Thursday, June 19, 2008

New York, the 70s, Pot and Women: The LA Film Festival starts Thursday 6/20/08

Update: See my review of the entire festival here.

There are a number of promising films at the LA Film Festival this year. I say promising because I have yet to see them. But experience tells me most films at the festival are good and some are even great. Here is my list based on my personal pretenses (make that preferences). So I may be overlooking some and others may not appeal to me. That doesn't mean they aren't good films too.

The festival kicks off with just one film on Thursday, Wanted, with Angelia Jolie, and ends the day after Guillermo del Toro's comic book film, Hellboy II, next Saturday. Some of the best films are sold out and I haven't covered them but they look awesome, including Choke with Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, and Kelly Macdonald of No Country for Old Men fame. But it will be in theaters soon enough (limited release September 2008), along with Wanted and Hellboy II.

The Poker House

Set in the 70s, a young girl struggles to survive, with two younger sisters, in a home overrun by gamblers, thieves, and johns. Written and directed by Lori Petty. Right there you know a film about this subject matter written and directed by a woman (look at her intense eyes) has got to be good.

Lori Petty, writer-director,
The Poker House

There are too few woman directors out there but when they succeed they have a refreshing, interesting and compelling voice. This film is first on my list. Strangely there are three shows still available. People just don't know what's good. Of course I'm speaking without having seen it yet. But I seriously doubt I'll be disappointed.

Update: See my review of The poker House here.

This brings to mind another great overlooked HBO film by a woman director, Mira Nair,.Hysterical Blindness (not at the festival), with Uma Thurman, Gena Rowlands, Juliette Lewis. Films like these give you a woman's perspective and insight that are so lacking in the world. Uma Thurman also produced.

The Wackness

The 90s in New York City, a teenager struggling with growing pains and from a family going through hard times, a long haired pot smoking therapist played by Ben Kingsley. How could you go wrong?

I read an interview article with the writer-director, Jonathan Levine. He said without Ben Kingsley the film wouldn't have been made, meaning of course, that helped find financial backers. But his biggest ambivalence was meeting Ben Kingsley after he had read the script. Apparently the meeting went well.

Two best friends help out a deported Mexican pal get back into the US and decide to go into the people import business. Thriller, comedy, drama. They just keep crossing these genre lines these days. Cool.

Mamma's Man
A man is unable to leave his parent's New Your home. New York is hot this year. Another writer-director project. This one by Azazel Jacobs, who cast his own parents in the film. it's also touted as "a tribute to the waning bohemian wonderland fast disappearing not just from lower Manhattan, but the larger landscape of American culture." This has got to be good. Two shows still available.

(Criss-Cross) One of those cool Japanese horror thrillers, featuring a "remote hot springs resort" with "bizarre locals, blood rituals, and crazed harajuku girls brandishing frightfully large pairs of scissors." The Japanese horrors are so much cooler than the cheap American date-night teen horrors. I have yet to see it. But I know this will be good.

Cargo 200
A Russian film touted as having "classic '70s American horror motifs—city kids lost in the country, a dark house in the woods, killers with mother fascinations—with the peculiar frights of the '80s-era Soviet Union." I can't describe this better that they did at the fest:

The hills have eyes, and a few very antisocial socialists, when the cutesy daughter of a local party member and her boyfriend leave their New Wave club one dark night and car problems force them to take refuge in a house whose inhabitants make the Texas Chainsaw family seem normal. That's nothing, however, compared to the terror that awaits the daughter when a psychotic police captain eventually takes her for “his own.”

Made in America
Stacy Peralta of 70s skateboarding fame and the doc filmmaker of Dogtown and Z-Boys now brings us a hard cold documentary of East LA where war rages on just as real as the one in Iraq, but completely ignored. This is a free screening in downtown LA. I've seen Peralta talk about making this film and the trailer will give you a good hint. He got into the neighborhood and talked to real people. He had to get "permission", not from any city film authority, but from the local pins.

A Girl Cut in Two
A French film about a young TV weather reporter pursued by two men, naturally. It's French. Apparently she's torn between them, one a cultured jaded womanizing novelist and the other a wealthy eccentric heir. Combining elements of the psychological, thriller, melodrama, social satire, and dark humor, plus good acting. Sounds like a winner. One show is already sold out.

Medicine for the Melancholy
A one night stand in San Francisco turns into something more. Check out the trailer. This film has been picked up by IFC.

The Pleasure of Being Robbed
A young amateur thief in New York. Does she want to steal from people or just meet them? Chosen in Cannes' prestigious Directors Fortnight section, shot in 16mm, and lauded as a sweet-natured ramble, it looks very promising. One show is sold out.

Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madam of Crystal
She moves to Nevada to open a stud farm. But the apparent controversy is now about servicing a women clientèle. It continues to amaze me how sexism and racism still run so rampant especially in government and authorities' circles. I expect there's some beefcake in this one, so it might be a good screening to pick up hot chicks. I'm there.

Finishing Heaven
This is a film about making a film, or more accurately, the failure to make a film. Naturally I'm into it. I suffer from the same sort of disease. It's a documentary about a 70's Warhol scene filmmaker, Robert Feinberg, who started making a promising feature under his film school instructor Martin Scorcese, and Feinberg's hot girlfriend star, Ruby Lynn Reyner, photographed in the film by famed photographer Francesco Scavullo who put her in his coffee table book. It interests me because I'm about the same age and in recent years came out of my own filmmaking hiatus, having attended film school back then as well. Yo, Robert, dude, we should hook up and smoke a J; maybe even finish Heaven.

As the festival pitch reads:

In this fascinating collision of past and present, Feinberg and Reyner's explosive romantic history intertwines with their ongoing artistic collaboration, and their viewing of the frozen-in-time celluloid in the editing room stirs up long-lost yet lingering dreams. Part nostalgia trip, part cautionary tale, Mark Mann's documentary sympathetically relates the timeless plight of struggling with the pressure and weight of one's own lofty expectations.

They are also screening the film he started, Heaven, a work in progress.

Heaven Wants Out — A Work-in-Progress Screening
The film Robert Feinberg never finished. So the question on everyone's mind now: Will he finish it? Here's the festival plug for the film:

A cabaret singer stuck working in a crummy nightclub wanders through the lives of the men who desire her on her misguided quest for the big time. Subject of the Festival's documentary competition feature Finishing Heaven, director Robert Feinberg has spent almost 40 years trying to complete Heaven Wants Out after shooting in New York City in 1970.

Poolside Chat: Back to the Stoner Age
This isn't a film but a poolside chat with filmmakers including Jay Chandrasekhar (Broken Lizard), Jenji Kohan (creator, Weeds), Cheech Marin, and others TBD. Moderated by Shirley Halperin (author, Pot Culture). It's a discussion of a recent trend in films to show people smoking pot. Are the 60s coming back? God I hope so.

What the hell kind of title is that? It's a teen film title. I guess they talk that way. Anyway, this one is almost sold out. It's about the awkward growing pains of a teenage boy in pursuit of the girl of his dreams. It looks like a possible Juno kind of thing. Successful innovative films like Juno will do that; create a new wave of similar films. Not that this one isn't as unique and interesting. It would certainly be hard to match Juno. But it looks like probably a good try.

I'm a volunteer at the festival this year and that will get me like ten free tix. If I'm not keeping the waiting lines straight, I'll be in them.

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