7th Los Angeles Film Festival

Hollywood, Los Angeles, April 20-28, 2001

You know you’re in California when every piece of electrical apparatus, from automatic doors to lifts, has instructions on it detailing what to do when the power fails. Fortunately, the Los Angeles Film Festival was mercifully spared any of the rolling blackouts which been all too common in the state recently – the thought of projecting movies by pulling the film past a candle really doesn’t bear thinking about.

This year, the film was incorporated into part of the Independent Feature Project/West, a strangely named group looking after indie film-makers and cheerleading for their movies. One was left to contemplate the significance of the logo – as seen at the top. This portrays someone desperately pushing a film reel up a very steep slope, which is a good enough metaphor for the process of movie-making by all accounts. The fact that, at the top, there appears to be nothing but a precipice is presumably a good enough metaphor for the eventual fate of most non-studio product. Is that a Blockbuster video card lurking at the bottom?

This CD will self-destruct in 5 seconds

The nine day festival had over ninety films, but due to time constraints we could only sample a few, opting (as you might expect) for the ones that didn’t involve powerful coming-of-age sagas, poignant and sometimes hilarious stories about what happens when life moves on, or fresh takes on the subject of sex and the single girl. [All three could be found in the festival program] For what’s the point of being independent if you’re going to churn out the same kind of thing as a mediocre movie-of-the-week on a mainstream cable channel? Thanks, but we’ll pass.

Most of the screenings took place at the Directors’ Guild of America headquarters on Sunset Boulevard. Naturally, I took the chance to play at being Spielberg, striding into the building, barking loudly into a cellphone about weekend grosses and pay-for-play deals. I think my poor mother was very confused by the end of the conversation, but never mind. The screening rooms were fine, if a little spartan – I mean, no drinks-holders, and while they sold food in the foyer (this being California, it was sushi and cappucino rather than popcorn and Coke), they wouldn’t let you take anything into the screens. So much for the cinematic experience. Still, nothing that couldn’t be solved, thanks to a capacious hockey-shirt, capable of holding an entire picnic in its sleeves.

The LA Film School and the Laemmle Sunset 5 also provided venues, though we never got to the latter, presumably because it was playing the kind of fodder appropriate to its multiplex nature. The Film School was further along Sunset Boulevard, with the cinema tucked round the corner in a low-key manner inappropriate for anything to do with film schools, but we did discover a really decent BBQ joint up the street which helped keep those of us less keen on sushi nutritionally sustained.

The big buzzwords at the festival appeared to be “digital video”, with several of the screenings coming off this medium, yet looking barely inferior to regular projection. People like Bernard (Paperhouse) Rose are extremely enthusiastic about its possibilities, and with good packages available for just a few thousand dollars, it does seem to offer low-budget film-makers a great deal of flexibility and possibility. Disturbingly for those in the business, it may eventually also mean an end to the need for special lighting, cinematographers and a lot of the other paraphenalia traditionally associated with “movie making”. We script-writers, however, should be safe. 🙂 For an example of the possibilities, check out www.filmisdead.com.

But enough of such technical issues! Film festivals are, after all, about the films. So, without further ado, I’ll point you in the direction of the reviews, while I keep on trying to discover how I can get a Trash City star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame…

Festival Reviews 

Meet the Peeps

“More, faster, sugarier, marshmallowier!”

Strolling through a dollar store here in Phoenix, earlier in the week, my attention was drawn to a stack of brightly-coloured boxes. On closer inspection, they contained uber-cute marshmallow chicks, almost fluorescent in their artifical yellows and blues, oozing succulent sweetness from every centimetre of their lovableness, right down their little edible-wax eyes. This was my first encounter with Peeps.

But certainly not my last brush, for come Easter, they are omniprescent as Cadbury’s Creme Eggs are in Britain. At that time, they are the biggest non-chocolate confectionery item in the United States, and while efforts have been made to extend the range to other times of year, with Christmas trees, pumpkins and hearts, it is at Easter that Peeps really come into their own, both as chicks and bunnies.

“You bite their heads off,” informed Chris helpfully. I was aghast. How could anyone be so cruel to something so innocent, cute and adorable? Particularly when made by a company with the decidedly double-edged name of Just Born [I later discovered that the company was called this, not as some kind of sick joke, but after its founder, Russian immigrant Samuel Born.] But biting their heads off is not by any means the worst fate that can befall a Peep.

Certain twisted individuals, in the name of “science”, have performed animal experiments on both avian and rabbit varieties. Popping them in a microwave is the most common method of testing, causing them to blow up to a grotesque parody of their former selves. Liquid nitrogen, bricks and lasers have also been used in this senseless torture. I was, however, more than a little worried to discover that peeps are insoluble, not just in water, but in sulphuric acid, which does beg the question – what the hell happens to them in your stomach?

Nutritionally, they are intense. Although they are pleasingly free from fat, they are pretty good at leading to fat, with each Peep being 32 calories of sugar-blitzed madness – and you can never just eat one. For some, even an entire packet isn’t enough. Now in it’s fifth year is an annual ritual called the Peep-Off, where participants compete to see how many they can cram down in thirty minutes – plus a five-minute post-Peep period where vomiting will disqualify a competitor (or at least, “If you puke, you have to eat the puked Peeps to stay eligible,” according to the organiser). The record is a frankly-disturbing 88.

There’s no doubt that Peeps have been big business, ever since 1953, when Just Born took over another sweet-maker, Rodda, and began streamlining their process for Peep-making. Nowadays, their factory in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is capable of turning out 3.8 million of the little critters a day, with some six hundred million being sold over the Easter period. The process takes six minutes from the first squirt of marshmallow, throgh the dotting of the eyes, to the last rustle of the cellophane.

Why it’s such a hurry is a mystery, given they have a shelf-life of two years, and it’s estimated that one in five consumers prefer them stale, with some even liking them frozen solid. Roast, or used as a pizza topping are other ‘unusual’ possibilities. More generally, yellow Peeps are the most popular, followed by pink, lavender, blue and white.

While Just Born have a fan-club, it’s the unofficial devotees who are perhaps the most interesting, with the cult of the Peep continuing to grow. The Internet has provided an outlet for all manner of individuals, from the sublime to the ridiculous – even the NASA web site has Peep content. Art, science, cuisine – there’s almost no area of popular culture Peeps have not touched, though they have yet to achieve the level of movie product-placement as Twinkies – despite the efforts of some Netizens.

Speaking of which, like Twinkies, they remain an almost exclusively American product, though an attempt was made to introduce them to Britain in 2000. As part of the promotion, Just Born ran a website survey to find out “which notable British personality best illustrates the Peeps character and style.” The winner was Benny Hill, with Sir Elton John in second place. I confess I would be interested to discover whether the latter swells up to four times his size in a microwave oven…

Selected Links

Incredibly Bad Film Show: Knockout

Dir: Lorenzo Doumani
Star: Sophia-Adella Hernandez, Edouardo Yanes, Tony Plana, William McNamara, Maria Conchita Alonzo


I was going to write this article as the Knockout drinking game, with contestants having to take a swig each time a boxing clichĂ© appears – but an interest in the health of readers prevents me from so doing, because this film is so full of them, that you’d be dead of alcoholic poisoning before the end of the first act. I don’t know whether Doumani had never seen a boxing movie before (his career gives no reason to suggest he has, including such highlights as Bug Buster), or simply chose to combine them all into one. For this is the kind of diabolical script you would get if you distilled every boxing flick down.

The only significant difference is that here, the hero is…well, a heroine, Belle (Hernandez). Though nobody really bothers to mention it, because she’s so busy slogging her way through the usual problems that have bedevilled pugilistic wannabes since Edison was turning the crank: unsupportive family, a dubious managers, gym-owners doubtful of your talent, a ferocious opponent, etc. So, here goes with an approximate listing, in dialogue and images, of the things you’ll have seen a million times before – just never in such distilled and condensed strength.

The Characters

  • “Was papa a great boxer?”
    “He was the best…”
  • “What should I be when I grow up?”
    “You can be whatever you want, because nothing is impossible. That’s for you to find out, and once you do, don’t let anyone hold you back. Let your light shine…”.
  • Father (Plana) is a cop, who works nights so he can spend the days “with the kids at the gym”.
  • “That’s what your Mom used to say. Think she’d be proud of how we turned out?” Yep, Mum (Miss Venezuela 1975, Maria Conchita Alonzo) is dead – but do you think that’s going to stop her from turning up? Chance would be a fine thing.
  • Dad bravely talks two Hispanic kids into putting their guns down. I think he largely bores them into submission, with a monologue including the following: “I know you’re scared, but this isn’t the way…You have your whole lives ahead of you. What’s it gonna be: do you lay the weapon down, or do we lay you in the ground?”

The Plot

  • Belle’s home-girl Sandra is a boxer – at a fight againt Tanya ‘The Terminator’ Tessaro (real-life fighter Fredia Gibbs) we also meet Michael DiMarco, whose business card might as well read “Slimy Manager”.
  • Needless to say, Tessaro destroys Sandra – thanks largely to what one review described as Sandra’s “leading with her face”. The film, inevitably (a word that will crop up a lot in this review, so get used to it), goes into slow-mo as Sandra collapses to the floor with a “NOOOOOOOOOO…SANDRAAAAAA” from Belle. Cut to a hospital bed, where Belle says things like “You were always the strong one…I’m gonna take care of you.” If I was Sandra, I’d be looking up Kevorkian’s number in my Rolodex about now, rather than sitting through:
    “Do you believe in fate…that things were meant to be…that everyone has a destiny?”
    “I hope Sandra’s destiny isn’t to die. Or be a vegetable because of me.”
    “It’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault. She loves it. She lives for it…In the ring, that’s where she lives…The only thing crazy in life, is not living it.”
    Is it just me, or does it seems rather crass to say that while your friend is in intensive care?
  • Equally inevitably, Belle signs up with DiMarco – “Boxing – I guess I’ve always wanted to do it.” He takes her to see Ron Regent, wheelchair-bound promoter played by Paul Winfield, who’s about the best actor present despite having to handle dialogue like:
    “So, you think you got the goods, huh?”
    “Yeah, I got the goods.”

The Difficulties

  • Dad tries to dissuade her: “Professional boxing is brutal…You’re talking crazy. I don’t want to hear any more of this”.
  • She keeps training anyway. Oh, what a surprise.
  • The only element underplayed to this point is her mother’s deat…no, hang on – what’s this flashback?
    “I don’t have good news. The tests reveal you have a malignant tumor in your frontal lobe.”
    “So how much time do I have?
    “It’s hard to say. But not long.”
    “You have got to be strong…let’s appreciate the little time we have left.
    “But you gotta promise me something…you gotta let her find a way to let her shine…”
  • Inevitably, Dad comes along to first fight, inspiring her to victory.
  • Then we get a montage of further victories, Belle tending to Sandra, Ron listening to money, fake mag covers, and the usual training sequences, all of which leads to:


  • But first, Sandra regains consciousness. “The doctors – they say that I’ll never walk again”
  • Belle fights with DiMarco because he wants to keep her from fighting Tessaro: “I thought you were different..but you’re just another ungrateful wetback bitch. You were just another ignorant barrio lowlife. You’re nothing without me.”
  • Ron Regent arranges the fight with Tessaro instead – when announcing this, Belle pretends to be going to Las Vegas to marry DiMarco. How amusing!
  • Another training montage.
  • “Thanks for being there, Dad”. Except he isn’t, because the “next few days are all hype, but I’ll be there for the fight…in your corner…”
  • And, inevitably, he won’t. He gets shot by drug-scum as he tries to protect a kid.
  • Cue more slow-mo and – a particularly crass touch, this – blood spattering across a magazine cover with Belle’s picture on it.
  • Funeral footage. “He loved you just like a son”.
  • “I get the feeling he’s gonna be there at the fight”.
  • Stultifyingly-stilted chat from Tessaro: “What’s my name? The Terminator! What am I gonna do to her? Terminate her!” And they claim boxing doesn’t promote brain-damage.

The Big Fight

  • Belle has a glowing backlit vision – is she going to be abducted by aliens? Sadly not: it’s only her Mum and Dad, telling her, inevitably, to “Let your light shine”.
  • Tessaro’s ring-entrance is like a discard from Grace Jones, complete with feather head-dress and dance routine, totally destroying her credibility and threat.
  • Shots of Sandra, shouting “Get up, Belle – c’mon!”. That’ll help.
  • One last montage: round cards, trainer in corner, and occasional boxing, all shot in a manner that is startling only in its tedium.
  • With Tessaro losing, she butts Belle, forcing the bout towards a hugely contrived conclusion
  • Albeit after another glowing, Let Your Light Shine-y, vision.
  • Belle has just one more round to knock Tessaro out – will she do it?
  • Any guesses?

Right down to the final scene, where flowers are laid on Mom and Dad’s grave, this film is crass, predictable and jaw-droppingly badly written. You can’t really blame the cast for this – they are all trying pretty hard, it’s just the material that doesn’t leave any room for improvement. Even though it came out before Girlfight, it is a waste of space on every level: Doumani’s lack of script-writing talent would get him thrown off any self-respecting daytime soap. His trust fund was allegedly taken away and poured into The Cotton Club, but on the showing here, I think it might have been higher forces at work, trying desperately to keep him out of the movie business.