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  • Feature: Los Angeles Film Festival Recap

    Mon, 30 Jun 2008 12:01:02

    Feature: Los Angeles Film Festival Recap - A week's worth of nonstop cine-madness

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    Film festivals are a blurry blitzkrieg of screenings, special talks, and after hours schmoozing, with a cluster of directors, actors, journalists, and cinema aficionados comingling amidst the maddening atmosphere. Once a year, Westwood—typically home to fresh faced co-eds attending UCLA—is taken over by Film Independent, the organization that hosts both the Independent Spirit Awards and Los Angeles Film Festival. Those who aren’t ducking into Westwood Boulevard’s Urban Outfitters are probably huddling in the darkened environs of The Crest or one of the other hosting venues on vigilant lookout for what could be this year’s little indie that could. As it’s held in the throes of Hollywood’s lucrative summer box office season, the lineup at the LA Film Fest includes a medley of big budget previews (e.g., Wanted, Hellboy II: The Golden Army) and little-known—or, more likely, never before heard of—independent features (e.g., Trinidad, The Art of Failure: Chuck Connelly Not For Sale). The mélange is fitting for Los Angeles, a city whose cinema culture is predicated upon splashy releases, but where a community of gallant anti-commercial filmmakers thrives as well.

    What follows is a succinct roundup of festival highlights. We’ve focused on a handful of summer previews which you’ve surely been curious about, but for those whose distribution future is ambiguous at the moment, one can only hope that the general public will have access to them in the near future.

    Encounters at the End of the World

    Director Werner Herzog’s career has been defined by his documentary work as of late, and with Encounters at the End of the World, he returns to non-fictional terrain after helming 2006’s Rescue Dawn. This beautifully shot slice of Antarctic life contains haunting imagery of the icy landscape, drawing similarities to David Attenborough’s sprawling Planet Earth special. But the tone of Encounters is unmistakably Herzog: droll at times, though it takes a probing look into the dimensions of his subjects’ humanity simultaneously. It ain’t March of the Penguins, though, don’t fret animal lovers, there’s footage of the waddling, land-bound birds to satiate you.


    The filmmakers behind Largo describe it as a movie very much “about Los Angeles.” Right they are, as the former Fairfax Avenue locale (now located at a larger venue on North La Cienega Boulevard) contains a rich musical history which redefined the concertgoing experience for city dwellers. Similarly, Largo the film subverts doctrines of traditional documentary filmmaking. There’s no narration, save for Flanagan’s jocular introduction to one of the shows featured in the movie. Instead, it is a black and white collection of performances from club regulars (many of whom have either direct or tangential ties to director Paul Thomas Anderson) including Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, Zack Galifianakis, Jon Brion, Andrew Bird, and many others. If you have never attended a show at Largo, then this beautiful cinematic scrapbook is a lovely way to approximate the experience.

    The Wackness

    A mindless stoner flick The Wackness most certainly is not. Director Jonathan Levine mixes erratic drug humor with a painfully relatable coming of age story, which takes place in New York City one sweltering summer. The year is 1994, and Levine handpicked an era-specific collection of hip hop and R&B tunes to transport viewers back to a time when Biggie and A Tribe Called Quest ruled the musical roost. Josh Peck and Olivia Thirlby (last seen in David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels) star as awkward post-high school pals/lovers, with Sir Ben Kingsley playing high as a kite therapist to Peck’s lost soul Luke. If The Wackness manages to bring back mixtape madness, then Levine will earn this writer’s undying devotion.

    The Poker House

    Lori Petty may be best known for her acting work in films like A League of Their Own and, of course, cult comic favorite Tank Girl, but this 21st century Renaissance woman (who is also a painter, writer, and all around aesthete) can now add feature film director to her list of artistic accomplishments. The Poker House is a semi-autobiographical rendering of Petty’s own tumultuous, destitute upbringing. Challenging tropes of the traditional biopic, Petty’s atmospheric film plays with the idea of memory, contains dark overtones related to drug abuse and burgeoning teen sexuality, yet has a light and magical quality to it as well. “Stellar” is an inadequate description of the young cast, who tackles the emotionally draining material with vigor. The Poker House could prove a star making vehicle for 17-year-old up and comer Jennifer Lawrence, who will next be seen in Guillermo Arriaga’s directorial debut.


    Chuck Palahniuk fans, rejoice. Choke, the second big screen adaptation of the author’s work, stars indie film hero Sam Rockwell as Victor Mancini, a sex-addict who fakes choking in restaurants to establish simpatico between himself and unsuspecting strangers turned “saviors.” This want for human connection is borne from his traumatic upbringing, defined by a series of wayward adventures with his mentally ill mother (Anjelica Huston), whom Mancini regularly visits at a care facility. It’s there he meets a soft-spoken doctor named Paige (Kelly MacDonald), a sweet and bewitching woman that throws his perverted quotidian into a tizzy. It’s twisted, graphic, and wholly abnormal. In other words, it’s the type of fare that Palahniuk devotees will love.

    Hellboy II: The Golden Army

    What better way to end the festival than with a literal bang (well, onscreen, at least)? That’s what the sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy-action blockbuster from 2004 provided on Saturday night, with not one, but two theaters screening the highly anticipated summer release. “Red” (Ron Perlman) is back with girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair), their mission being to stave off world domination by the mythical Golden Army, a force that ethically vacuous Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) hopes to awaken in order to wage war against humankind. Between domestic trifles and jealousy-driven bouts with his gaseous new sidekick, Hellboy accomplishes what he’s best known for: slamming evil doers into brick walls with a cigar firmly planted in between his lips at all times. Del Toro’s wicked imagination doesn’t disappoint, and like its predecessor, Hellboy II contains the perfect serving of humor to counterbalance its action elements.

    —Heidi Atwal

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