Tag Archives: LA Film Festival

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.

LA Film Fest: Day Five (Tuesday)

Initially I hadn’t planned on trying to see anything that started in the 4:00 hour, figuring it’d be too tight to get there from work, but when I actually did the math, I realized I could get to work like half an hour early and that would leave me plenty of time, since the theatre is so close. Tested the time on Tuesday with a not-too-early 4:40pm screening, and sure enough, it was an easy twenty minutes from sitting at my desk to sitting in the theatre. And with the early screenings not as full as the evening ones, getting a good seat was still pretty simple. So I got to add four more screenings to my schedule. Yay!

Especially yay because the first one I decided to add is precisely the film I was hoping to find here, a low-budget iiiiindie to fall in love with and throw my voice (however small it might be) behind. And to think I almost didn’t add it to my schedule. (Every time I say that I do wonder how many of the other films I actually didn’t add to my schedule are just as amazing, and I may never know.) The Dynamiter isn’t a film I’d ordinarily look twice at, with its small-town Southern setting, coming-of-age story, and general sense of low-income Americana. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they tend not to appeal to me personally. But something about the description of this one, or the still illustrating it in the film guide, kept me glancing back to it. But choosing low-budget, non-actor, first-time director films can be a crapshoot, and even heading into it, I was thinking, oh, should I switch to something else… But I stuck with it, and I was charmed within ten minutes, and in love by half way through. It finds the lyricism in the story, but never becomes pretentious, and the three non-actors leading the cast are wonderfully naturalistic, but most of all, the script and direction handle the subject with incredible humanity, making you care deeply about the main character, a 14-year-old boy thrust into manhood and caring for his family, in the all-too-brief runtime. My full review is on Row Three.

It was tough to break the mood set by The Dynamiter to go into an action crime movie like Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within, but such are the vagaries of festival scheduling. I will admit, though, that that unwillingness to leave The Dynamiter may have played a part in my reaction to Elite Squad 2. Having heard great things about the original, a crime film set in the favelas of Brazil, my expectations were high, and while the film was good, it just wasn’t great to me. It focuses a lot more on the politics of corrupt cops and politicians than the action on the streets, which is not a bad thing (and I did like it more after the director explained a bit about the politics of the film in relation to the actual politics – most of the film is based on real events, just molded and transformed into a bit more narrative-friendly form), but it wasn’t what I was expecting. The action scenes that are here have a great driving soundtrack, and…fall prey to many of the same quick-editing pitfalls that American action films do. I was hoping its foreign origin would protect from that but I guess it’s becoming widespread elsewhere as well. Anyway. It’s still quite a good film, and from what I’ve read since, the first film actually is what I was hoping for, so I’ll probably try to catch that soon. And I will try this one again when I’m more in the right mood and not quite as tired.

I very nearly decided to go home and get some sleep after Elite Squad 2, but the last film on my schedule for Tuesday was a remake of a ’70s Japanese TV show about young Daimon and his motorcycle, which can turn into a karate-wielding robot on command. It looked utterly over-the-top and ridiculous, which is exactly what I need from a film fest 10pm slot (at least if there’s no midnight timeslot). So I stayed, and yes, Karate-Robo Zaborgar is just as ridiculous and awesome as it sounds. More plot: the evil doctor is trying to build a giant, world-killing cyborg, for which he needs the DNA of various politicians, so he sends his android Miss Borg after them. But Daimon and Zaborgar are out to stop him, and all the other scantily-clad, rocket-powered cyborgs he sends after them. And it just gets crazier from there. It was a ton of fun, and just what I needed to finish out the night.

The festival is half done at this point, five days down, five to go. Twelve films down, thirteen to go.

LA Film Fest: Day Four (Monday)

And so begins five days of rushing to the festival after a full day at work. I can do without sleep for a week, right? I mean, I’ll just catch up later, right? Probably not. But whatever, I’m going all out on this. To be fair, Monday actually wasn’t a rushing day because there wasn’t anything in the 4:00 timeslot I particularly wanted to see, so I had plenty of time to grab dinner and spend some time poring over my Innkeepers review before my first screening at 7:20. Thanks to the LAFF volunteers for leaving me alone sitting by the wall and writing until the queues started forming. Seriously, though, there are like 700 volunteers for this thing, and they’re great – any time I have a question about when and where something’s going on, there’s a white or yellow volunteer shirt within five feet and so far they always know the answer.

Monday night was a foreign-only night for me, starting off with Peru’s The Bad Intentions. This film caught my eye with the festival guide describing it as a black comedy about a nine-year-old girl who’s convinced that she’ll die as soon as her baby brother is born, and the morbid ways she acts out in rebellion to the idea of no longer being an only child. Meanwhile, it’s 1982 and revolutionary groups are wreaking havoc in Lima (a background plot point that would benefit from me knowing more about Peruvian history, but the interactions with the main plot are clear enough for the most part). The film is very darkly funny, especially for the first two thirds or so, thanks to the sardonic script and solid performance from the young unknown playing Cayetana with world-weary innocence. She’s obsessed with Peruvian heroes who died in battle, and with death itself – something she’s clearly just starting to figure out, and her combination of matter-of-factness and naivete is refreshing. The last third of the movie delves a bit into surrealism, as the threat of her brother’s birth looms nearer and she dreams visions of the historical heroes. The turn didn’t totally work for me, but the film is still really solid, evoking a bit of The Spirit of the Beehive in terms of the little girl coming into contact to death, and here, birth, and working to make sense of it within her childish framework. Director Rosario Garcia-Montero mentioned Cria Cuervos, another Spanish film starring Spirit of the Beehive actress Ana Torrent, as a definite influence – it’s been on my list for a while, so I’ll probably knock it up to the top of my Netflix queue next.

Then I hopped straight into Haunters, a Korean supernatural action thriller about a man, dependent on a prosthetic leg and surviving an abusive childhood, who can control anyone within his sight and make them do what he wants. It’s Cho-in’s one source of power against a world that has cast him out. But when he robs a financier’s office, Cho-in finds himself face to face with Kyu-nam, the one man that can resist his control, setting these two into a power struggle as Kyu-nam takes it on himself to stop Cho-in. It’s a fairly modest production (the first feature for director Min-suk Kim, who co-wrote The Good, the Bad, the Weird and also worked on The Host), focusing on a few set-pieces and the psychological struggle between the two. Blending tones the way only Korean films seem to be able to do, it isn’t quite as ambitious as the films I just mentioned, but makes the most of its scale and has a pretty interesting (if a bit Unbreakable-ish) take on the situation. Plus it’s pretty much non-stop fun to watch, once it really gets going.

That’s it for Monday. The rest of this week, I should be catching three films a day and hopefully having to write full reviews of some of them! Once I write reviews of these on Row Three, as I plan to, I’ll add the links to this post. Four days down, six to go. Nine films down, sixteen to go.

LA Film Fest: Day Three (Sunday)

Sunday was mostly a day off from festivalling, due to other plans during the day. I only missed a couple of things I was only semi-interested in, so it wasn’t too big a deal, though I would like to catch the documentary Unfinished Spaces at some point – its story about a project to build an arts school in Havana begun by Fidel Castro in 1962 which was abandoned due to Soviet influence, only to be picked back up again recently sounds pretty interesting (and would’ve been an interesting architectural companion-piece to The Pruitt-Igoe Myth). But ultimately I think the break was probably good, especially as I gear up for five days of early morning working and late night movie-going. Other plans notwithstanding, I was not about to miss Ti West’s new horror film The Innkeepers, so Jonathan and I headed down to check it out.

West’s previous film House of the Devil was a wonderful throwback to ’80s haunted house/devil worship horror that displayed a real talent for filmmaking, and an especially good understanding of how to make a genre film fresh and interesting. Having enjoyed House of the Devil so much, my expectations were pretty high for The Innkeepers, and that’s even without reading the positive feedback from SXSW. My expectations were not misplaced. I loved this movie. It takes its time setting up the inn and its potential ghostly inhabitant, through the eyes of the titular innkeepers, a couple of bright-eyed slackers interested in paranormal activity who are staying in the inn the last weekend before it goes out of business in a last-ditch effort to contact the rumored ghost. Mixing creepy camera angles and terrific sound design with a genuinely witty script and endearing performances from the two leads, West has a film that works equally well as horror and comedy, without ever turning into a parody. When the scares do come, they’re earned, and the general feeling of dread leading up to the two main scary setpieces is fantastic – I’m not ashamed to admit I held Jon’s hand pretty tight through those parts! It’s much more fun, I’ve discovered, watching horror films with other people. :) I could go on about the film for a long time. And did, in my full review on Row Three.

The film comes out sometime this year. If you’re into horror at all, I strongly recommend you go see it. Let’s encourage more things like this to be made instead of the inane slasher schlock we get peddled constantly. So even though I only got to one film on Sunday, it was well-worth it, and I’m pretty sure The Innkeepers will come out near the top when I make my inevitable “best of fest” list.

LA Film Fest: Day Two (Saturday)

Even though it means four is pretty much the maximum number of films you can get in one day, I am kind of grateful for the fact that the LA Film Fest doesn’t program films in the morning. Getting a few extra hours of sleep in and a few hours of writing time before heading back for my first screening at 1:30pm was very useful – a luxury I won’t get many more days into this! I wandered downtown around noon (Saturday traffic in LA is no joke, however strange that seems to non-LA residents) and headed in to Please Do Not Disturb in plenty of time to get a choice seat.

I’ve developed a tradition of seeing Iranian films at fests whenever I can – they often don’t end up getting releases here, and I find I quite enjoy them. So far. I’m up to three now. Hopefully they continue the trend. The previous two I’ve seen were both underground films, filmed guerilla-style without government permits, which can be quite dangerous for the filmmakers and actors if they’re caught, since the Iranian government exercises complete control over the media, but can also yield really interesting stories about life in Iran that wouldn’t necessarily get portrayed in an approved film. As far as I can tell, Please Do Not Disturb is not an underground film, but a more mainstream-friendly comedy showcasing life in Tehran, but not showing anything particularly revolutionary or subversive. That said, it’s very funny, stringing three basically separate stories together with hilarious dialogue and delivery, the actors making the most of the comical situations presented. My full review is on Row Three.

Next up, one of the very few documentaries I’m catching at the festival. I’m not a big fan of documentaries, so either the subject has to be something that really interests me or I have to hear a ton of good things about the style before I’ll choose a documentary over a narrative film. In the case of The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, it was the subject. I grew up in St. Louis, a decade after the Pruitt-Igoe housing projects closed down – I was in the suburbs, not the city, so I didn’t really have a knowledge of them except I remember vaguely hearing the name…but I don’t know in what context. The development was begun in the 1950s as a bright alternative to the overcrowded slums, steeply declined into disrepair and crime through the 1960s, and was finally demolished starting in 1972, leaving a 57-acre lot that remains vacant to this day. The fall of Pruitt-Igoe has become legendary as a failure of public housing, government programs, and modernism itself (thanks to the explicitly modernist architecture that marked the end of the great modernist building phase of the 20th century). This documentary looks beyond the surface, pointing to issues of depopulation and displacement that plagued St. Louis in the 1950s as well as issues of racial segregation and family-destroying welfare rules that all factored into the failure of Pruitt-Igoe, and conducting interviews with former residents about their experiences there, which are far more positive than you might imagine. It’s a well-balanced and interesting story that hopes to learn from the failures of the past to do better in the future, rather than just mark all such projects as doomed from the start. I was pleased with my choice of documentaries. My full review is on Row Three.

Unfortunately I had to leave before the Q&A with The Pruitt-Igoe Myth director Chad Freidrichs in order to catch French import Tomboy. I hate doing that, both because I love hearing Q&As, especially about films that intrigued me as much as The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, and because I feel rude leaving before them. But festival scheduling is sometimes tight, and you have to do what you have to do. I chose to sit in the back of the front section for Tomboy, which was probably a mistake – that particular screen was not that large, and the film was shot in a lot of hand-held closeups, which are a bit headache-inducing if you’re sitting too close. But I powered through, and the film’s lyrical quality ultimately made it watchable, even from my close vantage point. The eponymus eleven-year-old takes the opportunity of moving into a new neighborhood to pass herself off as a boy to the new kids she meets – she’s already far more comfortable with cropped hair, tank tops, and shorts than dresses, and it seems an easy step for her to introduce herself as Mikael rather than Laure. The charade continues for a while, with Laure taking more drastic steps to conceal the truth; but school is coming, and she can’t keep it up past then. I wanted a little bit more depth on the gender politics, but the film stays very aloof, not really delving into Laure’s psyche about what she’s doing – but staying away from psychoanalyzing Laure is probably a good choice ultimately, and the solid performance from Zoé Héran lends a depth that I’m not sure the script actually has. However, it’s Laure’s little sister Jeanne, at first a potential threat to her secret and later her best ally, who steals the show, her quick smile and winning sillyness distracting a bit too much from Laure’s more meditative demeanor. The film isn’t totally a success, but I always love good child performances, and the film has that along with some gorgeous cinematography to at least keep it interesting for the duration.

After Tomboy I had a good two and a half hour break before my final screening of the night, so I went in search of food. There are lots of upscale restaurants at LA Live, but not much in the way of cheap fast eats. I was hoping there’d be more food trucks in the area, but seemed like the taco truck across the street was pretty much the only option. Ah well. Maybe more will turn up throughout the week. After getting back to theatre, still with an hour to spare, I pulled out the trusty iPad and started writing up earlier films. I tell you, that thing is quickly becoming indespensible for things like festivals – more compact and better battery life than a laptop, but robust enough to type up reviews and get them posted. Very handy. Anyway, I headed in for Argentinian film Medianeras (or Sidewalls – it can’t seem to decide which title it wants to go by here at the fest), which promised to be an interesting little romantic drama/comedy. Set in Buenos Aires, the two main characters live across from each other in neighboring apartment buildings, but even though they go many of the same places and like lots of the same things, they never quite seem to connect. Meanwhile, they each have voiceovers talking about the difficulty of connecting in the modern age – millions of wires connecting everything via phone and internet and yet allowing more seclusion than ever as people never need to leave home to survive. It’s not a new thought by any means, but it’s done with great charm here, and the two leads are great. I must admit to nodding in and out of consciousness a bit simply because it’s not normal for me to be up until midnight anymore, but I found the film very pleasing.

I believe this was my most film-ful day of the fest, as I think all the other days max out at three films. I enjoyed all four films, but there probably won’t be any titles from today on my best-of-fest list. But there are still a lot films left to go, most of them unknown quantities, so I guess we’ll find out, huh? Two days down, eight to go. Six films down, nineteen to go.