's most successful marketing strategies came in the form of bumper stickers. In Southern California, starting in the early 1980's, placing an In-N-Out sticker on the back of one's car signified membership in a peculiar sort of club; all along the freeways, horns were honked, thumbs were raised, and head were tipped in recognition.
At one point, it became common practice among young men across the Southland to excise the "B" and "R" from the word B-U-R-G-E-R, modifying the sticker to read "IN-IN-OUT URGE"; the clean-cut company was not amused. As a result, the chain discontinued the original sticker and printed up a new one. This time a well-placed image of a Double-Double was placed on the spot where the word "burger" once stood.
LOL, I remember those IN-N-OUT URGE stickers...

Monday, April 24, 2023

Not gonna lie, this is disappointing

I was thinking about going back to the L.A. Times Festival of Books this year for the first time since The Plague shut things down in 2020, but I ended up home this weekend working on school assignments. 
One reason I wanted to go (in addition to hitting up the discount booksellers and adding about a dozen more books I don't need to the "will I ever get around to reading this" pile) was learning that legendary Los Angeles writer James Ellroy would be present. I've been a fan of his work for years, especially both the novel and film version of L.A. Confidential. Now I'm glad I missed it: James Ellroy Says He Can Now Disparage Curtis Hanson's "L.A. Confidential" Adaptation. Not gonna lie, I was stunned to read this.

When L.A. Confidential was released in 1997 Ellroy was very active in promoting it. I remember him saying that the book and the film adaption both stood on their own successfully, like two sides of the same coin. I even wrote a paper about the adaptation in a film class in the early 2000's using examples of the differences between the novel and film, characters and subplots that were reduced or eliminated, and I remember reading quotes from Ellroy praising the adaptation. In fact, I particularly remember a comment in which, having sold the rights to the novel to Warner Bros., Ellroy said that he and his agent considered it unadaptable and as a result I titled the paper "Adapting the Unadaptable". But it turned out that Ellroy and his agent were wrong.
While researching the paper, I don't remember seeing one negative comment from Ellroy about the film, director Curtis Hanson, the script adaptation by Hanson and Brian Helgeland (for which they earned a well-deserved Academy Award), or the stellar acting. Kim Basinger won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of elegant call girl Lynn Bracken and the film introduced American audiences to Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe, thank you very much. The film also earned nominations for Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Art/Set Direction, Sound, Film Editing, and Original Dramatic Score, all of which were lost to Titanic. I've seen it mentioned multiple times over the years that if L.A. Confidential had been released in any other year than Titanic, it would have dominated its Oscars, something I happen to agree with. In fact, what I find interesting that despite ruling the Academy Awards that year, there was one category in which James "King of the World" Cameron's epic failed to score even a nomination: that of screenplay.

Adapting a novel into a film or TV show is an art form completely separate than writing a novel or an original screenplay, or developing an original television series. There's different expectations from readers and viewers. Just one example - if I'm reading a novel, I don't expect to get through it in one sitting. It doesn't feel odd to stop at some point and return to it later. With a film, on the other hand, the theater experience expectation is that you'll sit through the whole thing without interruption. Even viewing at home, if you stop watching partway through, there's a good chance it's because the film isn't meeting your expectations or attention sufficiently to stick with it. And television is a whole other animal because you have to take a limited story and figure out how to stretch it over a number of seasons/years.

Another thing to consider is that despite several efforts, the Hanson/Helgeland version of L.A. Confidential is the only adaptation that was successful. An HBO pilot that more closely followed the novel was produced in 2003 (with Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Vincennes and Eric Roberts as Pierce Patchett) but failed to receive an order to series. Another unsuccessful attempt was made by CBS in 2019, with Walt Goggins as Vincennes. In fact, of all the Ellroy works that have been filmed, not one has been anywhere near as successful as L.A. Confidential. I don't know why, after all these years, he felt the need to disparage the 1997 version and the filmmakers who were so passionate about it. 

I'm glad I wasn't in that Festival of Books audience - it would have been shocking and depressing to have to listen to Ellroy rip on such fine work and the amazing people involved in producing one of my all-time favorite films based on one of my all-time favorite novels. Even worse that Ellroy mentioned Hanson's death as a reason to express his displeasure with the film twenty-five years after the fact. Maybe Ellroy should have followed his own advice, taken the high road, and kept this particular opinion (in the immortal words of Sid Hudgens), "Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush." 

Updated 4/25/23: Check out the comments in this thread. I'm not the only one who thinks L.A. Confidential is an all-time great.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Screening: "The Big Lebowski"

The Big Lebowski (1998)
Directed/Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Elliott, John Turturro, Tara Reid

Fathom Events presented The Big Lebowski on the big screen in honor of the film's 25th anniversary and as part of its Classics series. I saw it on Sunday; it's also screening Wednesday evening.
It's hard to describe The Big Lebowski as it's a very unique story. From the brilliant and offbeat minds of the Coen brothers, it follows the "adventures" of The Dude, real name Jeff Lebowski (Bridges), who wants nothing more than to smoke pot, drink White Russians, and go bowling with his buddies Walter (Goodman) and Donny (Buscemi). But the Dude's mellow existence is upended when he's mistaken for another Jeffrey Lebowski (Huddleston), a wealthy older man whose trophy wife Bunny (Reid) owes money all over town. When one of the people she owes sends goons to The Dude's apartment and one of them urinates on his living room rug, The Dude - egged on by the bombastic Walter - pays a visit to The Big Lebowski, requesting he be compensated for the rug because, "It really tied the room together." He's blown off by the millionaire, who considers him a bum. But when Bunny is kidnapped and a ransom demanded, The Big Lebowski cuts a deal with The Dude - if he deals with the kidnappers to deliver the ransom and recover Bunny, there's a big payoff in it for him.

But things are not as they seem. After a series of mishaps involving The Big Lebowski's adult daughter/artist/aspiring single mother Maude (Moore), the theft and eventual recovery of The Dude's POS car, nihilists, and a Malibu porn producer (among other things), The Dude discovers what really happened with Bunny and how he's been manipulated by everyone involved.

The Big Lebowski facts and trivia:
  • A lot of the clothes worn by The Dude came from Jeff Bridges' own wardrobe.
  • The list of actors that the Coens considered for The Dude before Bridges was finally cast is staggering, and kind of weird. Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Duvall, Mel Gibson, George C. Scott, Andy Griffith, and Ernest Borgnine were all considered.
  • Charlize Theron was considered for the role of Bunny Lebowski. 
  • The roles of Walter and Donny were written with Goodman and Buscemi in mind.
  • The story was inspired by the works of Raymond Chandler, but set in modern day Los Angeles.
  • The dream bowling sequence was inspired by the films of Busby Berkeley.
  • The Dude says his favorite word, "man", 147 times in the film.
  • The word "dude" is heard 160 times in the film.
  • The "F" word and its many variations are heard almost 300 times in the film. 
  • When the film was released in 1998, it met with mixed reviews and an anemic box office performance. Since then it has attained cult status. Over the years, in addition to its growing popularity it also spawned Lebowski Fest and Dudeism.
  • T-Bone Burnett, who served as music consultant on the film, suggested The Dude's loathing of The Eagles, which Burnett shared. Later, Jeff Bridges was confronted at a party by an unhappy Glenn Frey.
  • The Dude's apartment is located at 606 Venezia Avenue in Venice, CA. The Big Lebowski's mansion is located at 10231 Charing Cross Road (just off Sunset Boulevard) in Los Angeles (exteriors) and Greystone Mansion at 905 Loma Vista Road (just off Doheny Road) in Beverly Hills (interiors). 
  • The Ralphs grocery store where we first see The Dude is located on Huntington Drive in South Pasadena, although its street address is 1745 Garfield Avenue (the cross street). I shopped there a few times while living in Arcadia. Nice store.
  • The bowling scenes were filmed at Hollywood Star Lanes in East Hollywood. The bowling alley has since been torn down and replaced by an elementary school.
  • The intersection where The Dude was kicked out of the taxi is Jefferson and Dusquene in Culver City.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

RIP Anne Perry

Prolific, best-selling author Anne Perry has died. She was 84 years old and had been in ill health since having a heart attack in December.

Anne Perry at the 2015 California Crime Writers Conference

I discussed Perry's background here in a review of a biography of her.  Prior to taking the name Anne Perry, she was Juliet Hulme, who along with her friend Pauline Parker murdered Pauline's mother Honora Reiper in 1954 when the girls were 15-16 years old. The crime - along with the girls' obsessive friendship - was the subject of Peter Jackson's fantastic 1994 film Heavenly Creatures. Kate Winslet portrayed Juliet, while Melanie Lynskey, who is currently killing it in Yellowjackets, was Pauline. It was the motion picture debut for both actresses. Great film, I highly recommend it.

A few years back Perry left her home in Scotland and relocated to Los Angeles to better facilitate Hollywood productions of her works but I never heard of any resulting projects, and her imdb entry only lists The Cater Street Hangman, a 1998 TV movie based on her 1979 debut novel. On the other hand, she kept publishing novels right up to her death.

I first saw Perry in person at the L.A. Times Festival of Books some years ago, and also at the 2015 California Crime Writers Conference where she was a keynote speaker. At these appearances her past was never brought up and it didn't seem to hurt or hinder her career. I always had somewhat mixed feelings about Perry - she served her sentence and was productive and law-abiding thereafter, but back when I read The Cater Street Hangman it felt weird to be reading a murder story written by someone who'd actually done it. Based on what I've read about her, she put the murder behind her and got on with her life, describing it as a youthful mistake that she had paid the price for. She was also an amazingly prolific author, publishing over sixty works since her 1979 debut. 

RIP Anne Perry.

"Ava": Interrupted


So today I was supposed to blog about the Geffen Playhouse's "Ava: The Secret Conversations" starring Elizabeth McGovern. I'd never been to the Geffen and was looking forward to checking out a new theater as well as the show itself, which sounded amazing. It's about the writing of legendary star Ava Gardner's biography, which occurred later in her life as she fought the effects of a stroke, aging, and her drinking and smoking. I'm a sucker for anything to do with historic Hollywood, and seeing McGovern was going to be an additional treat. I'm a fan of the Downton Abbey TV series, and I remember her back in the 1980's when she was a stunning and talented starlet with what looked like a superstar future.
The play was fantastic and was progressing well until, about halfway through the show, the lights went out. Yep, power outage. Of all the dates I could have selected, I was at the one where there was an outage in Westwood. The actors (McGovern and Aaron Cotsa Ganis, who plays the writer trying to wrangle the uncooperative Ava's life story) held their positions for about five seconds to see if the lights would return, and when they didn't, McGovern turned to the audience and chirped, "Hello!" It was freaking adorable.

The theater's wonderful stage manager came out a couple of times to let us know they were attempting to get information from Southern California Edison about restoring power, and after about fifteen minutes had to announce the news wasn't good and they were going to have to call it a night. The audience was disappointed, but was also cooperative and understanding. We were informed that we'll hear from the box office on Thursday about rescheduling. I'm really hoping they can work that out - the half of the show I saw was spectacular. Both actors are off the charts amazing. Hopefully I can see the whole thing soon and post a review. 

One thing that really blew me away was finding out that McGovern also wrote this play. I didn't realize that until I was reading the Playbill before the show started. It's not enough that she's a great actress, but based on the part of the show I saw she's also an amazing writer. 
Updated: Rescheduled for May!

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Easter Sunday


Thursday, April 6, 2023

This is gonna be tough to watch. Inspiring, but tough.

I just stumbled across this on Deadline. It's the trailer for a documentary on actor Michael J. Fox, focusing on his rise to stardom and his decades-long battle with Parkinson's disease. This came as a complete surprise to me - I hadn't heard anything about this film before, but apparently it screened at Sundance and is being released in May.

I remember Fox's Family Ties/Back to the Future days and the stratospheric superstardom that followed. I also remember the day I was sitting at my desk at one of the many crappy, low-paying, soul-sucking jobs that I had over the years and my Mom calling to tell me that someone was making a movie at the local mall in City of Industry where I had spent a chunk of my teens and early twenties. My response was that if they were filming there, it was probably a low-budget piece of crap. I couldn't have been more wrong. The Puente Hills Mall, which is still in operation, would soon become better known to moviegoers as the Twin Pines/Lone Pine Mall in Hill Valley, home to Marty McFly.

Back to the Future was released in 1985 and Fox, already popular on the sitcom Family Ties, skyrocketed to the top of Hollywood. But only a few years later he would start to experience symptoms that eventually led to a diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease. Since revealing the diagnosis, which he kept secret for a number of years, Fox has been a huge advocate for fighting the disease.

As much as I respect Fox for not hiding himself and his condition over the years, it's been hard to watch him deteriorate from the energetic, beloved screen presence to what his disease has done to him. I still haven't been able to watch his acceptance speech from a few months back when he was presented with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award a few months back, soon after pictures and video of his reunion with Christopher Lloyd at Comic Con revealed him to appear to be in really rough shape, and even after being told the Hersholt speech was funny and entertaining and worth watching. It may be selfish, but I'd like my mental image of him to be from the Marty McFly era and not the undeserving victim of a devastating disease.

I will, however, try to watch this documentary because it does look good, and maybe it will be reassuring to see that Fox has fought the good fight with a hugely positive attitude and an amazing family to support him. In the trailer he states, "I'm a tough son-of-a-bitch." Not a description that I, as a fan, would ever have associated with the hugely appealing 1980's star he was, but it sounds like it's a quality that has provided him with the fortitude to not let Parkinson's prevent him from having a meaningful life both on and off screen.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

That coveted blue check

I personally don't care about a Twitter blue verification check, but I'm also not part of the celebrity elite who like everyone to know how special they are. Also, I've heard it's $8 per month, not $5. But either way, we can't have our poor celebrities going broke to keep their blue checks. Case in point:

Imagine having LeBron money and not wanting to fork out $5 a month for a verified account. Poor baby.

I just thought the responses were funny. Because, yeah.

Saturday, April 1, 2023