Thursday, January 29, 2015

Filmmaker Jay Duplass on Eagle Rock, "Where Hipsters Go To Die or Have Children"

Jay Duplass Eagle Rock

"Togetherness," the new HBO comedy from brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, takes place in a neighborhood I know very well: Eagle Rock. Speaking at the recent TV Critics Association press tour, the Duplass brothers wanted to make it clear that, despite the usual cliche of calling a setting a "character" on a show, Eagle Rock is not a character on "Togetherness." It just happens to be where these characters live.

Nonetheless, Eagle Rock serves a major symbol for explaining where these couples currently stand in life:

“Eagle Rock is on the fringe of Los Angeles,” Jay Duplass said. “It’s often said that it’s a place where hipsters go to die or go to have children. It’s like a weigh station and our characters have one foot in Los Angeles and one foot out. They’re not sure if they fit in, not sure what they’re doing. It was important to set the show in that particular neighborhood.”

Added Mark Duplass, “The location is representative of how we see the world. How we strive to be closer to our family, kids and friends. But as soon as we get that, we want to eject and be on a trip by ourselves. It’s sad and funny. When we started cooking up the show, that’s the core of what we wanted to make.”

After the session, I asked Jay Duplass to expand on why he lives in Eagle Rock -- and where he tends to hang out.

"I'll just say this, Eagle Rock is perfect," he told me. "I walk a lot. I just listen to music and try to think about my stories, so I walk three or four miles a day. It is the best walking neighborhood ever. Ther are hills, there's flatland, it's urban, there are beautiful houses, it's got everything. It's maintained a little bit of a sense of a small town.

"It was a town, it was eaten up by Los Angeles, but it's maintained its character. It's in its own little valley and pocket, and that's what makes it special. I actually just moved Saturday, and I just moved four blocks from my old house. And I know five or six other families who, same as me, when their kids got bigger and they couldn't fit in their tiny little 2-bedroom Craftsman anymore, moved into a bigger house because they loved the neighborhood."

Fans of "Togetherness" from Eagle Rock will notice several familiar spots, including Peekaboo Playland and Cafe Beaujolais.

"Cafe Beaujolais is a French restaurant that is extremely reasonably priced," he says. "It is just unbelievable French food, and it's where a lot of French ex-pats actually come, drive out to Eagle Rock for French food. It's right next to Casa Bianca, the Italian place that everybody knows and half of LA think it has the best pizza."

Uh-oh, now things are getting real. I love Casa Bianca. I asked Duplass for his opinion. He was careful not to criticize.

"I don't want to diss a wonderful restaurant in my neighborhood but I actually like Brownstone down the street. It's more New York traditional street pizza. That's just my preference.

"It's all going to be about food. Spitz is Lebanese, Middle Eastern mix. And The Oinkster is an obvious one, where you get your pastrami and your half-pound burger and you're never going to beat it."

And what about famed coffee shop Swork?

"I'll write at Swork, sometimes I will drive up to the Eagle Rock and write in my car. I used to write at Le Petit Beaujolais but that closed down. I spend all my time there."

Sounds like a man after my own heart. "Togetherness," which was recently renewed for a second season, airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on HBO.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Scenes from the SAG Awards: Orange Is The New Black, Viola Davis, More

SAG Awards

Backstage at the SAG Awards on Sunday night, I got a chance to see the winners up close -- including the stars of "Birdman" (above), the big winner for best movie ensemble. Check out my take away from the awards at TV Insider: While Movies Struggle with Diversity, TV Makes Great Strides. I was struck by how, while the film world is criticized for this year's lily white Oscar nominations, TV is really embracing diversity.

Here are some more images and quotes from the press room at the Shrine Auditorium:

SAG Awards

Winner Uzo Aduba (best female actor in a TV comedy) and several of the other "Orange is the New Black" stars, who all won the award for best TV comedy ensemble.

SAG Awards

Aduba also spoke on the platform alone. "The whole experience has been incredibly humbling," she said. "I'm still in that space. When my name was called, I thought my heart stopped for a second. And then I was like, 'Come on, heart, beat again! This is the moment I need you.'" The actress also spoke of how she almost gave up acting before "Orange" came along: "The day this job came along was the same day I felt that acting was not for me. That's an experience so many actors have: 'What am I doing, what is next, is this for me?' This moment, to be recognized for our show, to be recognized by our fellow actors, I don't know if there are words strong enough."

SAG Awards

Winner J.K. Simmons (best supporting actor in a film for "Whiplash") was flummoxed backstage when a reporter asked him about his "guns." Simmons buffed up for the role, and said it was a life-long dream to look that fit.

SAG Awards

"How to Get Away With Murder" star Viola Davis won the award for best female actor in a TV drama -- a huge get for the first-year show. "Life inspires me," she said backstage. "That's where we draw on what we draw on as actors. We draw on real experiences. Every obstacle in my path, every bad or great relationship, every person I've loved has been my greatest inspiration."

SAG Awards

Also backstage: the "Downton Abbey" cast won the SAG Award for best ensemble in a drama.

SAG Awards

Patricia Arquette won best supporting actress in a film for "Boyhood."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Snow Day at the Los Angeles Zoo


You gotta hand it to the marketing team at the Los Angeles Zoo. Their occasional events are always a hit with the crowds -- such a hit that it causes traffic jams on the 5 freeway, and there's never enough parking for the crowds. But I hope that means it's keeping the zoo in firm financial shape -- there were a lot of people there this Sunday, just as there was the last time I visited, in November for the LA Zoo Lights display.

This time I took the Blogger Kid 2.0 to Snow Days at the LA Zoo, and I must say, the crowds and the long lines were a big turn off. But the most important thing was this: The Blogger Kid 2.0 had a great time.


Yeah, I quietly grumbled about playing in brown snow (and how it was more ice than snow) but The Blogger Kid 2.0 still found it a treat to touch the stuff -- after all, even though we make it up to Big Bear or the Angeles Crest Forest once or twice a year, the whole idea of "snow" is still exotic to him.


Snow play was limited to five minutes, which didn't seem like much time after waiting in line for a long time in the hot sun... but it turns out it was the right amount.


Highlights also included ice sculptures (above), and perhaps the coolest part, snow in some of the animal exhibits (including the tiger, at top). I love how the tiger is keeping shade in his hut, not paying much mind to the cold stuff around him.

I love the LA zoo, but I do hate crowds and traffic. The best advice is to get to special zoo events super early, and you'll have a good time. Or -- most importantly -- your kids will.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Los Angeles Times Stops Pretending We Don't Know What Jonathan Gold Looks Like


I always thought it was kind of charming that the Los Angeles Times kept up the practice of hiding superstar food critic Jonathan Gold's face in the newspaper and in all of its marketing. After all, anyone who cares about food criticism or Jonathan Gold knows exactly what he looks like. As Gold became a well-known name, his face was everywhere.

Now, the LA Times is giving up the practice. I'll miss the Jonathan Gold silhouettes, but he says it's time to give up the ghost:

I regularly decline magazine profiles, corporate speaking gigs and reality show appearances. I once walked backward from a lectern after winning an award because I was afraid of being photographed. I have OpenTable accounts under many different names, a habit of paying bills — even large ones — in cash and a burner phone account, all in an attempt to keep my identity a secret from the chefs and staffs of restaurants I have reviewed.

But my identity is not secret.

I have been charmed into posing for a thousand food-festival selfies. A hundred waiters know my name. I have been called out in taquería lines from Pacoima to Bell Gardens. At chic restaurants, chefs nervously avoid my gaze. When he spotted me eating dinner, a Las Vegas maître d' once physically moved the table at which I was sitting from its cozy niche behind a pillar to a more glamorous spot in the middle of the room. I have become adept at pretending not to notice that a restaurant staff is pretending not to notice me noticing them noticing me.

Any real anonymity I may have once had ended in 2007 when an assistant at a publication I used to work for accidentally posted a photograph to the paper's website. The pretense of anonymity ends today.

I believe he's referring to this photo (below), taken at an LA Weekly toast to celebrate Gold's big Pulitzer Prize win:


Let's face it, Gold has such a distinct look that I don't know how he ever escaped notice when he ate at restaurants. But I don't think it impacted his reviews one bit. Now that he's free of the facade, I wonder if we'll see more JGold on TV and elsewhere.

The timing of the announcement comes as Laura Gabbert's L.A. food documentary, "City of Gold," premieres at Sundance. It also comes, Gold writes, as "the kabuki of the pose is a distraction." I can't wait to see "City of Gold," and congrats to Jonathan Gold for finally being free!
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