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Laguna Shines Among ‘Savages’ and ‘Kings of Cool’

Blake Lively and Benecio Del Toro star in “Savages,” a film set in Laguna Beach that open in theaters on Friday, July 6.

Get ready for Laguna Beach’s next wild ride in the national spotlight.

The film version of author Don Winslow’s novel “Savages,” about volleyball-playing pot growers in a Laguna Beach love triangle who go up against Mexican drug lords, opens in theaters July 6. And last month Simon & Schuster released “The Kings of Cool,” also set in Laguna, which is a prequel to “Savages,” the paperback edition of which was released in May, complete with movie scenes on the cover in anticipation of the movie release.

Directed by Oliver Stone, the film, which opens today downtown at Laguna’s South Coast Regency Theater with showings at 1:15, 4:15, 7:15 and 10:15, stars Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Salma Hayek and John Travolta. [See sidebar for local film shoot locations.]

Impressed enough by “Savages,” to put the best-selling crime novel on her list of top 10 books for 2010, New York Times critic Janet Maslin in turn bestowed high praise on “The Kings of Cool” in a rave review last month. “Mr. Winslow’s keen attention to drug culture isn’t going to keep readers away from him. He’s too damn good to be polarizing. . . . His dialogue is tight, laconic and razor sharp; if Elmore Leonard or Lee Child discovered surfing, they might sound something like this…”

It is no surprise then that Winslow said he counts Leonard among the crime writers he admires, along with Robert Parker, Stephen Cannell, James Elroy, and his friend Jeff [T. Jefferson] Parker, whose “Laguna Heat” solidified his place in the genre.

In “The Kings of Cool,” familiar references abound. The opening scene takes place at Main Beach. Hotel Laguna, the Montage, Coyote

Looking the part, Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson also star in “Savages.”

Grill and Heidelberg Cafe all get hits within the first five pages, and the parade of local references never stops: an efficiency apartment on Glenneyre Street, a school in Laguna Canyon, views from Table Rock, a newsstand at the corner of Ocean Avenue, the Marine Room, Brooks Street, Bluebird Canyon, and shops on Forest, etc., etc.

Laguna stars in “Savages,” too. The town serves as a backdrop for the dramatic, often violent predicaments of its main characters. But in “The Kings of Cool,” in filling in their back stories, Winslow also gives Laguna itself a more prominent role as he recreates the zeitgeist of that earlier era.

Though Winslow’s depictions of Laguna and its lore can be long on stereotypes, like most good send ups, they often hit quite close to home, and this juicy tale, which jumps between the Laguna of Timothy Leary days to the near-present Laguna of 2005, should reward most readers with at least one or two knowing chuckles of recognition.

Take this quote from “The Kings of Cool” describing the scene in 2005: “Back in those halcyon ‘finance and flip’ days…Everybody in the OC had a real estate license. Everybody. Every OC trophy wife who required a ‘career’ for her self-esteem got a license. Every surf bum who needed a source of income (i.e. all of them) got a license…”

Going back in time to the scene in 1967: “Suffice it to say that the Surfers met the Hippies in Laguna Beach. It had to happen. The difference between a Surfer and a Hippie? A board.”

How closely the fictional representations of people and characters resemble the actual ones will be up to the interpretation of the reader. One dissonant note is the constant reference to what locals call “Coast Highway” or “PCH” as “the PCH.” Who says that?

In his acknowledgements, Winslow credits his grasp of the old days in Laguna to a number of people who shared their stories, adding, “I can best express my appreciation by not naming them.” He also cites as nonfiction references Nick Shou’s well-received “Orange Sunshine and The Brotherhood of Eternal Love”.

A transplant from the east coast, Winslow came by his knowledge of crime lore, and of the SoCal scene, experientially. He first came to this area as an investigator for criminal lawyers. “I was the lynchpin between investigation and trial,” he said, helping the lawyers with jury consulting and shaping their cases to achieve successful results.

While working on various cases, Winslow lived in hotels for three years between  Orange County, San Diego and Los Angeles. Staying in Costa Mesa once, he took a drive south and stopped at what is now The Cliffs in Laguna Beach. He was so impressed he called his wife. “We just fell in love with it,” he said. Eventually they moved to Dana Point. Now they divide their time between Solano Beach and Julian, but Winslow still spends time in Laguna.

Winslow co-wrote the “Savages” screenplay with screenwriter Shane Salerno, to whom “The Kings of Cool” is dedicated.

Winslow decided to write the prequel because, “I discovered I just wasn’t done with those characters yet.” He loves the research that goes into their background. Often when movies have compelling characters that lead them on a tragic path, we wonder how they got to that point. Helpfully, Winslow provides the reading and movie-going audience of “Savages” with answers.

Scene Spotting:

Want to know which Laguna spots to keep an eye out for in the movie? Permits to film “Savages” were issued for the following locations:

Main Beach

Shaw’s Cove

Crescent Bay

Coyote Grill

Papa’s Tacos

Second Reef

Goko Cafe

Laguna Cyclery

Village Faire Shoppes

Table Rock

Victoria Beach

Moss Cove

Brooks Street Beach

Thalia Street Beach

Heisler Park

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