“With a new programming team and revitalized sense of purpose, the Los Angeles Film Festival launches its 21st edition Wednesday with a reinvigorated mission,” begins Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times. “The festival is presenting 45 world premieres—more than half its feature slate—with more than 80% of the program by first- or second-time directors. Looking to give further voice to diverse perspectives, nearly 40% of the films in the festival were directed by women and nearly 30% directed by people of color. There is also a deepened emphasis on films exploring the layers of experience in the city itself.”
The LAT is one of the festival’s sponsors, so you’ll find quite a bit of coverage there. Like Olsen, Rebecca Keegan talks with festival director Stephanie Allain about this year’s challenges, while Oliver Gettell picks one highlight for each section. In a similar vein (and for a different set of selections), see Christine N. Ziemba at the LAist.
One of the sections is LA Muse, now in its second year, spotlighting “films set in, inspired by or shot in Los Angeles,” as Ryan Lattanzio explains at Thompson on Hollywood, where you can watch “an exclusive video series documenting the making of these films.” And Lattanzio and Thompson pick eight “must-sees,” including tonight’s opener, Grandma: “Writer-director Paul Weitz gives Lily Tomlin a juicy character to play—an angry, volatile, outspoken, no-holds-barred, strong lesbian woman who has just lost her life partner to cancer.” Grandma currently has a Critics Round Up score of 83/100.
As Jeremy Kay reports for Screen, this year’s edition will close with a live reading of Fast Times at Ridgemont High directed by Eli Roth: “Amy Heckerling directed the 1982 film starring Sean Penn in his breakout role. Cameron Crowe wrote the screenplay.”
Again, most of the films screening this year are premieres, particularly in the US and World Fiction and Documentary competition lineups, of course, but the Buzz section features Los Angeles premieres of a few films for which either we or CRU have entries: Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Maya Forbes’s Infinitely Polar Bear, Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall, Patrick Brice’s The Overnight and Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria, the one-shot wonder that’s opening tomorrow in the city where it was filmed and then premiered, Berlin.
Updates, 6/13: “You pretty much know you’re going to like Puerto Ricans in Paris if you’re grabbed by the title and the fact that the iracible Luis Guzman is one of its leads,” writes Stephen Saito. “While Ian Edelman’s feature is far more nuanced as a seductive, relaxed comic mystery, a style that won’t seem unfamiliar to fans of his last collaboration with Guzman, the HBO series How to Make It in America, announcing itself as a fish out of water buddy comedy so boldly suggests the simple comic pleasures to be had, and Edelman doesn’t skimp on them.” More from Justin Lowe in the Hollywood Reporter.
Charlie Schmidlin at the Playlist on Too Late: “What first-time director Dennis Hauck establishes here is a bizarro LA that’s just picked up from where Pulp Fiction left off, and yet where The Boondock Saints hasn’t happened yet—it’s the only timeline in which making a non-linear ensemble crime drama appears like a supremely fresh idea. Overall a genre throwback, the film pits private detective Sampson (a game John Hawkes) against a cast of strip club owners, thugs, and dames on a case to find a missing woman (Crystal Reed), and lets nary a beat of celluloid flicker by without a slick ‘70s jukebox tune or rapid-fire dialogue exchange jolting into the mix.” More from Ryland Aldrich at Twitch.
Also: “‘Can you stop telling me about the work and tell me why you’re doing it?’ Midway through Missing People, a sister of the late outsider artist Roy Ferdinand asks this question to art gallerist Martina Batan. But by then we already know the answer, or rather we know the attraction—Ferdinand’s lively and violent paintings of New Orleans street life hold some healing aspect for Batan, who’s been reeling ever since her 14-year-old brother’s unsolved murder in 1978. Director David Shapiro focuses his documentary on that unknown pull: we all have compulsions toward a specific artist or artwork, but here he chronicles one woman’s route to articulating why.”
“Can You Dig This is far from the first documentary on the urban gardening movement, nor the first to focus on its impact in impoverished sections of Los Angeles,” writes Sheri Linden. “Focusing on smaller horticultural projects and a handful of gardeners, from tentative newbies to internationally recognized activists, [Delila Vallot] tells a story of uplift.” More from Charlie Schmidlin (Playlist, B+).
Also in the Hollywood Reporter, Stephen Dalton: “A humble community sports project that grew into a nationally renowned launch pad for professional basketball talent, the Drew League was launched 40 years ago at Charles Drew Junior High School in Compton, Los Angeles. Titled after the league’s can-do motto, [Baron Davis and Chad Gordon’s] No Excuse, Just Produce charts the bumpy but mostly uplifting history behind this long-running summer institution.”
Updates, 6/14: “In her debut feature, writer/director Emily Ting demonstrates a preternaturally sure hand over the material, which may have been aided by the fact that the film was inspired by autobiographical events,” writes Katie Walsh at the Playlist. “The female lead of It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong is a toy designer, an Asian-American in Hong Kong, as was Ting, who mined her personal experiences and knowledge of the city to inform the screenplay. The experience serves her well, as she creates an immersive portrait of Hong Kong alongside a Before Sunrise-style romantic tale of ex-pats connecting under the neon lights of the city.” Stephen Saito interviews Ting. More from Stephen Farber (Hollywood Reporter).
Also: “For non-African audiences, Sara Belcher’s Ayanda and the Mechanic is an important and fascinating piece that is absolutely worth seeing for its representation of a modern African story, which is uniquely, distinctively African, but also urban, fresh and contemporary in a way that is far too rare. Anchored by a standout performance by the magnetic Fulu Mugovahni, the vibe and milieu of Ayanda and the Mechanic is as refreshing as a light summer breeze—when it’s not bogged down by overwrought drama that nearly kills the momentum.”
Updates, 6/15: “In a story that explores how both power dynamics and past traumas can affect the creative process, Marya Cohn’s The Girl in the Book is a remarkable, ambitious directorial debut,” writes the Playlist‘s Katie Walsh.
Also: Rupert Glasson’s What Lola Wants “seems reverse-engineered for an Alamo Drafthouse screening, where you can sip drinks while getting buzzed on cinematic form and self-reflective over-stylization, letting the flowery language slip past in a haze of syllables.”
Stephen Saito talks with Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister Jones about Consumed. Cinephiled‘s Danny Miller talks with them as well, noting that “Consumed is a dramatic thriller set in the complex world of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The story focuses on a working-class single mother named Sophie (Zoe Lister-Jones) who is trying to uncover the cause of her son’s mysterious illness. Interwoven in the film are the stories of an organic farmer (Danny Glover) in danger of losing his farm, the CEO of a biotechnology corporation (Victor Garber), two scientists on the verge of a major discovery (Anthony Edwards and Kunal Nayyar), and an ex-cop (Taylor Kinney) who are all involved with this issue. The film also features Griffin Dunne and Beth Grant.”
Updates, 6/18: The award-winners:
- U.S. Fiction Award: Takeshi Fukunaga for Out of My Hand.
- World Fiction Award: Beata Gårdeler for Flocken. Special Mentions: Vladimir Tumaev’s White Moss and Sara Blecher’s Ayanda and the Mechanic (see above).
- Documentary Award: Mo-Young Jin for My Love, Don’t Cross That River. Special Mention: Holly Morris and Anne Bogart’s The Babushkas of Chernobyl. The Hollywood Reporter‘s Frank Scheck calls this “documentary about the elderly women who stubbornly continue to reside in the ‘Exclusion Zone’ that was evacuated after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster nearly three decades ago… a haunting sociological study.”
- LA Muse Award: Delila Vallot for Can You Dig This (see above). Special Mention: Elsa Biedermann for her role as a supporting actress in Wade Allain-Marcus and Jesse Allain-Marcus’s French Dirty.
- The inaugural Nightfall Award: Viet Nguyen for Crush the Skull. For Timothy Tau at the Playlist, this is “a hilarious, thrilling hybrid of a heist film and a gory, old-school slasher flick.” Special Mention: Miguel Llansó’s Crumbs. Special jury “high five”: Michael Rousselet, Tomm Jacobsen, Jon Salmon and Joey Scoma’s Dude Bro Party Massacre III.
- Also newly established this year, the Zeitgeist Award: Bradley Kaplan for Stealing Cars. The Hollywood Reporter‘s Stephen Farber finds that Kaplan sets out “to expose the cruelties and failures of the juvenile detention system in this country. The aim is admirable, the execution somewhat less so. The film makes a few too many missteps, but it does deserve credit for re-opening debate on an issue that merits serious scrutiny.” Special Mention: POCHA (Manifest Destiny), directed by Michael Dwyer and co-directed by Kaitlin McLaughlin.
- Audience Award for Best Fiction Feature Film: POCHA (Manifest Destiny).
- Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature Film: It’s a tie: Natalie Johns’s I Am Thalente and Lilibet Foster’s Be Here Now. Twitch‘s Ben Umstead on the doc on Thalente Biyela: “One doesn’t have to know a thing about skateboarding to get invested in Thalente’s journey. In that way I Am Thalente is an active, soul-searching and soul-affirming doc.”
- Best Short Fiction: Tian Guan’s Drama.
- Best Short Documentary: Kareem Tabsch’s Dolphin Lover.
- Audience Award for Best Short Film: Kevin Hamedani’s In Her Place.
- Audience Award for Best Web Series: Anna Martemucci and Victor Quinaz’s The Genderton Project.
Deadline‘s Amanda N’Duka reports that, before its world premiere on Monday, The Orchard took North American distribution rights to The Escort, which “centers on Mitch (Michael Doneger, who also penned the script with Brandon Cohen), a sex-crazed writer, and Natalie (Lyndsy Fonseca), a Stanford-educated prostitute, who form a mutually beneficial partnership in a world of high-class escorts. Bruce Campbell, Tommy Dewey, Rumer Willis and Rachel Resheff also star. Will Slocombe directs.”
“It’s a tale as old as cinema itself, the dismissive and apathetic attitude towards aging women in a youth obsessed, commodified film industry,” writes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema. “And yet, director Zoe Cassavetes manages to make her own worthwhile entry with Day Out of Days, a project conceived, developed, and co-written with lead actress Alexia Landeau.” More from Jon Frosch (Hollywood Reporter) and Katie Walsh (Playlist, B+).
Stephen Farber in the Hollywood Reporter on Marc Meyers’s How He Fell in Love: “The premise is not dissimilar to that of another romantic movie released this spring, 5 to 7, the story of a young man drawn into a love affair with a somewhat older married woman. But that film had a lot of sharply witty dialogue that this new film lacks.”
Farber also reviews Aram, Aram, “set in the Armenian community of Hollywood. First-time writer-director Christopher Chambers has crafted a potent, lovingly detailed evocation of an unfamiliar California subculture.”
“Wound tight by a killer premise, polished direction, and a tone as though Anton Chigurh sauntered into Bottle Rocket, Aaron and Adam Nee’s Band of Robbers wrings the anxieties of aging and a dampened imagination from a grown-up Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn,” writes Charlie Schmidlin. “Structuring their modern tale around the Mark Twain narratives, the sibling directors find laughs, pathos, and some surprising storytelling twists, plus have a game cast to deliver it–Kyle Gallner, Stephen Lang, Hannibal Buress, Melissa Benoist, Eric Christian Olsen.”
Also at the Playlist, Katie Walsh: “Co-written and directed by Anna Axster, A Country Called Home is a sweet and soulful debut feature that explores the many different facets of a parent’s death, whether you knew that parent or not.”
Ryan Lattanzio at Thompson on Hollywood on writer/director Ben Chace’s “arresting” Sin Alas: “Part mystery, part ghost tale, this seductive film draws inspiration less from film than from postmodern literature, specifically from the freely flowing writings of Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine midcentury author of slippery tales including the stories in Ficciones and Labyrinths. Sin Alas does similarly dazzling strokes in a novella-sized 80 minutes, shot in earthy, sensual, sweaty 16mm by indie ‘it’ cinematographer Sean Price Williams, (who has shot the films of Alex Ross Perry, and the