Ken Levine’s tips for young playwrights

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One of my favorite bloggers is Ken Levine. Not only has he written for movies and TV, but he also writes and directs comedy plays in Los Angeles, and his latest blog entry has some wonderful tips for budding and established playwrights. I dabbled in producing local plays for a couple of years, and I can vouch that all of the advice Levine gives is spot-on. Click here to read it. (Even if you have no interest in doing plays, Levine’s blog is always fun to read.)

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IKEA-phobia

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I have not stepped foot in a Home Depot store in years. The last time I did, it took me forever to find the aisle I was looking for, after which I still couldn’t locate the items I needed, and the store workers seemed as clueless as I was. (It doesn’t help that I am the most inept home repair person you could ask for.) I went home that day and told my wife, “Don’t ever send me to Home Depot again. If you do, look for me on the news, because I will be taking hostages.”

There is only one chain store on Earth that has instilled more fear and hostility in me than Home Depot did. And I visited that store for the first time yesterday.

IKEA opened a branch store in Jacksonville last month, just before Christmas. My wife and kids went there one day while I was at work. When I met them for dinner that night, they all rhapsodized about the never-ending space in the place and how you could find nearly anything there that you wanted for your home.

Yesterday, my wife took me to the store for the first time. I have no problem summing up the experience in one word: Intimidating.

In more than one word? IKEA is like a combination of a museum, a warehouse, Walt Disney World, and some international store where you don’t recognize half the words on the labels.

The first thing we took care of was a minor return. Then we decided to get some lunch. I reiterate, my wife had already been to the store once before. Yet she had to ask for directions to the cafeteria. When we finally got there, we had to wait in a long, wrap-around line before we could even pick up a tray. (As I said, Disney World.)

Then…trying to find a specific item or area? Good luck. There are “You Are Here” maps hanging from every corner of the building, but we were watching people who tried to follow the maps and were still having trouble. I’ve been driving a car for nearly 40 years in the Jacksonville area, and I always lament that, if you take one wrong turn in Jacksonville, it takes you 15 minutes to get back to where you need to be. Negotiating IKEA is the same kind of experience.

The most impressive part of the store is the completed rooms on display. For only $800, folks, we can do up your living room like this! When I was a kid, I was fascinated by E.L. Konigsburg’s novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, wherein two runaway siblings hide out in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Those two kids would have been right at home in an IKEA store.

But the sheer size and audacity of the place overwhelmed me. At one point, my wife told me to go sit down while she looked around for a few minutes. I was grateful to sit down, because I felt as though I was having an anxiety attack. I had to tell myself, “Deep breaths, deep breaths…”

My wife, on the other hand, had no such qualms. She was the kind of shopper that IKEA dreams of. She spent ages poring over every item in the store. At one point, she pointed out a particular couch to me. “It’s perfect,” she said. “It looks great, it’s comfortable, and it’s also at a nice level.”

I replied, “It’s also $549.”

She huffily said, “I’m not planning to buy it! I’m just getting ideas.”

That’s what IKEA is all about — giving people ideas about spending money they don’t have on items they don’t need. My wife bought a small ceramic pitcher “to use for cream for my coffee.” My wife has not fixed her own cup of coffee in years — she always has me do it. And never have I expressed any interest in creaming her coffee from a pitcher instead of the carton.

At her December IKEA visit, she bought a three-shelf rolling cart, which she keeps by her living room chair and which holds all of her prescriptions and books. That’s fine. But she keeps trying to buy me the same kind of cart for my books. When at home, I spend most of my time in my man-cave. The shelf unit I have in there works just fine. Again, I never expressed a desire for a more superior shelf unit. Nobody comes to visit my man-cave — my own family doesn’t want to be near it. What do I care about a shelving unit? Who am I going to show it off to?

Yesterday, my wife again tried to buy me this shelf unit I never asked for, until I finally said that I had never asked for it and we shouldn’t spend the money. Only then did she express the real reason behind her insistence. “Well,” she said, “if you don’t want it, maybe I could put it on the other side of my living room chair.”

My wife and I will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary in March. When we first got married, we were extremely acquisitive, having both grown up in semi-poor households. As we got older, we started getting rid of our useless trinkets and began to shed our acquisitive attitudes. For years, we had been patting each other on the back for avoiding the hoarder syndrome and for not continuing to buy stuff we didn’t need.

And then my wife visited IKEA last month.

I think the word IKEA is Swedish for “extraneous bulls**t.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are Jaguars — but like us anyway

 

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On the week that I’m writing this, my hometown of Jacksonville, FL is going ape-s**t because for the first time ever, our football team, the Jaguars, are participating in an AFC championship game, possibly to take us to the Super Bowl. If you weren’t particularly aware of Jacksonville before now, here’s a primer on how obnoxious we are (at least when it comes to football).

Announcing THE END OF THE WORLD BLOGATHON!

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It’s the end of the world as we know it, and we feel fine. In fact, we feel like blogging about it in…

THE END OF THE WORLD BLOGATHON!

Along with my blogging colleague Quiggy at The Midnite Drive-In, we are looking for blogs about movies with apocalyptic themes. Specifically, we’d like you to write about a movie (or movies) in which a plot or subplot is the threat of the world ending (whether or not that actually occurs by movie’s end), or movies with a post-apocalyptic theme.

(Since there are so many movies with these themes, we request no duplicate entries for this blogathon. Please check the list at the end of this blog entry [which will be kept updated] to ensure that your choice has not already been taken.)

How Do I Join the Blogathon?

In the “Comments” section at the bottom of this blog, please leave your name, the URL of your blog, and the movie you are choosing to blog about. At the end of this blog entry are banners for the ‘thon. Grab a banner, display it on your blog, and link it back to this blog.

The blogathon will take place from Fri., March 30, through Sun., April 1, 2017. When the opening date of the blogathon arrives, leave a comment here with a link to your post, and we will display it in the list of entries (which we will continually update up to the beginning of the ‘thon, so keep checking back!).

We will not be assigning particular dates to any blog posts. As long as you get your entry in by the end of the day on April 1, we will be satisfied. (That said, the earlier the better!)

Again, be sure to leave a comment below and grab a banner, and have fun with your blog entry! Here’s the line-up so far, in chronological order:

Diary of a Movie Maniac – End of the World (1916)

Critica Retro – Things to Come (1936)

Caftan Woman – When Worlds Collide (1951)

Speakeasy – Five (1951) and This Is Not a Test (1962)

Tam May, Author – Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Silver Screenings – 1984 (1956)

portraitsbyjenni – Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Seeker of Truth – The Story of Mankind (1957)

The Midnite Drive-in – On the Beach (1959) and 12 Monkeys (1995)

Movie Movie Blog Blog – Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and the “Bob & Doug McKenzie in Mutants of 2051 A.D.” segment of Strange Brew (1983)

Old Hollywood Films – Panic in Year Zero! (1962)

Once Upon a Screen – Fail-Safe (1964)

Moon in Gemini – WarGames (1983)

Maddielovesherclassicfilms – Deep Impact (1998)

Open Letters to Film – V for Vendetta (2005)

Movierob – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) and I Am Legend (2007)

Thoughts All Sorts – Sunshine (2007)

Reelweegiemidget Reviews – Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

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John McCabe’s MR. LAUREL & MR. HARDY (1961) – Beautiful tribute to Stan and Ollie

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Prof. John McCabe befriended Stan and Babe after meeting them at one of their British-hall performances in the 1950’s, and one of the byproducts was this wonderful book. At the time of its first publication, biographies and histories of movie comedians were scarce, and their filmed work, while broadcast frequently on TV, was at the mercy of programmers who would butcher these comedy classics to get commercials in. Mr. Laurel & Mr. Hardy, along with Robert Youngson’s movie compilations of silent-era comics, helped to renew fervent interest in the duo’s movies and assured them of their rightful place in film history.

I hadn’t looked at this book in a long while, but recently on the podcast “Maltin on Movies,” film historian Leonard Maltin and show-biz gadfly Mark Evanier reminisced about their favorite Laurel & Hardy moments, and they highlighted this book in particular. So I re-read my dog-eared copy of the book for the umpteenth time, and it made me realize that, just as Stan and Ollie’s love for each other shown through in their movies, so McCabe’s affection for the duo shines through in his book.

It must be noted that elements of the book have dated somewhat. Years after its publication, Laurel & Hardy movies that had been regarded as long-lost have turned up over the years, so the book must regarded as of-its-time as far as completeness is concerned.

Another dated part of the book is its entries on the movies that Laurel & Hardy made for Twentieth Century-Fox in the confines of the big Studio System. While rightfully depicted as lesser than their work for Hal Roach, McCabe posits that the quality of the films got worse and worse in order to “freeze out” Laurel & Hardy, as though Fox, the studio that hired them in the first place, wanted to use its corporate clout only to put a great comedy team in their place. In fact, some of the later Fox films have their champions (see Scott MacGillivray’s terrific book on this subject); it’s more likely that Fox had not a clue what to do with comedians who wanted to do things their own way.

But these are minor debits in regard to the overall quality of the book. McCabe otherwise documents the duo’s history succinctly and lovingly. One of its most charming parts is Chapter 2, which begins with some correspondence between McCabe and Hardy’s widow Lucille. McCabe did an interview with “Babe” (as Hardy was affectionately known off-screen) in the 1950’s, and McCabe asked Lucille for permission to print it in his book. At first she declined. But after some introspection, she wrote McCabe back and said that McCabe’s printed interview had triggered personal memories of Babe, and she realized she was being selfish not to allow the interview to be printed. This correspondence is followed by the interview itself. Thus, the entirety of Chapter 2 shows how much Hardy’s work with Laurel deeply affected everyone, from fans to his widow.

This lovely book is long out of print but is well worth seeking out. It’s a perfect introduction to Laurel & Hardy for those who are unfamiliar with their work, and a great look back for those who have enjoyed L&H for years.