Infrequently updated blog of thoughts and feelings whenever I have time to sit down and write. It seems as though I have less and less time to sit down and write these days. That's why this page is static most of the time.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Some of the films I've seen at the festival have been amazing. Kabul Transit was the first standout documentary I saw (outside of the Future Filmmakers Showcase, which had a couple of very good documentaries produced by high school students). The filmmakers took an unusual approach to document their time in Afghanistan, which conveys the fragmented lives of the people they met, but it works on a deep emotional level. You come away with the idea that the residents of Kabul are amazingly inventive, resilient people who will get through their struggle in spite of the "help" provided by the U.S. military and NATO.

Brothers of the Head is an adaptation of the 1977 Brian Aldiss novella that is presented in the style of a documentary, which is entirely appropriate, as it was directed by Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton who have previously made documentaries about Terry Gilliam films, e.g. Lost in La Mancha. The approach works quite well, especially in that they coached their cast individually to create the characters, helping to generate the spontenaiety of the performances. I can't predict the commercial potential of this film, since it will be very difficult to market to American audiences, but folks like me who feel nostalgic for the British punk rock invasion of the 1970's should find it terrific.

I saw two documentaries back-to-back the other day, Under the Rollercoaster, about Mae Timpano, a woman who, until 1988, lived in the house beneath the Coney Island Thunderbolt ride. I thought the idea of a family living in a house like this was made up by Woody Allen for Annie Hall, but he apparently was inspired by Mae.

The Creek Runs Red is a documentary about the toxic mining town of Picher, Oklahoma, one of the Environmental Protection Agency's first Superfund cleanup sites. After decades of cleanup work, the project has done little or nothing to reduce the levels of lead in the town's drinking water and the EPA finally decided earlier this year to simply buy out all the residents with chidren under 6 years of age. Your tax dollars at work.

Last night, we saw This Film Is Not Yet Rated, a wonderful mystery/detective story/expose about the Motion Picture Association of America, the secretive board that assigns ratings to movies. The film reveals that the ratings board is not at all what Jack Valenti has claimed it was for the past 34 years. Valenti has always insisted that the board consists of average parents of small children, but refused to ever identify them. What director Kirby Dick decided to do was to hire a private investigator to find out who these people were. What he discovered is that while the members of the board are indeed parents, only one of them has any children under the age of 20, and that single board member's youngest child is 17 years old. He even found out the names and occupations of the members of the MPAA's appeals board (the body to whom a filmmaker can appeal if they feel his/her film has been unfairly rated). These folks are all men, and with two exceptions, are all presidents and CEOs of theater chains, distribution companies and other major players in the film industry. The two exceptions turn out to be members of the clergy, an episcopal bishop and a representative of the Catholic church. It is both a hilarious comedy and a frightening glimpse into how censorship is practiced in the free world.

During the Question and Answer period following the film, a woman stood up and mentioned that she had actually been on the MPAA board from 1973 to 1977, and described how 20th Century Fox had pressured them to give Star Wars a PG rating instead of a G rating, because at that time, the stigma of a family-friendly G rating might have hurt the film. The studio felt that a G would have discouraged teenagers from going to see it because the lucrative demographic of teenage boys generally tend to avoid seeing movies targeted to smaller children. Valenti's whole argument for keeping the members of board anonymous was to prevent the studios from putting pressure on the board and influence them to make specific ratings decisions.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

L.A. Film Festival

Plans change rapidly here. Screenings sell out, Nathan changes his mind about what he wants to see, and I just make it up as I go along. I'm still devouring documentaries, but Nathan wants to see the sights. On Monday, we spent the whole day at Disneyland, waiting in line. Of course, since this was the first day that the refurbished "Pirates of the Caribbean" re-opened, that became our first priority.

I have only been to Disneyland four times in my life (the first time, I was 17, the second time when my son Alex was 3 and the last time when Alex was 6 and Nathan was 3). Nathan doesn't remember much about that trip, since he spent most of the time in our hotel room being very sick. He only got to see Disneyland briefly, and was too sick to ride most of the kiddie attractions. But surprisingly, he did find that some visuals in Toontown brought back memories from his earliest childhood. He remembered the Roger Rabbit cars, but has no memory of Captain Eo or throwing up in FrontierLand.

Pirates was an adventure in itself. A one and a half hour wait in line was rewarded with a spectacular ride. The attraction has been skillfully updated to include not only the musical score from the film, but also several animatronic reproductions of Johnny Depp's Cap'n Jack Sparrow and a remarkable appearance by Davy Jones. Word has it that the ride will be updated throughout the season to add new animatronic figures of Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly.

It was noon by the time we had a chance to explore the other attractions. We walked right into The Haunted Mansion, since almost everyone else was still in line for Pirates. The line for the Indiana Jones Adventure was only 20 minutes long, so that was a great thrill. As we were leaving Indiana Jones, I discovered that the Jungle Cruise had been re-opened. The last time I was in Disneyland, the Indiana Jones attraction was still under construction and I was afraid that it would replace the Jungle Cruise entirely, since it was in the same location and the Jungle Cruise was gone. But my fears were unfounded. My favorite attraction from my first visit is back, and just as good as I remembered it.

Splash Mountain was something of a surprise, since I had never had a chance to see it before. It wasn't around when I was a kid, and the last few times I have been here, my children were too small to ride it, so this was my first opportunity (and because Nathan loved it so much, I ended up riding it three times, while he took four trips through it). What was most surprising about it was that the entire ride revolves around the environment of Disney's Song of the South, a film that the studio pulled from release almost a decade ago due to concerns about political correctness. Most children and teenagers today have no context for the ride, since the film cannot be seen (except through on-line file sharing technology and old VHS tapes or laserdisks). For those who are unfamiliar with Song of the South, it is a clever adaptation of the old Uncle Remus stories about Brer Rabbit, told within the framework of an idealized vision of a Southern plantation and its black and white residents. Uncle Remus is a slave who tells the Brer Rabbit stories to both the black and white children of the plantation. It was a technological marvel in the 1940's as one of the early combinations of live action and animation where the two elements interacted almost seamlessly.

We ended up staying until the park closed at midnight. We were both exhausted by the time the tram took us back to the parking structure and it was a very long drive back to L.A. We ended up sleeping until noon the next day.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

I'm down here at the Los Angeles Film Festival this week with my son, Nathan, whose music video "Help Me Please" is featured in the Future Filmmakers Showcase. There are several very impressive works created by high school students on the program. Some are short documentaries, narrative works, comedies and other music videos. Today's screenings helped to introduce the young filmmakers to each other and several of the festival staff.

It took us a while to get our bearings around the festival area, so we didn't see many other films beyond the short subjects, but we did make a trip to the Century Plaza in downtown L.A. to catch a screening of An Inconvenient Truth. Part media circus, part rock concert and part political rally, the film was introduced by Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Al Gore and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (who insisted on calling guitarist Sambora "Santora").

Day two will probably begin with more music videos in the morning with some documentary features or narratives in the afternoon. For now, it's late and time to hit the sack.