LYT at LAFF: Feasts Bitter and Sweet

I always used to know it was really summer when I was standing on the upper level on the Sunset 5 plaza in Hollywood, enjoying free vodka at an LAFF pool party. The movie screens at the Sunset 5, on the other hand...well, they are what they are. When LAFF moved to Westwood, some of the theaters were nice, some less nice, and the parking awful, but the village atmosphere was fun.

This downtown Regal is a very nice theater. I’m liking it, though I also am a bit surprised how hard it is to pull down the armrests on your seats. I’m thinking an average child would not have the arm-strength to do it. And while their front rows are not optimized like the Arclight’s, I have still taken to sitting in the front. Why? Because I know that that way, some jerk stumbling in at the 45-minute mark (happens in seemingly every screening thus far) won’t trip over my legs as I’m trying to watch the movie, then start rustling open his foil-coated Zone Perfect bars that he lifted from the cinema lounge in lieu of dinner.

Okay, the rustling of the Zone bars still happens. That’s inescapable. But one tries.


After some of the issues I’ve had watching what appeared to be blown-up DVDs, it was good to see a movie on film – THE TILLMAN STORY – but the issues endemic to that medium also became apparent when, 2/3 of the way through the screening, the film melted before our eyes. Ten minute later or thereabouts, we got back on track, and the mishap didn’t affect anybody’s appreciate one iota, as far as I can tell. This is a strong documentary.

You probably already know the broad strokes of Pat Tillman’s story. A nigh-impossibly square jawed and amiable jock, he left his lucrative NFL contract with the Arizona Cardinals following the events of 9-11, and joined the military. Three years later, he was dead, in what was originally dubbed an enemy ambush but later turned out to be friendly fire.

The right instantly rushed to claim him as a pro-war symbol of patriotism, while the left, upon learning he was an atheist who read Noam Chomsky and apparently disagreed with invading Iraq, would later come to insist he was one of their own. The truth, as presented by director Amir Bar-Lev (MY KID COULD PAINT THAT), is less reductive than a simple label; prior to his death, Tillman had some idea that he was going to be turned into a symbol, and based on the evidence presented, he wanted no part of that.

“You’re diminishing their true heroism!” says Tillman’s mother “Dannie” during a climactic congressional hearing, and her point is well taken. Pat may not have saved his entire platoon from the Taliban, as implied by the initial report, but he did save his friend from the same fate that befell him, in part by yelling at him to stop praying and keep his head in the moment. Soldiers are, at their best, people as flawed and complicated as anyone else who have to rise to the occasion, and painting them as exaggerated and one dimensional, while serving up a comic-book archetype, is not doing true justice to their least, not according to the Tillmans, who surprised the government by not wanting a traditional narrative slapped on their son, especially one that didn’t ring true to them.

I don’t want to spoil some of the details that come out during the movie, but if you needed a reason to hate Donald Rumsfeld all over again, you’ll get it. In fact, I blame Bush for the fact that the film melted during our viewing.

And if you didn’t get that the preceding was a joke, please do me a favor and never read anything I write again. Thank you. The part about hating Rummy is true.

My favorite moment was when Pat’s brother spoke at his funeral, in front of many military brass and a posturing John McCain, took the stage with a beer in his hand and proclaimed that Pat would want him to say that he’s not with God in Heaven, but “He’s f**kin’ dead!” Agree or disagree, that takes balls. Besides, after watching the movie, I would hesitate to say atheists should claim Pat and family as among of their own, since groups trying to do that were part of what he hated to begin with.

The film-melting incident may have kept me from other screenings, but it was a good day anyway. Returning to the Cinema Lounge, where, I should note, the opening walkway features squares that light up under your feet so you can do a “Billie Jean” dance every time you enter, I got to hang with my WICKED LAKE costar Will Keenan, and fellow critics like Todd Gilchrist and Jen Yamato. Photographers asked to take a picture of all three of us, in fact, but then the damned paparazzi seemed to decide that I ruined the cuteness of couplehood vibe, and asked me to stay out of the subsequent pic.

Then there was free food: arugula and goat cheese wrapped in prosciutto (yes, we west coast liberal elitists really do eat that stuff), green chile pancakes, pizza, and lots and lots of cheesecake. Beat the hell out of the Zone bars.

I found out during the course of this serving of eats that other attendees had been given mini-lists of other festival parties to attend, and following their lead, skipped out over to J Lounge, past streets of hipsters entering dimly lit clubs as the homeless outside slept on warm gratings. J Lounge has free vodka, and mini-quiche, plus a great view of downtown. ‘Twas a mini-feast, unlike the BITTER FEAST that followed at the Downtown Independent. Produced by Larry Fessenden, who directed WENDIGO and HABIT, and produced such movies as THE ROOST, Fessenden is a fest fixture, but this for me is his first fail. Food Network shows are ripe for parody – as part of a couple now, I see a lot of them, and would love to see Alton Brown get the mocking he deserves – but this film doesn’t cut it. It’s good at first, with pissed-off TV chef James LeGros kidnapping a food blogger who has slammed him publicly, and putting him through some SAW-like tests that depend on his ability to taste truly good food as opposed to poison...but then it deteriorates into “let’s chase each other around the house and garden at night for 30 minutes or so.” Fessenden cameos as a clean-cut detective, which is a nice change from his usual skuzzy roles.

Better than the movie: the rooftop bar at said theater. Nice view of the city, five or so different bottled beers, one bartender reading a book, and I the only customer. Beautiful night.

Luke Y. Thompson is an actor, writer, and film critic living in Hollywood.

More on Geekweek


Sign in to comment with your TypePad, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Yahoo or OpenID.