LA Film Fest: More Than Meets the Eye?

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There’s no nice way to say this, so I’ll just come right out with it: Michael Bay’s Transformers is premiering at the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival on June 27. Transformers. You know, for kids. See, they’re robots that turn into cars and trucks and airplanes. Why? Because they make neater toys for Hasbro to sell that way. Maybe there’s some slice of the Transformers mythology I’m missing that rationalizes it, but I’m not fooled. It’s no coincidence that the first sentence of the description of the movie on the LA Film Fest website incorporates three registered trademark symbols: “In the film Optimus Prime® and his Autobots® take on Megatron’s Decepticons® with Earth as their battleground.” Do I have to send anyone any money for typing that sentence? Should I make the check out to Michael Bay personally? Don’t tell me the movie is not primarily a monster born of marketing and greed because I’m not buying it.

This isn’t meant as another anti-Transformers rant. I admit that a movie with robots slugging it out and wrecking crap has a certain basic appeal and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. My question is whether such a thing really belongs in a film festival that is ostensibly intended to promote independent and foreign cinema. The festival is sort of loosely justifying the movie by tying it to a series they’re running called L.A Destroys Itself. The series includes Earthquake, Escape From L.A., Miracle Mile, Night of the Comet and Them!; all movies where the City of Angels takes a beating. Fair enough, but Transformers is pushing it a little I think.

In the best case I suppose, premiering Transformers is harmless and it gets a little attention for the festival and maybe helps them sell a few more $350 passes. The thing is, I don’t think this is the kind of exposure the festival needs, not if it’s a festival that wants to be taken seriously.

I also worry about the slippery slope that’s created as big mainstream films continue to turn up at prestigious festivals. Sundance has cleaned up its act supposedly, but plenty of other festivals continue to nurse at the teat of big studio product. These films already tend to blot out the sun when it comes to smaller independents and foreign films. Such films depend on festivals for their very survival and now they’re being asked to compete with the majors in the one place they should be protected.

I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything. Maybe the LA Film Festival will make gobs of cash they can turn around and use next year for more independent and foreign films and maybe every one wins; Michael Bay, the festival, the audience, Los Angeles and maybe even Optimus Prime® himself.

I acknowledge there are realities of the marketplace and making movies has always been a for-profit enterprise, but how far are we going to lower the bar? With Transformers, it feels like the Los Angeles Film Festival has crossed a line.

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5 thoughts on “LA Film Fest: More Than Meets the Eye?

  1. Or maybe its just another incidence of some pathetic self important Hollywood “player” trying to engraciate himself to a more potent self important asslick.

  2. There’s a difference between showing a mainstream film to encourage viewers to show up and showing a movie that is crassly commercial. While Transformers may bring viewers to the Fest that have no clue or previous interest in it and I can see a benefit to it, there are numerous other movies coming out this summer they could have chosen that would have had a similar effect without feeling so much like…selling out.

    Heck, even the third Bourne movie or Oceans 13 would have made more sense and likely fit in better to their overall programming.

    The concept of the retrospective they’re doing incorporating Transformers is a great idea, but Transformers feels shoe-horned in. You could just as easily fit Jurassic Park 2 into such a retro and it would feel equally disconnected.

  3. You know Bob, the famed Hollywood sign originally read “Hollywood Asslick” and it was a little valentine from producer Mack Sennett to a certain agent he couldn’t stand. Eventually the “Asslick” part was taken down leaving the sign recognized today the world over.

    Ok, that’s a total lie.

    Joel, last year LAFF had The Devil Wears Prada. Not a great movie, but certainly more appropriate than Transformers…no?

    The Tribeca Film Festival received a lot of heat for Spider-Man 3 this year and deservedly so.

  4. Two films in the narrative competition seen so far:
    August Evening–SEE IT
    Severed Ways–SKIP IT

    August Evening, a first-time full length feature by writer/director Chris Eska, does just about everything right. And I have to say I could not take my eyes off the star, Veronica Loren. This is gentle film that never raises its voice but rings true about young love and loss and intergenerational friendship. The cinematography is beautiful, capturing everything from the details of an egg production farm to the beauty and heat of a San Antonio summer day. It is amazing that so thoroughly professional and completely satisfying film was the product of a neophyte cast and director. This should not be missed.

    Severed Ways is a thoroughgoing failure, with blurry amateur photography, badly-paced and excessive use of ultra-closeups, thin and obvious story line, and occasional but gross images. Even the titling is bad. This film offers nothing.

  5. August Evening was on my short list of things to see, but Sunday I chose to see the Robert Benton discussion instead. Sorry I missed it now.

    Last night I went to see How to Rob a Bank which was passably entertaining for something I expect will go straight to DVD. The only other two films in the narrative competition I’m scheduled to see at the moment are The Beautiful Ordinary and What We Do is Secret.

    I’ll be writing a little bit about some of the other things I’ve seen hopefully tonight or tomorrow.

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