The Los Angeles Film Festival starts this week, and now that I know what to do at a film festival (from Sundance and South by Southwest), I’m planning to take a lot more advantage of the one in my town. Here are some of the movies showing at LAFF that I got to see early, so you can plan your fest too.
Attack the Block – If you can get into this LAFF gala, you’ll have a good time. But if you don’t make it, don’t beat yourself up. You can wait another month until its July release. The film by Edgar Wright protégé Joe Cornish deserves its hype. It’s an expertly done gritty action horror. The film understands how to make antiheroes relatable and the action is suspenseful. The kills are big and gory, all in good fun. The creatures will be memorable if only because they don’t look like every other toothy wrinkled CGI beast in Hollywood.
Entrance – This is the kind of movie you worry about seeing in film festivals. It’s amateur all the way. The idea is it’s a suspense thriller in the everyday world of a struggling girl in Silverlake. Every element of slow build, ominous setting and even the ultimate payoff shows signs of novices who don’t understand technique. It’s a practice film, what film students usually do before they make the one they actually show to the world. I’m guessing it only got into the festival because it’s local and depicts L.A. Even though it’s part of The Beyond series which is supposed to be cool midnight movies, I’ve got to warn you about this one.
The Devil’s Double – Lee Tamahori’s thriller comes from Sundance and LAFF is a good chance to catch it. Dominic Cooper plays both Saddam Hussein’s son Uday and the lookalike forced to live the dictator lifestyle. The atrocities young Hussein commits are handled tastefully as compelling drama. It’s an impossible situation that just has to play out, but no resolution is going to be good for anyone involved. There’s a little bit of action and you root for Latif, the innocent double forced to play along. Cooper is flawless as too completely different characters, as are the effects.
The Guard – This dark comedy from Sundance didn’t impress me. Brendan Gleeson plays a bumbling Irish cop who embarrasses an FBI agent (Don Cheadle) visiting for an investigation. Maybe it’s cultural, maybe it’s the slang, I just didn’t think it was that funny. There are one or two inspired bits and a few effective twists, but that makes it a rental at best, not a festival discovery.
Higher Ground – Vera Farmiga directs and stars as a woman growing up in a very strict Christian colony. Throughout her life faith collides with reality and the film presents this conflict in an interesting way. Since this is such an extreme branch of religion, its oppressive qualities are heightened way beyond those of everyday people who just go to Church once a week. Still, it’s a way to start a discussion, and of course Farmiga is great. She handles the material behind the scenes as classily as she does her work on screen.
Please Do Not Disturb – This Iranian entry is the kind of movie you may want to experience through the film festival. You get to see a glimpse of a world that really is not like our own, in a dramatic story that makes it accessible. Three short stories connect and depict solid one-act style scenes. A man tries to talk his wife out of leaving him, a clergyman gets robbed while carrying important documents for his clients, and a couple negotiates with a TV repairman while keeping him at a safe distance through a gate. We definitely see a street level setting and quirks of drama that are unique to Tehran. I don’t see us getting that chance through Hollywood, but it’s still compelling drama.
Once I Was a Champion – This documentary about MMA champion Evan Tanner covers the story of his career and death. It’s got footage of his thrilling fights and personal recollection of his family, his opponents, and his colleagues. Still, it feels very dry. Even though it’s a sad story and many of the interviewees cry, it doesn’t actually feel emotionally involving. It’s sort of the chronological sequence of events and it’s thorough, but it doesn’t convey the world of MMA like Fightville does.
Sawdust City – This is another typical personal indie film that plays festivals, but at least it has compelling actors and dialogue. Pete comes home on a military leave to find his father, and his brother Bob takes him around to every bar. But instead of really looking for him, Bob and his friends drag it out. It gets uncomfortable as Bob just doesn’t let things go, and trying to get information from rambling idiots is frustrating. At least Pete finally speaks up. You’ll notice it’s all dark and low-res inside bars, but it’s got something to say and the content carries it.
Terri – Another Sundance and SXSW player continues the festival circuit in L.A. This one has some names like John C. Reilly as a principal trying to help an overweight kid get along better in high school. It’s not heartwarming or wacky though. This is a raw indie film about really dealing with what makes kids awkward. It’s not just Terri, it’s the promiscuous hottie and the sexually obsessed recluse. The film is uncomfortable but never inappropriate. I think it offers some hope to the kids who aren’t so dangerous they’re going to get attention, but still need a little love.