The Los Angeles Film Festival, opening today and running through June 19 is, as Michael Nordine explains in his helpful FAQ in the Weekly, “the most high-profile showcase for previously unseen movies without a distributor in L.A. Sponsored by Film Independent, the nonprofit that also hosts the Spirit Awards, LAFF celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.”
The festival’s “introduced a new sidebar consisting of 11 movies ‘set, shot or inspired by’ the epicenter of the film industry. Called L.A. Muse, the program recognizes that there’s something intrinsically cinematic about the porous borders separating one neighborhood from the next, ubiquitous palm trees, snaking freeways and anxiety over the supposed Big One.”
And of course, the Weekly‘s picked its highlights from the lineup. Here’s Amy Nicholson on one of them: Elliott Lester’s Nightingale “isn’t just the most unusual film in this year’s fest—it might be the most unusual film you see all year. David Oyelowo (The Butler, Jack Reacher) tackles his first leading role, and boy, is it a challenge. As an Iraq War veteran in a rage because his mother won’t let his friend/platoonmate/obsession come over for dinner, the rising British actor channels a frenzy of emotions while being the only actor onscreen.” Three out of five stars from Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema and a C- from Charlie Schmidlin at the Playlist. Sheri Linden for the Hollywood Reporter: “A nightmare painted in fauve-bright colors, the feature is a live-action expressionist canvas with a fascinating portrait at its center.”
Bob Strauss for the Los Angeles Daily News: “David Ansen, LAFF’s artistic director since it moved downtown to L.A. Live’s Regal Cinemas in 2010, noted that specific sections, such as Narrative and Documentary competition, also home in on SoCal with such titles as Comet, Lake Los Angeles, Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound, Meet the Patels and Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story.”
“For various reasons, the documentary selections provide the most urgent reason to attend,” suggests Steven Boone, who recommends seven of them at RogerEbert.com.
Indiewire lists “14 Movies and Events We’re Excited About,” and among them is a live reading, presented in conjunction with The Black List, of 1969: A Space Odyssey, or How Kubrick Learned to Stop Worrying and Land on the Moon, Stephany Folsom’s story of a Nixon White House assistant charged with staging an authentic-looking moon landing in case the real one turned out to be a disaster.”
“Stephanie Allain is in her third year as director,” and Variety‘s Dave McNary has five questions for her.
There are four juries—narrative, documentary, L.A. Muse and shorts—and Anne Thompson‘s got the lists of jurors.
Updates, 6/12: Writing for arts•meme, Robert Koehler lists eleven films to avoid and writes a few words about six that are “not bad but not good either, or some might say, ‘meh.'” before heartily recommending ten. Here’s one: “One of the year’s genuine festival successes, The Great Museum (Berlin, San Francisco, Seattle) is no less than the second inspired movie recently shot inside Vienna’s venerable Kunsthistorisches Museum (the other, is Jem Cohen’s brilliant Museum Hours). It takes the lessons of Frederick Wiseman’s documentary filmmaking philosophy—comprehend an institution by filming it from every possible vantage point on the organizational flow chart, and keep the camera out of the way—but produces something quite different, more sarcastic, ironic and irreverent.”
Paul Sbrizzi recommends a round at Hammer to Nail. One that caught my eye is Last Days in Vietnam: “Director Rory Kennedy delves into the dramatic days leading up to the fall of Saigon, as the North Vietnamese Army advanced and American military and diplomats became increasingly desperate to save their South Vietnamese allies and friends, whose lives would be at risk after the communist takeover. The catch was that the US ambassador, Graham Martin, who had lost his foster son to the war, remained in total denial right until the end, and wouldn’t allow for an evacuation plan, thinking it would send the wrong signal. The film plays out as a thriller, where men risk being charged with treason in order to follow their conscience, and then race against time to get people out by any means necessary, in the midst of total chaos.”
Twitch picks “15 Can’t Miss Films.”
Updates, 6/13: “Indiewire is hosting the ‘How I Shot That (LAFF Edition)’ series. Every day up until the end of the festival, the series will spotlight a filmmaker with a film screening at the event. In some cases, the project’s cinematographer will chime in. In self-penned questionnaires, we asked the talent to discuss the most difficult scene they had to shoot and share whatever advice they had for up-and-coming filmmakers.”
“One of the most powerful films to premiere at this year’s festival is Deon Taylor’s Supremacy, a harrowing true-life story starring Danny Glover,” writes Danny Miller, introducing his interview with Taylor for Cinephiled. “Within hours of being released from 14 years in a maximum-security prison, Aryan Brotherhood member Garrett Tully (Joe Anderson) kills a cop and finds himself on the run, this time with Doreen (Dawn Olivieri), the Aryan Brotherhood groupie who was sent to pick him up. Tully finds a house off a dirt road and he and Doreen take the African American family living there hostage. The family’s patriarch, Mr. Walker (Danny Glover), is a jaded ex-con who hates the police so much he is estranged from his son (Derek Luke) who has become one. Seeing a familiar desperation in Tully, Mr. Walker senses that he can find a way out of the potentially deadly situation that threatens to explode at any moment.”
Updates, 6/14: “A relentless self-exploration has steered actor and director Mark Webber’s filmmaking output,” writes Charlie Schmidlin at the Playlist, “and increasingly it seems his preferred route of doing so is through quotation marks. Last year’s The End of Love starred Webber as ‘Mark,’ an actor struggling in LA with his real-life son Isaac, and now—with a new romance and marriage to Warm Bodies actress Teresa Palmer—here arrives The Ever After, a similarly self-reflexive look at marriage hiding a dark undercurrent of anxiety and abuse.”
At arts•meme, Robert Koehler reviews Agnes Sos’s documentary Stream of Love, which “[shows]—shock of shocks—that old folks really love sex. I don’t doubt that Sos loves her subjects, pondering their smiling, fantastically wrinkled faces, but she seems unaware how insulting it is to elderly viewers, who surely have the same sexual desires of everyone else including her adorable Transylvanian bumpkins.”
And: “Sober for six years and living in Los Angeles, singer-songwriter Thomas Jacob (Mikael Persbrandt) returns to his native Denmark to record a new album at the start of Someone You Love…. Director Pernille Fischer Christensen and co-writer Kim Fupz Aakeson signal each phase of their melodrama before they happen, which wasn’t the case in their prior collaborations, A Soap and A Family. Persbrandt is the whole movie, really: Wracked, wrecked, bitter, channeling any goodness he has through his art, which contains some damn good songs.” At the Playlist, James Rocchi gives it an A-.
Updates, 6/15: “Sympathetic without being sentimental or condescending, Stray Dog is an enormously touching, understated look at an aging Vietnam veteran still wrestling with the invisible scars of a war that took place some 40 years ago,” writes Tim Grierson for Screen Daily. “This documentary, the first from Winter’s Bone filmmaker Debra Granik, utilises an observational, unobtrusive style that reaps major rewards, offering a casual glimpse into a series of lives on the margins of American society, touching on family, faith, love and survival with an effortless grace.”
“A lighthearted exploration of friendship and personal growth, the film Trouble Dolls grew out of the budding friendship of its makers,” writes Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times. It’s “a collaboration between actresses Jess Weixler and Jennifer Prediger, who not only appear as costars but also both make their debuts as writer-directors…. Olivia (Prediger) and Nicole (Weixler) are aspiring actress/artist/performers in New York City struggling to pay the rent even with their lenient, eccentric landlord (Jeffrey Tambor). After Olivia’s beloved cat Seagull unexpectedly dies, they make their way to Los Angeles, where they end up auditioning for a reality show talent contest overseen by Nicole’s aunt (Megan Mullally). Will Forte plays a guy who tries to help the girls out and Bob Byington appears as Mullally’s beleaguered husband. With a heightened, madcap sensibility, the film at times veers playfully toward the absurd, building to Olivia and Nicole putting on a ridiculous performance piece as their big audition.” At the Playlist, Charlie Schmidlin gives it a C-.
Sheri Linden in the Hollywood Reporter: “He lent his guitar to Buck Owens when the newcomer was auditioning for a club. Merle Haggard’s first TV appearance was on his show. Waylon Jennings, Barbara Mandrell and Dean Martin, among many others, covered his songs. And no less a trendsetter than Elvis copied his sartorial style. Though he’s no household name, Billy Mize is a key figure in country music, and an affectionate documentary portrait shows that he had it all—smooth-as-silk voice, songwriting talent and good looks. But as Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound details, a series of exceedingly challenging personal setbacks put his career on a lower-altitude trajectory than anyone would have predicted.” And at the Playlist, Charlie Schmidlin gives William J. Saunders’s doc a C+.
Updates, 6/16: For Robert Koehler, writing for arts•meme, as “early feminist author Violette Leduc,” Emmanuelle Devos‘s “total domination of Violette even swamps the assured hand of director and co-writer Martin Provost, who made such a powerful impression with Seraphine (like Leduc, a female artist whom few at first took seriously). Leduc’s early work was championed by Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kimberlain) and supported by powerful patrons (the great Olivier Gourmet) and authors like Jean Genet (Jacques Bonnaffe).” Koehler also reports on Reimagining Los Angeles, a discussion between production designers Jeannine Oppewall (L.A. Confidential) and K.K. Barrett (Her).
“In Echo Park, photographer Amanda Marsalis, making her feature directorial debut (with a script written by Catalina Aguilar Mastretta), paints a love letter of sorts to the titular Los Angeles neighborhood, interwoven with the tale of love lost and found between two souls searching for their place.” Katie Walsh gives it a B.
Also at the Playlist, Steve Greene: “Stories of unplanned pregnancies have an inherent pull to them, especially when the baby’s potential parents are college students. Taking that basic premise and wrangling some laughs, however, is the difficult task set before Kerem Sanga’s The Young Kieslowski, a film that succeeds in finding a gentle center, but is ultimately handicapped by its choice of protagonist.” Grade: C+. “One of the most poignant, funny and original films I’ve seen at this week’s Los Angeles Film Festival,” declares Cinephiled‘s Danny Miller, introducing his interview with Sanga.
Justin Lowe in the Hollywood Reporter on The Well: “Blending elements of post-apocalyptic thriller with classic Western conventions, director Tom Hammock draws on his extensive experience as a production designer and his background as a graphic novelist with this distinctive, near-future debut feature.” Two out of five stars from Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema and an A- from James Rocchi at the Playlist.
And Sheri Linden, also in THR: “Two lone souls, both immigrants separated from their families, make a brief, potentially lasting father-daughter connection in Lake Los Angeles, a tale of solitude, longing, poetic parables and comforting lies. The final installment in Mike Ott’s Antelope Valley trilogy is, like the first two features, more persuasive visually than dramatically, although the central characters—a middle-aged Cuban laborer and a 10-year-old girl just arrived from Mexico—are compelling in their self-containment. In human terms, the movie is essentially a two-hander, but the wind-scrubbed landscape plays more than a supporting role.”
“If we stipulate [Simón] Bolívar’s heroism and political significance,” writes Oscar Moralde at the House Next Door, “we should also stipulate that history is multifaceted and complex, perhaps too much so for a two-hour film. The Liberator struggles under that burden, and in trying to encompass the whole of Bolívar’s life, it unfortunately also suggests that the fate of an entire continent flowed from the psychological scars of the son of a dead mother and husband of a dead wife, which is fine if you’re dealing with a fictional action hero as opposed to playing with the live grenade of historical discourse.” Also reviewed: Lee Yong-seung’s debut feature, 10 Minutes, and Lee Su-jin’s first feature, Han Gong-ju (see, too, Critics Round Up).
“Watching an estimable quintet of character actors do their thing is the chief pleasure of Cut Bank, a largely routine thriller dressed up as a quirky small-town morality play,” writes Geoff Berkshire for Variety. “The feature helming debut of Matt Shakman, a former child actor turned prolific director of episodic television, does well by all but the youngest members of its core cast—a creative stumble that unfortunately leaves a gaping hole where the film’s heart should be.” And the cast, by the way, includes Liam Hemsworth, John Malkovich, Michael Stuhlbarg, Teresa Palmer, Billy Bob Thornton, Bruce Dern and Oliver Platt. More on Cut Bank from Ryland Aldrich at Twitch. The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy finds it “sabotaged by some frightfully on-the-nose expository dialogue and an adamantly prosaic visual style.”
“A star-crossed romance that often feels cosmic and intimate within the span of a single scene, Comet rhymes images from five different eras of a relationship that begins during a meteor shower and may or may not end more than half a decade later,” writes Michael Nordine for Indiewire. “It carves out a space for itself between the drawn-out conversations of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, the jumps between a turbulent couple’s honeymoon period and their eventual decline in Blue Valentine, and the whimsical dream logic of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And it’s as appealingly strange, funny, and melancholy as those components suggest.” The first-time writer/director is Sam Esmail and the couple’s played by Justin Long and Emmy Rossum.
“Dave Boyle’s handsomely shot, retro-vibe fourth feature is a big leap from his contemporary comedies, among them White on Rice,” writes Sheri Linden in the Hollywood Reporter. “Touted as a film noir (a term that grows vaguer ever year), Man from Reno… belongs more truly to another genre, one that may not have the same cachet but is every bit as worthy: the straight-ahead mystery, old-school and devoid of irony or meta posturing.” At Indiewire, Michael Nordine gives it a B-; at the Playlist, Charlie Schmidlin goes with an A-.
The animated documentary The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest, “the result of a 13-year effort by director Gabriel London, documents the horrific odyssey that [Mark] DeFriest has made through the Florida prison system, a journey with no end in sight.” An A- from Katie Walsh at the Playlist; but just a B from Indiewire‘s Steve Greene.
Walsh gives a B to blair dorosh-walther’s doc Out in the Night. More from Frank Scheck in the Hollywood Reporter: “Recounting the story of four black gay women who were sentenced to egregiously long prison sentences after engaging in a violent altercation with a man who had verbally and physically harassed them in New York’s Greenwich Village, Out in the Night is an impassioned documentary that examines the case from a social and humanistic perspective.”
“A beautifully composed tale of ugly decisions, writer-director Kimberly Levin’s debut feature Runoff takes place in the middle of America, as the Freeman family are—from within and without—slowly attacked by the merciless margins of modern agriculture, where small operators can’t fight big business,” writes James Rocchi at the Playlist. It’s “a strong and superbly-shot debut.” At Movie Mezzanine, Kristen Sales gives it a B+.
“Paranormal Activity casts a long shadow over [Seth Grossman’s] Inner Demons, although this rather bland satanic-possession pic doesn’t benefit much from any comparisons,” writes Justin Lowe in the Hollywood Reporter.
Update, 6/20: Man From Reno “won the narrative jury award at the Los Angeles Film Festival awards announced Thursday evening,” reports Pat Saperstein for Variety, “while Debra Granik’s Vietnam vet story Stray Dog won the jury documentary prize. Damian John Harper’s Los Ángeles took the LA Muse award…. Audience awards went to Kerem Sanga’s The Young Kieslowski for narrative, Geeta V. Patel and Ravi V. Patel’s Meet the Patels for documentary and Pernille Fischer Christensen’s Someone You Love for international film.”
Update, 6/29: “