I know summer has truly begun when the Los Angeles Film Festival kicks into gear. Truly a blast to attend, whether at the Sunset 5, Westwood, or downtown, the brand new venue for this year, it’s a great chance to see old friends and new films, drink free vodka, and generally enjoy the few remaining perks of the film critic’s life.
I’ve been blogging the festival for several years now, whether at my own site, or other outlets I’ve been employed by. Each time I’ve done it for someone else, I’ve gotten compliments on my work...then told there’s no interest in any sort of coverage at all the following year. So it goes. In 2010, Geekweek readers will be the lucky recipients of my own unique brand of fest-blogging, assessing the movies and observing the scene. As I said when I started reviewing movies here, not every film discussed will necessarily be “geek” – but know that I come at them from that perspective, and may even introduce you to things you never knew you liked...or hated.
In advance of the festival, I have had the chance to preview nine of the narrative competition and documentary selections (I’ve also seen the opening and closing night films, but have been asked not to comment on them prior to their festival debut).
I will probably not attend the tangentially fest-related premiere of THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE, because TWILIGHT is stupid.
As for those nine films I mentioned, here are my takes...
The nice thing to say about this movie is that it’s
“hypnotic”...a less nice way of describing it would use the word “stupefying.”
Essentially non-narrative, Malcolm Murray’s film is a compilation of various
looks at the nation of
Though it’s a Spanish-language documentary about a Mexican circus, a certain big-name film critic who was sitting near me at the press screening loudly remarked, on the way out: “Oh, I could tell it was an American-made film within five minutes!” I’m not sure exactly how...I must be honest and admit I came close to dozing off a few times, mostly owing to lack of sleep more than anything detrimental in the film, although I will say that the movie does manage to make circus life seem uninteresting, and I’m pretty sure that’s kind of the point. Setting up the tent and bleachers, taking it down again, moving on to the next town, barely breaking even because nobody wants to buy circus tickets in a depression, kids being drilled at contortion moves and acrobatics rather than being taught to read and write...and now the parents disagree on what the best life should be. Will the lifelong ringmaster leave his family business, or will his wife leave him? I found myself wishing they’d come to a conclusive answer more quickly than they did. And show us more of the animals, I mean, c’mon, if you have tigers you can be filming, why not take advantage? (Fri., June 18, 7:45 p.m.; Sat., June 19, 4:30 p.m.; Mon., June 21, 5 p.m.; all at the Regal)
Shot secretively in the age of Ahmadinejad but prior to the post-election riots in Iran, Hossein Keshavaraz’ film is an attempt to show the real face of youthful Iran onscreen, as opposed to the austere, slow-moving portraits of rural folks we’re so often used to seeing from that country. The director announces his Islamically Incorrect intentions from the beginning, in a scene with young men drinking Johnnie Walker Red Label, and discussing the various color grades above that on the alcohol scale. Meanwhile, other teens chafe under parental authority and door locks, married men have affairs, and a car accident provokes string reactions from all involved. The narrative inspiration here comes from Robert Altman and John Sayles, and their multi-story movies which add up to an overarching portrait of time and/or place...but DOG SWEAT is a bit more of a challenge for audiences, since all the faces here are unknowns, and Sayles and Altman usually cast at least a handful of familiar faces. Anonymity was obviously key here, as the actors could potentially suffer real-world consequences similar to those some of the characters suffer onscreen, and one can respect the achievement while still wishing it were slightly more accessible as a story – Hossein hits the ground running, and by the time we’ve finally figured out who everyone is and what their connections are (and this movie is not a mystery flick, mind), things are almost over. More of a valuable document than an evening’s entertainment, let’s say. (Sat., June 19, 10:15 p.m.; Sun., June 20, 14:45 p.m.; Thurs., June 24, 5 p.m.; all at the Regal)
EVERYDAY SUNSHINE: THE STORY OF FISHBONE
Best known for their ‘80s hit “Party at Ground Zero,” Fishbone were always one of the hardest bands of the “alternative revolution” to peg, mixing ska, funk, punk, metal, the occasional theremin, and an eclectic stage presence that rarely emphasized any one frontman, though the mohawked Angelo Moore ultimately became the most recognizable (now bald, he has tattooed a virtual Mohawk strip on his bare scalp). On the offchance you haven’t heard of them, testimonies from the likes of Ice-T, Mike Watt, Tim Robbins (huh?) and a heavily filtered and made-up Gwen Stefani attest to their greatness and groundbreaking nature, before the movie takes us back to the beginning and tells their story, narrated – presumably mainly because of his last name – by Laurence FishBURNE. Directors Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson jazz things up with animation – ersatz Cosby Kids style for the band’s high school days, growing more psychedelic in later years. I was amazed to learn that the band are currently on somewhat hard times, with Moore having moved back in with his Jehovah’s Witness mother, and the conflicts are many in a band where the overriding goal was always to let everyone have an equal say – this can lead to awesomely eclectic chaos, or just plain friction, and EVERYDAY SUNSHINE demonstrates that Fishbone did both with gusto. I was never a huge fan, but it’s a much more interesting story than your usual Behind the Music arc. (Sat., June 19, 10 p.m.; Mon., June 21, 8 p.m.; Wed., June 23, 5: 30 p.m.; all at the Regal)
Composed almost entirely of gorgeously restored archival
footage, FAREWELL documents the 1929 around-the-world voyage of the Graf
Zeppelin, as told from the perspective of Lady Hay, a journalist hired by
William Randolph Hearst (who also funded the trip) to report on the journey
from a woman’s perspective, under the supervision of one of her exes...it was a
trip that would make her the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by air.
Poppy Elliott reads excerpts from Hay’s journal in voice-over, while the
footage varies from the skeletal wire-frame assembly of the giant balloon, to
colorized footage of geishas in
When a movie opens with a guy recording wildlife-documentary voiceover in his underwear, it gets your attention. Turns out this is the first onscreen role for Harry Chase, who, like the late Don LaFontaine, has often been “Mr. Voice” in movie trailers, and is apparently most recognized as the voice of Captain Morgan commercials. Here, he plays a dude named Bill who has his own recording studio in an isolated house, so far from everywhere that he can shoot beer cans with his pistols from a hot tub, and nobody complains. Only the package delivery guy, Omar (Kamel Boutros) is occasionally peeved that Bill answers the door in a Speedo. Meanwhile, an office drone named Gordon (Nate Smith) who likes to bet on sports tries his hand at Internet dating, and is unbelievably successful – seriously, I’ve done it a lot, and say that no way a dude like this gets lucky so fast. Anyway, he hooks up with “Princess” (Sabrina Lloyd, of TV’s SLIDERS and SPORTS NIGHT), and all is good until she gets the results of the test back...she definitely has breast cancer. In a third tale, an uptight divorce (James Urbaniak, channeling Dylan Baker), befriends the old widow next door (Lynn Cohen, a.k.a. Magda on SEX AND THE CITY) when the latter is stripped of her driver’s license, forced to sell her vintage vehicle, and must depend upon others for rides to the grocery store. They end up sleeping together, though it’s not clear anything more than sleeping is going on. The three stories don’t really intersect, save when Bill’s voice is heard on various TV’s, but all three deal with unlikely answers to loneliness, and the possibility of dying with nobody around. Yet this isn’t a downer, really; writer-director Adam Reid got his start at Comedy Central, and has managed to retain an appropriate sense of humor even when tackling more sensitive thoughts (Lloyd’s cancer-stricken character is based on Reid’s own sister, but never becomes maudlin).. Have to say I prefer the naked voice-over dude’s story...but I have a distinct feeling every audience member will pick his or her own favorite. (Fri., June 18, 7:30 p.m.; Tues., June 22, 10:15 p.m.; Wed., June 23, 5:30 p.m.; all at the Regal)
THE NEW YEAR
You jocks can keep your Megan Fox – the newest crushworthy girl for geeks is Trieste Kelly Dunn in THE NEW YEAR. Press releases tout her “breakout” performance...I’m not sure it’s the level of acting that breaks out so much as the fact that she’s the pretty nerd girl next door who seems like a smart pin-up. Think MTV’s Daria all grown up, except instead of graduating from some top college, she’s moved back in with her father the author, now residing in Pensacola, Florida, and with cancer promising him a somewhat imminent demise. Dunn’s character Sunny works in a bowling alley, and the movie follows her from shortly before Christmas through New Year’s. You could probably call this movie “mumblecore,” but I won’t, for two reasons: firstly, I always think of those types of movies as being set in big cities, and secondly I freaking HATE the term “mumblecore,” since few if any of the characters in them actually mumble. Anyway, stuff kinda happens to Sunny: she’s dating a pudgy Tae Kwon Do instructor (alas, not Danny McBride) whom her BFF Amy dubs “Kung-Fu Panda, but when an old flame from high school resurfaces, now as an aspiring comedian living in New York, she’s tempted to stray. Yet these are played almost as incidentals, even though the vague triangle is what passes for a plot. I’m not entirely sure why I liked this to the extent that I did, and can imagine it boring some of you...the ending in particular is almost maddeningly, calculatedly non-sequitur-ish. But it’s not just Dunn’s charisma – the details of small-town characters, like Amy’s dumbass wigger boyfriend and the karate kids who perform at the local multiplex, are a large part of what makes things work. I’m also massively curious how many takes were required to capture Dunn bowling perfect strikes every time out. (Fri., June 18, 10:15 p.m.; Tues., June 22, 4:45 p.m.; Wed., June 23, 7:30 p.m.; all at the Regal)
OF LOVE AND OTHER DEMONS
“Rabies is one of the devil’s many tricks.” If you think today’s Catholic bishops have issues, consider the fellow who speaks this line aloud in the era of the Inquisition. When the sexually budding daughter from a wealthy family gets bitten by a rabid dog, it is thus promptly assumed that any trace of madness or disease is not the fault of infection, but rather of Satanic possession, and thus she is confined to a cell in a nunnery, often bound by chains. The rabies turns out not to have taken hold in her body, but there’s a fellow out there who’d certainly like to...the key problem being that he’s the priest assigned to banish Satan from her person. Later, we find out the two have dreamed of each other before ever meeting – at least, I think we find that out. This is a Gabriel Garcia Marquez adaptation, after all, and some things are magically real and surreal (a lit candle underwater is a recurring motif). Nicely shot with simple sets that are effectively darkened for atmosphere, OF LOVE AND OTHER DEMONS, brings to mind the recent LOST episode “Ab Aeterno,” which may of course have been inspired by Marquez to begin with. Some truly awful music mars the climactic moments, but overall this is a tale well told. (Fri., June 18, 9:45 p.m.; Sun., June 20, 7:15 p.m.; Mon., June 21, 4:45 p.m.; all at the Regal)
ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT
I will admit upfront that I have a total soft spot for elephants, probably dating back to my love of the book “The Elephant and the Bad Baby” as a child (long story short: the baby is defined as “bad” because, despite riding around on an elephant, he never once says “please”). So I was already inclined to love this tale of a balding man who is actually named David Balding, and the baby elephant he adopted back in 1984 named Flora. David and his wife Laura never had children, but he named his circus after Flora and centered his life around her. Unfortunately, there comes a time for all children to outgrow the nest, and as Flora got bigger, the circus simply couldn’t hold her, plus David was ready to retire. This documentary tracks the events that happened next, in the quest for a new home. Some of the options heartbreakingly fail, but fear not: the movie, after all, is called ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT, and not ONE GREAT IVORY SOURCE. Along the way, learn the behavioral differences between African and Asian elephants, and here some of the theories as to why perfectly peaceful pachyderms can become dangerously unpredictable as they get older. The only aspect of the film I don’t like is that in reading the press notes, it becomes clear that producer-writer Cristina Colissimo was an active participant in the story, trying to find Flora a home and fundraising for her...yet none of this is disclosed onscreen. It doesn’t make the movie bad – hell, I laughed, I cried, I cheered – but when something is presented as an objective look, not even acknowledging the unseen producer as a key participant in the events being chronicled, audiences ought to be informed of that. That qualm aside, let me, uh, trumpet this as one of the fest flicks you’ll never forget. (Sat., June 19, 6:30 p.m. (panel discussion follows); Fri., June 25, 5 p.m.; Sat., June 26, 1:45 p.m.; all at the Regal)
NOTE: ALL SCREENING TIMES AND DAYS ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE. Visit lafilmfest.com for updates.