The Los Angeles Film Festival is gearing up for its second year downtown. Last year’s inaugural move from Westwood was accomplished smoothly, with frequent shuttles between venues, and a splendid mini-retrospective of forgotten Argentinean director Leopoldo Torres Nilsson. There’s nothing as striking in the retrospective section this year, and few obviously standout titles in the main selection, but you never know what unheralded gem will turn up. So from Thursday June 16 through Sunday 26, check out the screenings at the Regal Cinemas in LA Live, as well as shows at REDCAT, the Downtown Independent and special events at the Ford Amphitheater.

The most intriguing of these amphitheater events promises to be The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman a musical-cinematic fantasy that expands on the recent album by weirdo pop duo Sparks. In fact the film has not yet been made, but Guy Maddin will be directing a fourteen-strong cast live on stage to their band’s performance of the album. It concerns Bergman’s fictional visit to Hollywood in the 1950s and promises to be quiet an unusual experience.

Aliens vs Asbos

Of the more straightforward special events, the Galas include British alien invasion movie Attack the Block, written and directed by Joe Cornish with some producing help from Edgar Wright. A bunch of kids save south London and the world – “inner city versus outer space” – and is, according to the positive notices so far, somewhat less irony-laden than one might fear.

Action-packed The Devil’s Double has Dominic Cooper as the fellow chosen to double for Saddam Hussein’s nutter of a son Uday, with Lee Tamahori directing and Cooper going all out in the twin roles. Director Nicolas Winding Refn, on a roll after Valhalla Rising and Bronson, has been getting largely good notices for Drive, with Ryan Gosling going for Ryan O’Neal’s cool guy crown as a stunt-cum-getaway driver who gets fingered. Should be hardboiled, and could be rather good, given it won Refn best director at Cannes and also features Carey Mulligan, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks.

The third Ryan gets to ring in Opening Night with go-away-already Green Lantern, but probably a better bet for that evening will be Richard Linklater’s Texas-set black comedy Bernie, with Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey, and Jack Black as the eponymous small-town undertaker. Closing Night is a Guillermo del Toro production/presentation, 70s TV-movie remake Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, scaring hell out of Katie Holmes in dad Guy Pearce’s haunted mansion.

Del Toro is also one of the Guest Artist strand, presenting a mid-90s Italian gothic black magic movie, The Arcane Enchanter by Pupi Avati, which sounds terrific. Another guest is musician and composer Daniele Luppi, on hand to present Navajo Joe (1966): crazy Morricone score accompanies young Burt Reynolds as a vengeful Navajo for Spaghetti Western maestro Sergio Corbucci. It’s got to be worth seeing.

Burt Reynolds: actually Cherokee, not Navajo

Of the Summer Showcase section, my most anticipated is Tyrannosaur, the debut from valuable British actor Paddy Considine. It stars the fantastic Peter Mullan as a very angry and conflicted working-class widower whose tentative relationship with mousy, underrated Olivia Coleman does not proceed smoothly. Other showcase (ie non-competing) films include:

  • Letters From The Big Man, a slippery-sounding concoction from The Hours and the Times director Christopher Munch about a Forestry Service worker finding herself making friends with a Sasquatch out in the woods.
  • Christopher and his Kind: Dr Who Matt Smith is Christopher Isherwood, gaying it up with Auden in ‘30s Berlin, adapted from Isherwood’s memoir.
  • Come Rain, Come Shine from South Korean Yoon-ki Lee, by all accounts a quiet and effecting divorce drama.
  • The Destiny of Lesser Animals, a Ghanan police thriller, which is something you don’t see every day.
  • José Padilha’s sequel to his own semi-controversial and wildly successful Elite Squad, this time subtitled The Enemy Within, exploring corruption in Brazil’s crack police task force.
  • Project Nim: director James Marsh follows Oscar-winner Man On Wire with a documentary about Nim Chimpsky, the chimp who was taught to use sign language. Science and communication or exploitation and greed?
  • Love Crime, the final film from the hardboiled and quietly great Alain Corneau, a bloody corporate thriller starring Kristen Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier.
  • And Winnie the Pooh.

Why?

Spread the various other sections, including narrative and documentary competitions, are films from Thailand, Quebec, Chile, Jakarta, Alaska, Austria, Czech Republic, Argentina and elsewhere. Special Spotlights fall on documenting Mexico, and features and documentaries from Cuba. The late-night The Beyond section is usually fun, and certainly giant Japanese robot movie Karate-Robo Zaborgar should be. Silverlake-set stalker movie Entrance is unfortunately ghastly, but then there’s the latest good-natured frightener from busy producer Larry Fessenden The Innkeepers, helmed by House of the Devil’s Ti West, plus a couple of entries from South Korea, of which Haunters has an intriguingly gaze-centred premise.

 

After last year’s Nilsson treat, the Retrospective survey is disappointingly disparate: John Singleton’s blistering Boyz n the Hood (1991) will always be fantastic, and is here the occasion of a 20th anniversary cast and crew reunion; German sub classic Das Boot (1981) fully deserves its reputation and if you think you can’t spend three and a half hours in a submarine, you can; and then there’s Elia Kazan’s rare and recently restored Wild River (1960), a slightly wonky chewing over of Tennessee land rights in the 1930s with Monty Clift trying to persuade obstinate old Jo Van Fleet to vacate her property so they can flood the area, and alien-eyed Lee Remick as the love interest. More interesting are the recent Films That Got Away: Paper Solider (2008) about the early ‘60s Soviet space programme, more Solris than The Right Stuff and honoured at Venice for Aleksei German Ml’s direction. This is paired with Mr Nobody (2009), the first feature in thirteen years from Toto the Hero director Jaco van Dormael, starring Jared Leto, Diane Kruger and Sara Polley in a time-bending mix of alternate realities, as the 118 year-old Nemo Nobody recounts his life story. It played well in Europe but never made it to the States and is going to be a fuck’s sight better than Benjamin bloody Button. Unfortunately it clashes in the schedule with veteran Raoul Ruíz’s epic (4-hour) Mysteries of Lisbon; a trans-European 19th-century Chinese box of stories, riddles and identity, it’s my number one unmissable.

Look: dude’s in a miniature theatre. It’s got to be good.

All this plsu Community screenings including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Stand By Me, and either Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Raiders of the Lost Ark outside in the Nokia Plaza, dependent on website voting; lots of music videos and shorts; and a whole load of Conversations and Panels, including special evenings with Julie Taymor; Jack Black in conversation with Shirley MacLaine; and a soirée with James Franco, unveiling his film The Broken Tower about difficult ‘20s poet Hart Crane, which should be fun.

 

Learn more, find the schedule, see trailers etc at the Festival website.