Wednesday, March 29, 2017

High Drama in Screenland: Culver City Becomes a Sanctuary City!

I had known for a while that the Culver City Council would be debating whether or not to become a Sanctuary City on Monday, March 27. I had read the meeting notes of the previous meeting when the matter had been discussed and noticed the meeting had ended after midnight. I didn’t know if I could face a five-hour meeting on a Monday night, but I had to acknowledge many of my neighbors were facing much harder things. This was an important issue, and I needed to show my support. I had never attended a city council meeting before, but I have to say that the meeting was way more exciting and enlightening than a night of TV.

I had been following announcements on Indivisible Culver City’s facebook page, and there were rumors than many Pro-Trump protesters from other parts of Southern California would be coming to the meeting to disrupt it. One rumor said that a busload would be coming! In the end, it turned out to be about ten people, all of whom wore Trump hats and shirts and most of whom were outspoken (a few appeared to be long-suffering spouses, who signed up to comment and then ceded their time to their obsessive spouse).  Meanwhile many more supporters of the motion showed up, and representatives of Indivisible Culver City handed out talking points for anyone who might wish to fill out a comment card to address the council, and they also handed out “thumbs up / thumb down” and “Sanctuary NOW!” signs that we could hold up during the meeting.

The meeting began at 7:00 PM with some general announcements. The mayor spoke about the success of the Ciclavia event held in Culver City that previous weekend. This is a quarterly event where certain streets in LA are closed to cars and bikes rule for the day. Over 100,000 people attended this event! I have to say that as I was out that Sunday on our electric trike, I loved the vibe and seeing all the smiling faces. I was struck by the diversity of the crowd in terms of ethnicities and ages.  It was a wonderful community event and tons of fun.

The Council opened the floor for comments on non-agenda items. Four of the Trump fans had filled out comment cards to speak and all four got reprimanded for mentioning the Sanctuary City resolution, which was to be discussed later in the evening. They didn't understand why they were being reprimanded and cried out that their free speech was being violated. One rambled on about how videoconferencing should be available for these meetings, because she drove a long way from the Valley. Another spoke in praise of Trump with nothing specific to Culver City. They didn’t identify themselves as Culver City residents. Other Trump supporters stood on the perimeter of the room, filming and livestreaming the meeting. They walked around and filmed everyone and tried to have an intimidating presence.  

After comments and voting happened on a few other agenda items, we got to the Sanctuary City issue. The clerk informed the council that more than 70 people had filled out comment cards! The mayor said it was typical to be able to count attendance on one hand at these meetings, but this time there were at least 150 people in the room and possibly more people in an overflow room that I didn’t see. We started hearing comments around 8:30 PM, and each person was allowed to speak for up to two minutes.

There were about ten Trump fans who spoke in opposition and at least 50 people who spoke in favor of the measure. The opposition comments centered on fear of undocumented immigrants raping and murdering Americans. “America First!” was the oft-repeated chant. One protester wore a T-shirt with the photo of someone who had been killed by an undocumented drunk driver. I guess we should have all worn T-shirts with photos of people killed by US citizens driving drunk. In response to those who lamented about the separation of families due to deportation, they spoke of the ultimate separation of families due to murder.

The Council had several options they were considering - and all were symbolic gestures ranging from Option One just stating “Culver City is a Sanctuary City” with no elaboration to Option Four which had a detailed list of what it means as defined by the ACLU and the Culver City Action Network (CCAN).  There was amazing diversity displayed by the Culver City residents who spoke up, and I found myself thinking back to the diversity I had seen the day before at Ciclavia.

A twelve-year-old boy said “I was born a Democrat,” and he couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want the city to be a welcoming place.  Several high school students spoke. The Herreras, a Mexican-American family, put together a powerpoint presentation and four family members took turns using their allotted two minutes to go through the presentation. They spoke about their sadness at having to go to Mexico to visit their grandfather because he had been deported (see slide below). Teenage son Dante broke down in tears while testifying, saying he was so disturbed by the Trump supporters in the room and their hateful rhetoric and that he had never encountered it in this city before. His mother approached to comfort him, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation when he finished talking about his family’s struggles.

I’m sure the looming presence of the outspoken handful of Trump fans was disturbing and eye-opening for many in the room as we do live in a blue bubble in LA. As far as I could tell, only two of the ten Trump supporters lived within twenty miles of Culver City.  Meanwhile almost all the other speakers identified themselves as residents and many were parents of children in the Culver City school system. It’s also worth noting that Culver City High School was recently named the fourth most diverse high school in the nation.

Former mayor Gary Silbiger spoke about his experience as an immigration lawyer. Two law professors from UCLA spoke, and one revealed that the threat by Trump and Sessions to remove federal funds from Sanctuary Cities would most likely be contestable in court. Many residents spoke about their own family immigration history and fears for neighbors. We heard from teachers who said they didn’t care if the kids in their class had papers or not. We heard from social workers, veterans, business people, and ministers. Almost everyone voiced support for Option Four.

At 10:00 PM, we took a break. Right before that, the Council asked that several Trump fans be removed from the room. They had been warned about interjecting comments while others were speaking, but had kept doing it. There were officers in the room all night to keep the peace. As they were being escorted out, one of the more aggressive Trump fans revealed he had a taser on him but it wasn’t used. For some unknown reason, they let these guys back in the room after the break. A Muslim resident spoke and as soon as he mentioned he was Muslim, the taser guy yelled out “Jihad!”  At that point, Vice Mayor Cooper asked the officer to remove him, and he was not allowed back in - thankfully!

As we approached midnight, many people had left but about 50 people remained. Some names were called for people who had signed up to speak but hadn’t been able to stick around. Finally, the comments were done, and the Council took some time to ask questions and debate. The Police Chief and City Attorney were present to answer questions. The Council reworded aspects of Option Four, and then Meghan Sahli-Wells made a motion to approve the reworded Option Four. Vice Mayor Cooper made a motion for Option One, feeling that the detailed language was unnecessary as our Police were currently abiding by these guidelines and would continue to do so, but his motion was voted down. Mayor Clarke objected to the provision in Option Four to provide $20,000 of city funds for immigration legal defense, and the others accepted his position and this provision was stricken from the record. It had become clear the residents wanted the strongly worded option, and the motion for Option Four passed by a margin of 3-1, with Vice Mayor Cooper dissenting (and Goran Eriksson absent). At 12:40 AM, Culver City became a Sanctuary City!

It was a night of high drama and mood swings. At times, I felt so angry and wanted to engage the Trump fans but I refrained as I knew it would be as fruitless as their presence at the meeting had proved with regard to the outcome. At other times, I felt moved to tears by people’s stories and by the activism of the kids. Overall, I came away feeling very inspired to be a part of “Democracy in Action,” happy that the city is reflecting the values of its residents, and thankful to the City Council for their great patience in sitting through the long comment period and their thoughtful and courageous decision.  Special kudos to Meghan Sahli-Wells who was working on her birthday and proved very thoughtful in breaking down the language of the motion and coming up with language everyone could support. I’m Culver City proud!

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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Notes from the "Show Up, Dive In, Stay At It" Panel Discussion

Tonight I attended an inspiring panel discussion about activism in Los Angeles, presented by the Hammer Museum. The event location was changed from the Hammer Museum courtyard to Royce Hall at UCLA due to 2000 RSVPs on the Facebook event. I would estimate around 1500 attended, which was a really impressive turnout for a Monday night without any celebrity panelists when it potentially could have rained (rain rendering most Angelenos immobile ;).   

This was the lineup... 

Jessica Yellin, former chief White House correspondent, CNN 

Devon Carbado - UCLA Law Professor 
Susan Dunlap - President and CEO, Planned Parenthood Los Angeles 
Lorri L. Jean - CEO, Los Angeles LGBT Center 
Angelica Salas - Executive Director, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) 
Hector Villagra - Executive Director, ACLU of Southern California 

Villagra spoke about the ACLU's work in the courts regarding Trump's executive order / Muslim ban (he said we should not be calling it "travel restriction" and we should call out the media when they do that). Although Trump said only about 100 people were impacted, Villagra said they were aware of 721 people detained at airports on the first day alone, along with 60,000 visas that were revoked.  When asked if he thought the court order would be overturned, Villagra said he didn't think so and he pointed out that Trump has talked about a muslim ban on the record many times - on TV and radio - and that anything he said would be admissible as evidence of his true intentions. Villagra also mentioned that Mayor Garcetti has not officially declared LA to be a sanctuary city and has so far declined requests to meet with Villagra and Salas on the issue - meanwhile Garcetti has allegedly met with Trump three times. There's an ACLU app and a website about volunteering.  

Salas said her group has been busy dealing with a shocked and terrified community and the impact of Trump's three swift executive orders on immigration.  She spoke of the importance of SB54 needing to be passed - a bill that would make California a Sanctuary State.  When asked about Trump's threats to pull federal funds from California if this bills passes, she said that he undervalues the weight of California being the most populous state and the rest of the country's dependence on tax money from California. She said 50% of Californians are immigrants or the children of immigrants. CHIRLA is now offering free legal services and encouraging people to apply for citizenship. They need volunteers to help at their citizenship clinics, as they are getting many inquiries.   

Carbado was an excellent speaker and often critical of progressives. He spoke about how progressives fail to engage on a host of racial issues that were pre-Trump. He wants us to talk about voter suppression, not voter fraud. Since the 2013 repeal of part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, certain states that have special conditions where they needed to pre-clear changes in their voting machines with the Department of Justice no longer have to do so, and voter suppression has occurred in 8 of those 15 states. He talked about state bills that are being discussed that will limit our right to protest, including a North Dakota bill that says it's OK to hit a protestor with your car if the protestor is in the road! In speaking about the Supreme Court, he said the Right has Roe Vs Wade as a galvanizing issue, but the Left really has nothing. The Right has more positive-sounding terms like "Pro Life", "Border Security", and "Right to Work" which seem easier to get behind. We need to figure out an issue and organize around it. He pointed out problems with Goresuch's judicial philosophy but said he didn't think any other Trump nominee would be better, referring to the list as "a parade of horribles." Carbado downplayed the idea of social media being useless since most of us are in "bubbles" - "Preaching to the choir isn't a bad thing. The choir doesn't get together to practice enough. Some members are off key."  

Jean talked about a March 2 orientation meeting happening at the LGBT center and the "100 Days and Me" action plan outlined on their website, where they will be communicating actions related to LGBT causes as well as other issues. Jean said social media is a definite tool to use, but we also need to get off our phones and couches and be active. When we hear a lie, we need to call it out as a lie. As for going beyond social media, she talked about the "coming out" movement among LGBT folks and how we can learn from it - personal, face to face conversations can forge connections and greater understanding.   

Dunlap stated that 30% of all Planned Parenthood visits take place in California. With proposed defunding of Medicare, that's 1.5 million patient visits lost for low income women seeking health screenings. She told a story about a woman who flew from Florida to get an abortion in California because she was worried about people in her town finding out. She encouraged the audience to approach people with empathy and gentleness and look for common ground. She lamented that Washington democratic leadership doesn't seem to be coming up with a plan to mobilize all those who want to be involved, so we'll need to forge our path, and there are many ways to contribute. 

All the speakers felt they had not seen so many people who want to be engaged and active ever before. They recommended reading The Indivisible Guide to find ways to get active.  

Many questions from the audience were taken. I didn't stay for all of them because as usual at these kinds of events, people were using their thirty seconds to sound off on their pet issues or plug their websites/foundations/charities.  

Watch the full video of the panel discussion. 

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Writers Resist - Defiance, Remembrance and Inspiration in Venice

Today I went to the Writers Resist event at Beyond Baroque in Venice. It was a packed house, raising funds for the ACLU. I believe they could only fit about 100 people in the room, so they used a patio as overflow space and pumped the audio feed out there. It’s too bad they didn’t have a bigger venue for this incredible gathering of writers, but then again it was nice that the event had an intimate feeling.

Writers Resist events took place all over the country today in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and in response to the impending inauguration. Nobody used the President Elect’s name today but he hung like a specter over the proceedings. The event was three hours long and 27 writers were given five minutes each to read their own work or work of other writers that suited the theme.

Some writers read from Dr. King’s work. Viet Thanh Nguyen (below) read from the speech “Beyond Vietnam”. David Ulin - after saying he was angry we all had to be there, that things had come to this point - read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.

Some writers used their timeslots to pay tribute to other writers. Carol Muske-Dukes read from “Of Courage and Resistance”, a speech given by Susan Sontag. Ishmael Beah read “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes. Dana Goodyear read Ann Sexton’s poem “Snow”. Naomi Hirahara read from Michi Weglyn’s book “Years of Infamy” about Japanese internment camps. Mona Simpson read Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach”. Amy Wilentz revisited The Gettysburg Address. Safiya Sinclair (below), Lynne Thompson and Vanessa Villarreal gave stirring readings of June Jordan poems, including “In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr.”.

Some of my favorite readings were from those who shared their personal stories about the election. Aimee Bender read an essay about an election night party she tried to host that turned out to not be much of a party. They had to throw the jug of cocktails down the drain. She tried to give leftover pizza to a neighbor, but the neighbor said he had lost his appetite.  It reminded me of my own dark night of the soul on election night in the fun capital of the world Vegas, after a week of canvassing for Hillary (I wrote about it in this essay). Meme Kelly shared a letter she wrote to her sons after the election to help them grieve and encourage them to carry on. Michelle Latiolais read a fantastic piece about her sister excitedly telling her last week’s news about Russian interference. Michelle knew it wouldn’t derail anything. “You can’t blackmail someone who has no shame,” she wrote. Douglas Manuel talked about drinking “Nasty Woman” cocktails in anticipation of an election night celebration that didn’t come, and then read a Jean Valentine poem called “I Came to You”.

Some shared original work. Douglas Kearney wrested everyone’s attention with a dramatic interpretive riff on the theme of “We Shall Overcome.” Ron Carlson read a hilarious poem about being annoyed by someone in front of him texting in his car who had ignored the light changing to green. Victoria Chang read her thought-provoking poem [Today my daughter wants to be a waitress when she grows up she doesn’t]”. Amy Gerstler read her poem “Giraffes”, and Vandana Khanna shared her poem “Dot Head”.

I was also somewhat relieved to hear that all these successful writers who I know have better self-discipline and work habits than me were also having trouble writing since the election. But this is the kind of event that reminded me how important it is that we try, and if we can’t manage to write right now, at least we can read some important classic works, like the ones I've linked here.

David St. John (above), one of the organizers of this amazing event, closed the gathering by remembering a conversation between his mentor Adrienne Rich and Philip Levine. I may not be remembering the exact quotes, but this is the gist...

Levine: There’s still work to be done.

Rich: There’s always going to be work to be done.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

New Ghostly Spinoff: Kindred Spirits

There's a new ghost show in town, Kindred Spirits with Amy Bruni and Adam Berry. They became one of the sub-teams on the long-running but sputtering-out show Ghost Hunters.

Ghost Hunters was the first and, for a time, biggest ghost-hunting show on TV. But the genre has proliferated, (the price of success, no?), and it's gotten complicated. Dramas have peeled off entire casts of GH. I'm exaggerating but people have come and gone since the show began its run. However, tongues really started to wag when Grant Wilson left. And a year or so after that, according to press reports. Amy and Adam left over disputes with the remaining founder of the show Jay Hawes.

Amy and Adam went on to form the show Kindred Spirits, which is a spin-off of sorts, albeit unsanctioned. I followed Ghost Hunters through Ghost Hunters International but I didn't love it (Why Ghost Hunters International sucks). I couldn't get into Ghost Hunters Academy at all. But when Adam Berry won the show, it was interesting to get to know him, usually paired with Amy Bruni, back on Ghost Hunters. This was after Kris Williams left the show for Ghost Hunters International. There are Ghost Hunters branded books but nothing yet on all the drama behind the scenes. I'm looking forward to reading about all that someday.

Recently the famous series had some unexplained and lengthy hiatuses after Grant Wilson left the show. The show finally reappeared this summer (2016) with the announcer introducing episodes as the “final season of Ghost Hunters,” an oddly played-down situation.

As an early adopter of this genre, I should feel bad about the end of the show except that I wrote this: Top 10 Reasons Why I Don’t Care If Ghost Hunters Comes Back, and the fact that so many other ghost hunters have won our hearts during those long absences of Ghost Hunters. Most successfully Zack Bagans and his motley crew from Ghost Adventures.

I go back and forth about Zack and his hyper-ghost-hunting shenanigans. but you can’t deny the fact that the people who come on their show seem a hellavalot more at ease than those who appear on Ghost Hunters. GA just seems like more fun at the end of the day, certainly more approachable. Hosting a show takes charisma and humor and self-deprecation, all things Zach has about enough of. He’s also pretty hard working. The show has tons of episodes and they’re constantly on air at the Travel Channel.

And then there's John Zaffis' The Haunted Collector. Not quite a spin-off of Ghost Hunters either, but one of their prior summer hiatus replacements, (when there was such a thing as a short GH hiatus). Zaffis has done a good job becoming the papa-bear of ghost hunting. The women on his show, (women are still a minority on these shows), are both very likeable. And I always enjoy the research component he brings to the show.

And then there are a plethora of other shows: hillbillies, people who only do institutions, Ghost Brothers (which I love too and hope returns soon), Dead Files, which is ridiculous with its prescriptions for chaos magicians and psycho-therapists for the dead, but is seemingly popular. There's even a sub-genre of celebrity ghost shows like the defunct Celebrity Ghost Stories, (modeled after Canada’s Ghostly Encounters with the half-hearted gravitas of Lawrence Chau), and its spin-off The Haunting Of with psychic Kim Russo.

After all this, Ghost Hunters seems ego-bound, uncomfortable in its own skin, and tone-deaf to the new “realities” of the genre.

But Kindred Spirits, on the other hand, aside from the muted title, (which may refer to the hosts, or the ghosts, or ghost who are related to us, or maybe even ghost hunters in general), feels naturally friendly but never silly, (Ghost Adventures can get silly). Adam and Amy are always trying to “get to the heart of it” which plays into the family focus of the show but also something about having feelings, allowing feelings, encouraging the feelings. People cry. Hugs happen. What a relief that feels like.

They’ve also incorporated the research component and you can watch them puzzling over ghostly clues throughout the show. In the first scenes they're always having a kickoff meeting over coffee and discussing aspects of the case. So like Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys! There are rounds of thinking and problem solving. Adam has a thinking face. The focus is on the thinking and not the gadgets and all the playing with the gadgets (which is undoubtedly fun but has gotten a bit stale).

In these ways, the show feels like all the other problem-solving-based realty shows, (the cooking, fashion and surviving shows), and maybe this appeals to the nerds among us. But it also provides suspense and mystery to the show.

They also stay in one location for multiple days and so an investigation slowly evolves and you feel you get to know the homeowners who often join in on the final night’s work.

There are no night cameras. Who would have thought this would feel so refreshing? They use flashlights and electric lanterns. You can see color and texture again around the room and on their clothes.

Like all ghost shows, to one degree or another, this one makes tenuous leaps from the evidence to the conclusion. To its credit, Ghost Hunters did this less often than any other show, truth-telling during every wrap-up about how “we don’t really know what it is” but “stuff is definitely happening.”

After 12 years of ghost hunting, evidence never gets much more exciting than that. So a little friendliness and nuance helps a lot.

Read the poem about ghost hunting shows.

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Back to the Prom: The 40th Anniversary Screening of Carrie

I had a blast at the 40th anniversary party for Carrie! The night was both illuminating and a hoot.

The Ace Hotel Theater hosted the event, which was a fundraiser for WeSpark, a cancer support charity. The event also promoted the release of Shout Factory's new collector's edition Carrie Blu-ray. Silver stars had been hung in the lobby to match the Carrie prom scene decor.  There was also a traditional prom photo opportunity. We arrived about a half-hour before the screening and waited on line at the bar, hoping to order a "Bloody Carrie" - the signature drink of the party - but they had already run out! I bought raffle tickets and we found seats in the orchestra section of the theater, which quickly filled up.

The 4K presentation of Carrie looked incredible. I hadn't seen the film on the big screen before. There was a definite crowd participation angle to the evening, as people laughed at most of Piper Laurie's lines and other classic moments. Sometimes they even shouted the lines before they were delivered, which bugged my friend who had not seen the film before (and who jumped at the ending!). At the start of the prom massacre, when Carrie shuts the doors and cuts the lights in the gym except for the red light, they flipped on some red lighting in the theater - it was very effective!

After the screening, there was a panel discussion, moderated by Bryan Fuller (writer of the 2002 Carrie TV movie). The panel featured Doug Cox (The Beak - the tuxedo T-shirt kid), Noelle North (Frieda, who was nice to Carrie at the start of the prom), Nancy Allen (WeSpark executive director and bad girl Chris), PJ Soles (Norma, who wore her red baseball cap everywhere, even to prom), Paul Hirsch (editor of many Brian De Palma films, co-editor of Star Wars, many more), and Piper Laurie (nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Carrie's mother).

Bryan did a great job moderating and involving everyone in the discussion. PJ Soles talked about her eardrum being ruptured by the fire hose during the filming of the prom massacre. She also revealed she had auditioned for Nancy's role, and De Palma offered her a small part after she didn't get it. De Palma suggested she wear the red cap. PJ's swagger, perhaps powered by the cap, convinced De Palma to put her in more scenes and create a role for her as Chris' best friend. PJ also said she drove Betty from Chateau Marmont to the set everyday because Betty didn't drive, and she thinks Betty advocated for her. She said Betty would put on eye makeup in the car each morning, although they would be getting makeup on the set, because she didn't want De Palma to see her without makeup. Nancy Allen talked about getting along great with John Travolta, despite the way they slapped each other around in the film. She said John's slaps were weak, but Betty Buckley didn't hold back.

Doug Cox said the tuxedo shopping scene was mostly improvised, and it was added at the last minute, after he had wrapped. Paul Hirsch talked about speeding up that scene and said he did it to avoid having a third jump cut in the scene.  Hirsch and several actors talked about De Palma's obsessive storyboarding. Hirsch illuminated some of the key scenes and talked about building tension. He said the rocks falling on the house at the end was meant to be an echo to an opening scene where Carrie is a child and summons flying rocks with her mind, but that scene ended up not working. PJ and Nancy disagreed about whether they were paid $625 or $604 a week. Piper Laurie said she didn't know how to interpret the script, but her husband told her that her role was comedic. When she began rehearsals, De Palma corrected this interpretation. It certainly has a campy quality and people laughed at most of her signature lines like "I can see your dirty pillows."

The actresses also talked about how they were somewhat duped into doing the nude locker room scene. De Palma had told them it would be so smoky that people wouldn't see much, yet you can see just about everything. Allen said that Amy Irving cried when it came time to shoot the scene, so she ended up not removing her bra. Hirsch said George Lucas had told him that he felt De Palma's choice to have that much nudity in the second scene of the film signaled the audience to brace themselves because anything could happen.

They also played a video message from William Katt who couldn't attend in person. He credited the film for launching his career. Without Carrie, there would be no Greatest American Hero!

After the discussion, Jackie Beat came out, looking fabulous in a sea-foam green floral gown and wearing large glasses reminiscent of Helen (Edie McClurg's character). Jackie auctioned some items including movie posters signed by all the panelists, plus John Travolta. Jackie also emceed the costume contest. My friend Scott made it to the finals in his blood-spattered suit, but eventually lost to a very credible Tommy Ross with an oversized curly blond wig and a bloody Carrie. Jackie was hilarious in dismissing people from stage, including a group of girls in matching pink bridesmaid dresses and two clever guys who wore shabby discolored pillows with a sign: "Dirty Pillows." There were a couple good PJ Soles imitators, including a drag queen who was wrapped in a fire hose. We felt dressing as Miss Collins, the gym teacher, was a missed opportunity.  The crowd was enthusiastic and many came dressed in 70s tuxes with ruffled shirts and puritanical long gowns.  The fun continued as DJs played some 70s tunes and the prom party rolled on in the lobby area.

WeSpark is a charity that provides counseling and supportive services to people who have been diagnosed with cancer. I hope they raised a lot of money with this fun event. It was one of those "Only in LA" events that keep me living here. And I have to say the bullying in the film seemed strangely appropriate for our current political climate.  I look forward to November 8 when we can plug it up!

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Adele - So Nice, I Saw Her Thrice!

During her eight-show run at Staples Center, I saw Adele two nights in a row. Even though the setlist remained the same, both shows were totally enjoyable. And I had seen her already earlier this summer at Glastonbury (I didn't know she would be headlining Glastonbury when I bought the LA tickets last December). Getting tickets wasn't easy - three of us tried right when the tickets went on sale and spent over an hour in the virtual waiting room cursing AXS, but we lucked out in the end. Note: this review contains spoilers.

I first saw Adele at the Greek Theater in 2011. I had just hopped on the “21” bandwagon and decided to go to the show on the spur of the moment, buying a single seat when a few tickets remained on the day of the show. I was really enchanted by her easy-going stage presence and chatter. Picking Wanda Jackson as an opening act solidified Adele as an old soul. Many of us sang along with the songs and all could relate to the tales of heartbreak that made the album such a sensation. Who knew that we’d have to wait five years for the next album and Adele would have surgery, find a soulmate and have a kid in the meantime, all before “25”?

I got the pleasure of seeing Adele at Glastonbury earlier this summer. I’m still working on a story about that festival, but I have to say Adele was one of the highlights. She had said she was afraid to play for such a huge crowd, but she held that crowd of 150,000 in the palm of her hand. She shared stories of her own Glastonbury experiences and her love of the festival. She was self-deprecating yet powerful. There is nothing to compare to being in a reverent crowd that huge, all of whom know the words to all the songs and don’t mind standing in the mud and rain for two hours just to be with her. This collection of her quotes from Glastonbury shows that she manages to be totally herself in front of the crowd, as if she were just out to happy hour with some girlfriends telling stories. 

I don’t think I’ll ever have another Adele experience like Glastonbury, but the Staples Center shows were still great. The first show was Tuesday, August 9, and we had good seats, on the club level with a side view of the stage.  So I was much closer than I’d been at Glastonbury where we stood pretty much in the middle of a huge field.  

Adele began the show ascending from below to a small stage toward the rear of the arena and performed “Hello.” She made her way to the main stage and sang “Hometown Glory,” utilizing the big screens behind her to show footage of London and then footage of LA to elicit the predictable screams of recognition from the crowd. After “One and Only,” she paused to chat a bit and let us know that she only had a couple upbeat songs and she would be playing them fairly quickly. And she reminded us that even though they sound upbeat, they really are just as depressing as her other songs. She then launched into “Rumor Has It.”

Another highlight was “Skyfall,” and she told the story of how she got to fulfill the dream of doing a Bond theme. I love the Bond themes and hers just soars. 

She moved to a smaller stage in front of the main stage with a few band members to perform a country version of “Don’t You Remember” that she said was influenced by her love of Alison Krauss. She also did a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” on that stage, and she asked everyone to turn the flashlights on their cell phones on to light up the room. It was a beautiful effect.

There were many breaks where she told stories and gave us a peek into her stream of consciousness thinking. We learned she loves LA, particularly the Bristol Farms grocery stores where she can find many of her favorite British food imports. She talked about how much she loves America and how she had fantasized about being American: "I always wanted a locker, a prom, and an accent." Seeing her two nights in a row, I heard many of the same stories, but it didn’t feel scripted. Her exuberance and ease with the crowd felt genuine. On the first night, she called up two gay guys who she had noticed were dancing very animatedly, and they invited her to their upcoming nuptials. On the second night, she called up three eleven-year-old girls who nearly fainted with excitement, and she apologized to their mothers for all the swearing she would be doing during the show. 

For the Wednesday show, I sat in the first row of the upper level toward the rear of the arena. While it was less of an immediate experience, I could see the screens better and appreciated the lighting and effects more from this angle.

Probably the most moving song was “Chasing Pavements.” Adele gave a long introduction about how this was the song that allowed her to break through in the US and she invited the audience to sing along. She had moved to the stage in the rear of the floor area and they dropped curtains on all sides of it and projected her image on the curtains which created a neat effect. She then delivered “Someone Like You” before closing the set from that stage with “Set Fire to the Rain,” while rain fell where the curtains had been hanging.  It was quite a dramatic close to the show.  

Of course, she returned for an encore, performing “When We Were Young,” and then giving us one final chance to dance to “Rolling in the Deep.”  Confetti rained down and the nearly two-hour show came to a close. Go see this show if you can. Her albums may be titled and centered on her specific ages, but she's a talent for the ages.  

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Friday, April 08, 2016

I Wanted More from "Everbody Wants Some"

When I saw the trailer for Everybody Wants Some, I couldn't have been more excited - here was a sorta sequel to my favorite Richard Linklater film Dazed and Confused, set in my favorite decade (the 80s) and featuring my favorite sport (baseball).  Perhaps my expectations were just too high because the film really fell flat for me.  I can identify a few issues:

  • Women's roles - There's only one female character in the film who actually gets a name and a little development as a love interest for our hero Jake. Still, she seems more like a muse than a fully developed character
  • Casting - Most of the actors are in their late 20s. With the mustaches, they look more like 30. They just don't seem convincing as college students. I find it hard to believe Linklater couldn't find enough quality actors in the 19-22 range for the roles.
  • Lack of depth - There's some attempt at philosophizing over the bong, led by the likable Willoughby (played by the cute Wyatt Russell, spawn of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn), but it doesn't get deep at all. It seems to be included so the film can pretend to be aspiring to be more than "Porky's."
  • Lack of baseball - There's only one scene where the guys actually play baseball, and there's no game situation. We are shown their competitive spirit in other ways, such as ping pong and knuckles competitions. But baseball as a subject is ripe for philosophizing, as we've seen in films ranging from Bull Durham to Field of Dreams to Moneyball. Linklater, who played baseball himself, really does nothing with it.  The one scene I liked comes in the beginning where the All-American star hitter on the team tells the freshman pitcher, our hero Jake, that they'll never be friends because of his mistrust of pitchers. There could have been a lot more of that.
  • Unrealistic settings - There's a party thrown by the drama students that rivals some of the biggest corporate parties I organized or attended while working at Google, These corporate parties had huge art direction budgets. I just can't believe students would be able to pull that together, especially on the weekend before school actually starts. It just feels like it's thrown in for entertainment value. The party at the Moon Tower in Dazed and Confused was much more realistic.
  • Boring main character - Although cute and likable, Jake is something of a cypher. The title tells us "everybody wants some" but we have no idea what Jake really wants. He seems to want to get laid, but he doesn't obsess over it. He doesn't think about baseball at all. He kinda likes the female character with a name. It's all a bit wishy washy. 
Dazed and Confused was a triumph because even though it only took place on one night, it showed us a range of different characters who were able to find some common ground.  We learned a lot about different cliques, and characters were individualized.  American Graffiti is another film that covered the same ground, and did it well, also with a killer soundtrack. Everybody Wants Some has the great soundtrack, but, by focusing on just the jocks, and not really differentiating them from typical jocks, it fails to take things to the level of low-key profundity that these other films achieved.  

On the positive side, the soundtrack is killer. And there are a couple of outstanding performances: newcomer Temple Baker is hilarious as a freshman catcher who's not the sharpest pencil in the box, and Glen Powell as the smooth-talking Finn is poised to get the Matthew McCoughnahey breakout award. 

The film has some fun moments and some laughs, but I found myself bored and looking at my watch halfway through it. It's getting glowing reviews, but I think if people really think about it, they will have to acknowledge it doesn't live up to its predecessor or the promise of its topic and era.  

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