This is an ever-evolving story of a girl writer and her two greatest loves, the movies and travel. As she hikes the trenches of Hollywood, you're brought along for the ride.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Green Peace

Back in the not-so-distant past, I had an apartment. It was a junior one bedroom, meaning it didn't really have a bedroom at all. It was just an open landscape of space with a big, red floppy IKEA sofa-bed in the middle.

The apartment complex was huge... and like shadows, my neighbors and I passed each other on our way to and from work. I never knew any of them. I rarely saw anyone else and even when I did, they avoided eye contact and scurried down the long corridors until they disappeared behind a closed door.

To keep me company, I had my cats-- kittens at the time--and a couple of potted plants. I kept the green plants on the gray concrete just outside my door. There, they happily soaked up the golden L.A. sun amid the colorless expanse of SoCal apartment living.

Not a week had gone by when I got a knock on my door. It was my apartment manager.

"The plants have to go inside," he said. "Each unit has to appear uniform from the outside."

I spoke up-- fought for my plants' sake-- but ultimately, I trudged inside with my green plants, afraid maintenance would steal them in the dead of night. I placed them in the windowsill, in front of the blinds so they could still see the sun. Life went on. Then, days later, another knock. It was you-know-who:

"Tenants cannot place decals, flags, or personal items in the windowsills."

"These aren't flags. I'm not protesting war or advocating abortion-- they're just a couple of freakin' plants!" But I lost the battle. The plants came down. In the days that followed, they only saw glimmers of sunlight in the shadows of despair. Their leaves were partially eaten by my cats. They wilted with sadness.

I moved...

... this time into a townhouse with more than one room. There was a little sliver of green space just outside the door. We had a shrub and a little tree and just enough room for my plants to rejuvenate. And there was even a patio for my cats to frolic and bathe in the sun. We planted grass and aloe vera and laid decorative brick. We had a little garden oasis in the midst of this urban jungle called L.A. Things were peachy for a good, long while.

Then about a month ago, the HOA decided to utilize money from a recent legal settlement to redo the landscaping on the grounds. Loads of perfectly good trees and thriving plants were hacked and unceremoniously thrown into dumpsters and replaced. Three-lane highways of sod were unravelled. Things looked streamlined and manicured, but the old plants were just as good.

A week ago, we got a notice from the current HOA board. It said that any extraneous plants, home decor, decorative bricks, etc. on the little sliver of green space just outside the door would have to be removed by 8 a.m. Thursday-- two days later!

This little sliver of green space, that pathetically represents more "yard" than many Southern Californians get, was apparently not ours after all. To HOA, it is considered a "common area" and therefore, each homeowners' green space would have to look identical. The old landscaping was being torn up and replaced by new landscaping-- chosen by the HOA board.

We grumbled as we tore up the dirt and dug up our plants-- picking out each slab of brick that I felt like throwing at them. A few doors down, one of our neighbors was in mourning. She had an entire rose garden outside her door. Each day, bright red and peach-colored roses greeted her. Even on bad days, she'd marvel at their beauty. In two days, it was gone-- vanished. Not a rose petal in sight.

Power. Stupidity. All the land on the Earth is a "common area."Can't we all just enjoy some green space? Why does an HOA have to spend time putting ridiculous restrictions on it?

Today, as I peered through the blinds, I saw them. Four people from the HOA board standing outside our door, clutching their little clipboards.

"They're making the rounds again," I thought, as I watched.

One woman counted the plants and made note of their types. The four of them scribbled on their legal pads. They shook their heads and talked amongst themselves. They stood in front of our place for an eternity. I know they saw the decorative bricks. It had been four days since the 8 a.m. deadline and we'd failed to tear all of them up. Even the lady with the roses had sadly done her duty.

California is bankrupt. It hasn't rained for months. We have mandatory water restrictions. Unemployment is among the highest in the nation. And with corporations destroying humans and humans destroying the Earth, why should anyone give a flying f**k whether we all have identical plants outside our door?

Send the roses to the landfill-- the thorns will come for you later.

Copyright 2009 by KLiedle

Monday, June 15, 2009

In Excess

In some ways, I wouldn't mind being younger. It's not that I'm even old, but I feel so far removed from the youngest generations of today that it makes me feel so much older than I actually am. I enjoyed growing up in the '80s-- it all seems so simplistic now. It was just a hiccup in time just before technology really started to take over.

I remember when my dad brought home our first home computer. It was a hand-me-down from the school where he worked as a guidance counselor. It looked like a black-and-white TV with a keyboard attached and that's pretty much what it was.

It had the amazing capabilities to do just about nothing, but I thought it was one of the greatest things in the world. I could sit there and type, type, type as the letters appeared like magic on the screen. God only knows what I wrote [or if I wrote anything intelligible at all.] I couldn't send my messages anywhere. Hell, I couldn't even print them out. But I'd sit there and type, type, type for hours at a time. It was so fun to hear the clippity-clop of my fingerprints and see those letters on the screen.

Around the same time, after begging and pleading, my mom finally let us get a Nintendo Entertainment System. Like the computer, it was a hand-me-down. Our babysitter was selling it so they could get the upgrade. [They also had the Disney Channel which my mom wouldn't let us get because it cost more than cable. Grr. But that's another story.] Anyway, the used Nintendo came with the now-classic controllers and one video game: Super Mario Bros. I loved Super
Mario Bros. and over time, I got pretty good. I even got to Level 8 to slay the dragon, as shown on the left. That was a great day--- for my kid self anyway.

In fact, I don't recall owning any other game... maybe we did, maybe we didn't, but what I do remember is the thrill my brother and I had when we'd earned our right to rent a new video game at Blockbuster. My mom created this point system based on our list of chores. A certain number of chores gave us points that eventually earned us a video game. Of course we hated the system at the time [ i.e. "I cleaned the bathrooms every weekend for a month so I could get Donkey Kong Jr."] but now that I look back-- there was something about earning it that made me appreciate it all the more.

Although it would be nice to re-live certain times in my life [while skipping others entirely], I don't envy the kids growing up in today's world. They've grown up to believe that they have the best things in life... that nothing is too good for them... What they don't know is how much they're missing. In Western culture, they've learned that money and fame along with the newest and most upgraded cell phone/ipod/game system is what counts. Most of them are bored (or unaware) of the act of living. They never look up from texting long enough to see the streaks of color in the sky after the sun sets. Nothing gets their full attention because they are so adept at multi-tasking that they have no ability to uni-task. At the movies, the newest and best CGI technology in the world doesn't faze them. It's just like everything else they've ever seen{ yawn }

They're trapped in the middle of an infinite black hole that eventually will collapse. Bigger and better is no longer the name of the game. The time of excess is coming to a close. Pull the plug and the youngest of us would struggle the most. Globally, the internet would blackout. Texts would go unsent. IMs would go missing. Cell phones would go dead. Facebook statuses would be frozen in time. We might have to actually venture outside or resort to the the type, type, type of words in books to entertain us. And horror of horrors, when the darkness comes, we'll only have live human beings to comfort us.

Yet, those of us who can still remember how to engage our minds with our own thoughts, our imaginations, and the nature of the great world around us will do just fine.

Plus, I'm pretty sure that old Nintendo Game System still works.

** For more about relics of computers past, check out: oldcomputers
** To play old school video games like Super Mario Bros, Pac Man, and Donkey Kong for FREE, check out Game Ninja

Copyright 2009 by KLiedle

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Up, UP, and AWAY!

Early Friday, I threaded Pixar's new movie, UP, for a midnight screening. As the film spun, twisted, and turned, I thought:

"A midnight screening of a kid's movie? Are they crazy?"

Well, don't listen to me. It sold out... and we added another midnight show. And show after show after show, things got crazier... and messier. But for every popcorn kernel, smushed milk dud, and trail of M&Ms, there was a smile, a laugh, and a whisper of adventure and imagination in the hearts and minds of kids, adults, and even the most hard-nosed critic.

Multi-colored balloons are happy things. If a kid is crying at glass-breaking decibels in a restaurant, what do they give them? Why, a brightly colored balloon. Balloons are like a brand new box of 64 crayons or a bag of colorful M&Ms, but they float and as they go Up, Up, And Away... they encounter a whole new world and curious adventures that humans rarely see. And in that, lies potential for a cinematic journey.

In 1956, French filmmaker, Albert Lamorisse, made a classic 34-minute short called Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon,) a simple little story about a balloon and a little boy. It won many awards, including an Oscar for best original screenplay and the Palm d'Or [for short film] at Cannes. Years later, another ballloon idea saw its beginnings. A few years ago, Director Pete Docter and co-director/writer Bob Peterson were talking and started hashing out a kernel of an idea: What if you tied a bunch of balloons together and were whisked far, far away? You'd instantly be on a deserted island in the sky and a guest on an adventure of your own making.

Needless to say, that kernel of an idea expanded with helium and blew up-- but unlike many blockbusters, this blow-up didn't come from a series of CGI explosions. It came from imagination, lots of balloons, well-drawn characters, and a good, solid adventure.

The weekend was an UPward fury of kids and parents and adults all stampeding to see the latest from Disney/Pixar. You'd think it was Christmas--which it was for movie theaters across the country. Over the weekend, UP raked in $68, 108, 790 blasting Night At The Museum and even the Terminator.

Can you imagine the initial pitch?

I want to make a movie about a craggy old guy who ties a zillion balloons to his house until it floats away to South America. Then, I'll give him a roly-poly Boy Scout as an uninvited companion.

Somewhere along the line, that pitch was made and luckily, it fell to Pixar to bring it to fruition. As simple as the storyline is, preparation and research took time...lots and lots of time. Just how many balloons would it take to lift a house? According to production notes, technical dire
ctors for the film calculated that Carl Fredricksen would have to tie twenty to thirty million balloons to even have hopes of lifting off. Now, THAT's a lot of hot air-- or helium, I guess I should say.

Steve May, the film's supervising technical director noted:

"We ended up using 10, 297 for most of the floating scenes, and 20,622 when it actually lifts off. The number varies from shot to shot depending on the angle, distance, and fine-tuning the size so that it feels interesting, believable and visually simple. " [UP official website]

When I was younger, I used to daydream about flight: flapping my arms, lifting off and flying around the world like a bird. I know it's not a dream unique to me, as much as I'd like it to be.
But take that dream, throw in interesting characters, an adventurous setting right out of Indiana Jones, and lots of lots of colorful balloons and people will come.

UP presented many complications for the filmmakers, animators, and technical teams. But now that the hard parts are over, the celebration can begin. The film's not only in the can, it's on the screen [ many, many screens] and certifiably another slam dunk for Pixar-- its 10th film overall, AND it's 1st available in Digital 3-D [at select theaters.]

Copyright 2009 by KLiedle

UP Synopsis: From Disney•Pixar comes Up, a comedy adventure about 78-year-old balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen, who finally fulfills his lifelong dream of a great adventure when he ties thousands of balloons to his house and flies away to the wilds of South America. But he discovers all too late that his biggest nightmare has stowed away on the trip: an overly optimistic 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer named Russell. [ Disney/Pixar]