lafftvln06-11-08Film Independent and the LA Times’ Los Angeles Film Festival is not a big hitter on the circuit, mostly serving up offerings from other small fests around the world, but with over 175 features, documentaries, shorts and music videos, there’s plenty to invite one to take a plunge. Check out the website to explore strands such as the International Showcase, High School Shorts, a Shaw Brothers retrospective, two “eclectic” mixes of music videos and Summer Previews, as well as Ford Amphitheatre screenings, Films That Got Away (featuring two almost-forgotten discourses from impassioned 60’s revolutionary Robert Kramer ) and the sinister Dark Wave. Screenings are centered around Westwood, as are special events (anyone for a poolside panel discussion at the W about the increased presence of pot in Hollywood movies?), with nightly DJ sessions at the Target Red Room. I love the pot-luck of film festivals – so many unknown names and quantities, intriguing reports from previous festivals – and here’s what I’m hoping to catch:

  • Wanted (USA, 2008)
  • Tue 19at 7.30m, Majestic Crest Theatre

Actually, I am not particularly hoping to catch this, even if it is the Jameson Irish Opening Gala. Russian Night Watch director Timur Bekmambetov helms a comic-book-adapted thriller starring James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Terrence Stamp, Common and Angelina Jolie. A nobody office drone becomes an enforcer of fate, via an ancient order of assassins and Action Jolie. Undoubtedly ridiculous – the trailer has bullets swerving or colliding in slow-motion close-up – but might be fun if McAvoy can pull it off (I suspect not).

  • Exodus (Ceot Oi Kap Gei) (Hong Kong, 2007)
  • Fri 20 at 7.00, The Landmark
  • Sat 21 at 9.45, AMC Avco Center,

A strange-sounding, lugubrious look at sexual politics and oppression, under the guise of a police thriller. Noirish and surreal touches, are promised, as are slow pacing, contemplative compositions and a sparse piano score. Let us hope the mood coheres.

  • Heartbeat Detector (La Question humaine) (France, 2007)
  • Fri 20 at 7.00
  • Mon 23 at 4.00, The Hammer

Mathieu Amalric, of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, grips as a corporate psychologist secretly investigating his CEO and grappling with the nature of evil. Director Nicolas Klotz does not have a high-profile track record, but it’s hard to see how he could go wrong with support from Michel Lonsdale, Edith Scob and Lou Castel, legends all.

  • A Girl Cut In Two (La Fille coupe en deux) (France, 2007)
  • Fri 20 at 9.45, Majestic Crest
  • Tue 24 at 9.30, The Landmark

Claude Chabrol continues his mission to direct more films than anyone else, but the thing about all that practice at thrillers and class-needling is that he’s very good at it, and can always find new ways in which to skewer the bourgeoisie. Two different, wealthy men pursue a weather girl and when she marries one of them, further problems ensue. That she’s played by Ludivine Sagnier sold this one to me.

  • Medicine for Melancholy (USA, 2008)
  • Fri 20 at 9.45, The Landmark
  • Mon 23, Tue 24 at 7.00, The Regent

A man and woman awake from a one-night stand, neither recalling even the other’s name. They spend the day getting to know one another and falling in love whilst tyro director Barry Jenkins films a love letter to San Fransisco on a meandering Sunday, exploring the experience of these young, middle class people in their gentrified home city both as African-Americans and as themselves.

  • Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (Ai nu) (Hong Kong, 1972)
  • Fri 20 at 10:15, The Hammer

courtesantvln-06-11-08

The Shaw brothers present a brothel run with the efficiency and ruthlessness of a martial arts academy. There’s not much martial arts in fact, but with kidnapping, lesbianism, revenge and opulent art direction, it could just be a baroque trash treasure.

  • Let The Right One In (LÃ¥tt den RÀtte Komme In) (Sweden, 2007)
  • Fri 20 at 10.30, AMC Avco Center
  • Sat 21 at 10.00, The Landmark

Against the long dark Stockholm winter, an introverted twelve year-old falls for his peculiar next-door neighbor, who is never to be seen in daylight and will enter a room only when invited.. The camerawork looks neat from the trailer, and the tone should be be a great fusion of Scandinavian melancholy and early teenage confusion.

  • Confessions of an ex-Doofus ItchyFooted Mutha (USA, 2008)
  • Sat 21 at 7.00, Majestic Crest Theatre

Melvin van Peebles is back! The picaresque of a 75 year-old adventurer’s life-story and pilgrim’s progress, played by Peebles at each stage along the way. Highly individualistic, forthright on the experience of an independent-minded African-American in the second half of the twentieth century, and funky as hell, I anticipate (don’t let the work of his son Melvin put you off.)

  • Nothing But A Man (USA, 1964)
  • Sun 22 at 6.00, The Hammer

The American South of the 1960’s, as experienced by a gentle but proud African-American working the railroad in Alabama. Intelligent and everyday, tender and fierce, it is shown in tribute to the fine lead performer, Ivan Dixon (1931-2008).

  • Captain Ahab (Capitaine Achab) (France, 2007)
  • Sun 22 at 9.45, The Regent
  • Thu 26 at 10.00, The Landmark

With interesting word of mouth from the European festivals, this is the film to which I am most looking forward: a French re-imagining of the personal history of Melville’s febrile creation. The structuring of five sections from the point of view of different characters may prove an imaginative gesture too far, but with Denis Lavant as the lead we are at least promised an intense and thoughtful central performance.

  • The Makioka Sisters (Sasame-yuki) (Japan, 1983)
  • Tue 24 at 4.30, The Hammer

A late work from the late Kon Ichikawa, a master, this is set in the 1930s as four sisters encounter the growing spectre of war and the spectre of growing up (and away). With gorgeous colours, sensuous photography and a pace to invoke tender sadness, this should be a treat.

  • Mann Festival Theatre~Secret Screening
  • Tue 24 at 7.00

The ultimate festival pot-luck experience. What will it be this year? As Abel Ferrara’s Mary filled this slot in 2006, it’s unlikely to be his Go-Go Tales this year, unfortunately. In my ideal world, it will be Breillat’s Asia Argento-starrring period “romance” The Last Mistress, but I’d settle for Carlos Reygadas’s much-hyped Mexican mennonite Dreyer tribute, Silent Light.

  • Shadows (USA, ?1957/1959)
  • Wed 25 at 7.00, The Hammer

Another unknown quantity, although most likely the version screening is not the 1957 (with full Mingus soundtrack!), lost to the NY transit system for fifty+ years, but the mostly reshot, official, vershadowstvln06-11-08sion of two years later. Gena Rowlands has inexplicably waged war against the validity of the first, and its discoverer, top Cassavetes scholar Ray Carney. Either way, independent American cinema starts here, entirely in parallel with the French New Wave, and wearing its improvisations, jazz moods and racial tensions with the lightness of true modernity.

  • Ballast (USA, 2007)
  • Wed 25 at 9.30, The Landmark
  • Thu 26 at 7.00, The Regent

Great word of mouth on this too, an unexpected and perfectly poised debut feature from former FX guy Lance Hammer. It centers around a black boy and his family in the Mississippi delta, whilst evoking the bleak rural milieu of the Dardennes brothers through superb non-professional performances.

  • Mechanical Love (Denmark, 2007)
  • Thu 26 at 7.00, Mann Festival Theatre
  • Sat 28 at 10.00, The Landmark

mechanical lovetvln06-11-08I’m not much of a documentary guy myself, but this piqued my interest as a philosophical investigation into identity, via the world of cutting-edge robot technology. An old woman’s only companion is a robot baby seal; a Japanese professor has made freakily life-like robot replicas of his entire family. The future is almost upon us.

  • Encounters at The End of the World (USA, 2007)
  • Sun 22 at 1.30, Majestic Crest Theatre
  • Fri 27 at 9.45, The Landmark

Acolyte of the mysterious wilderness, Werner Herzog goes all the way, to Antarctica, where he discovers oddballs on a scientific outpost and a throwing into relief of all his idiosyncratic obsessions and prejudices (ATMs and yoga studios are “abominations”). Also promised: spacemen, the lone ranger, prostitution amongst the penguins, jaw-dropping photography and miscellaneous strangeness.

  • Mirageman (Chile, 2007)
  • Sat 21 at 8.30, The Hammer

A ludicrously-attired vigilant (blue face sock and mirrored aviators) beats up bag-snatchers and sneak thieves, to the accompaniment of a seventies soul soundtrack. This promises to stay the right side of pastiche due to the socially realistic milieu and terrifically physical central performance from the masked Marko Zaror – “he has no superpowers, just his fists and guts”.

  • The Short Films of George and Mike Kuchar (USA, 1958-1963)
  • Fri 27 at 8.00, The Hammer

kucharfilmstvln06-11-08Underground, avant-garde, low-fi, 8mm, and with titles like I Was A Teenage Rumpot, Pussy On A Hot Tin Roof, and Confessions of Babette, these are rare early works from the legendary and proto queer-core Kuchar twins. Campy and bizarre, nonsensical and unsettling, it’s as much wonderful trash as modernist media folk art.

*images courtesy LAFF