LA Film Fest 2011: Day Six (Wednesday)

Wednesday I got up and went to work early so I could leave by 3:15 to get to a 4:10 screening. Dedication, I tell you. Dedication. Really, though, I’m thankful for how close LA Live is to where I work, and that my boss is so flexible in letting me do stuff like this. It’s a pretty great situation. And the proximity of LA Live almost makes me forgive the Fest for choosing downtown (where it’s very difficult to find fast, cheap food to eat on a festival schedule) over Hollywood, which is more convenient for not starving to death, but an hour away from work in traffic. Ah, well, can’t have everything.

Anyway, my early morning Wednesday allowed me to add Familiar Ground to my schedule, a Quebecois film I’d circled around in planning but had left off before I realized I could get to the 4pm screenings. It was billed as a black comedy about a deeply unhappy family focusing on a sibling relationship, with a random sci-fi element of a man coming from the future (not the distant future, just September), offering warnings to the brother about an accident the sister might have soon. The sci-fi bit I intrigued me, but I wasn’t sure about the deeply unhappy bit. Ultimately curiosity won out, plus I want to see more Canadian film, Quebecois or otherwise. The funny thing about French language films is you can almost always find trailers on YouTube if you search “bande-annonce” – but they’re unsubtitled and I’m utterly unable to understand any Quebecois French, even though I can usually get the gist of France French from bande-annonce clips. Anyway, watching that told me NOTHING about the film, so I was going in pretty blind. Ended up liking it quite a bit, though it’s not really a friendly film. It’s slow and rather antagonistic (as the main characters are), but it is quite funny in an extremely deadpan and slightly absurd way. The lightly techno/synthy soundtrack is really unexpected but works really well. It’s a film I liked much more thinking about it later than while actually watching it. I expect I would like it even more on rewatch.

I had a little bit of time before my next screening, so I went in search of food. And here’s what I mean. There’s food in the theatre, which is what I did last year, but I’d rather avoid that if possible for actual meals. There’s a taco truck across the street, but I was not in the mood for Mexican food. LA Live has a wide range of great restaurants – if you have time to sit and eat and want to spend $15+ for an entree. There’s a Denny’s Diner not too far away, but I did that on Saturday and wasn’t eager to do it again. There was a panini place a few blocks over and I headed toward that, but by the time I found it, it was starting to get late and it was more of a sit-down place than I expected. Then I noticed a Ralph’s grocery store right there and decided to just do that. Even their pasta salad bars were almost $10. I bought a box of Cheez-Its and a Mountain Dew for $4 total. Done. I’ve been eating those for three days now. Healthy? No. But cheap and does the job. Please, LA Film Fest, get some more food trucks other than tacos in the area next year.

After the food odyssey, I got back to join an already lengthy line for The Guard, one of the bigger-name films at the festival thanks to the presence of Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle in the cast. They were also in the theatre and gave a really good Q&A with writer/director John Michael McDonagh after the film. But the film! Right, the film. It was pretty great, one of the wittiest scripts of the year, and an outstanding central performance from Gleeson. Cheadle is good, too, but he’s not given quite as much to do. Gleeson is an outspoken and politically incorrect police guard in Galway, Ireland; his apathetic approach to his job is tested when a murder case he’s investigating turns out to be related to an international drug trafficking case FBI agent Cheadle is working on. Starting off their relationship with “I thought only black boys were drug dealers” doesn’t bode well, but Gleeson’s character is far more nuanced than you’d think. Plus, the film is equal opportunity in its bigotry, insulting English, Welsh, Italians, Dubliners, African-Americans and regular Americans almost in the same breath, and hilariously. And Mark Strong plays one of the villains, and is absolutely fantastic every second he’s on-screen. It’s a really funny movie, with a surprising streak of depth.

My last stop of the night was for one of the Shorts programs. After really enjoying a shorts program at AFI Fest last year, I’m going to try to get to at least one every festival, because these are some really great films, and festivals are just about the only place to see them. What I love about shorts programs is you don’t have any idea what you’re going to get (you can read descriptions, but they’re usually cursory and it can be difficult to find out more), and what you get is incredibly varied. We saw seven shorts, from 5 minute comedies to 16 minute dramas, from stop-motion animation to documentaries, most from the US, but also from Iran, Sweden, and Britain. My favorites among the set were an animated short from the UK called The Eagleman Stag, a unique-looking (everything is totally white) odyssey through the philosophy of time, an Iranian drama of a woman who accidentally locks herself outside without her scarf called The Wind is Blowing on My Street and Sleep Study, a brief comedy about a woman doing all kinds of crazy activities while sleeping. The most talked-about one, though, was easily The Elect, a fly-on-the-wall documentary about one of the leading families in the Westboro Baptist Church – and yes, it was really disturbing for a lot of reasons. It was a really diverse program and a good one, making me wish I’d made it to more of them. Maybe next year. Shorts are great, and ought to get more attention – they’re hyper-focused stories with no time for dross or padding, and allow a great opportunity for experimentation. I just wish there were more opportunities to see them in theaters outside of festivals.

Six days down, four to go. Fourteen films down, eleven to go. Not counting shorts in that number.