Culver City Observer -

 
 

Los Angeles Film Festival 2012: Must See Festival Films

 

June 14, 2012



Now in its 18th year, and bigger and better than ever, LOS ANGELES FILM FESTIVAL 2012 is a guaranteed winner. Returning to the LA Live complex in Downtown Los Angeles, the energy and excitement is already at an anticipatory fever pitch - and that’s just from looking at the line-up! While the main screening venue will be at the Regal Cinemas L.A. Live Stadium 14, LAFF will have the stars shining all over town with special events at additional venues, among them, Disney Concert Hall Redcat, Downtown Independent, the Grammy Museum, California Plaza, Bing Theatre at LACMA, and FIGat7th.

According to LAFF Associate Programmer Doug Jones, Los Angeles Film Festival is “not just the same old classic arthouse film festival fare. We’re really able to throw all kinds of different things together and see how they work against each other and how they really sort of enliven each other as opposed to having just film after film after film. We’ve got films after music videos, after conversations about tv, after a panel about typical filmmaking aspects. We’re trying to cast our net as broad as we can because people have different interests. But they all have a commonality element to it. We want to just bring people together.”

Expanding on its much hotly contested documentary and narrative film competition and special film screenings of upcoming summer releases, given the crossover nature of the mediums, this year LAFF will host television premieres in addition to live performances at the Grammy Museum and one of the biggest “Must See” events of the year, the world premiere of Disney•Pixar’s BRAVE at the newly crowned Dolby Theatre! Given that BRAVE is the first Disney•Pixar film to feature a female protagonist, it goes hand-in-hand with LAFF’s celebration of Women in Animation taking place during the Fest. Move over Katniss! Merida’s in town! And while we’re celebrating women, let’s note for the record that 15 fest films are directed by women.

Kicking off the Festival with an Opening Night Gala, we travel TO ROME WITH LOVE, Woody Allen’s latest, and definitely one of his greatest, films. With a stellar cast that includes Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page and Greta Gerwig, this is a guaranteed feast for the filmatic senses. For Gerwig, herself in awe of working with Allen and her co-stars, the experience of making the film was a dream come true, “I was so honored to be there. I loved doing it and I loved the other actors in it.” You will, too. As if Woody Allen isn’t enough of a tell-tale sign that the Fest is gonna rock this town, just take a look at everything else LAFF has in store before letting it all hang out with MAGIC MIKE at the Closing Night Gala.

Has it really been 30 years since we all wanted to “phone home”? Time seems to have flown by since Steven Spielberg captured our hearts, and our imaginations, with E.T.:THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL and in celebration of this magical moment in movie history, LAFF is hosting a special “bike-in” screening on June 15th at FIGat7th. With a newly remastered print, your spirits are guaranteed to soar with this trip down memory lane. And talk about time flying by, well it’s time to “live long and prosper” with the 30th anniversary screening of the best STAR TREK movie ever - STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN. Follow the adventures of Captain Kirk and crew as they battle the baddest villain of them all, Khan. Oh, and did I mention that Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, will be there? Better beam yourself over to FIGat7th on June 16th for an event of intergalactic proportions, where no man has gone before.

Culled down from 5,283 submissions, LAFF 2012 brings us nearly 200 features, 48 shorts and 40 music videos with the final selections representing 30 World, North American and US premieres. And 19 of those premieres are in the Narrative and Documentary Competitions. 15 films from comprise the International Showcase section of the festival with films showing from Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, France, Argentina, Brazil, Morocco, Germany, Thailand, Switzerland, Cuba, Italy, Denmark, UK and even Myanmar. Talk about a global phenomenon!

Always audience favorites, Poolside Rants, FREE SCREENINGS, and chats with Artists in Residence - Oscar winner Danny Elfman who talks movies and music, award winning chef Michael Voltaggio (there’s more that goes with movies than popcorn), and Raphael Saadiq - this year also heralds Festival Conversations celebrating television with Aaron Sorkin and the premiere of his new HBO series, THE NEWSROOM, as well as Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn and Vince Gillian talking BREAKING BAD.

In what is one of the most anticipated MUST DANCE events at LAFF (I know it is for me), no one will be put in the corner at the DIRTY DANCING DANCE-A-LONG! An interactive FREE audience participation event, take your own stroll down memory lane as Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey mambo the night away under the stars. And while Johnny and Baby are doing their thing, you can do yours and hit the dance floor along with the Los Angeles urban Latin dance troupe, Contra-Tiempo, who will be shadow-casting the film’s key dance sequences. For added fun, come in your best 1962 summer camp garb and compete for prizes throughout the night. So grab your favorite dance partner, kick up those Keds and cha cha in your best capris over to Grand Plaza on June 22nd for the 8pm extravaganza and have the time of your life!

Thanks to Associate Programmer Doug Jones and his team, LAFF always tries to spice things up a bit to make Los Angeles Film Festival the coolest film festival in the countryand this year is no different. Besides having Leonard Nimoy beam in and letting LA dance the night away with Johnny and Baby, with composer extraordinaire Danny Elfman in residence, music is destined to play a large part in the festival. Always a fan favorite, music videos are “an art form, films, that don’t necessarily get a lot of attention in the film festival world.” Well Jones and company are insuring music videos get their due at LAFF 2012 with a program called THUNDERDOME. As described by Jones, “There are two directorial duos. A group of guys named Daniels and then another one who call themselves Walter Robot. These are filmmakers who have shown their music videos and short films for years. What we’re doing this time is we’re bringing them together in a madcap game show style event. Rather than bring in just two directorial teams together to talk about music videos...we’re making it a little bit more fun, a little bit more of a game show.” Setting the tone with game show rounds, one round might be, “We made a video set entirely in a car. Let’s see your car video.” According to Jones, “I know they have each [remade] a video of the other team so [we’ll have] ‘We remade your music video for this song.’” Now THAT should be more than fun to see. As a reminder, “Both Walter Robot and Daniels are filmmakers, too. They’re a lot of fun and really good and they don’t let anything get in their way in terms of ‘this idea is a little too crazy’. Their music videos are super rich with humor and strangeness and the unexpected. So to get them together and get them bouncing off each other, it’s truly going to be one of those things that if you’re not there in the theater, you’ll never quite understand what the evening was.”

THUNDERDOME LAFF style revs up June 21 and 23.

What was once a single “centerpiece gala”, this year constitutes three - MIDDLE OF NOWHERE and, two of my ‘Must See” selections, Lorene Scafaria’s SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD and Benh Zeitlin’s BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD.

Fresh off a multiple standing ovation showing at Cannes, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD dives headfirst into the waters of Louisiana bayou known as The Bathtub and the world of an adorable little girl named Hush Puppy with a blend of fantastical reality and truth about a people, a mindset and their hearts. An exquisite visual viewing experience, Ben Richardson's cinematography is lush and captivating, celebrating the joy and elan of the residents of the Bathtub and their inner strength and independence, while capturing nuanced imagery of Mother Nature in her glory and her ferocity. And then there’s Hush Puppy herself - Quvenzhane Wallis. There are no words to describe this little girl as she steals your heart from beginning to end thanks to a perfect blend of wide-eyed innocence, understanding and maturity, yet all the time giving us a feeling of childlike fantasy that has reigned supreme since the beginning of time. She is priceless. Pulsating with the poetry of nature, the exotic fantasies of a little girl and the heart of a proud people, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is a life most of us only dare to imagine, making this a Must See Festival Film.

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD screens June 15 at 7PM at Redcat.

And then who’s not SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD? A story that touches the heart and makes one laugh, smile, sigh and reflect, and want to celebrate those special moments in life, no matter how brief, SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD shows a new side to Steve Carell he steps up as a romantic leading man with the character of Dodge. Joining him is a quirky, hopefully romantic, free-spirited Keira Knightley who brings joy to the character of Penny and the film. I don't recall ever seeing her this liberated within a role and it's quite refreshing. And then toss in Martin Sheen as Carell’s father and we’ve got a bewitching chemistry all around. Sealing the deal on making this a Must See is the music! Thanks to Music Supervisor Linda Cohen, we’ve got a celebration of vinyl going on in what will be one of the soundtracks of the year. A beautifully executed film, SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD is a Must See before the end of the Festival, let alone the end of the world!

SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD screens June 18 at 7:30PM at the Regal.

If all this excitement hasn’t sufficiently whet your cinematic appetite, take a look at special screenings galore of upcoming summer films. For those of you lucky enough and smart enough to come to LAFF, you’ll get the early sneak peeks at the much anticipated PEOPLE LIKE US from Dreamworks. Starring Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Mark Duplass, Jon Favreau and Michelle Pfeiffer(and FYI, 2012 is truly the year of Banks and Duplass), PEOPLE LIKE US is inspired by true events when a 20-something immature young adult is burdened with fulfilling his father’s last wishes - deliver an inheritance to the sister he never knew he had.

PEOPLE LIKE US screens June 15 at 8PM at the Regal.

A big winner for me and a Must See Festival Film is NEIL YOUNG JOURNEYS. You know the old adage, the third time's a charm? This third pairing between director Jonathan Demme and Young, following up NEIL YOUNG TRUNK SHOW in 2009 and NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD in 2006, is pure magic. While prior documentaries by not only Demme, but other directors who have captured Young on film, including Neil Young himself, have been interesting, they were never as revealing or personal as JOURNEYS. This is the first time that I have watched a documentary on Neil Young and walked away feeling like I had a sense of who this man is personally. So revealing is JOURNEYS that at times one gets a sense that we are seeing two entirely different people: one, the brooding, intense balladeer and the other, a Neil Young who is carefree with a boyish charm as he winds his way through his hometown of Omemee, Ontario. His face lights up with mischievous little smiles when regaling some of his boyhood escapades, and then gets wistful as he recalls fishing or people and places that are long gone. There is an overall "light" and "lightness" to him that is welcoming, amiable and very opening and welcoming. With Young's narrative happening during the drive around town, you feel like you're just one of his friends chatting as you go on a hometown sightseeing drive down memory lane.

And then there is the intimate and incredible concert footage of Young. Leaving one breathless, JOURNEYS is not only powerfully lensed, but beautifully lensed. Thanks to cinematographer Declan Quinn, the power of the camera, the melding of close-ups, 8mm, 16mm, digital, skewed angles and focusing, all visually blend with the same power and beauty as the notes of music Young has put together into song. And there are no words to adequately describe Demme's use of lighting and framing during the concert which is magical - especially the triangular framing of a shot of Young while at the organ. With every note, every word, every frame, Demme and Young will have you mesmerized. The real achievement comes from Glenn Allen's editing which attains a perfect balance between the man and the myth, allowing us to meet and greet, Neil Young - a little boy from Omemee.

A Must See Festival Film, NEIL YOUNG JOURNEYS screens June 18 and 19 at the Regal.

Another Must See Festival Film that is part of the Summer Showcase is the documentary, THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES. And we think we have problems with the economy! Just wait until you meet former billionaire David Siegel and his family. Brought to us compliments of award-winning photographer and documentarian Lauren Greenfield, what starts out as one film when shooting begins takes a 180 degree turn with the 2008 stock market crash.

David and Jackie Siegel have it all. A 27,000 square foot house in a Florida neighborhood that boasts Shaq as a neighbor. A billion dollar company - Westgate Properties, the largest time share company in the United States - of which David is owner. A private plane. Rolls Royces. Limousines. Chauffeurs. A personal staff of 19. They and their 8 children want for nothing. A former Mrs. Florida (at a very young and obviously “physically enhanced” age), Jackie is the epitome of trophy wife, although she does claim undying love for husband David who is 30+ years her senior. They mingle with the rich and famous, jet around the world and according to David allegedly “single-handedly” helped get George W. Bush elected in 2000. But despite all of this, it’s not enough. David and Jackie want more. They want “Versailles.”

Discontent with their already luxurious trappings, David and Jackie set out to build Versailles, a 90,000 square foot home which, on completion, will be the largest single family residence under one roof in America. With ten kitchens, a sushi bar, private ice-skating/roller rink and over 25 bathrooms, this is their dream home, a home that, according to Jackie, David has earned and deserves.

Having paid cash for the land and paying cash as they go with construction, Jackie has already purchased furnishings and trappings including $5 million in marble from China and enough ugly antiques to make one gag. But then 2008 roles around. While Jackie’s been playing with Versailles, David has been playing in Vegas, tying up all the family money in his own crown jewel in the Westgate empire on the Vegas Strip. But with a business like time shares, cash flow comes from the time share owners making monthly payments and when they don’t have money, you don’t get money. And like a house of cards in the wind, the Westgate and Siegel empire comes crashing down.

With the documentary now focusing on billionaires going broke, we see first-hand not only just how clueless and out of touch with the world and themselves this family is, but how irresponsible, hypocritical and selfish. Cringe-worthy is watching the house be overrun with dogs and dog poop which, with the household staff let go, no family member will pick up. Even worse is Jackie’s continual shopping and hoarding. Don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine needing to ever buy three sets of Scrabble for myself and three “Operation” board games. Disrespect runs rampant with Jackie and the children towards David as they can’t understand his frustration at coming home to find the air conditioner on “high”, the front door open, and every light in the mansion turned on with no one in the rooms.

Pathetically comical is Jackie’s whining about the governmental bailout and how it was supposed to go to “the common people...us.” And while David bemoans the banks and lenders who won’t continually fuel his empire, Greenfield captures the true wear and tear that worry casts on a man as we see David Siegel visibly age, turning into a tired old man over the course of filming.

Even if you’re on a budget, it will be money well spent to see this Must See Festival Film. THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES screens June 15 and 16 at the Regal with personal appearance by and Q&A with the Siegel family after each screening.

If you aren’t a member of Film Independent, sponsoring organization of the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Film Independent Spirit Awards, you should be. Besides helping promote the spirit of independent film, there are plenty of added perks...like special member only screenings at LAFF! And this year, one of those “member only” screenings is a Must See Festival Film from festival darlings, Mark and Jay Duplass - THE DO-DECA PENTATHLON.

Starring Mark Kelly and frequent Duplass actor, Steve Zissis as brothers Jeremy and Mark, the two have been at odds their entire lives. (Brothers! Go figure!) Estranged thanks to their lifelong rivalry, the two are reluctantly reunited at their mom’s house where Mark is celebrating a quiet birthday with his wife and son. Jeremy’s intrusive appearance, however, insures it will be anything but quiet, especially when talk turns to the Do-Deca Pentathlon.

An event held decades ago between the brothers, the Do-Deca was a competition between the two consisting of 25 events with the winner laying claim to the title of Best Brother. Always a bone of contention, Mark has maintained that he should have won because of interference when his parents pulled him out of the pool during the “hold your breath the longest” portion of the contest. But because of this interference, Jeremy has long proclaimed himself “the Best” with Mark grumbling and bitter, pushing him into years of psychological therapy and estrangement.

In an effort to settle the debate once and for all, the two agree to compete again. Only problem is no one can know because Mark’s wife is a pain in the butt. Calling on Mark’s son to help hide the hijinks, who is more than up to the task as he finally gets to see that his dad isn’t the wimp he always thought him to be. And with all the boys up to no good, the comedy just explodes when men start behaving like little boys fueled by deep-seeded resentments.

The last of the Duplass micro-budget films (this was shot before “Cyrus’), with a predictable outcome, THE DO-DECA PENTATHLON is anything but predictable. Doing what the Duplass brothers do best, the writing is witty, the emotion and sentiment real, the characters all Average Joes who resonate with each of us. Particularly effective here is the acting by Kelly and Zissis who are not only themselves funny, but make the Do-Deca uproariously so.

A special treat for Film Independent members, THE DO-DECA PENTATHLON is a Must See Festival Film screening on June 19 at the Regal.

While I know the female attendees will be drying their eyes and mending broken hearts after Matthew McConaughey’s surprise wedding this week officially taking him off the market, we can still dream and drool thanks to two McConaughey films at LAFF - KILLER JOE and the much anticipated closing night gala, MAGIC MIKE. Already creating controversy with its NC-17 rating, KILLER JOE is quite possibly the most indelible and powerful performance of McConaughey’s career. Directed by William Friedkin and written by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracey Letts, KILLER JOE stars McConaughey as Killer Joe Cooper, a quiet killer who befriends a young man who wants his mother murdered. (Ladies, you know we all like those bad boys.)

Presented by Festival Guest Director William Friedkin, KILLER JOE screens June 15 at 7:30 at the Bing Theatre at LACMA.

And then McConaughey just “kills” it as Dallas, male stripper extraordinaire, in MAGIC MIKE. Baring almost all alongside Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer in this Steven Soderbergh vehicle loosely based on Tatum’s own experiences as a male stripper, the boys will have you throwing money at the boxers, er, box office, clamoring for an up close and personal viewing. This is one time when we talk about a Closing Night Gala, it truly is a gala, jam-packed with abs, pecs and lots of hot looking hunks.

MAGIC MIKE screens June 24 at 7PM at the Regal.

After a successful premiere in Sundance, Armando Bo’s THE LAST ELVIS makes its Los Angeles debut as Argentina’s contribution to the LAFF International Showcase. There is a fine line between fact and fiction, fantasy and reality and for Carlos Gutierrez those lines are nothing but a blur. Factory worker, estranged husband and father, and singer, Carlos is far more than the Elvis impersonator he believes himself to be. He believes he IS Elvis. Although bearing faint physical resemblance to the portlier late-in-life 70's Elvis but for his dyed black sideburns, his voice is frighteningly that of “The King.” With eyes closed, one would swear Elvis had come back from the grave.

Even insisting that people call him Elvis, identifying himself to others as “Elvis Presley”, Carlos is obsessed. His wife is named Priscilla, his daughter Lisa Marie. His Cadillac is emblazoned with the name “Lisa Marie” just as Elvis did to his airplane. Priscilla bears a tattoo on her arm that reads “Love Me Tender.” Begrudgingly working in a dead end factory job by day, in his off hours and in between eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches and unblinkingly glued to old videos of The King in concert, Carlos and his band rehearse almost non-stop, readying for what Carlos alludes to will be a “big” tour.

But Carlos’ plans are temporarily put on hold when an accident puts Priscilla in intensive care and Lisa in her father’s lap. Embracing the time with his daughter, one holds out hope for the family, but when Priscilla makes a recovery and is released from the hospital, Carlos makes plans to hit the road with his band. Only problem is that he doesn’t join his band. He heads to Graceland to celebrate his 42nd birthday - the same age as Elvis at death.

Real life Elvis impersonator John Mc Inerny makes his acting debut as Carlos. Providing all of the vocals in the film, in full Elvis 70's regalia, he transports us in time, creating a magical on-stage presence that will have one believe the voice, the moves, the persona, is Elvis Presley. But then McInerny shows us poignant reserve as Carlos wrestles between his obsession and his perceived reality and that of the world. Using the camera as the eyes to the soul, director Armando Bo, making his feature debut, brings us a compelling character study of a man spiraling downward, consumed by the myth of a legend. Although a few missteps and unnecessary scenes, THE LAST ELVIS is buoyed with McInerny’s incredible singing and indelible performance, some magical on-stage camerawork, a solid script and some to die for celebrity impersonator cameos that will have you “caught in the trap” of THE LAST ELVIS, one of my favorite Must See Festival Films.

THE LAST ELVIS screens June 17 and 23 at the Regal.

SISTER, another Must See Festival Film in the International Showcase, comes to LAFF compliments of from Switzerland and director Ursula Meier. As she did with her 2008 feature debut “Home”, Meier continues to excel with tight-knit execution of a narrative that never loses its way. With a small cast and telescopic focus on her story, minimalism propels the film forward through a six month slice of life examination and character study of 12 year old Simon. A 21st century Artful Dodger, Simon lives with his sister Louise in a poor, industrial town at the foot of the Alps. Louise is more often than not unemployed and when she’s not flat on her back in bed sleeping, she’s hanging out in bars and sleeping around with any man who will have her. Wanting more for his life, Simon always looks up; up to the pristeen clean, sun-glistened white on white of the snow, the posh ski resort that bodes upper middle class guests and tourists, and a life of fun, frolic and comfort.

With the onset of the ski season, Simon makes his way up the mountain where he revels in the benefits of tourism by pilfering money, food, clothing, skis, equipment, iPods, cameras, and other personal belongings of resort guests which he then brings back down the hill, selling them for much needed cash. As we follow Simon through the days, we see his confidence and self-esteem grow, almost to the point of being bragadocious, before he gets caught by one of the resort workers, setting an emotional avalanche in motion.

Kacey Mottet Klein reteams with Meier after “Home”, giving Simon a maturity that harbors a childlike fragility behind the facade. Unfettered lensing creates an intimacy with the characters, and particularly Simon, allowing the audiences’ own emotions to vacillate throughout the film with the ebb and flow of Simon himself. As it is with life, nothing is ever as it seems and Meier lets the elements of life organically flow. The visual metaphor is exquisite as she juxtapositions the beauty of the Alps with the cloudy, dirty grey and brown of the small city below. With surprising plot twists and a deepening complicated relationship between Simon and Louise, SISTER rings true with striking emotional clarity.

SISTER, a Must See Festival Film, screens June 17 and 18 at the Regal.

Turning attention to the Competition Films, this is one of the tightest LAFF competitions ever. In the Narrative section, there are 10 films vying for not only the Filmmaker Award, but which are also eligible for the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. The Narrative Competition films are:

• All Is Well, Pocas Pascoal – Portugal – N.A. PREMIERE

• Breakfast with Curtis, Laura Colella – WORLD PREMIERE

• The Compass is Carried by the Dead Man, Arturo Pons – Mexico – N.A. PREMIERE

• Crazy and Thief, Cory McAbee – N.A. PREMIERE

• Dead Man’s Burden, Jared Moshé – WORLD PREMIERE

• Four, Joshua Sanchez – WORLD PREMIERE

• A Night Too Young, Olmo Omerzu – Czech Republic – N.A.PREMIERE

• Pincus, David Fenster – WORLD PREMIERE

• Red Flag, Alex Karpovsky – WORLD PREMIERE

• Thursday till Sunday, Dominga Sotomayor – Chile – N.A.

Nine films are in competition for the Documentary Award and are also eligible for the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature. The Documentaries are:

• 25 to Life, Mike Brown – WORLD PREMIERE

• A Band Called Death, Jeff Howlett, Mark Covino – WORLD PREMIERE

• Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives, Sara Lamm, Mary Wigmore –

WORLD PREMIERE

• Call Me Kuchu, Katherine Fairfax Wright, Malika Zouhali-Worrall – US PREMIERE

• Drought, Everado González – Mexico – US PREMIERE

• The Iran Job, Till Schauder – USA/Germany/Iran – WORLD PREMIERE

• Sun Kissed, Maya Stark, Adi Lavy – WORLD PREMIERE

• Vampira and Me, R. H. Greene – WORLD PREMIERE

• Words of Witness, Mai Iskander – Egypt/USA – US PREMIERE

So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at my top picks among the competition films as LAFF 2012 MUST SEE FESTIVAL FILMS.

On the fringe of Must See is Joshua Sanchez’ dynamically rich narrative FOUR. And I say “on the fringe” only because the camera work warrants a recommendation of taking Dramamine before seeing the film. But making FOUR a “Must See” is the story and the performances.

Based on the play by Pulitzer Prize finalist and Obie-winning playwright Christopher Shinn, both the story itself and the performances are rock solid and elevating. OUTSTANDING in those two areas. A lead actor in “Mamitas”, one of my Must See picks last year, EJ Bonilla returns this year in FOUR as Dexter, a young Latino basketball player. Once again walking the line between appearing to be a bad boy and having a heart, Bonilla shines. Joining him is Emory Cohen a breakout star in the NBC show “Smash”. Playing June, a gay teenaged boy in conservative small town America, he brings a shy, fearful, innocence and insecurity to the role, but then in the blink of an eye, while in the motel awaiting seduction by Joe, a middle-aged Black man June meets on the internet, Cohen turns into a GQ underwear model, just smoldering with sensuality and lust. It's a quick emotional shift, but powerful, as it speaks volumes to June’s own ambivalence and questioning of who he is.

As June hooks up with Joe and Dexter tries to hook up with Joe’s unsuspecting daughter Abigayle, the editing seamlessly weaves the tales of the two couples in a riveting character study leading to a surprising conclusion. Technically commendable is the sound. Under the supervision of sound editor Michael McMenomy, sound rises above the hollow echo so often found in lo budget/no budget films, particularly in small isolated motel rooms and exteriors. But problematic is the camera work as every wavers up and down as if being shot on a cell phone or small camera with no stabilizer.

FOUR is in the Narrative Competition and makes it world premiere at LAFF on June 15 with a second showing June 18 at the Regal.

One of my favorite eye-opening documentaries in the Fest is THE IRAN JOB. Kevin Sheppard was an American pro basketball player before offers in the US dried up, didn’t make the NBA and wanted to keep playing ball. Enter Iran and its Iranian Super League and upstart young team A.S. Shiraz. Yes. Iran. Offered a lucrative contract to travel to Iran and play basketball, there is one hitch. Sheppard, one of only two non-Iranians on the team (the other an engaging 7 foot tall Serbian and Sheppard’s roommate) must guide the team to a playoff berth in its first season of play. With neither the team nor the coach speaking any English and Sheppard speaking no Farsi, can sport alone help to bridge the cultural and political gaps between our countries?

Directed by Till Schauder, more than meeting the charismatic Kevin Sheppard and seeing his infectious smile and humor infiltrate even the toughest and most American-hating of Iranians, are the slices of Iranian life to which we are privy. More than interesting, and opening up a line for great discourse and dialogue for any film-goer, is our meeting three Iranian women whom Kevin befriends. Hilda, a physical therapist who treats sports injuries; Elahah, a wannabe actress who served not only as a translator and driver for Kevin but was very obviously was attracted to him (but he not to her. His fiancé at home in the US Virgin Islands had nothing to worry about); and Laleh, an outspoken activist within Iran who champions rights for women and democracy.

Although THE IRAN JOB is supposed to be about Kevin Sheppard being an American fish-out-of-water in Iran, it goes well beyond that, serving to provide the Western world some unvarnished truths of Iranian oppression, be it political, societal or as it pertains to women. More than interesting to watch, especially given the surreptitious nature of filming much of what we see on screen, THE IRAN JOB is a Must See Festival Film not only for film lovers, but for anyone wanting to have their eyes and ears opened to the world.

Also making its world premiere at LAFF, THE IRAN JOB screens June 15 and 17 at the Regal. Kevin Sheppard and director Till Schauder will be at the festival for Q&A after the screenings. This is an opportunity you don’t want to miss. And during the fest, look for my exclusive interviews with Schauder, Sheppard and our Iranian friends.

Moving to the south of Iran, we come to Egypt and another hot button documentary - WORDS OF WITNESS. More timely a film could not be given that it covers the ouster of former Egyptian President Mubarak who was convicted on June 2 of this year for failing to stop the killing of protesters during the uprising that overthrew him in 2011. As of this writing, Mubarak slips in and out of consciousness in a Cairo prison.

Heba Afify is an engaging, confident and defiant young Egyptian woman. Aspiring to be a journalist (which she has proven to be), in 2011 at the height of the protests and civilian revolution in Egypt, she took to the streets, reporting her observations through her blog, Facebook, Twitter and an English edition of the Arabic newspaper, Alyoum Almasy, for which she writes. Trying to find a balance between covering history and honoring her mother’s old school thinking (and worrying) that “you’re still a girl”, the camera follows Afify through the streets as she talks to protestors, goes to rallies and herself takes part in a raid on the headquarters of the Mubarak’s Secret Police State Security Center.

Trying herself to understand what democracy is and what it means, Afify reasons that it has to be better than Mubarak’s rule, opining, “[T]the lack of democracy caused pain can be felt even if you do not know what it means." With director Mai Iskander by her side capturing every tweet, every phone call, every posting with hand held lensing that intensifies the intimacy and personalization of this film, Afify’s conviction only grows stronger as the situation intensifies, Mubarak steps down, the military takes control, but thousands remain missing from the arrests and beatings that occurred during the height of the protests.

If Heba Afify has her way, the world will not turn a blind eye to any injustice.

WORDS OF WISDOM makes its US Premiere in the LAFF Documentary Competition screening June 17 and 20.

Moving on to something lighter is a narrative film that just stole my heart! CRAZY & THIEF is an instant charmer that will make you heart smile and have you grinning from ear to ear. Director Cory McAbee calls on his own 7 year old daughter, Willa, and 2 year old son, John, to fill us all with the wonder, magic and imagination of childhood as Crazy and Thief embark on the adventure of a lifetime. Armed with a “star chart” created by Crazy, the two set a course for their ultimate goal, find the Star of Bethlehem; a goal which is determined through their adventures during the day.

With the majority of the film lensed from the eye level and POV of Crazy and/or Thief (i.e., kidlet height), we are swept into their magical world with such wide-eyed wonder that it’s as if you, yourself, are along on the journey. Lighting is soft and natural keeping the tone of the film equally light, at times even giving the illusion of starlight dancing on their heads. Beautiful cinematic effect.

Adorable as adorable can be, as Crazy and Thief, Willa and Johnny McAbee, are beyond cuteness, particularly Johnny, whose exuberance just overflows from the screen and into your heart. It’s this natural innocence that also makes for some of the best comedic moments a la Charlie Chaplin.

But it is the dreamy, childlike state in which you will find yourself drifting while watching this film that seals the deal and which makes this a Must See Festival Film in the Narrative Competition.

CRAZY & THIEF makes its world premiere at LAFF on June 17 at 5:30PM with an encore on June 19, both screenings at Regal.

As we come down to the wire, I have three films that are virtually tied for my #1 Must See Festival Films; two documentaries and one narrative with the narrative possibly edging out the documentaries by a gunshot for the overall top spot. Each is as diverse, eclectic and entertaining as the next, tapping into different thematic and technical elements and each deserving of #1 Must See Festival Film status. So, let’s have a look.

Many that know me or know of me, know of my passion for tv broadcasting, undoubtedly due to growing up with a legendary father in Philadelphia broadcasting during television’s hey day in the 50's and 60's when local programming was a cornerstone of a tv station’s compliment. I saw first hand not only how local programming can explode on a national or iconic level (ahem, American Bandstand), but the sorrow of the lack of preserving this part of our history, not only from an historical technical standpoint, but for the individuals whose lives comprise these pieces of history. One of those individuals, Maila Nurmi, achieved cult status thanks to Los Angeles’ own piece of tv history - Vampira. And now thanks to R.H. Greene, with VAMPIRA AND ME we get not only an intimate personal portrait of Maila Nurmi but a look at some never before seen moments in television history.

Long before Elvira and Dr. Shock, in the mid 1950's, Maila Nurmi aka Vampira ruled the airwaves on KABC in Los Angeles with her late night horror movie show. Goth, ghoulish, fun and sexy, Vampira was an instant hit with viewers and skyrocketed to fame. With a segmented format of alluring campy chit chat to the home viewers broken into five segments during the course of a film, the format was engaging, entertaining and inexpensive. But when the network wanted to “own” the rights to Vampira, the woman behind the chalk white face and glossy blood red lips said “no.” And with that Mail Nurmi began to fade into obscurity.

Before Greene embarked on this documentary, only two minutes of footage of Nurmi as Vampira existed yet over the decades Vampira’s cult status ebbed and flowed, particularly with the advent of the internet, collectors, resurgence in all things vampire and goth. But no one really knew Maila Nurmi but for a very few people. Basing the documentary on a 1997 interview Greene did with Nurmi, with whom he became close friends, and his own personal recollections and those of some other of her friends, we go back in time getting insight into the early days of tv broadcasting, the movie studio contract system, Ed Wood, James Dean. We take a trip through time that is engaging and engrossing and historically fascinating as meet Maila Nurmi up close and personal. We know Vampira, but now we get to know Maila.

Animated with bright, sparkling eyes that belie her age even at the time of the interview, Maila Nurmi is a treasure. With an infectious laugh, she regales triumph and tragedy, reeling us into her world. From studio femme fatale to Emmy nominee to victim of an attempted murder to homelessness, this is an experience sure to impact you. And for those that knew Nurmi, undeniably poignant.

Greene proves to be a careful and detailed historian as his factual research buttresses and coincides with Nurmi’s own recollections, filling in gaps and providing societal touchstones. From an historical perspective this documentary is invaluable as it was during its making that previously undiscovered footage of Vampira on” The George Gobel Show” surfaced, giving us a more defining look at the character we already knew. Thanks to restoration efforts, the footage is now of sufficient quality to be included in this documentary.

A documentary made with truth and love, and one of my top three Must see Festival Films, VAMPIRA AND ME is a loving epitaph that will once again have Maila Nurmi and Vampira rising from the beyond as it makes its world premiere at LAFF on June 16 at 10PM with an encore on June 23.

How would you feel if music you had recorded, a film you had made or a book you had written that had been unknown and buried for decades was suddenly discovered by your child? That’s exactly what happens with A BAND CALLED DEATH. The story of the Hackney brothers and their 70's rock/punk band, this is a story some 35 years in the making.

Filmmakers Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino take us back in time to 1970's Detroit and brothers Dannis, Bobby and David Hackney. Garage band musicians, David proved himself to be their leader with ideas and musical styling way ahead of their time. Citing major musical influences as Roger Daltry and Pete Townsend of The Who, Alice Cooper and the guitar stylings of Jimmy Hendrix, when combining the elements of these rock legends with the vision of the Hackney boys, the result was bombastic, and led to a band called Death. Struggling to get a record deal but never giving up on their music, demo tapes were made and ultimately returned to the boys when no label would sign them.

Years passed. Death was buried in the past as Dannis and Bobby went on to other ventures and David passed away in 2000 from lung cancer. But a strange thing happened in the music world. Several of the 500 45rpm records that Death self-pressed with two of their songs back in the 70's, popped up in record stores. Music historians and rock/punk fans were blown away by the music and while the internet lit up with articles about the songs and people searching for information on the group Death, the songs made their way onto the web as well with countless downloads to young music enthusiasts across the country, including one, Urian Hackney, son of Bobby Hackney. “That’s my dad’s voice!” And indeed it was. And with that hand of Fate, the long buried dreams of Death became a reality.

As the documentary takes us down memory lane with archival footage, current concert footage and intimate interviews with, among others, Bobby and Dannis Hackney and Bobby’s three sons who themselves now cover Death songs with their band, Rough Francis, the story unfolds on how Death finally saw their first album, “...For the Whole World to See”, released by Drag City Records in 2008 after the discovery of the 1974 demo tapes in Bobby Sr.’s attic following the excitement buzzing in the music world about this “new” group. We get to see the soul of each of these men, and welcomingly embrace their belief in God, in each other and in the memory of their brother David. There are moments that are so personal, so powerful, that you will have tears streaming down your face, particularly to see Death perform and to see the look on a father’s face as he watches his own children perform his songs. Electrifying divine inspiration. Priceless.

This is one of the best rockumentary documentaries you will ever see. One of my #1 Must See Festival Films and my #1 Must See Documentary at LAFF 2012, A BAND CALLED DEATH makes its world premiere at LAFF, rocking out on June 16 at 7:20 with an encore performance on June 19, both at Redcat. And rumor has it that the Death will be on hand ...For the Whole World to See.

And here it is. The moment you’ve all been waiting for. With a nod to Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood, My #1 Must See Festival Film for Los Angeles Film Festival 2012 celebrates a beloved genre of filmmaking, the American western. DEAD MAN’S BURDEN.

There’s nothing like some good old fashioned gunfire, family squabbles, horse riding, spurs, miners and homesteaders to get the juices flowing and that’s just what first time feature writer/director Jared Moshe does. Although the Civil War has ended, some folks are still divided in their thoughts on unification. One such family is the McCurrys.

Thanks to a tragic accident, family patriarch Joe is dead, leaving the homestead to his sole surviving heir, daughter Martha and her husband Heck. But it seems Martha isn’t the only heir. As if rising from the grave himself, brother Wade, long thought dead thanks to a difference of opinion on the North and South with his father (a headstone actual bears Wade’s name in the family cemetery), returns home after receiving a cryptic letter from his now deceased father. Saddened to learn both his parents and two brothers are dead, he is still overjoyed at seeing his Little Sunshine, sister Martha. Having travelled the west working as a sheriff and other odd jobs after fighting for the North in the war, Wade only wants to come home, settle down and be a farmer. But Martha and her husband have other ideas.

Martha has been talking to a mining company about selling the McCurry land. She wants $1000 so she and the husband can head west to San Francisco and open up a hotel. But that’s not what old Joe had in

 

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