The Los Angeles Film Festival just wrapped this Sunday, closing with the Guillermo del Toro produced DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, a solid horror film starring Katie Holmes. Over 10 days, over 200 films unspooled in the LA LIVE Center in Downtown Los Angeles. Overall, the Festival was a major success and their programming was great, with a diverse mix of new indie features, compelling documentaries and Hollywood blockbusters. Here are some highlights from the Festival:
ATTACK THE BLOCK: This is SUPER 8 with teeth. It’s also the best movie of the summer! First time actor and star John Boyega put it perfectly about the film when he said it’s LA HAINE meets ALIENS. From the guys who brought us SHAWN OF THE DEAD and SCOTT PILGRIM, AOTB is a throwback to ’80s movies like GREMLINS, E.T., and GHOULIES. What was refreshing because there is no reliance on CGI at all, with physical effects and costumes for the alien invaders. The film is totally quotable (“Allow it!”) with engaging, hilarious characters, actual social commentary, and some great action sequences. It’s great to see films like this with kids in the cast and actual real dialogue that isn’t neutered for a PG audience. The film is coming out in late July. Check out the trailer:
THE INNKEEPERS: Ti West is getting up there as THE voice of modern horror films by evoking a style that is very old school — slow build ups, character development, and an economy of filmmaking permeated through necessity (low budgets). But I love his films, especially THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, which I think every horror aficionado should see. His latest film, THE INNKEEPERS, continues this trend but with the age-old story of the haunted inn. Set in New England, two slackers are working the weekend shift during the last days of the inn, which is going out of business. Committed to capturing some kind of evidence of the dead matriarch that apparently haunts the halls of the inn, they attempt to do this and upload it on their ghost hunting website.
What’s cool about this film is its sound design. Since their video camera is in the shop, they thankfully forgo any Blair Witch DV video trappings, and use a tape deck recorder instead. Hence, great sound design, the similar slow burn of building tension and memorable performances, especially from the main lead, Sara Paxton.
DRIVE: I’ve written about this great LA noir film directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, which world premiered in Cannes, but I can’t stop thinking about this film. Starring Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a driver on “heist jobs” is essentially, a modern day western set in Michael Mann’s downtown LA. Albert Brooks is brilliant as an ex- film producer turned crime boss, and there’s strong support from BREAKING BAD’s Bryan Cranston and the va-va-va-voom Christina Hendricks.
I love stories that incorporate their city as another character, and downtown LA is definitely that. Plus, it has a kick-ass retro New Wave soundtrack that sets the timeless and noir tone of the film. Check out this clip:
WISH ME AWAY is a personal and intimate look at Chely Wright, the first country music star to come out as gay. After a lifetime of hiding, she shatters cultural and religious stereotypes within Nashville, her conservative heartland family, and most importantly, herself. I found this personal doc to be quite powerful and intimate. Chely Wright was once engaged to country star Brad Paisley! Documentaries were particularly strong and WISH ME AWAY won the Best Documentary Award at the Festival.
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN: Docs were particularly strong at the Festival and here’s another one that I liked. It follows 5 young Chinese adoptees from across the US, and their very different lives. Not preachy and very straightforward, it shows some of their plights and searches for their birth mothers, but also sheds a light on the political and, at times, corrupt industry of adoption. The young girls here are compelling subjects, going through everyday teenager things, but also trying to find their place in the world. This film impressed me, most likely because the filmmaker also adopted, so she has a personal connection.
ENTRANCE: I didn’t know what to expect when walking into the theater to watch this “horror film” set in hipster heaven of LA known as Silver Lake. First off, I was having a post modern moment because the main character is a young woman who gets by as a barista, as she walks around familiar streets that I frequent everyday, to her work place at Silver Lake Coffee (Offender Phil and I have been there many times). Then, I realized,she works at Silver Lake Coffee AND IS STILL THE BARISTA there!
But, back to the notion of a horror film with hipsters, it totally worked — atmospheric, a sense of evil foreboding, and the ending is very scary. Worth seeing, and I hope it gets distribution. Check out the trailer: http://www.dailymotion.com/videoxj6m9f
THE YELLOW SEA: Korean helmer NA Hong-jin’s latest action movie is a worthy sophomore follow-up to his thrilling debut, the super intense THE CHASER. Working with most of the main cast from his previous film, this high octane story takes place in Korea and China: A Joseonjok taxi driver hard up on luck is enlisted by a local crime boss to go back to Seoul and kill a man, which will allow him to wipe out all his debts and start anew. Of course, things don’t go as planned as THE YELLOW SEA becomes a chase and pursuit film, a detective story and a commentary on racism and the illegal migrant worker trade.
THE SEDUCTION OF INGMAR BERGMAN: I was totally anticipating this! Cult LA band Sparks created this stage musical for a still developing film project by Canadian cult director Guy Maddin. I know, that’s a lot of cult. But what came of it, was an interesting experimental piece of original music, stage play (enlisting Finland’s biggest actor to play Ingmar Bergman on stage) and a big screen hovering over the live performances of sketches, storyboards and moody images.
Honestly, some of the songs and set pieces didn’t work for me, but when it did, it was brilliant fun! And I love Sparks, an amazing band comprised of two brothers, Ron and Russell Mael. They’ve been around since the ’70s and never really got recognition here in the States, but were big in foreign territories like Japan and Europe. Going through many sound and music phases, their one minor US hit was during their pop phase, when they collaborated with the Gogos’ Jane Wiedlin on the song, COOL PLACES. Just because I fucking love this song, I’m embedding it here: http://www.dailymotion.com/videox20ym5 Overall, LA FILM FEST rocked it this year. With a centralized venue in Downtown LA, and some amazing and innovative programming over at the Ford Ampitheatre, it was one for the books. The Festival has turned out to be a major destination on the festival circuit, but also a great and fun summer festival for Los Angeles, a jaded town where film screenings happen all the time. I can’t wait for next year!