Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Turner Classic Film Fest '011 (and, how to survive travel to LA)

I'm doing this entry as a sort of traveler's companion, because, you know, everyone's doing that now. And because maybe I can offer advice to you East Coasters who may be needing to make a pilgrimage to LA for the first time - by learning from my painful ordeal.

But let's talk about the Festival. Cannot fault the movies at all. What is there to criticize about Citizen Kane and Taxi Driver restored on the classic Grauman's Chinese Theater? Not to mention La Dolce Vita in the cheesy Mann's multiplex with Grauman-esque "Chinese font" decor everywhere? Absolutely nothing. I was unable to attend Roger Corman's Q and A for Little Shop Of Horrors because I arrived late, e.g. less than four hours to get from LAX to my motel in Van Nuys and then Hollywood on a Friday afternoon. This scared me off of seeing Fantasia on Sunday, assuming it would run too late, and of course traffic isn't nearly that bad then. But I was told that it would be. Thanks a lot, cute girl from San Francisco! That would have been a special experience, no doubt.
The seminar by Kevin Brownlow would have been interesting, but admission required a $225 MINIMUM pass - these passes give you priority admission to all shows and to special speakers and seminars. And I did try to see Cabin In The Sky, but the disorganization of the festival was apparent at this point. The very simple act of selling tickets to a movie is apparently confusing to some of these volunteers (NOT all - the staff at the Citizen Kane screening were great). I particularly liked how we were ordered at one point to reverse the line we were standing in. You read that correctly. At least they were polite, with the exception of one guy in the multiplex - fine, must have been a long night. The opening night concert by Vince Giordano was cute, but better accompanied by a date equally schooled in swing dance...
Basically, I can't make a recommendation one way or the other. There's lots of good to this festival and a whole lotta bad. The Boulevard is a horrible gaudy money sucking tourist trap, like Times Square on crack (as were many of the people wandering around). But the show itself is delightful. I don't know, check your wallet and your sincere love for the movie greats, and try it!

Speaking of checking your wallets, here's where I offer my experiences of coast to coast travel:
First, you gotta get to the airport. This is sort of self-aggrandizing, but I work with a website called www.airportparkingreservations.com, where you can save a bundle on parking at any major airport. If you're suburban like me and you need to take the train to the city, be advised I am not aware of any discounts for commuter parking and it's a ripoff long term. Best to call a cab (but account for LOTS of time for them to arrive). As for packing, if you're bringing electronic devices, bring a charger, dummy. (Oh, I can't be the only one that's happened to.) And bring warm clothes for the night - no, I didn't know about that.
Make sure your case is big enough to carry on board! If you don't know, keep a satchel for your important papers, or you'll look like a loser carrying your stuff in your hands. Speaking of which, don't put your boarding pass in that bin they push through the scanner - that annoys the security guards. (Maybe recent developments will allow TSA to loosen up a little? Maybe?) If you have to fly coach, fly coach. Just not redeye. My Airtran midnight flight back was sheer torture - I mean, do they design those seats to be uncomfortable because they hate the "cheapskates" in the back rows? The bathroom was filthy and the attendants hung out in the back chatting LOUDLY as I was clearly rolled up trying to SLEEP, after ignoring my request for water and NOT pretzels. BUT, the Airtran connector out of Milwaukee was a "business coach" flight - the seating was comfortable and the staff seemed together enough. Could this have to do with when the flight was taking off? Some customers are more valued than others?
And when staying in LA, don't get the cheap room. (That would be $50 a night.) As I type this, I'm still getting over a hard cough I picked up from what must be a hot sheets hotel - the kind where they don't change your towels or discolored sheets until you check out. This was in Van Nuys - if you want to party in Hollywood and take a cab you'll get robbed. Point is, spend $75 and get a clean room with service on the same planet as where you're going to be. LA is HUGE, and you do need a rental car. Simple enough - I paid $30 for the entire weekend via Hotwire and got a beautiful Nissan with amazing gas mileage, which again, you need.
There's lots of great food in LA - a real foodie paradise. My favorite breakfast was at the Farmer's Market, where I managed to arouse my burned out spirits with fruit smoothies and a croissant. But if you like to eat it they got it (but get your parking validated!!!), including an outrageously cool hot sauce joint called Light My Fire. Friend them on Facebook! Last time I was in LA I ate at the Pantry downtown which is more of a traditional "greasy spoon" diner, but the French toast was heavenly. There's also a wonderful donut shop in Westwood. I didn't get a chance to try Roscoe's which I hear is good.
After breakfast there's Filipino and Mexican joints around Vermont and Sunset, Thai places everywhere, and the legendary In 'N Out. I've been accused of having an immature sense of humor, but come on - am I the only person giggling over the fact that a bunch of Christian conservatives opened a burger joint and called it In 'N Out? Anyway, they took the proselytizing and scripture off the burger wrappers and stuff, and their "double trouble" - er, sorry, Double-Double is a messy monstrosity and I loved it. And the service is shockingly good - a kid standing outside taking orders instead of a vast touchscreen? That is exemplary service. Maybe these kids when the they graduate should consider careers in the travel industry. Just a thought.
Westwood and Little Ethiopia are full of cute little snack shops, and Venice is the place to go for organic tea shops and pretentious snacks. Again, I couldn't find Two Boots on time (did I mention how big LA is?)
I'd like to provide a safety warning - my last meal there almost killed me. Literally. ETA This was four days ago - I STILL have cramping and am very sick (I don't want to draw a picture...let's see, "When you're sliding into third, and you gotta squeeze a - ") Plus I had a fever, which could be attributed to the hotel room or sleep deprivation too. This would be painful at home, but combined with the rigors of traveling for 17 hours? That is a nightmare, and if it happens to you call 213-240-7821 and file a complaint. We are trying to pinpoint the exact location of where it happened at this time.
Sorry about the downbeat ending - that's just what happened to me. LA is an extreme place - the richest power players, the most dangerous neighborhoods, the wildest night life and the most diverse low culture. Whatever your indulgence is, it will do more than feed it, it will jam it into your face until you yell "basta"! If you can handle it, have a good time!

Monday, March 21, 2011

If religion is an opiate...

...then literature is like cannabis. A novel (or for that matter, a great movie or play) is a thick spliff that sends you into the realm of imagination, totally and completely, for a couple hours at a time. It opens the portals, man, and it sends you back to reality just a little bit different. A great story is like a great joint.
An online game is like a crack pipe. Why do you think they call it "World of War-crack"? Would it's fans be "World of War-crackheads"? I'm not militantly against video games - some of them do stimulate the memory and teach online skills - but I've seen things in the online game world lately that has disturbed me a lot, things I can't talk about here. Video games and porn are mostly designed to make you a little bit dumber and less socially competent and able to think critically or question the world around you. It's designed to reduce you to a helpless consumer wanting only more stimulation and more product. It's not a coincidence video games and porn are being scrutinized by addiction treatment professionals in greater numbers and their users are forced to seek help because of the damage to their lives these activities cause. Just like crack.
There's no ulterior motive to this post, I just thought it needed be said.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What Iron Chef can teach us about writing

(Disclaimer: I wrote the below before interest from LA started to manifest itself, so forgive the negative tone in some spots. It's how we all feel at some point, so I'm not editing it for now.)

I've been thinking about my own conflicts of writing daring artistic endeavors vs. writing silly popcorn ventures that will make me rich. It's something every artist fights over internally at one point in their life, despite how overconfident young writers are acting nowadays. Studying the craft is a key point, and some compare it to being a "doctor" in that you have to study the craft etc. etc., which is ridiculous. No one will die from reading your sorry excuse for a screenplay. They may wish they were dead, but I have a more accurate simile.
A gourmet chef.
Now, being a big fat lardass, I have a fascination with shows like Iron Chef, No Reservations, and the like (I draw the line at Gordon Ramsey, BTW). They're rule breakers and lovemakers, they're artists who defy the expectations of what you think a meal should be and they demand only the best in life as a result.
Well, before they get that far, they have to learn how to boil pasta or rice. They have to know how to bake bread. They have to either go to school for 4 years and study or get menial work in the kitchen. They have to wash dishes, cut potatoes and take out the garbage for years and years regardless until they get a lucky break and can claim a stove of their own. All to endure long hours, ALL nights and weekends, standing in a sweltering hot boiler room of brutish manly yelling and bullying in the name of "bonding" or "improving your craft". So that one day, they can make a business deal to get their own place cooking food their way, in a sweltering hot room with no windows until they're too old to cook anymore. Which is a decision to be made for them, of course, against their will.
At least as a writer, I get to sit down. But the choices are clear - either keep banging my head against the spec market wall until I fall down, because I've already crossed the "too old and fat to sell" line, or go broke filming the damn thing myself and showing it to pretentious dweebs at film festivals. There's also the reading option, dispensing useless advice to the young scribes who haven't learned how to prepare the proverbial sandwich, for money.
But like a dishwasher who has great ideas for how to reboot his favorite Cajun dishes, we are driven to keep trying whenever we imagine how much joy you're going to bring to the crowds who fill up your hole in the wall in NYC or LA one day. How they're going to remember your weird but enlightened spirit. How tasty your work is!