LA Film Fest 2011: Day 7 (Thursday)

Thursday was my earliest day yet, as I booked it up to the theatre for a 4:00pm screening. I’ve actually enjoyed getting to work so early, even if the four-hour nights of sleep were starting to wear on me by Thursday. The commute from 6:30-7:00 is 100 times better than the one from 7:30-8:00. As in, I can make it by 7am if I leave by 6:30, but if I wait until 7:30, I probably won’t get there until 8:30. Gotta love LA traffic. But yeah, this week has been a good experiment in different traffic conditions at different times.

The screening I was running to was of Echo Park-set teen drama Mamitas, which intrigued me both because I like seeing films set in different neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and because the trailer reminded me of Raising Victor Vargas, a Latino-American coming-of-age drama from a few years ago I liked very much. And I wasn’t wrong in my intuition; Mamitas is a really charming understated drama of a teenage boy who puts of a front of being hot stuff – cutting class, hitting on girls, generally acting too cool for school – but shows a much more caring side to his ailing grandfather and one girl who manages to break through his facade. It’s all played very down-to-earth and realistically, with all the actors bringing great warmth and charisma to their roles. A plot development that could’ve gone very eye-rollingly soapy refreshingly didn’t, and I appreciated that immensely. The only problem is that the film is 110 minutes, and it should’ve been about 95, trimming off a couple of false endings. But I was enough charmed that I didn’t care too much.

I’d been looking forward to Another Earth since I first heard about it a few months back – the premise is that one day, a new planet turns up in the sky, and upon further investigation and SETI contact, it becomes clear that not only is it an exactly duplicate of Earth in terms of terrain and geographical layout, but every person on Earth is duplicated on Earth 2, with the same lives and everything. The trailer gave me a bit of pause, though, since it suggested that the sci-fi angle was only background to the story of a woman who caused a terrible car accident trying to find forgiveness and redemption, and that looked like it could go off the maudlin emo deep end in a real hurry. And…it kind of did. The trailer, if you watch it, is quite a good representation of the film. The main character finds the one survivor of the accident and tries to improve his life in any way she can, with the thought always in the back of her mind of going to Earth 2 when a passenger shuttle launches in a few months, hoping that meeting the other her or the duplicates of the accident victims will help her find peace. It doesn’t play as emo as I feared, and a lot of the emotional side is handled really well, to the film’s credit. But it does go to some strange places in tone and content, which I’m not sure were actually helpful to the film overall. Ultimately, I was intrigued by some parts, especially the sci-fi parts that I wanted a LOT more of, and disappointed by other parts, for a rather uneven and unfulfilling experience. I’m not sure who the audience for this is, either – it won’t please hardcore sci-fi fans, but it’s also too downright strange (and I don’t just mean the sci-fi elements, but stylistically) to appeal to the mainstream. The last shot was really good, though, and brought forth a tumult of thoughts and speculation, so I guess I’ll give it props for that.

I was pretty worried that sleep was going to catch up with me during The Yellow Sea, and I must admit to dozing off during quite a few of the more exposition-laden parts, but I still got the basic gist and I certainly was not dozing during the adrenaline-pumping action scenes. This is a Korean crime film, focusing on a Chinese-Korean man living in China who gets assigned a hit in Korea, so he makes the dangerous and illegal crossing over the Yellow Sea to get there. But predictably, stuff goes wrong, and he ends up being chased by the police, the mob leaders (who he thinks ordered the hit but apparently did not and are upset it happened), and the middleman who smuggled him across the Sea. Then all these groups of people get into it with each other, top. So, yeah, it takes a while to get going, but once it does, it’s pretty incredible – and most of it is on-foot chases and knife fights. No guns at all. The most amazing thing is the chases (both on-foot and car) are shot really close and edited quickly, but somehow they managed not to be incoherent the way most American action scenes are – I felt the visceral rush of him narrowly missing being hit or caught, or cars slamming into each other behind him, but I never felt disoriented. I want to watch it again just to try to analyze how they achieved that effect.