Tag Archives: LA Film Festival

Safety-Not-Guaranteed

Scorecard: June 2012

Figured I’d try to get around to posting this before we got quite halfway through July. There’s a pretty good range on here this month, thanks to a few screenings at the LA Film Festival. I usually get to fifteen or twenty screenings there, but this year I cut it back so I wouldn’t be quite so exhausted, and only ended up at eight total, but I think it was overall a good choice. I was able to process and appreciate the ones I saw more. We’ll see if I remember that come time for AFI in November, when I also usually overschedule myself.

What I Loved

The History of Future Folk

I went into this one at the LA Film Festival fairly blind, but came out pretty much loving it. A sweet little film about an alien who comes to Earth hoping to find a place for his people to live before an approaching comet destroys his homeworld. Instead, he discovers music and settles down…until another alien is sent to kill him and continue his mission. But the film focuses on the music and the relationships rather than the sci-fi elements, though when some special effects are needed, they’re surprisingly excellent. There’s a refreshing tenderness to the script and the characters are very appealing (they’re actually a real band who have been using the alien personas as their backstory for quite some time – the movie just expands and streamlines it). A hidden gem for sure, and worth seeking out. Full review on Row Three

2012 USA. Director: John Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker. Starring: Nils d’Aulaire, Jay Klaitz, Julie Ann Emery, April L. Hernandez, Dee Snider.
Seen June 17 at the LA Film Festival, Regal LA Live.
Flickchart ranking: 437 out of 2990

Safety Not Guaranteed

When a local paper runs an ad for someone wanting a partner to travel back in time with him, a human interest magazine can’t resist going to try to find out what this guy’s all about – does he really think he’s built a working time machine? Over time, though, this sort-of time travel investigative comedy turns into a very good, very poignant drama about people and relationships. It would be almost incredibly easy to screw this up – make it too cutesy, or too weird, or too maudlin, or too cliched, but even though it’s clearly in a specific American indie genre, it avoids every pitfall and ends up being one of the standout films of the year. The more I think back on it, the more I love it, and a lot of that is thanks to a very strong script and a fantastically grounded lead performance from Aubrey Plaza, who’s quickly becoming a must-see favorite of mine.

2012 USA. Director: Colin Trevorrow. Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake M. Johnson, Karan Soni, Kristen Bell.
Seen June 16 at AMC Burbank.
Flickchart ranking: 572 out of 2990

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LAFF-Day-10

LA Film Fest 2011: Day 10 (Sunday)

And here we are, finally to the last day of the longest festival I’ve attended. Well, technically I was at LAFF last year, but not with a pass, and I didn’t go every day. It was a marathon, but it was totally worth it. I saw several films I loved, and there weren’t any I really disliked. I call that a good time. Only two films today, since I didn’t go to the closing night premiere of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – that required a separate pass that I didn’t bother to get, and besides, I think 25 films is sufficient.

First off, Love Crime, the final film of French director Alain Corneau, who died shortly after completing this film. He’s known for his crime thrillers, and this fits right into the mold. Kristin Scott Thomas is Christine, an ice-cold executive of an international firm who seems to be grooming up-and-coming exec Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier), partnering with her on various business deals and pitches to clients. They also have kind of a complicated personal relationship that Christine calls “love” – it certainly has a sexual aspect to it, though both women also date men…the same man, actually. Turns out Isabelle is potentially even better at her job than Christine, and soon they’re vying professionally and on cool terms personally. The crime plot that follows is twisty and will keep you guessing, even though you know exactly what happened – it’s Hitchcockian, really, in its ability to tell you who did it up front and still keep suspense very high. Both actresses are great; my only real complaint is that it’s shot very flat and uninterestingly (which is very unHitchcockian). Once the plot really got going it wasn’t an issue, but early on when relationships were still being set up, the bland photography and composition was a little distracting.

The last film of the day was one of the bigger name ones at the fest, with John C. Reilly anchoring coming-of-age, awkward high school story Terri as the unorthodox school principal who befriends the overweight, friendless title character. Terri himself is played by newcomer Jacob Wysocki, and he does quite well in the part, refusing to let Terri fall into either pity territory while also acknowledging his difficulty with interacting with others. There are some really great parts, like when Terri arrives at the edge of school property (he walks through the woods from his uncle’s cabin), then waits in the trees for the other students to pick up their bags from where they’d been hanging out on the soccer field and head into school before tossing his bag on the field and going to pick it up before going to school. That little gesture of wanting to do what the other kids do, but not wanting to be with them and risk ridicule was probably my favorite thing in the film. Other things didn’t fare quite so well with me. Reilly is great, as usual, and his relationship with Terri was different and fun, but some of Reilly’s more serious dialogue didn’t ring true to me at all. Some of the directions the story went with Terri, his weird “friend” Chad, and Heather (a girl Terri helped early in the film) didn’t feel right to me, and took me out of the film. A lot of the side characters seemed to be there only to add weirdness (exception made for Creed Barton, who is surprisingly good as Terri’s uncle struggling with dementia). Ultimately, there were a lot of individual elements I liked a lot, but just as many that put me off, and the whole film doesn’t come together or distinguish itself above the dozens of other coming-of-age-high-school movies. I ended up being more disappointed by it than most anything else at the festival. Maybe I’m starting to get over pseudo-indie posturing.

And that’s it. Ten days, twenty-five movies.

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LA Film Fest 2011: Day 9 (Saturday)

Well, I was doing so well at getting these out on a fairly regular schedule, and then the festival actually ended and I lost all motivation. But I don’t want to leave the last two days hanging, so I’ll try to finish these up and get them posted rather quickly. After a week of working plus festivalling, it was wonderful to get to sleep in on Saturday morning; the first screening of the day wasn’t until 1:30, leaving a nice leisurely morning to recover a bit from the week. But then I’d gotten used to the lighter attendance during the week, and ended up further back in line for every screening on Saturday than I wanted. Ah, well. I still got into everything fine, so I can’t really complain.

First up was Disney’s new version of Winnie the Pooh, and it was only the second screening of the festival (that I went to, anyway), that was doing a bag search and checking computers/cameras. They did leave us cellphones (Drive did not), but still. I get why big studios like Disney are paranoid about their films leaking, but it was still kind of annoying. I’ve successfully managed not to pirate 24 other films at the festival, most of which will be lots harder to come by in the future and thus more ripe for pirating. Anyway. The film was delightful, an extremely faithful hand-drawn throwback to the original Winnie the Pooh shorts, even down to the live-action opening with the narrator telling us about Christopher Robin’s stuffed animals and their adventures in the Hundred Acre Woods. The story is largely a combination of finding Eeyore’s lost tail and trying to capture the monstrous Backson (which they believe has kidnapped Christopher Robin), both well-worn in the Pooh universe, but woven together really well here. The film is explicitly literary, with the characters interacting with the narrator and the very words on the book’s page as the narrator reads it – I love this sort of thing, so I was enamoured right the way through. The humor is warm and gentle, and in every way, this is a film I’d 100% rather see and take my kids to (if I had kids) than most of the animated fare out these days, Pixar notwithstanding. I do so hope Winnie the Pooh does well when it comes out in a couple of weeks, so we get more movies like it from Disney in the future.

After a refreshing iced coffee and stroll around LA Live in some rare between-screening down time, I headed in to see Miranda July’s new film The Future. July is well-known in a certain corner of the artistic community for her quirky and thoughtful, if sometimes a bit twee, outlook expressed in many art forms from feature and short films to short stories and essays to performance art and experimental albums. This is only her second feature film, following 2005′s You and Me and Everyone We Know, which I liked but wasn’t totally won over by, so I came into The Future interested but not set on loving it. I actually liked it more than You and Me and Everyone We Know, but not everyone will. First off, it’s narrated by a cat (voiced by July) that couple July and Hamish Linklater rescue and take to the vet with a broken paw. The prospect of adopting the cat in exactly 30 days (after the paw heals and before the hospital euthanizes her) sends the couple into an existential crisis, thinking about how much they wanted to accomplish by this point in their lives and haven’t. So they quit everything and try to make this 30 days count. Meanwhile, the cat pops in with narration every once in a while looking forward to the prospect of being adopted and not living on the street anymore. The voiceover will be VERY grating for many, and I found it the weakest part of the film (though I did like the content of the voiceover by and large). The fact that something so simple as adopting a cat would cause so many repercussions in these people’s lives seems a bit unbelievable, but it works in the film, and so do the faint sci-fi elements. But there were some plot elements that I didn’t quite believe, like the major conflict of July’s character’s affair with another man. By and large, I enjoyed the film and thought July’s sensibility carried it off quite well, but like You and Me and Everyone We Know, there were a few elements that just didn’t sit quite right with me.

Despite finding it really interesting, I had to leave Miranda July’s Q&A session in the middle to try to obtain a good spot in line for Mysteries of Lisbon, my marathon film of the festival. Clocking in at 4 hours and 17 minutes (thankfully they did include an intermission), the film presented a challenge to me I just couldn’t pass up. I did want a seat behind the railing, though, which allows for putting your feet up and increasing the comfort level by roughly 63%. Alas, the guy in line right in front of me snapped up the last of the railing seats. DRAT. I still managed through okay, though, and even though I will admit to drifting into a bit of a stupor a few times, the film remained intriguing throughout the epic run time. Directed by Chilean expat Raul Ruiz, now working in Europe, the film is based on an epic Portuguese novel that follows a fatherless boy in a parish school, but tangents off frequently into lengthy related stories – such as how his mother and father met and were driven apart, how the priest who cares for him came to be a priest, and even about the neighboring nobleman who intersects with his life a few times. Well, the stories seem tangential but actually intertwine quite closely and ingeniously. The fact that you’re actually watching several interrelated stories of many different characters makes the running time not quite so much of a burden, and then the ending will have you wondering about everything you just saw. It’s paced fairly slowly, but gives a languid sense of the setting and society of the 19th century – that plus the length give plenty of time to maneuver around all the different characters and their different personas throughout the multiple storylines. It’s a masterwork of narrative structure, and I definitely want to revisit it to get nuances I missed when zoning out here and there.

Nine days down, one to go. Twenty-three films down, two to go.

LAFF-Day-8

LA Film Fest 2011: Day 8 (Friday)

Friday’s screenings didn’t start quite so early as Wednesday’s and Thursday’s had, so I was able to sleep a little bit more before heading to work. Not sure if that extra half-hour or so made that much different, or if my body managed to adjust to four hours of sleep, but I was much less tired all day on Friday, and didn’t really have any issues with being sleepy during films. I figured it would get worse throughout the week, not better. Interesting. The reason I’m so fascinated with this aspect is that this is by far my most ambitious film festival schedule. I had twenty-five films plus a shorts program scheduled, running from 4pm to midnight almost every weekday and 1pm to midnight for two weekends. That’s basically full-time job hours on top of my full-time job, so I was actually expecting to fade toward the end of the week and have to start skipping screenings, but it didn’t happen. I made it to everything I had planned, and though I did fade in and out of some of the later films, it was far more minimal than I expected.

The festival was running a special sidebar of films from or focusing on Cuba, and I wanted to make it to one of those at least to fill out my fest experience. I chose Suite Habana, a film from 2003, both for scheduling reasons and because it sounded like a Havana-set version of Berlin: Symphony of a City or Man With a Movie Camera, a sort of documentary-esque tone poem focusing on a specific city. And that’s exactly what it is – it follows a group of people around their daily lives in Havana for a twenty-four hour period. We see a man and his nine-year-old son, a construction worker who dances ballet at night, an old woman who sells peanuts, a drag queen performer, and many others. At the time, Cuba was still suffering greatly from the blockade of the US and the loss of economic support from the Soviet Union, and that shows in every frame, and yet the people go on, pursuing their dreams and taking care of their families with hope. The whole film is lovely and sometimes sad, with a great score to underscore the basically wordless action. The very end is extremely effective, introducing us to each of the people we’ve been watching with their name, their job, and their dream, after we’ve already gotten to know them a bit just by watching them. The cinematographer of the film was there answering questions, and it was great to hear that a lot of them are having their dreams fulfilled – the ballet dancer is with the national Cuban ballet company, and was actually in LA last week performing with them. Originally there was meant to be several films to go along with Suite Habana, with different directors showing their home cities for a 24-hour period, but funding fell through and Suite Habana was the only one completed. I’d love to see more “city” films like this – I find them quite fascinating.

It seems like I put very few straight dramas on my schedule – almost everything is a genre film of some sort or a comedy, or a black comedy. But Kawasaki’s Rose is one, and an extremely good one. I was first drawn to it because it’s Czech, and I’m kind of fascinated by the Czech Republic and its history, and then I discovered it’s the same director (Jan Hrebejk) who did Divided We Fall back in 2001, a film that just bowled me over when I saw it. Like Divided We Fall, Kawasaki’s Rose deals with the issue of collaborators and dissidents during the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, but from the other side. Main character Pavel (well, it’s a pretty solid ensemble cast, so after seeing it, it’s difficult to pin anyone as the main character) is about to receive an award for his outspoken dissident efforts, but as a pair of documentarians (one of them his son-in-law, the other his son-in-law’s mistress – yeah, it’s complicated) work on the story, they discover that at one time, he had collaborated with the KGB. There are a ton of plot threads in this film, of Pavel and his wife Jana, who may or may not have known about his activity; their daughter Lucie, who not only has a straying husband, but a kid who’s a bit of a punk and a rare medical condition; Jana’s former lover Borek, a dissident who fled Prague not long before Jana and Pavel married, and Borek’s Japanese expat buddy Kawasaki, and more. But they all manage to find their way back to the center, unveiling layers like the origami rose Kawasaki paints which gives the film its title. It could get soapy, but it doesn’t – it has a lot of depth to it, stemming both from the characters and the historical background. I’m not sure it’s quite as amazing as Divided We Fall was when I first saw that, but together they make a darn good double feature about the Czech experience.

A horror-thriller about a barista in Silver Lake, with what seemed like a stalker angle? Sign me…up? Heh, I’m always curious about indie horror films, even though there are a lot of them, that seem to take more of a thoughtful point of view on the genre rather than just going for the whole slasher thing. Funnily enough, the filmmakers’ working title for Entrance was “Slasher,” but it certainly isn’t a typical one. Most of the film is, in fact, a straight drama, with the main character Suzie (played by Suziey Block, who is also a barista in Silver Lake) getting pretty lonely and disaffected, soon deciding she wants to leave LA entirely. This sounds like a dozen other films, because disaffected Angeleno stories are fairly easy things for low-budget LA filmmakers to write and film. But it actually pretty much works on that level, even leaving aside the horror stuff – it’s not particularly distinguished at it, but it’s decent, for which most of the credit goes to Block, who is quite personable and imminently believable. Throughout, an odd undercurrent runs, though, as she wakes to hear footsteps she can’t quite track down, her dog goes missing, her garage doors are randomly open, etc. When the climax comes, it’s quite well done, with a lot of smart choices on the part of the writers and directors; it did get a little drawn out toward the end, though, and I thought that could’ve been tightened up a fair bit. But I still enjoyed myself with it (and didn’t get too scared to move to the Silver Lake area, which I’m still hoping to do EVENTUALLY), and so did most of the rest of the audience – many of whom were there supporting friends in the cast or crew. It was the world premiere of the film, and it’s fun to be in that friendly an audience for that.

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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.