Updated through 6/27.
This year's Los Angeles Film Festival, running through June 26, opens tonight with the latest from Richard Linklater, and Steven Zeitchik talks with him for the Los Angeles Times: "'It was my most difficult one to get made,' he said flatly. 'It took 12 years to happen, and even then it was tough. People can say shooting in 22 days makes a movie better. It doesn't.' … Bernie is a shaggy, idiosyncratic work, possibly the strangest yet in a career full of strangeness. Set in the small town of Carthage, Texas, it tells of an effeminate, musical-loving mortician named Bernie Tiede [Jack Black] who befriends and then commits a horrible crime against a repressed wealthy matriarch [Shirley MacLaine], leaving him to face the wrath of a local prosecutor [Matthew McConaughey]. The movie is a dramatization of an actual case — the script was based on a 1998 Texas Monthly article about Tiede, and Linklater, who attended Tiede's trial, spent years researching it."
The LAT also presents a "Cheat Sheet," a window onto around two dozen stories on films screening at LA FilmFest. And of course, the LA Weekly has a guide, too, featuring around 30 capsule previews. A sampling:
Doug Cummings on The Arcane Enchanter: 'It's easy to guess one reason why LAFF guest director Guillermo del Toro — who offers an exuberant commentary on the UK DVD of Carl Dreyer's classic Vampyr — might be excited about presenting Pupi Avati's 1994 horror film, unreleased in the US. Its slow-burning gothic setup about a defrocked priest residing in a rustic castle is filmed in unusually strong atmospheric terms; every sky is stained with ominous clouds and each passing character oozes subterfuge."
Karina Longworth on Andris Gauja's Family Instinct: "An hourlong, slice-of-fucked-up-life portrait of Zanda, a penniless mother raising two kids alone in rural Latvia…. Splitting the difference between the work of the Dardennes brothers and Harmony Korine, Family Instinct is the must-see WTF?!? title of the festival."
Ernest Hardy on Family Portrait in Black and White: "There’s nothing 'post-racial' about the Ukraine depicted in Julia Ivanova's documentary about single, middle-aged, white Ukranian mom Olga Nenya, whose brood of 27 kids includes 20 foster kids, most of whom are the biracial children of white Ukrainian women and African immigrants…. Riveting."
Aaron Hillis on Position Among the Stars: "You don't need to have seen 2001's The Eye of the Day or 2005's Shape of the Moon to be moved and awed by the final leg in Dutch filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich's warmhearted doc trilogy involving the Sjamsuddin family from the chaotic slums of Jakarta."
Jen Yamato presents a slide show at Movieline, featuring "18 of the must-see films, Q&As, and events to catch during the fest, from guest director Guillermo del Toro's many planned appearances to Ryan Gosling's Drive, Green Lantern, and the historic (and insanely unpredictable) combination of Erykah Badu and Ricky Gervais."
Listening (ca. 30'). Festival director Rebecca Yeldham and artistic director David Ansen are Elvis Mitchell's guests on The Treatment.
Updates, 6/17: At Movieline, Jen Yamato finds that Bernie "works surprisingly well, built around the most fascinatingly complex character Black has played, maybe ever." HitFix's Gregory Ellwood agrees that this is "one of the best performances of Black's career."
Eric Kohn talks with Linklater for indieWIRE: "This is such a Texas movie — very specifically East Texas, too. It's very overtly Texas." And Kohn follows up with a review: "With its purposefully naive sense of self-mockery, Bernie is a shape-shifting genre vehicle set apart from anything else in Linklater's career. There's a loose sensibility to this mockumentary — mysterious comedy? comedic mystery? It's tough to categorize as anything beyond an enjoyable experience."
The Austin Movie Blog rounds up a few more first impressions as well as a couple of video interviews.
Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter: "More than the film that surrounds him, Jack Black is worth the price of admission in Bernie, an oddball May-December true life crime story that would have profited from being a whole lot darker and full-bodied than it is. It took Richard Linklater the better part of a decade to put together this seriocomic look at Bernie Tiede, a fastidious, devout mortician who befriended the crabbiest rich old lady in Carthage, Texas, and was later tried for her murder. The result, however, comes across as less impassioned than mild-mannered, a conflicted portrait of small town attitudes but, most importantly, an opportunity for Black to sink his teeth into a role unlike any he's ever played before."
Updates, 6/19: "Nicolas Winding Refn turned up the charm Friday night at the LA Film Fest, delivering a crowd-pleasing introduction for his highly anticipated crime pic, Drive," reports Jen Yamato at Movieline. "Part acceptance speech, part promotional spiel, and part comedy roast, Refn's delivery included nods to his wife Liv, Ryan Gosling, Prada menswear, a studio head in the making, his rumored Wonder Woman project, and Alejandro Jodorowsky — wildly entertaining and all too rare, as far as these things go." And she's got a transcript. For the LAT, Steven Zeitchik asks Refn and Gosling about their plans for a remake of Logan's Run and a comedy they're trying to get Albert Brooks to write for them.
"How to Cheat, Amber Sealey's intriguing sophomore feature following her directorial debut A Plus D, looks like an annoying retread of DIY tropes until it manages to defy them," writes indieWIRE's Eric Kohn. "The opening scene finds Mark (Kent Osborne) bouncing around his Los Angeles backyard in his birthday suit, striking a comical 'seize the day' pose before heading off to his droll job as the driver for a car service. With his goofy demeanor masking a deeper yearning to enjoy life, Mark initially resembles the star of Joe Swanberg's Uncle Kent, a 40-year-old bachelor also played by Osborne. Fortunately, Sealey hasn't made a sequel set in Swanbergville. How to Cheat travels much deeper than that."
Also: "Steve Collins's tender drama You Hurt My Feelings revolves around three characters stuck in a solemn mood. Collins' second feature after Gretchen, which was well-received on the festival circuit, You Hurt My Feelings adopts a patient, at times unbearably depressingly tone heavily based in inference. Despite a prolonged, aimless trajectory, Collins's minuscule cast helps contain the drama, bringing its themes to life with an enthralling collage of small moments."
Paul Sbrizzi at Hammer to Nail: "Family Instinct is a film that defies categorization — it's a documentary that seems largely staged, and a tale of human misery that's as funny as it is disturbing."
At the Playlist, Leah Zak gives Bernie a B.
Update, 6/20: "Revisiting the African American ball culture first made famous by Jennie Livingston's 1990 New York-set documentary Paris Is Burning and the Madonna single 'Vogue,' Sheldon Larry's colorful movie musical Leave It on the Floor takes place in a similar Los Angeles scene," writes indieWIRE's Eric Kohn. "Made on the cheap and extremely rough around the edges, Larry's derivative tale of a young black man booted from his home for being gay and discovering a crowd where he finally belongs compensates for its shortcomings with a lively display of movement and sound. Thanks to Beyoncé choreographer Frank Gaston Jr, Leave It on the Floor is not entirely dismissible as an amateur work, although it approaches that fate a few times. While not exactly successful, it has plenty of dazzling attributes to save it from outright failure."
Updates, 6/20: Paul Sbrizzi at Hammer to Nail: "It's the kind of experience you approach with trepidation — any film about the civil war in El Salvador is necessarily a horror movie, and not the kind you can emotionally distance yourself from. The Tiniest Place is committed to tell the whole and deepest truth about the war, but it does so in a way that allows the viewer to take in a lot of disturbing information that might otherwise be too overwhelming: it's grounded in real evidence of the human power to heal and regenerate even after unthinkable trauma."
"Announcing a great new voice in the world of cinema, Rosario Garcia-Montero's The Bad Intentions is a brilliant coming-of-age story that's funny, subtle, touching, and one of the best films of the year," declares Hayden Maxwell at the Playlist.
"Midnight Sun's writer/director Chris Eigeman and producer Eric Morris have been awarded Film Independent's Sloan Award," reports Anne Thompson. "This $15,000 production grant is given to films that feature new scripts about science and technology. Midnight Sun is set in 1943 and focuses on a group of young scientists in a New Mexico desert as they create the first atomic bomb."
Updates, 6/21: Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter: "A stone-skipping account of the life trajectory of poet Hart Crane as opposed to a well developed biographical drama, James Franco's The Broken Tower is something of a companion piece to Howl, in which Franco starred last year, in its unconventional treatment of a gay renegade twentieth century American writer. The definition of what most people would consider arty, this rarified slice of indie esoterica was shot in rather striking black-and-white, features huge slabs of very difficult verse being read aloud as well as long scenes of the subject just walking around and includes one entirely gratuitous shot of what may or may not actually be the first former host of an Oscar telecast performing an explicit sexual act on another man, the uncertainty stemming from the deliberate darkness in which it was filmed. Franco's name will get this around to various festivals and perhaps into very limited specialized release where the gay angle will help, but genuine enthusiasm will be scarce."
For indieWIRE's Eric Kohn, "even while The Broken Tower requires active engagement rather than passivity, that doesn't mean it's worth the effort. Using Paul Mariani's biography The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane as a basis, Franco's narrative moves along as a succession of scenes, shot in a scrappy, handheld style nimbly lifted from early Godard, that's meant to represent Crane's creative process. Like much of the increasingly crowded, self-made genre made up of Franco's output, The Broken Tower is predominantly a cerebral exercise in experimental analysis." Naomi Pfefferman talks with Franco for the Jewish Journal.
Also: "Chad Freidrichs's profoundly tragic The Pruitt-Igoe Myth compellingly tracks the dissolution of Pruitt-Igoe, using it as a powerful reference point in a broader discussion about the failure of public housing."
Updates, 6/22: "The criticism of advocacy then means, when it comes to commenting on the latest edition of the Los Angeles Film Festival, that the only films worth mentioning are the films worth watching." At filmjourney.org, Robert Koehler presents a list of "the essentials." In order, "from high masterpieces to excellent."
"There are a number of intriguing threads running through the festival, and one of them is its strong focus on Latin American cinema," writes Oscar Moralde at the House Next Door. "It's undoubtedly influenced by the position of Los Angeles as an international hub, home to a diverse host of immigrant populations and so neighborly close to Mexico. A slate of films from Latin America runs the gamut from intensive political-structural critique to heartfelt personal drama." Reviews follow: Rosario Garcia-Montero's Las Malas Intenciones, Gustavo Taretto's Medianeras and a slew of documentaries: Natalia Almada's El Velador, Renate Costa's 108, Anayansi Prado's Paraiso for Sale and Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray's Unfinished Spaces.
Updates, 6/23: John Payne: "'You know how plays have read-throughs? Well, The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman is a read-through for a movie of a radio opera,' says director Guy Maddin, describing the June 25 LA Film Festival event at the Ford Amphitheatre, a theatrical/cinematic staging and musical performance of a composition by the band Sparks, originally commissioned for Swedish radio in 2009. The Canadian director's moderne-nostalgist sensibility was a key factor in bandleaders Ron and Russell Mael's choice to stage this inside look at the proposed film version of their story about an iconic auteur lured to Hollywood to make blockbuster movies for the masses."
Also in the LA Weekly, Karina Longworth considers Mr Nobody (2009), screening in the sidebar The Films That Got Away: "As odd as it may seem that there could be a lost Jared Leto film dependent on — even deserving of — activist film critics to rescue it from the dustbin of history, it's not much of a surprise that the two-and-a-half-hour, willfully (if playfully) obtuse Nobody 'got away' to begin with."
Plus, a preview of five "high-profile indies that are set to premiere theatrically later this summer": Michael Rapaport's Beats, Rhymes, Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, Miranda July's The Future, Vera Farmiga's Higher Ground, James Marsh's Project Nim and Azazel Jacobs's Terri.
Reed Johnson in the Los Angeles Times on the four films in the International Spotlight: Cuba series: "Although many Americans still see Cuba through the lens of Cold War politics, these films depict a country in the midst of political and cultural soul-searching, in ways that don't adhere to any one party line."
Craig Kennedy: "Kat Coiro's indie comedy L!fe Happens revolves around the ups and downs of three LA roommates: Deena the independent, career-minded writer who launches a successful advice/lifestyle column aimed at women; Kim the new mother who works as a personal assistant but whose career ambitions are on hold until she can get a grasp on being a mom; and Laura the ditzy, naive and virginal brunette. While L!fe Happens (they've got to get a new title) takes a while to find its groove, it eventually clicks and winds up showing plenty of promise."
Updates, 6/26: "Stéphane Lafleur's Familiar Ground won the Narrative Film Competition during an awards ceremony at the Los Angeles Film Festival, while Beverly Kopf and Bobbie Birleffi's Wish Me Away took Best Documentary at the awards brunch, which took place at CHAYA Downtown and co-hosted by Allison Janney and John C Reilly." Brian Brooks reports on all the awards for indieWIRE.
"Twenty years ago this July, an unknown 23-year-old USC student named John Singleton released his first feature film, Boyz n the Hood," writes Julie Miller. "The drama, which stars Cuba Gooding Jr, Ice Cube and Morris Chestnut as a group of childhood friends growing up in South Central Los Angeles, earned Singleton Academy Award nominations for Best Director (making him the youngest person ever nominated) and Best Original Screenplay. Last night, the Los Angeles Film Festival honored Boyz n the Hood during a special anniversary screening and panel in which Singleton, Cuba Gooding Jr, producer Steven Nicolaides and former Columbia executive Stephanie Allain shared their memories from and thoughts on the project two decades later. Movieline was there to capture the nine most fascinating Boyz n the Hood revelations, ranging from Singleton's first Cannes experience with a topless female rocker to the secret to making Cuba Gooding Jr cry. Enjoy."
Oscar Moralde has another big roundup at the House Next Door.
Update, 6/27: IndieWIRE rounds up its reviews and interviews.
ALSO IN LOS ANGELES
"Ever since Thomas Edison hand-tinted the swirling skirts of modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller in the film version of the 1905 Danse Serpentine, there's been an interest in capturing this most ethereal art form on celluloid." For the LAT, Victoria Looseleaf previews the tenth edition of Dance Camera West, featuring 32 films screening from this evening through Sunday.
More local goings on are rounded up by the Times and the Weekly.