LAFF 2011 Preview: The Low Down on What's Up Downtown
The Los Angeles Film Festival kicks off its second year in downtown LA on Thursday with a great slate of films for the eastside crowd. We already had a great chat with festival big wigs David Ansen and Doug Jones - and now we take a look at some of the films on offer. Be sure to check out the LAFF site and catalog for more info on the all the features, shorts, music videos, events, and panels we can't cover here. We'll be back with more coverage all through the fest. Now check out some of the flicks that caught our eye.
DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK
Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes star in LAFF's closing night film directed by Troy Nixey and produced and presented by Guillermo del Toro. The film has had a bit of a rocky road to theaters originally slated to come out last January but pushed to later this summer after all the shake ups at Miramax. The cellar-dweller horror was originally intended to be a PG-13 offering but was given an R for "pervasive scariness." Here's hoping it doesn't fall too much in the middle.
THE ARCANE ENCHANTER
Guillermo del Toro takes the reigns as LAFF's guest director and presents this 1996 Pupi Avati Italian horror film never released in the USA.
LAFF opens this year with the world premiere of Richard Linklater's latest that stars Jack Black as an undertaker with a sweet exterior and a dark secret. Shirley MacLaine co-stars and the pair will also team up for an event later in the fest called "DON'T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!" - a game show styled evening that will task the two actors with answering questions about each others' careers. Both the film and event should be a good time.
ATTACK THE BLOCK
This late add was met with a collective woo-hoo! by everyone in LA who hasn't yet had a chance to see Joe Cornish's Brit-teen alien invasion fave. If you can't score a ticket, you can look forward to seeing the film when it lands in theaters from Screen Gems on July 29th.
ON THE ICE
I'm still pushing the hell out of Andrew Okpeaha MacLean's debut feature about a couple of 'Arctic thugs' from way up in the northern reaches of Alaska. This story of friendship and what happens when its bonds get pushed to their limit has been making its way through the fest scene since its premiere at Sundance, winning Berlin's prize for best first feature along the way. It will hopefully find a home with a distributor sometime soon. For more, see my full review. It screens FOR FREE at LAFF so you have no excuse not to check it out.
After all the great buzz at Cannes, Nicolas Refn's Ryan Gosling starrer is looking like the hardest ticket to get at LAFF. Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, and Ron Perlman co-star alongside the stunt driver turned getaway man. Those without a ticket will have to wait until September 16th to catch this one.
THE BROKEN TOWER
James Franco presents this film he directed about American Poet Hart Crane as part of his "An Evening with James Franco" event. Michael Shannon co-stars.
Thai director Sivaroj Kongsakul has already been compared to Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Last Life in the Universe) and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee) - whom both of which he has previously worked. This gorgeous looking debut feature love story shared the top prize at Rotterdam before making its way to LAFF.
Peter Mullan stars in Paddy Considine's directorial debut about violence and redemption. The film was one of the major critical hits at Sundance.
THE SEDUCTION OF INGMAR BERGMAN
Part concert, part play, part film - no one knows quite what to expect from this live performance of a yet-to-be directed Guy Maddin film about Ingmar Bergman coming to Hollywood in the 1950s. The band Sparks performs live accompaniment on the Ford Amphitheater stage.
Robbie Pickering's critically acclaimed debut won just about everything there was to win at SXSW and continues its path to world domination with its LA premiere at LAFF. The film stars Rachel Harris as a Texas housewife who hits the road to find her dying husband's illegitimate son. I can't wait to see this one.
PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES
Andrew Rossi's Sundance hit already has a firm grip on a spot in my top ten list. It follows David Carr and the gang at the NYTimes Media Desk as they question what it means to be a journalist in these tumultuous times. This film is a must see for anyone interested in news media, journalism, or just fans of documentary film.
The House of the Devil director Ti West returns with this SXSW big buzz film about a haunted inn. Check out Todd's complimentary review here.
AN ORDINARY FAMILY
Mike Akel earned a lot of fans with his touching 2006 debut mockumentary Chalk. Much of that cast returns for this competition family dramedy about a religious family reunion turned on its head when an estranged brother returns with his new boyfriend.
BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
Michael Rapaport's Tribe doc is a portrait of one of Hip-Hop's most influential groups and a fascinating look behind the scenes of the members' individual egos. The film plays at the Ford Ampitheater and is preceded by DJ sets from KCRW DJs Dan Wilcox, Anthony Valadez, and Garth Trinidad.
Dallas Hallam's and Patrick Horvath's Silverlake hipster horror plays in the Beyond section and sounds like it could be seriously scary.
Miranda July's second feature about adult angst follows up its successful festival run by screening at LAFF before its July 29th opening.
A BETTER LIFE
Chris Weitz is best known for directing About a Boy and Twilight: New Moon - so you would be excused for thinking the subject matter of his latest film is a bit out of his comfort zone. This film, playing as a gala screening, is an immigration drama set in LA and starring prolific Mexican actor Demián Bichir (who you might remember as Fidel Castro in Soderbergh's Che films).
Anne Buford's directorial debut is a Senegalese Hoop Dreams that follows a group of teens who come to the USA with NBA hopes.
LAFF presents the LA premiere my less favorite of Fox Searchlight's two Brit Marling acquisitions. Mike Cahill's clumsy sci-fi romance opens July 22nd.
Asif Kapadia's thrilling documentary about Brazillian Formula One racer Ayrton Senna was one of the sleeper docu hits at Sundance.
Continuing the popular trend of Sundance hits playing LAFF ahead of a July opening, Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle star in this black comedy by John Michael McDonagh.
Linda Goldstein Knowlton brings her personal touch as a mother of an adopted Chinese baby to her competition identity doc that follows four all American teenage girls adopted from China as babies.
HOW TO CHEAT
Amber Sealy writes, directs, and stars in this indie relationship dramedy screening in competition.
LAFF is offering a special screening of Elia Kazan's 1960 depression-era story digitally remastered in color Cinemascope.
ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN
I loved it at Sundance and now LA is getting an awesome chance to catch Jose Padilha's high octane sequel to his 2007 hit. Padilha's Hollywood follow-up can't be far behind.
John C. Reilly takes on the role as the Principal who cares in Azazel Jacob's film about a troubled teen. The film launches in limited release July 1st.
ONCE I WAS A CHAMPION
I've heard very good things about Gerard Roxburgh's feature docu debut about late UFC fighter/philosopher Evan Tanner and his personal battles. The film screens in the docu competition.
Matthew Gordon's debut feature is an indie coming-of-ager set in rural Mississippi and premiering in competition.
Compared to both Quinceañera and Raising Victor Vargas, Nicholas Ozeki's adaptation of his award winning short is an LA latino coming-of-age romance playing in competition.
THE YELLOW SEA
Twitch has been following Na Hong-jin's SK crime thriller for a while and I'm very excited to finally get a look in LAFF's Beyond section after successful screenings at both Cannes and Seattle.
Vera Farmiga's directorial debut found many fans at Sundance and plays LAFF ahead of its August 26th release. The 60s period film co-stars John Hawkes and Joshua Leonard.
DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME
This outdoor Ford screening of this Andy Lau starrer should be a fun way to experience HK legend Tsui Hark's latest big budget actioner that Todd called, "equal parts Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie style) and Scooby Doo (original cartoon style), all of it filtered through a gorgeous Chinese historical epic lens."
Kate Bosworth, Krysten Ritter, Rachel Bilson and Jason Biggs star in Kat Coiro's Silverlake dramedy.
Marc H. Simon's competition docu is an intense and personal look at financial villain Marc Dreier as he reflects on his crimes prior to his sentencing.
THE DESTINY OF LESSER ANIMALS
This interesting sounding Ghanaian film tells the story of a police detective who embarks on a journey into the underworld to find a counterfeit passport and escape his country.
Noboru Iguchi's (Mutant Girls Squad, RoboGeisha) latest offers more of his wonderful wackiness and not surprisingly screens in the Beyond section. Check out Charles's and Ard's reviews for more.
MYSTERIES OF LISBON
Raúl Ruiz's Victorian epic clocks in at a staggering four and a quarter hours. From the accounts of those who have taken the plunge, it is a masterfully told tale of seduction and deceit.
Writer of South Korean hit The Good, the Bad, and the Weird, Kim Min-suk takes a turn behind the lens in this supernatural debut about a man who can control people with his eyes.
James Marsh's latest doc is no Man on Wire, but it is an interesting and heartbreaking look at a group of people who coalesce around an anthropological experiment involving a chimp named Nim. The film screens for free.
BOYZ N THE HOOD
It has been 20 years since John Singleton's South Central classic scared the shit out of white America. The cast and crew gather to rewatch and discuss the film in honor of the Blu-Ray release.