Sunday, July 23, 2006

ComiCon 2006

My best friend Karen and I started going to science fiction conventions in the mid-1970s when we were in college and "Star Trek" fans were madly lobbying for the return of their favorite show. I moved on to ComiCon in the '80s, when Tim and I lived in San Diego. The primary focus back then was on comic books and genre paperback fiction. Dealers sold their wares in a small showroom, while expert panels and fans debated the merits of science fiction and fantasy in even smaller meeting rooms. Boring! So I stopped going.

Today, of course, ComiCon has become an enormous media event where the studios and TV networks love to preview new movies and other products to a captive audience of fans. Last year, we spent the weekend sneak-previewing four new science fiction TV shows (all of which have since been canceled!) and several movies. I knew I was in my element when attendees at one event were admonished to turn off their pagers, phones *and* light-sabers!

Tim had to work this weekend, so it was just Karen and me, on our own again some thirty years after our very first “con.” We decided to take the 7:20AM train out of downtown L.A. in hopes of getting into the con by 11AM. The train was filled with fellow fan-boys and girls making their annual pilgrimage to comic book heaven. Getting off in San Diego, we hooked up with a former student, Mike, and his new friend Pedro, a journalist from Brazil who was taking a day off from covering the Miss Universe pageant in L.A. You never know who you’re going to meet on the train!

Together the four of us walked to the convention center, about five blocks from the train station. The weather was oppressively hot—sunny, humid and very little breeze, even though we were only half-a-block from the water.

I knew there would be an impossibly long line to purchase tickets on site, so we pre-registered on the Internet, thinking we’d be able to waltz right in like we did last year. No such luck! Non-ticket-holders were directed to gate A while we were pointed toward gate C, where we were greeted by a line that stretched well past the length of the convention center. I almost passed out a couple of times from heat exhaustion as we stood there roasting in the sun. Karen and I took turns going into the air-conditioned building while the guys saved our place. In my ten years living in San Diego, I never knew it to be this hot. More evidence that global warming has arrived. Finally, after more than an hour, we were shepherded inside the building, up the escalator, and into an inside hallway, before being directed to a battery of volunteers who printed up our name badges. We were then set loose to enjoy the convention.

There are several parts to ComiCon: numerous programs held concurrently in meeting rooms, large and small, on the second floor of the building; author and celebrity signings, each with its own table and queuing area; an art show, where nascent artists and comic book authors can display their work; and the enormous exhibit hall, where dealers display and sell products over the entire first floor of the convention center. Although Karen and I had carefully gone through the program, selecting panels we wanted to attend, all that planning went out the window when I actually got into the con and was immediately, as if in a trance, drawn to the exhibits. We left Mike and Pedro to fend for themselves as we dove headfirst into the great hall.

Nothing can really prepare you for the sensory overload of the exhibits. Everything is loud, flashy and crowded, as each vendor tries to fight for your attention. There are rows and rows and rows of comic books, action figures, posters, movie memorabilia, photographs, artwork, sculptures, video and computer games, etc., all screaming for your approval and, of course, your pocketbook. I always start at one end of the hall and slowly walk up and down each aisle, waiting for something to catch my eye.

Turning onto the third aisle, Karen and I both spotted a comic book, “Gangs of Camelot,” and stopped in our tracks. “Oh my gosh!” I yelled, as the four young men behind the table snapped to attention. The comic book featured Chicago gangsters being transported back in time to help King Arthur defeat his lifelong nemesis Morgan le Fey. “What fun!” I blurted out, having never seen anything like this in all my thirty years collecting Arthuriana. “Would you like the artist to autograph a copy for you?” one of the young men asked. “Of course,” I said and soon had a signed copy in my hand. Looking most grateful, the artist encouraged me to email him my feedback. And you know what? I just may.

Completely revitalized, I was now ready to conquer the rest of the exhibits. While Karen attended a program, I made my way through the crowds in a daze, looking for more interesting items. It was wonderful being in the company of so many fellow fans letting their geek flags fly. At one point, I overheard someone say, “Look, there’s Johnny Depp!” and quickly turned my head, even though I knew there was no way in hell he’d ever attend ComiCon. I did see a couple of celebrities, though: Jorge Garcia (Hurley from "Lost") drew a big crowd of paparazzi in one of the booths, and Nichelle Nichols (Uhuru from "Star Trek") was signing in another. Then, as I was making my way through an especially thick crowd, I heard a man yell, “STAND BACK! STAND BACK!,” and there was Stan Lee (a deity among comic book authors), walking through the hall surrounded by bodyguards. We all moved and then burst into spontaneous applause.

The best part for me, always, is seeing people dressed in costume. At Star Trek conventions, just about everyone is dressed as a character from the show. But at ComiCon, your only limit is your imagination. This year, there were lots of pirates and wenches, looking like they had just stepped off the set of "Pirates of the Caribbean." I saw several Captain Jack Sparrows, but the best was this amazing lookalike, who captured Johnny Depp’s effete mannerisms perfectly and even had gold-capped teeth. I also saw lots of Star Wars characters and, of course, Klingons, who tended to congregate at the snack bars, intimidating younger conventioneers. There were also lots of superheroes, who I’m not familiar enough with to name, and an abundance of fairies and elves. Everywhere I looked, people were taking pictures of their favorite comic book, TV or movie characters. I was sorry that we weren’t staying for that night’s masquerade party.

At 3PM, I took a break and joined Karen for a panel on the future of science fiction on TV (does not look hopeful, although the Sci Fi channel continues to introduce new innovations). I then returned one last time to the exhibits while Karen enjoyed a panel on one of her favorite shows, "Veronica Mars." We ventured back out into the heat at 5:30, hoping to catch the 6:20PM train. But the train was late. After waiting in a hot line for another hour, we finally boarded and left San Diego at 7:30PM. We got back to Culver City by 11PM. I immediately took a shower and gratefully climbed into bed, where I dreamed about Jack Sparrow and the other wonderful characters I had seen. Although it was hot and exhausting, I promise to return again next year; but this time I’ll go on Friday when the crowds are not so plenty.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Taste of Larchmont

We moved back to Los Angeles in 1994 after living in San Diego for nearly ten years. In those days we were renters and so moved into Park Labrea, an enormous, fifty-year-old apartment complex in the heart of the mid-Wilshire district.

One of the pleasures of living in Park Labrea was its proximity to Larchmont, an increasingly upscale section of Los Angeles, developed in the 1920s. Adjacent to the mansions of Hancock Park, the quaint Larchmont “village” gives this part of town a real midwestern flavor. Tim used to get his hair cut there and we’d frequently eat lunch or dinner at one of its many restaurants. The atmosphere is friendly and casual, and even the celebrity residents seem like normal folk. Tim met Huell Howser once at the barbershop and we even saw Kate Mulgrew, at the height of her “Star Trek” fame, openly dining in a sidewalk cafe while chatting loudly about her fellow trekker Patrick Stewart. We’ve seen other TV stars there, too, just going about their daily lives.

We’ve gone to the annual Taste of Larchmont event, off and on, for probably ten years. Where else can you sample the food of several favorite restaurants all for one flat fee? In fact, we’re big fans of the whole “taste of” phenomenon, having attended events in Coronado, Culver City, El Toro, Santa Monica (at both the Promenade and the pier), the backlots of Universal Studios, and Westwood. Then, of course, there was the famous time Tim and I got separated in a NYC subway, only to miraculously find each other amid 50,000 people enjoying the Taste of Battery Park! But that’s a story for another time...

Unlike similar events, which are usually held in parking lots or other more scenic spaces, the Taste of Larchmont is served up in the restaurants themselves, all located within a one block radius of each other. The mood is more like a progressive dinner since you tend to see the same people going from table to table. This year, fourteen restaurants and seven dessert stations participated.

The tasting was scheduled to begin at 6PM, so naturally we arrived at 5:55PM. None of the restaurants was ready to serve, so we decided to start at Chan Dara, one of our favorite Thai food places, at the farthest end of the street. Several other early birds were already there, including a librarian friend David, who we see every year at this event. Everyone was chomping at the bit to begin! Finally, at 6:05PM, the doors opened and we began to feast: vegetarian spring rolls and chicken and noodles with peanuts sprinkled on top. You would have thought we’d been on a week-long fast!

Next was Kiku Sushi, which I don’t eat, so Tim got double portions, and then onto Prado, which was serving Cuban. Arroz con pollo and a tasty salad—yum! Not much time to sit around savoring, however, because we were soon onto Louise’s Trattoria, which has become one of our favorite westside haunts (love that Sicilian cobb salad!). The pasta primavera was disappointing (mine is *much* better), but the bread was outrageous as usual. It was now time to conquer the other side of the street.

We followed David almost reluctantly over to the Larchmont Deli, where there is always more food than any human could possibly consume. Sure enough, in addition to the usual sandwiches, salad bar, and cold cut platter, the owners had set out hot plate meals, including roast beef and some other items I was already too full to admire. Tim grabbed a four-inch-thick turkey sandwich, while I nibbled on a slice of salami. We left David behind as we fled to the next destination.

We skipped the El Cholo tamales (not as good as Corn Maiden) being served at Coldwell Banker, but did take a breather in front of a real estate agency window. There was nothing listed for under a million dollars, so we laughed and moved onto the outdoor “pavilion,” where dessert was being served. I got a scrumptious lemon bar from Sweet Lady Jane. Tim had a cupcake, chased by a slice of French apple pie from Callendar’s Wilshire, our former local Marie Callendar’s, which has been transformed into an upscale “grille.” (Excuse me while I roll my eyes...)

By now barely able to move, we waddled over to the Avocado Grill, where we forced ourselves to eat carnitas tacos. “Enough!” Tim declared. But that didn’t stop us from carrying away sandwiches (Cafe du Village) and two slices of cheese pizza (Z Pizza) for lunch the next day. Sadly, we were too full to even consider La Luna and Le Petit Greek, two of Larchmont’s more popular eateries.

Next year we’ll be sure to bring ziplock baggies so we can truly get our money’s worth!


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Vacation in Pismo Beach

Every two years or so, Tim and I like to rent a condo in Pismo Beach for a few days. It’s far enough from L.A. (three hours by car) to feel like we’re getting away, but close enough to retain all the comforts of home (Trader Joe’s, L.A. TV stations, etc.). Plus it’s only 10 miles from San Luis Obispo (SLO), an enlightened college town that’s always got something interesting going on.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that I jumped at an offer, several months ago, to lead a workshop in SLO this week. My only provision was that we schedule the workshop on Thursday or Friday so Tim and I could spend the weekend in Pismo. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect as it’s been hotter than hell even in Culver City, where we’re relatively close to the beach. Al Gore is right—global warming is here! Consider this a mandate to see “An Inconvenient Truth”!

As soon as the workshop date was set, Tim started hunting for a condo on the Internet. Even with two months notice, the pickin’s were slim, so we ended up with a townhouse that sleeps six. The thing was enormous—literally 500 square feet larger than our home. And it was decorated in a western motif gone berserk. The manager of the complex called it “our house of animals” and he was right. In the living room was a stuffed deer’s head, buffalo (?) horns and a huge rack of Moose antlers, that cast an eery shadow when the upstairs light was on. After a while I also noticed a pair of bookends made out of deer hooves and a stuffed armadillo poised under the staircase. The walls were covered in hand-painted murals of outdoor western scenes—a clever way to avoid hanging pictures, except in the middle of it all was something of a shrine to the owner’s mother, Catherine Kent, who apparently sang and/or acted in an all-female western troupe. Framed pictures of her (mostly of the cheesecake variety) hung along the staircase and in the dining room. Too bad we didn't have our camera.

After getting over the shock of having to spend the weekend in a Wild West museum, we decided to take a walk into “town” to see how Pismo had changed over the past two years. The drive-in burger joint, Pom & Roy, had either changed management or got a new coat of paint; otherwise, everything still looks the same. The Old West Cinnamon Roll store, which is open every day of the year but Christmas, is still there, as is the eight-lane bowling alley. Mo’s barbecue is still serving up ribs and tri-tip and The Scoop is still the place to get ice cream. It was Thursday afternoon, so things were fairly quiet. By Friday afternoon, however, the place was a zoo, with campers full of families arriving for the weekend.

The highlight of every trip to Pismo is the SLO Farmer’s Market, which starts at 6:00, Thursday evenings. Anxious to get a good parking spot, we arrived in SLO at 5:30PM and watched as vendors heated up their grills and popped their tents in preparation for that night’s hordes. Amazingly, within 20 minutes, several blocks of Higuera St., SLO’s main north-south artery, was turned into an outdoor marketplace. By 6PM, the place was swarming with tourists and locals alike.

The central coast is famous for its barbecue, so we started by walking the entire length of the market, checking out the various menus and comparing prices. Finally, we decided on pulled pork sandwiches from Mother’s Tavern and had a feast, perched on the first empty curb we could find. We then went in search of other food items that we could either eat in the condo or take home at the end of the weekend. I bought two half-pound tomatoes, which were so big it took me 20 minutes to chop them up later that night. Tim bought two jars of his favorite olallerberry jam. I was determined to buy some strawberries to munch on over the weekend, but couldn’t find any to my liking, so we treated ourselves to a scoop of outrageous blueberry cheesecake ice cream instead. By now, we’d walked up and down the market three times and so finally headed back to Pismo as it started to get dark. After snacking on organic tomatoes, we went to bed, surrounded by murals of sunflowers and cacti.

I taught the next day, so Tim ran errands between news reports of uncontrolled fires in San Bernardino and war in Israel. At 3:30, he picked me up in SLO and we returned to Pismo for an early dinner. I had noticed a new restaurant in town called Two Blocks Off the Beach—actually, I had noticed the sign outside, promising homemade desserts!—and so when Tim read a glowing review of it in the weekly newspaper, we decided to give it a try. The food was wonderful—one of the best spinach salads I’ve ever eaten. And the dessert was fabulous, as promised. Finally, a great restaurant in Pismo Beach.

Like most beach towns, the downtown area is pretty much overrun by teenagers at night; so we turned around and went back to SLO to see the recently released documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car.” As enlightened as SLO is, most of its movie theaters show the same ol’ summer blockbusters, which we’ve already seen. The happy exception is The Palm, a tiny art house that shows nothing but independent and international films. Luckily we got there early, because the movie—shown in a theater about the size of our master bedroom—was almost sold-out. The film chronicles the creation and ultimate destruction of the popular EV-1 electric car created by General Motors in 2001. Several villains are portrayed in the film, including the oil companies, who are obviously not enthused about electric cars, GM, who saw no profit in manufacturing mass quantities of fuel-efficient cars, and the government, which bowed to the pressures placed on them by GM and the oil companies. I found myself mumbling and cursing throughout the film as the electric car’s enemies prevailed. I half-expected Tim to shush me like he did when we saw Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” the first time. As for the rest of the audience, they were fairly subdued, until George Bush came on the screen, proposing to drill for oil in the Alaskan preserves. You would have thought Hitler himself had walked in the door for all the booing and hissing that erupted by the time Bush finished his speech. I knew then that the movie had struck the same chord in everyone else that it had struck in me.

On Saturday, we got up early and headed north to Cayucos after having a hearty breakfast at SLO’s famous Apple Farm restaurant. Cayucos, we discovered two years ago, is the antiques capital of the central coast. Still, we were quite surprised to find the place crawling with people. Turns out there was a six-mile “Rock to Pier Fun Run” that morning, from Morro Bay to the Cayucos pier, and hundreds of people had either participated or come to cheer their loved ones on. The stores weren’t open yet, so we stood on the pier watching as the last few stragglers crossed the finish line. All else was forgotten, however, when the stores opened at 10AM.

Now I collect a particular pattern of dinnerware called “Swiss Chalet.” It’s a set that was sold in supermarkets when I was a kid in the early 1960s. My mother bought a few pieces, which I took with me when I moved out of my father’s house fifteen years later. I never really gave these oddball plates and saucers much thought until I saw an entire set of them at the Rose Bowl flea market about three years ago. They were beautiful: white with small blue and green hand-painted flowers in the center. I passed them by that day, but soon became obsessed with collecting all the pieces I didn’t have. I even did a bit of research and found out that the set, called Swiss Chalet, was made by a well-known porcelain company named Marcrest. In addition to the usual plates, bowls, cups and saucers, a different manufacturer, Fire King, also made an entire series of drinking glasses, which I had never seen, and Pyrex made matching cookware. I was completely hooked and have spent many hundreds of dollars buying almost every piece of Swiss Chalet I could find.

I have never been able to find the holy grail of Swiss Chalet pieces, however: a blue pitcher which has no identifiable markings, except a Marcrest stamp on the bottom. I have seen the pitcher in pink, which of course belongs to another set altogether, but never in blue. So Tim and I were on a very specific quest in Cayucos: to find the blue Swiss Chalet pitcher! I even printed off a picture of it, which Tim kept in his pocket, just in case.

Well, after three hours, not only did we *not* find the pitcher, but we didn’t even see one single piece of Swiss Chalet, which is highly unusual. Could it be that I’ve already bought most of the inventory in the western United States?! I did find some other cool stuff, though, including a pair of two-inch plastic red-and-white salt-and-pepper shakers that perfectly match our mid-century red kitchen, plus a $3.50 brochure about Angel’s Flight, one of downtown L.A.’s most precious lost treasures. I also found an old poster of Culver City’s former raceway, which was demolished in the 1950s or ‘60s. I didn’t buy the poster on our last trip; but this time I grabbed it immediately from exactly the same spot I had left it two years ago!

From Cayucos, we went back to SLO to do yet more shopping. Tim found a wonderful set of old Hollywood postcards, circa 1965, with an astounding picture of the Hollywood freeway without a median wall! Of course, maybe a wall wasn’t necessary in those days because the postcard shows a completely uncongested freeway, with only about ten cars merrily zooming by. My, how things have changed!

We had hoped for more barbecue, but opted instead for some tasty individual pizzas from Pizza Solo, a fast-food restaurant in a newer part of downtown SLO. We also stopped by House of Bread, where free samples were generously provided. Tim almost convinced me to bring home a loaf of parmesan cheese bread, until I took a bite of my sample and ended up buying sourdough artichoke pesto bread—yum!

Exhausted, we limped back to Pismo with our treasures. We were going to see another movie later that day, but decided instead to take a stroll along the beach and happened upon a wedding. We spent the rest of the evening watching the Angels game.

We are now back home. The cats survived without us for three days and Tim is absorbed in the L.A. Times. We never did find time to eat ribs in SLO, so we’re on our way out to have Santa Maria barbecue in our own beautiful downtown Culver City. We’ve got the Taste of Larchmont tomorrow night, the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday, and ComiCon in San Diego next weekend . . . so stay tuned for more reports soon.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Trip to Catalina

We woke up in a seafaring mood after spending much of yesterday watching the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie (loved it!) and so booked two round-trip tickets on the 12:45PM catamaran from Marina Del Rey to Catalina Island. In the past ten years, we’ve been to Catalina maybe three or four times—usually just for lunch, then we turn around and head home. Our favorite restaurant, located on the main boardwalk, serves exceptionally crispy carnitas. We like to eat at the outside bar so we can people-watch and see the ocean.

Since the Marina boat doesn’t return until 7:30PM, we decided to pack our own supplies in case things got boring. We grabbed our iPods, a radio (to listen to the Angels game on the way home), books, jackets, and hats. I also filled three bottles with water in case of sudden drought(!). After opening all the windows in the house—so the cats wouldn’t die of heat while we were gone!—we turned on the porch light and left for the Marina.

We, of course, were the first passengers to arrive. The ticket counter is located in Fisherman’s Village, a sad little restaurant/shopping area that probably saw its last heyday some thirty years ago. I was desperate for a cookie or other baked good, but could only find ice cream (three different stands!), prepackaged sandwiches and t-shirts. I finally settled for a small bag of Doritos, opting not to ruin my appetite for carnitas.

The other passengers started to arrive while we waited at the dock. There was a family from Oklahoma that was going over to attend a wedding or some such event. There was also a group of four Asian women, only one of whom spoke English. A young couple had a small white fluffy dog in tow and others were loaded down with all kinds of luggage. Then there was the handsome young man who immediately latched onto an attractive young Australian woman, claiming that he was going to Australia himself next month for a job. Tim and I gave each other the secret “Yeah, right!” look and then quietly eavesdropped to see how far he got.

The boat was now 15 minutes late and so I ran to the restroom one last time. Naturally, as soon I left, the boat arrived, causing quite a flurry to get on board. Anxious to get going, we all rushed down to the dock only to be directed back up the ramp to wait a while longer. Finally, after about 10 minutes, it was announced that the boat had hit a “big fish” on the way into LA and would have to be inspected before it could leave for Catalina. As we soon found out, they actually did hit either a dolphin or whale—“a large flailing fish and lots of blood in the water,” was how the captain explained it—which, of course, could very well have caused a lot of damage.

After another 20 minutes, we were told that water was seeping into the boat and so our trip was canceled. We quickly got our refund while the poor Oklahomans, et al., tried to figure out a way to get to Long Beach to take the next boat out of there.

By now, it was well beyond lunchtime, so we headed up Admiralty Way to Casa Escobar, past the crowded restaurants of the Marina. Located next to a decidedly “downscale” Best Western, Casa Escobar is another relic of the 1970s that is well past its prime. Still, on a warm summer afternoon, the view from the patio is just as beautiful as the view from the nearby Ritz-Carlton; plus Casa Escobar serves one mean plate of carnitas. Who needs Catalina anyway when good food and the ocean are just ten minutes from your own front door?


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

July 4th block party

One of the first things we learned, when we moved into our house eight years ago, was that our neighbors hold an annual Fourth of July block party. With barricades on one end of the block and Ballona Creek on the other, it’s easy to create our own private street. It’s all very illegal, of course, but since we’re part of a tiny portion of LA that juts into Culver City, the Culver City police don’t pay us any attention and the LAPD are just too busy handling other bigger problems.

The party, which is organized by a pair of families who live down the block, is usually announced a week in advance via a photocopied invitation that is hand-delivered to each house. Tim, who grew-up in a very tightknit neighborhood filled with kids his own age, waits anxiously every year for our invitation. We have missed the party a couple of times, but this is pretty much a highlight of his summer.

Although the festivities don’t usually begin until 3PMish, the barricades go up first thing in the morning so the families can start assembling their pop-up shade tents on the street. We assume the cooking starts hours before as there are always massive amounts of meat and other tasty delights. Guests are asked to bring a side-dish; our hosts provide everything else. In the past, I’ve baked cookies, made salads, etc. This year we took gourmet olives and shared some of my sister’s homemade pickles. Tim also contributed a bunch of fresh sausage he bought at the market. We can tell it’s time to mosey on over when we smell meat (ribs, tri-tip, pork roast, chicken, and sausage!) barbecuing on four separate grills.

When they were younger, the neighborhood kids spent a big part of the day decorating their bikes and Big Wheels with balloons and bunting before parading them up and down (and up and down!) the block to much applause and cheering. Now they entertain themselves by playing street football and basketball (the boys) or visiting with their friends (the girls). One of those ubiquitous “Johnny jump-ups” is inflated on the Ballona end of the block for the new generation of little ones.

The adults congregate around the food and drinks, staying cool under the tents and neighborhood trees. Music (U2, Clapton, Motown, etc.) blasts from two speakers strategically placed on one family’s roof. People chat, sing, and just basically bask in the casual atmosphere of the day. We sat with a young Australian man who was traveling around the world, staying with friends whenever possible. He said he loved Los Angeles but would soon be moving on to Canada, England, Israel, Egypt, Europe, and then finally Asia.

Neighbors drift in and out of the party, sometimes going back to their own family gatherings at home. We managed to grab a nap after sampling most of the food.

The climax of the day is always the Culver City fireworks, which are launched from the high school stadium just three blocks away. In anticipation, the local kids start setting off their own pyrotechnics as soon as twilight descends. There’s always a lively display of Roman candles, sparklers and Piccolo Petes, which strangely go quiet as soon as the real fireworks begin. This year we were also treated to a fabulous display of aerials launched above Ballona Creek by, of all people, our plumber, who lives two blocks away. It was a veritable embarrassment of riches as our heads spun around trying to catch all the pre-show magic.

Things finally settled down at 9:15PM, when the first fiery chrysanthemum exploded over the high school. As we do every year, we quickly caught-up with our neighbors across the street while waiting for the next array to appear. One neighbor was diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy; the others had to put their elderly dog to sleep. Too much news to share just once a year.

The fireworks were spectacular. Certainly not the caliber of Disneyland’s nightly show, but nonetheless outstanding by Culver City standards. The recent renaissance of the downtown area has apparently led to a new and improved Fourth of July fireworks show! Hooray for redevelopment!

As soon as the fireworks ended, we sadly wished everyone a good night and went our separate ways. My best friend Karen, who had joined us for the show, zoomed off as we retreated home to our terrified cats. Without a minute’s delay, the neighborhood kids resumed their own show, launching their remaining firecrackers, etc. Exhausted, we fell right to sleep despite the constant sound of Piccolo Pete playing outside our living room window...


Monday, July 03, 2006

L.A. Film Festival (final day)

The final day of the festival was something of a bust—partly because the film we saw was a real stinker, but also because it was so damn hot that any remaining interest in the festivities seemed to be sucked away.

We arrived an hour early, as usual. Happily, it was Sunday so we were able to park on the street for free. There wasn’t one person on line when we arrived at the Crest, so we hung-out in the shade on the other side of Westwood Blvd. Fifteen minutes later, the previous show let out and, from among those folks, a line began to form. We jaywalked and then huddled under a sad-looking tree near the theater’s entrance. There was absolutely no evidence of celebrities or cast members and, indeed, as we soon found out, this was to be a screening only with no Q & A.

The movie was “Wild Seven,” an extremely self-conscious noir piece filmed in the style of “Pulp Fiction” and other Tarantino rip-offs. Robert Forster and Robert Loggia played a pair of aging ex-cons who plan to pull one last heist; but things go awry when Forster brings his son (writer-director James Hausler) into the mix. The movie had its moments—including a funny scene with a gun dealer who also sells stuffed teddy bears—but was disappointing overall. Still, we decided the festival itself made for an exciting and fun weekend and so may just buy two 10-film passes next year!

With that, we rushed back to our car so we could get home in time to see one of our favorite TV shows, HBO's “Entourage,” where the "real" Hollywood insider stuff happens.

More adventures soon...


Sunday, July 02, 2006

L.A. Film Festival (7/1/06)

No celebrities at yesterday’s film festival. In fact, no full-length film! Instead, we attended a UCLA lecture called “L.A. Noir: The City as Character,” which featured clips of several post-WWII films—mostly black-and-white—shot on location in Los Angeles. My favorite was a scene from “Sunset Boulevard,” showing a mechanical stop/go sign that was eventually replaced by our three-color traffic lights. We also saw the old Angels Flight (“Kiss Me Deadly”), oily Venice canals (“Touch of Evil”), the magnificent Bradbury Building (“DOA”), and assorted shots of City Hall and Bunker Hill. Tim has “Mickey Rooney” programmed into our Tivo wish list, so of course his favorite clips were of the Santa Monica Pier, where we saw Mickey (playing the bad guy) being endlessly chased by the cops in “Quicksand.”

I wanted to watch “Chinatown” when we got home; but Tim was in more of a military frame of mind, so we watched “Black Hawk Down” instead. We’re seeing our last festival film later today. Be sure to tune-in tomorrow for details...


Saturday, July 01, 2006

LA Film Festival (7/1/06)

While everyone else on the 405 freeway was getting an early start on the long Fourth of July weekend, we were headed north to Westwood to see two more installments of the LA Film Festival: “Right at Your Door,” a dramatic thriller set in present-day Los Angeles, and “I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With,” a comedy written by, directed by and starring Jeff Garlin, Larry David’s overweight manager in the hilarious HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Our first challenge, of course, was finding reasonably-priced parking. It was still well before 5PM when the lots change to the more affordable evening rates, so I knew we were in trouble. I tried a lot near the Crest theater, but quickly made a U-turn when I noticed we would have had to pay $16 (!) I then headed over to the $5 lot we use when we can’t find free parking on Geffen play nights. It was $7, but I was starting to worry about getting to the theater on time and so paid the price. Tomorrow we go back to taking the bus!

There was no one on line when we got to the theater (Mann Festival). In fact, it was so hot outside that the festival volunteers told all ticket-holders to wait in one of Westwood’s many air-conditioned coffee shops until 30 minutes before show time. We did and, finally, at 4PM were admitted into the theater.

“Right at Your Door” is a frighteningly realistic look at what might happen if terrorists attacked Los Angeles. The protagonists are a young couple who had moved to Echo Park just two weeks before. The wife (Mary McCormack, of “West Wing” and “ER”) gets caught in the fallout when bombs explode during the morning rush hour, while the husband—an unemployed musician (Rory Cochrane, formerly of “CSI: Miami”)—listens to the unfolding events on the radio at home. As contaminated ash starts to pollute the entire city, it quickly becomes apparent that the wife is doomed.

Suffice it to say that the movie is a real-life nightmare. Listening to the radio reports of bombs exploding in downtown LA, Century City and then LAX, I could barely remain seated in the theater. It reminded me of the nearly unwatchable nuclear holocaust film “Testament” (1983)—except all the horror of this movie is squeezed into 48 hours instead of over several weeks. Tim and I were both relieved when it was over. As soon as the credits rolled I ran to the bathroom, where I overheard one exhausted-looking woman say to another, “I need to see a comedy!”

The Jeff Garlin film was starting in 30 minutes, so we left before the post-movie Q&A began. But we did wait long enough to see the writer-director Chris Gorak (art director on “Fight Club” and “Tombstone”) and Mary McCormack (tall and pretty). We ran into a hurrying Rory Cochrane (cute!) as we left the theater. We were grateful to be outside in the light of a beautiful day.

En route to the Crest, we noticed a man wildly gesturing and yelling to a couple across the ever-congested Westwood Blvd. “There he is!” Tim said. And sure enough, there was Jeff Garlin and his petite blond wife walking down the wrong side of the street. The gesturer was advising them to go back to the stoplight so they wouldn’t get killed jaywalking.

A short line greeted us at the Crest. Actress-comedienne Bonnie Hunt was already there, graciously signing autographs for several fans. She plays one of Jeff’s love interests in the movie and is much prettier and thinner in person. Things started getting crazy when Jeff arrived, but by then we were on our way into the theater.

Once inside, Tim noticed that the last three rows—the best seats in the house—were open, so we quickly staked our claim in the third row. Luckily, several other people soon joined us because, five minutes later, a petite blond—Mrs. Garlin!—showed up to rope-off the last three rows. We refused to move, so instead she taped off the two rows behind us. We also agreed to save the three empty seats next to us. We were about to be surrounded by the entire cast of the movie!

I was busy watching for celebrities, when Tim whispered, “Dan Castellaneta is sitting right behind you!” Castellaneta, best known as the voice of Homer Simpson, plays a mini-mart owner in the movie. Next to him were Mina Folb (alum of the wonderful old TV show “That Was the Week That Was”) and David Pasquesi (Garlin’s friend from Second City), also both in the movie. Behind Tim was documentarian Morgan Spurlock and a fetching blond, whom he introduced as his “new wife.” Apparently he’s no longer with the woman who stood by him for thirty days in “Super Size Me.” Spurlock was telling everyone about the new season of his TV show “30 Days,” when Richard Kind showed up to quite a fanfare. He had just been named as a replacement lead in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” on Broadway and so was treated to much hugs and kisses by his peers. By the way, Kind is much handsomer in person than he is on TV. He plays Garlin’s agent in the movie.

We also saw Caroline Rhea, a comedienne who used to have her own talk show, and Paul Mazursky, who plays a TV producer in the film. Mary McCormack slipped into the last row right before the lights dimmed.

The movie was wonderful. Very sweet and funny, it’s partially based on Garlin’s early show biz life in Chicago, where he grew-up. It’s by far the best film we’ve seen at the festival. Afterwards, Garlin, Bonnie Hunt and the producer took questions from the audience. Garlin was obviously very thrilled to be there. We all screamed in joy when he announced that he had sold the movie to a distributor. Tim and I gave the film the highest rating—GREAT—on our exit surveys.

Headed back to the car, we walked up “Popcorn Alley,” a street cordoned off for festival-goers. We marveled at a group of Asian tourists using chopsticks to eat bags of popcorn! Everyone was in a festive mood. Tomorrow we return for more...