A few highlights today at the Los Angeles Film Festival, currently being held (mostly) in the Westwood Village and at the Westside’s Landmark theater complex. The festival runs until June 28.
Among today’s highlights are:
- Passenger Side, one of the recommendations in the LA Weekly, which describes the Canadian dramatic comedy as “literate, amusing and unexpectedly moving.” Written and directed by Matthew Bissonnette, the film follows two brothers – struggling writer Adam Scott and ex-junkie Joel Bissonnette (Matthew’s brother) – on a road trip throughout the Los Angeles area.
- Stella, about a streetwise 11-year-old girl who finds herself as a fish-out-of-water in an upper-class school, was one of Guillaume Depardieu’s last film appearances. Directed by Sylvie Verheyde.
- Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche mixes labor relations and religion in the social dramatic comedy Adhen, set in the outskirts of Paris.
- Lynn Shelton’s Humpday caused quite a stir at Sundance 2009. In this comedy, two buds (Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard) decide to submit a film to a local “art porn” festival. Said film will show them doing one another. Needless to say, deep soul-searching ensues.
- Embodiment of Evil sounds like the embodiment of gross-out camp, with veteran Brazilian actor-auteur José Mojica Marins as the meanest living dead of them all, Zé do Caixão (Coffin Joe).
The film info/synopses below are from the LA festival’s website.
Adhen / Dernier Maquis (Landmark 8, 4:30pm)
“In this visually striking film about religious observances and living wages, writer-director Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche also stars as the owner of an industrial pallet and truck repair yard on the outskirts of Paris. Nicknamed ‘Mao’ by his employees—largely Arab and African Muslim immigrants—he likes to do what he can to keep everyone happy and productive, as long as it doesn’t affect his bottom line. The delicate accord between labor and management goes awry when, in a gesture meant to emphasize the connection between devotion to Allah and a good work ethic, Mao converts an unused portion of the yard into an ad hoc mosque. But instead of placating the workers, Mao’s efforts simply turn the heat up on some long simmering resentments that, to his surprise, are about to boil over.” (Doug Jones)
Stella (Landmark 4, 7:15pm)
“It’s 1977, and 11-year-old Stella Vlaminck is handed a lucky break when she’s randomly assigned to a prestigious secondary school in an affluent area of Paris. But the working-class Stella is more streetwise than booksmart, and she is shunned by her new classmates who view her cheap clothes and academic struggles with disdain. Meanwhile, her home life consists of poker, pinball, pop music, and an odd menagerie of damaged adults. Her parents run a rooming house and rowdy café frequented by ex-cons, drunkards, and prostitutes, where she witnesses nightly barroom brawls and the never-ending drama of her romantically-troubled parents.
“Stella seems destined to follow in the footsteps of her barmaid mother until she befriends Gladys, the daughter of Argentine-Jewish intellectuals, who exposes her to literature and a whole new world of possibilities.”
Passenger Side (The Regent, 10 pm)
“Saddled with his own frustrations, the last thing Michael wants to do is spend the day driving his recovering addict of a brother Tobey around Los Angeles. There’s too much history between them, and Michael has his doubts about his brother’s sobriety. Nevertheless, he agrees to pick Tobey up, but when a morning of harmless errands turns out to be an all-day commute from one end of Los Angeles county to another with each stop more mysterious than the last, Michael demands to know what exactly is going on. When he gets his answer, he realizes his day just got a lot more complicated.”
Humpday (Mann Festival Theater, 10 pm)
“Nostalgia for the good ol’ days crashes into the white picket fence of Ben’s married life when his old buddy Andrew, a vagabond artist, unexpectedly shows up. Ben eagerly relives the carefree youth with his bro while trying to be sensitive to his wife who is more concerned with procreation than recreation these days. Drunk and stoned at a party, the dudes challenge themselves to do each other on film to enter an amateur ‘art’ porn festival. The next morning the idea, far from being dismissed, actually transforms into something bigger. For Ben it’s one last hurrah before he puts on father square pants for good, while Andrew simply needs to follow through with something for once in his life.”
Embodiment of Evil / Encarnação do Demônio (Majestic Crest, 10:30 pm)
“’I will conceive my perfect son even if it means imploding the cosmos!’ vows murderer Coffin Joe, the dramatically caped and fingernailed antihero of Brazilian director/star José Mojica Marins four decade-spanning trilogy. After 40 years in the pen, he’s set loose in the favelas where the local gangsters’ kill-or-be-killed bravado is woefully inadequate. As Coffin Joe, still haunted by his exes, gobbles up the neighborhood virgins on his quest for fatherhood.
“With its anything-goes gore, Embodiment of Evil is a midnight movie for cineastes, who will take as much delight from Marins’ classic horror references as his imaginative tortures, including a nasty scene that might spoil your appetite for melted cheese. Marins’ slashers are the wicked spawn of Guy Maddin and Mario Bava – their look is artificial high camp, their blood thick and flowing, in one scene spilling in heavy sheets over the aged Coffin Joe as he deflowers a beauty literally under her aunts’ dead bodies. While it serves up a buffet of topless cuties, the main course is Marins’ demonic Coffin Joe. Petulant, self-pitying, and vengeful, he’s as hilarious as he is cruel.”
Shohreh Aghdashloo, Mozhan Marnò in The Stoning of Soraya M. (top); Martin Strel in Big River Man (bottom)
Los Angeles Film Festival 2009 - Saturday, June 20, highlights:
- Starring Academy Award-nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jim Caviezel, and Mozhan Marnò, Cyrus Nowrasteh’s The Stoning of Soraya M. (Mann Festival Theater, 3:30 pm) revolves around the true story of a woman who suffers a nasty fate following an arranged marriage. Nowrasteh and Aghdashloo will be among those present for a post-screening discussion about women’s rights in Islamic countries and other related issues.
- In Gabriel Mascaro’s Um Lugar ao Sol / High-Rise (Landmark 4, 9:45 pm), Rio de Janeiro’s wealthy denizens discuss what’s like to live in luxury in a country like Brazil, which has one of the worst income gaps in the world.
- Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson (Mann Festival Theater, 10 pm) tells the story of Michael Gordon Peterson a.k.a. Charlie Bronson (Tom Hardy), known as “Britain’s most violent prisoner.”
- John Maringouin’s curious Big River Man (Majestic Crest, 10 pm), follows endurance swimmer Martin Strel, a now middle-aged, hard-drinking Slovenian who attempts to swim the incredibly wide Amazon River. The festival’s release describes it as “a mash up of a Werner Herzog epic and a Saturday Night Live skit.”
Chad Allen, Eric Debets in Hollywood, je t’aime (top); Branson (middle); El General (bottom)
Los Angeles Film Festival Sunday, June 21, highlights:
- One-hour “Coffee Talks” (W Los Angeles-Westwood Hotel, beginning at 11 am) with directors (Zach Helm, Todd Phillips, Jason Reitman), actors (Andre Royo, Melissa Leo, Freddy Rodriguez), composers (Harry Gregson-Williams, Lyle Workman, Christopher Young), and screenwriters (Nicholas Kazan, Robin Swicord, Alex Tse).
- Starring Eric Debets as a befuddled Frenchman who comes to Los Angeles expecting to make it in the movie business, writer-director Jason Bushman’s clever, funny Hollywood, je t’aime (Majestic Crest, 7 pm) seems to be the only narrative film in competition with a gay theme. Debets’ remarkable, understated comic performance would have done Jacques Tati proud, while the colorful characters that populate this unglamourized LA are all beautifully played by a top-notch supporting cast that includes Chad Allen as an HIV-positive pothead, Diarra Kilpatrick as a gorgeous transvestite sex worker, and Michael Airington as a sweet-and-sour drag queen.
- Set in Branson, located in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains region, Brent Meeske’s documentary Branson (The Regent, 7 pm) follows the performers of three acts playing in that small town’s strip mall. As per the LAFF notes, Branson, “the entertainment capital of Middle America,” each year attracts seven million visitors to its 100+ shows. (Meeske’s documentary should not to be confused with Bronson, Nicolas Winding Refn’s penitentiary drama that will be screened at the Landmark 4 at 10 pm.)
- Celina Murga’s Una semana solos / A Week Alone (Landmark 8, 7 pm) delves into class distinctions, family relations, and sexual awakening as several adolescents and pre-adolescents are left alone for a week at a gated community not far from Buenos Aires. Winner of the best director award at the Thessaloniki Film Festival.
- Winner of the best directing award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, Natalia Almada’s El General (Landmark 4, 7:15 pm) explores the complex life and legacy of Mexican president Plutarco Elías Calles, the director’s great-grandfather. Curiously, while priests were being brutally persecuted during his presidency (1924-28), Calles’ daughter was going to Catholic school north of the border.
- Rafael Filippelli’s Argentinean drama Música Nocturna (Billy Wilder Theater, 9:45 pm) follows a writer suffering from both writer’s block and a troubled marriage. Throughout it all, he ponders about the significance of his favorite composers. With Horacio Acosta, Silvia Arazi, and Enrique Piñeyro.
Los Angeles Film Festival, Monday, June 21, highlights:
- Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney’s Paper Man (Landmark 4, 2 pm) stars Jeff Daniels as a middle-aged teacher who goes through growing pains after befriending a teenage girl. Also in the cast: Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Kieran Culkin, Hunter Parrish, Lisa Kudrow.
- Academy Award-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim’s documentary It Might Get Loud (Landmark 8, 2 pm) depicts the meeting of three generations of guitar musicians: Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, U2’s The Edge, and the White Stripes’ Jack White. Both Page and White are expected to attend the screening.
- A second screening of Lynn Shelton’s Sundance 2009 hit Humpday will take place at the Landmark 8 at 4:45 pm.
- Nahid Persson Sarvestani’s The Queen and I (Landmark 8, 7:15 pm). The “queen” of the title is actually 70-year-old Empress Farah Diba, the third wife of deposed Shah Reza Pahlavi; the “I” is Persson Sarvestani herself, a teen member of the Communist faction of Khomeini supporters who helped to depose the shah. Reading the LAFF’s synopsis, The Queen and I seems to be as much about personal politics as it is about Iranian politics. Either way, considering what’s been happening in Iran, Persson Sarvestani’s documentary sounds like a must.
- Set in Argentina, actor-writer-director Mariano Llinás’ 245-minute Extraordinary Stories (Landmark 4, 7 pm) revolves around three main storylines focusing on assorted crimes, ranging from murder to corruption.
- Shorts Program 2 (Majestic Crest, 9:45 pm) includes Jenni Olson’s 575 Castro St., about Harvey Milk’s legacy; Pedro Pires’ Danse Macabre, in which a corpse shakes, rattles, and rolls; and Claire Burger’s Forbach, the tale of an up-and-coming actor who returns to his village in the Lorraine region where he encounters much praise for his success and nasty secrets come to the fore.
Pandas & Zombies + Jeanne Crain & Johnny Depp: Los Angeles Film Festival
Los Angeles Film Festival, Tuesday, June 23:
- In Mercedes Stalenhoef’s Carmen Meets Borat (The Regent, 2 pm), a Romanian teenager dreams of going to Spain to escape the backwards town in which she lives. (The place is so backwards that she’s called “granny” because she remains unmarried at 17.) Inadvertently, Sacha Baron Cohen and his Borat crew change her life after they arrive in town to portray the locals as backwards Kazakhs. TV crews follow suit, and so do lawyers with the promise of hefty lawsuits. Will the adolescent’s Spanish Dream be able to come true?
- Brent Meeske’s Branson, about struggling artists in the “Entertainment Capital of Middle America,” will have a second screening at The Regent at 4:30 pm.
- Set in the outskirts of Paris, Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum (The Regent, 7 pm) portrays the deepening fissures in the relationship between a man and his daughter after a handsome young man comes into their lives.
- Gala screening: Public Enemies (The Majestic Crest, 7:30 pm), Michael Mann’s crime drama starring Johnny Depp (as Public Enemy #1 Dillinger), Christian Bale, and Marion Cotillard.
- Jean-Marie Téno’s Sacred Places (Landmark 4, 9:45 pm) explores issues such as cultural identity and modernization by looking at the goings-on at a small makeshift movie house in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso in West Africa.
Los Angeles Film Festival highlights on Wed., June 24:
- John Maringouin’s Big River Man, about a middle-aged, pot-bellied Slovenian who decides to swim the length (or rather, the width) of the Amazon River, will have its second screening at the Landmark 8 at 2:15 pm.
- The panel “Poolside Chat: Reel Life LA” (W Los Angeles-Westwood Hotel, 7 pm) will feature Martin Landau, Larenz Tate, and others. Moderated by Taylor Hackford.
- Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi play versions of themselves in Nicholas Jasenovec’s Paper Heart (Mann Festival Theatre, 7 pm), in which Yi sets out to discover what Americans think about the nature of love. Along the way, she finds herself becoming enamored with Cera.
- Set in Kashmir, Tariq Tapa’s Zero Bridge (Landmark 4, 7 pm) follows a petty criminal and one of his victims as they craft a plan to flee the war-torn region. Last year, Zero Bridge was screened at the Venice Film Festival’s Horizons sidebar.
- Glenn McQuaid’s Slamdance 2009 opener I Sell the Dead (Landmark 8, 7:15 pm) tells the story of a professional grave robber who finds himself enmeshed with mad doctors, grave-robbing competitors, and assorted spooky creatures in 18th-century England. With Dominic Monaghan, Larry Fessenden, Angus Scrimm, Ron Perlman.
- Blayne Weaver’s romantic comedy Weather Girl (Landmark 4, 9:30 pm) chronicles the emotional up-and-downs of a former weather girl in her quest for both a sense of self and true love. In the cast: Tricia O’Kelley, Patrick J. Adams, Ryan Devlin, Mark Harmon, Kaitlin Olson, Mark Harmon.
Los Angeles Film Festival, Thu., June 25, highlights:
Alexis dos Santos’ Unmade Beds (Landmark 4, 2:30 pm) chronicles the emotional, romantic, and sexual entanglements of a group of young denizens of London’s East End. In the cast: Déborah François, Fernando Tielve, Michiel Huisman, Iddo Goldberg, and Richard Lintern.
A second screening of Matthew Bissonnette’s Passenger Side (Landmark 8, 4:30 pm), which follows two estranged brothers – one an ex-junkie (Joel Bissonnette); the other a struggling writer (Adam Scott) – through the streets and freeways of Los Angeles and the nearby desert. Throughout it all the brothers get to know a little more about one another, but don’t expect any sort of saccharine “family affirming” resolution. As in life, things – and people – aren’t exactly what they seem to be.
Marco Bechis’ Birdwatchers (Landmark 8, 7 pm) depicts the plight of Brazil’s Guarani-Kaiowá Indians in their struggle to reclaim their land from white settlers. Birdwatchers was one of the films in competition at the 2008 Venice Film Festival. In the cast: Claudio Santamaria, Chiara Caselli, Matheus Nachtergaele, Leonardo Medeiros, Alicélia Batista Cabreira, Taiane Arce.
In Sophie Barthes’ feature-film debut Cold Souls (Mann Festival Theatre, 7 pm), Paul Giamatti has his soul stored in a secure place only to discover that it has been smuggled into Russia and is now in the possession of a local soap-opera actress. Also in the cast: David Strathairn, Dina Korzun, Emily Watson. Giamatti is expected to attend the screening.
In Özcan Alper’s Autumn (Landmark 4, 9:30 pm), a former convict tries to rebuild his life after returning to his old Turkish village. Winner of the best director award at the Sofia Film Festival.
Kevin Hamedani’s ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction (Majestic Crest, 10 pm) shows what happens when a small island town in the Pacific Northwest is attacked by gluttonish zombies: the braindead American media blames all that gore on terrorists, the family-values citizenry uses an Iranian-American woman as a scapegoat, the local pastor declares Holy War (I’m not sure if it’s against Muslims or Zombies), and a visiting gay couple must decide if this is really the appropriate time to come out of the closet.
Los Angeles Film Festival, Saturday, June 27, highlights:
- A second screening of Sophie Barthes’ Cold Souls (The Regent, 1:30 pm), starring Paul Giamatti as a man whose soul is smuggled into Russia.
- Narrated by the panda Shu Hin, Tadashi Mori’s documentary Panda Story (Landmark 8, 2 pm) follows the narrator and her twin brother, Ryu Hin, as they are moved from their homeland to some strange place, far, far away.
- A second screening of Blayne Weaver’s Weather Girl (Landmark 4, 4:30 pm), a romantic comedy about a weather girl with a high-pressure love life.
- John Brahm’s 1967 biker thriller Hot Rods to Hell (Billy Wilder Theater, 4:30 pm) is no masterpiece – nor was it ever meant to be. This way over-the-top melo about family values vs. biker kinks features 1940s Fox stars Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews as a middle-class couple who have their placid bourgeois lives upended following an accidental road encounter with a group of wacko bikers. Mimsy Farmer plays a really bad teen. Too bad that Luis Buñuel didn’t get a chance to direct this one.
- Starring Dennis Hopper, Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide (Billy Wilder Theater, 7 pm) tells the story of a young man who falls in love with a woman who believes herself to be the descendent of them deadly sirens. Music by the excellent David Raksin.
- A second screening of Alexis de Santos’ Unmade Beds (The Regent, 9:30 pm) about a group of young London East Siders.
- A second screening of Kevin Hamedani’s ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction (Landmark 4, 10 pm), a depiction of what happens when zombies invade a small US town, where they are taken for (human) terrorists.
Los Angeles Film Festival, Sunday, June 28, highlights:
- Louie Psihoyos’ documentary The Cove (Majestic Crest, 1 pm), the Audience Award winner at Sundance 2009, delves into the ruthless dolphin trade – yeah, those very sea mammals that make little children and their big parents smile gleefully and clap enthusiastically at places like Sea World and the like. What mom, dad, and kiddies are blissfully ignorant about is how those beautiful, intelligent creatures end up as unwilling participants in circus acts for ugly, imbecile humans. The murderous cove of the title, by the way, is Taiji Cove in Japan, the center of the global dolphin trafficking. Needless to say, the Japanese government hasn’t done shit to prevent either the trafficking or the wholesale massacre of those wondrous creatures. The Cove features Richard O’Barry (Flipper’s trainer), Simon Hutchins, Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, Kirk Krack, David Rastovich, Scott Baker. Free screening. (Also, check out this Japan Times report, go to http://www.savejapandolphins.org/, and never buy tickets to a show that includes wild animal acts.)
- Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein’s No Impact Man (Landmark 8, 2:30 pm) follows environmentalist Colin Beavan as he embarks on an experiment in green living – “no takeout, no taxis, no toilet paper.”
- Koji Wakamatsu, best known for erotic efforts such as Black Beast of Lust and Angelic Orgasm, is the director of United Red Army (Landmark 4, 5:30 pm), which chronicles the rise and fall of a group of Japanese radical militants from the late 1960s to their final 1972 standoff with Japanese police. As per the festival notes, in order to make this 190-minute, underground docudrama Wakamatsu “mortgaged and then destroyed (on camera) his own home.” Music by Sonic Youth’s Jim O’Rourke. In the cast: Maki Sakai, Akie Namiki, Go Jibiki. (I should add that Wakamatsu had tackled the subject matter back in a 1971 movie, but that was apparently told through the point of view of the Japanese cops.)
- Set in a rural, mountainous region of Portugal, Miguel Gomes’ Our Beloved Month of August (The Regent, 6 pm) is a mix of documentary and fiction that portrays the day-to-day existence of both locals and emigrants who return home once a year to spend a month partying, hunting, and dealing with family problems. In the cast: Sónia Bandeira, Fábio Oliveira, Joaquim Carvalho.
- At the Landmark 8, at 5 pm and 7:15 pm, two “Eclectic Mix” showings featuring two series of music videos. Included are Elliot Jokelson’s “Fortress: Pinback”; Oren Lavie, Yuval Nathan, Merav Nathan’s “Her Morning Elegance: Oren Lavie”; Anthony Seck’s “Honey Honey: Feist”; and Andy Bruntel and Bucky Fukumoto’s “Jesus Saves, I Spend.” Check the festival schedule for the list of music videos in each “Eclectic Mix.”
Moscow Film Festival Awards
2009 Moscow Film Festival: June 19-28.
Golden Saint George for best film: Pete on the Way to Heaven / Petya po doroge v tsarstvie nebesnoe directed by Nikolai Dostal (Russia)
Special jury award: Alexander Proshkin for Miracle / Chudo
Best direction: Mariana Chenillo (Five Days Without Nora, Mexico)
Best actor: Vladimir Ilyin (Ward # 6, directed by Karen Shakhnazarov, Russia)
Best actress: Elena Kostyuk (Melody for the Barrel Organ directed by Kira Muratova, Ukraine)
Perspectives competition award: Conflict Zone by Vano Burduli (Georgia)
Award for the contribution into the international cinematography: Rezo Chkheidze (Georgia)
“I Believe” award (Stanislavsky acting award): Oleg Yankovsky (Russia)
FIPRESCI jury award: Melody for the Barrel Organ directed by Kira Muratova (Ukraine)
People’s Choice award: The Little Moscow directed by Waldemar Krzystek (Poland)
Russian film critics award: As God Commands (Como Dio comanda) directed by Gabriele Salvatores (Italy)
Russian film critics’ Special Mention: The Missing Person directed by Noah Buschel (USA)
Russian film critics’ Perspectives award: Event directed by Andrey Eshpay (Russia)
Russian Cinema Clubs Federation award to the best film in Competition: Melody for the Barrel Organ directed by Kira Muratova (Ukraine)
Russian Cinema Clubs Federation award to the best film in Russian program: Mad Help directed by Boris Hlebnikov
Kommersant publishing house award: First Squad: the Moment of Truth (Faasuto sukuwaddo) directed by Yoshiharu Ashino (Japan, Russia, Canada)
Special Award: Japanese film expert Kadzuo Yamada
Jury: Pavel Lungin, film director (Russia) - chairman; Shyam Benegal, film director (India); Nick Powell, producer (UK); Sergey Trimbach, scenarist (Ukranie); and Gulnara Dusmatova, actress (Kazakhstan).
Silver Docs winners
2009 Silver Docs Film Festival: June 15-22 in Washington, D.C.
Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher’s October Country (top) depicts the multi-generational story of an American working-class family coping with myriad problems, from poverty to war. Andrew Thompson and Lucy Bailey’s Mugabe and the White African chronicles the fight of a white family to protect their land from deranged Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.
Sterling US Feature Award: OCTOBER COUNTRY
Sterling World Feature Award: MUGABE AND THE WHITE AFRICAN
Sterling Short Award: 12 NOTES DOWN
Special Jury Mention: SALT
Music Documentary Award: RISEUP
Special Jury Mention: SOUL POWER
The Cinematic Vision Award: OLD PARTNER
The WITNESS Award Goes: GOOD FORTUNE
Writers Guild of America Documentary Screenplay Award: OFF AND RUNNING
ACE Grant Winner: CINEMA CHIMP
Feature Audience Award: THE COVE
Short Audience Award: 12 NOTES DOWN