It isn’t truly summer in Los Angeles until the L.A. Film Festival hits, but what the hell does that mean to you if you don’t live in L.A.? The short answer is that means I write about movies you’ll theoretically be talking about a couple months down the line – last year’s fest featured the likes of You’re Next (which maybe should be retitled, “You’re welcome, WWE’s Wyatt family, for the sheep mask gimmick we practically handed you”), Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, and of course My Little Pony: Equestria Girls.
This year’s edition kicked of last night with the director’s cut of the long-delayed Snowpiercer, and kicks off in full today. If you’re in or around Los Angeles, consider this a guide to our picks seen and unseen. If you aren’t, consider it a cheat-sheet for things to keep an eye open for the rest of the year…and a brief respite from reading about all the obvious blockbusters.
When you see it, you’ll understand why Harvey Weinstein was nervous. Think Wizard of Oz meets Oldboy while trying to be Brazil, and I mean trying so hard that one of the major characters is actually named Gilliam. A parable of class-struggle and control set on an advanced, essentially magic train that circumnavigates the cold, dead globe once a year, Snowpiercer stars Chris Evans as Curtis, hero-to-be of the train’s dirty, slum-like tail section where people survive on gelatinous protein bars and must occasionally give up their children to be taken to the rich, elitist, heavily armed front section, never to be seen again.
But when Curtis manages to bust out a master locksmith from cryoprison, and it turns out to be Song Kang Ho, well…can anybody stand against the combined forces of Captain America and Mr. Vengeance?
If I were Harvey, I’d have trimmed only the first minute of the film, in which we learn how our modern world became this one. Yet because this new reality has a tendency to follow dream logic, there’s a disconnect – if this is our world, how can we so cavalierly accept that the train essentially runs on magic science, and that each carriage is basically a TARDIS, each a different shape from the next and bigger on the inside? It would be easier to accept as a fable, and so you should – a fairy tale of sorts with darker motives, more violence than the Grimms would envision, and some nasty things to say about libertarianism versus control.
Based on a French comic, this is exactly the sort of movie that bolsters the argument that comic-book movies need not stop being made, nor all fit the Marvel mold. Unfortunately, it does bolster Chris Evans’ case that retiring from acting isn’t a bad plan – outside of the Cap costume, he’s a bit lost. On the other hand, Tilda Swinton’s dentures deserve a Best Supporting Oscar nomination all their own.
2. Inner Demons.
Many of the objections I’ve heard to this film center on a general feeling that found-footage movies are over, and tiresome. I don’t accept that premise – good stories can be told in any medium and genre, and just because the Paranormal Activity series is starting to have issues doesn’t mean we should cancel every idea that features protagonists filming themselves.
Besides, it’s tough to make an exorcism horror movie knowing that you will automatically draw comparisons to a film many people consider the scariest of all time, but Inner Demons has two twists going for it. One is that we are ostensibly watching a Dr. Drew-style intervention reality show, and the other is that the young, cute heroin addict in the picture is the way she is because the needle is the only way to subdue a demon that has possessed her. It’s a great metaphor, but it pretty quickly becomes literal.
Newcomer Lara Vosburgh makes a strong impression as the victimized Carson, whom you can understand the filmmakers-within-the-film crushing on even as she ultimately becomes terrifying. And quite unlike the endless franchise that I’ll stop naming now, this film does not cop out at the end, but really sticks the landing with a finale you’ll remember.
3. I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story.
Who here doesn’t love Big Bird? BOOOOOO if you raise your hand. You’ll probably be happy to know that, as per this Kickstarter-funded documentary, the man in the puffy yellow suit is just as kind and loving as the overgrown fowl he portrays (he’s also Oscar the Grouch, whom he based on a New York cab driver, and ended up playing far more kind-heartedly than what was envisioned).
If you’re looking for dirt, there isn’t any – Caroll Spinney, we are told, is a loving husband, liked by everyone who knows him; the worst thing he ever did was hire a stone mason who later murdered somebody, but the victim’s family totally forgave Spinney and they all hugged it out, because you just can’t hate the man.
So I’d have to say the usual rules of drama don’t apply – conflict is essential for narrative tension as a rule, but when you’re watching the history of Big Bird – just like when you watched Big Bird as a kid – you want to be reassured. And this film does that in spades.
Now, onto those I haven’t seen, but (mostly) cannot wait to (and believe me, you’ll see why)..
ANTICIPATED (In No Particular Order):
1. Love Is Strange.
John Lithgow and Alfred Molina get married.
No, it’s not a comedy, as far as I can tell, and honestly, there’s probably not much that’s particularly nerdy about it…but still, it’s John Worfin and Doc Ock tying the knot, so it has to be mentioned.
2. Earth to Echo.
Well, here’s another test of the found-footage fatigue mentioned above. This is a film that looks potentially really dumb – kids encounter an alien who looks like a cross between Bubo and Wall-E’s Eve – but I’m hearing that it actually does not suck, despite the circumstantial evidence above.
3. Gravity Falls Live!
Okay, this one’s a bit local-centric, since not all of you will get to see Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal do a live reading from an upcoming episode – but we will all ultimately get to see season 2, some of which will be revealed here.
Michael Fassbender trades in his metal-bending powers for a giant fake cartoon head that he never takes off – a gimmick in the service of a struggling Irish band. Based on what we saw in Shame, his regular head just didn’t measure up proportionately to his massive schlong, so maybe this is compensating.
A behind-the-scenes look at Dan Harmon’s live podcasts following his ousting from Community. The official synopsis describes him as “a riveting blend of righteous arrogance and destructive self-loathing,” and that sounds about right for this site.
6. They Came Together.
David Wain’s satire of romantic comedies sounds like it takes its primary inspiration from You’ve Got Mail – small sweet-shop owner Amy Poehler falls for corporate candy man Paul Rudd, despite the fact that their businesses are at odds. Most of the cast of the State and several ex-SNL’ers show up to skewer all the surrounding cliches, and I hope do a better job than 22 Jump Street. Wet Hot American Summer fans, this isn’t a sequel but it’s in a similar ballpark.
7. Walking Under Water.
If Waterworld ever happens for real, the Badjao will save us. A nomadic tribe that lives in the oceans off the coast of Borneo, their numbers these days are few, and this documentary takes a look at who’s left and how they can continue their traditions when life in the tourism industry offers better paychecks and less drowning.
8. Recommended by Enrique.
I feel like this may be a cop-out, but I don’t think I can do better than the official program description:
“An aspiring Hollywood actress working on her first feature–a no-budget horror flick oddly crewed by enthusiastic teenagers–and a cowboy on a mysterious job arrive in the small border town of Del Rio, Texas, each with their own very clear agenda. When the starlet’s film director and the cowboy’s associate both fail to appear, however, there’s nothing to do but wait and see. Dusty Del Rio quickly becomes a strange way station where time seems to stand still and things are not what they seem.”
Okay then. Sold.
9. Of Horses and Men.
“Bold, lusty and sometimes shocking, this unique examination of the relationship between two and four-legged beasts is not meant for the whole family.”
“A wry look at animal passion, it conjures up images that, once seen, can never be forgotten.”
Did somebody get the wrong idea from Equestria Girls last year?
A team of five Japanese women are recruited to become defenders of the earth from giant rubber-suited monsters with names like StingBug and Mutant Mucus. But sometimes fighting gets in the way of their social lives, and if that means a few more monsters on the loose, so what? Possibly the Power Rangers parody we’ve always wanted.
11. The Well.
In a postapocalyptic drought, one well is worth its weight in blood. Or volume in blood. Mass, maybe? I don’t know. There’s water, and they’re fighting over it. Sharing is caring, people.
For showtimes and ticket availability, head to the LAFF official website. For those reading from afar, I’m going to try to report back on as many as I can.