Culver City Observer -

Los Angeles Film Festival 2013: Must See Festival Films



I’m so excited, literally and figuratively, as it’s time for the 19th Annual Los Angeles Film Festival! Running from June 13th to 23rd, setting the exciting tone for this year’s Fest, LAFF takes to the skies opening night with the North American premiere of Pedro Almodovar’s I’M SO EXCITED! What could be more appropriate! A high-flying comedy of hilarious proportion, you’ll find yourself wishing you were flying the friendly skies of Peninsula Airlines with this crew. Eye-popping, energetic, entertaining and with The Pointer Sisters’ anthem front and center, Almodovar soars not only with his characters but with his actors. Get ready to see some of the best and brightest in the Spanish-language filmscape, not to mention stunning visuals. You’ll be flying high with this one. And no one is more excited than Pedro Almodovar himself that I’M SO EXCITED is opening the Fest. “I love it! For me it’s very important to listen how people breathe during the screening because they will give me a lot of information of how this specific movie is going to be seen by the American audience. And it’s also exciting because I’m here with 3 of the actors. When you celebrate the birthday of one’s ‘son’, this is always a good reason to make a party and celebrate with people.”

With almost 200 feature films from more than 45 countries, countless World, U.S. and North American premieres, a terrific assortment of short films and music videos plus special events galore, I’m SO EXCITED is only the beginning. If my email inbox and the number of people approaching me at restaurants and bars asking about the festival films are any indication, public interest and excitement in LOS ANGELES FILM FESTIVAL 2013 is at an all time high. Just wait til you see the line-up! LAFF is one of the “Must See” Events of the year!

One of the crown jewels of Film Independent (of which you all should be members), LAFF returns to Downtown Los Angeles with its main venue at the Regal Cinemas L.A. Live Stadium 14 but making this a true “Los Angeles Experience”, special events and screenings will light up the nights - and days - at Nokia Plaza, The Grammy Museum at L.A. Live, Bing Theater at LACMA, FIGat7th, Oscars Outdoors at the Academy, The Academy Lab and of course, California Plaza and Grand Park. Not only does 2013 deliver exceptional documentary and narrative film competitions and early screenings of some highly anticipated summer film releases, but this year bodes one of the finest slates of films in the International Showcase that I have had the pleasure to see over the past 19 years of the Fest. The world is truly watching the LOS ANGELES FILM FESTIVAL!

Serving as Guest Director this year is David O. Russell who will be honored with the Spirit of Independence Award followed by a screening of his critically acclaimed THREE KINGS on June 16 at 8 p.m. Guest Artists this year include the incredible and incredibly funny Maya Rudolph who will present a master class on “The Serious Business of Being Funny”, David and Jay Mamet who will screen their 2001 HEIST, Spike Jonze, and a special treat with the legendary Costa-Gavras who will present a special screening of the U.S. premiere of his latest film CAPITAL.

And what would LAFF be without something special from Disney•Pixar? While school may be out for you, it’s back to class for master scarers Mike and Sully in one of the most entertaining, engaging and fun movies of the year, MONSTERS UNIVERSITY. With the voice talents the likes of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Nathan Fillion, Sean Hayes and Dame Helen Mirren plus the magic of Disney and animation of Pixar, how can you miss! A truly special screening, MONSTERS Uscreens June 18th at 7:30 before opening in theatres on the 21st. A “Must See” movie for the whole family!

Speaking of family, an event that I can’t wait for is Family Day on June 15th in the Nokia Plaza when Hasbro Studios marks the world premiere of MY LITTLE PONY EQUESTRIA GIRLS. A beautifully rendered story about the importance of friendship and being yourself, the beloved Twilight Sparkle makes the jump from Ponyville and the Crystal Empire into an alternate universe where she is transformed into a teenage girl facing the terrors of high school. Making this a fun-filled family event in the Nokia Plaza are exciting activities inspired by and with character appearances from animated favorites like “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”, “Kaijudo”, “Transformers Rescue Bots” (one of my faves!), “Transformers Prime” and “Littlest Pet Shop”. For something really special, be on the lookout for a real fire truck and police car for an interactive “Transformer Rescue Bots” experience. (Needless to say, that’s where you’ll find me!) And what little girl doesn’t like to play dress-up? Family Day will even have a “beauty parlor” where you can get “Pony-fyed”.

The sound of music will fill the night air once again at LAFF with “Music in Film Nights” at The Grammy Museum at L.A. Live. On June 18, The Hypnotic Brass Ensembleperforms live and talks about the documentary THE BROTHERS HYPNOTIC which also screens this year while June 15 will have us hearing strains of Music Scores That Move Us: A Master Class with Gustavo Santaolalla.

Did I say music? To paraphrase Gene Kelly, well how about “Gotta Dance!” And dancing you will do at Grand Park on June 21st with the 25th Anniversary screening of John Water’s HAIRSPRAY. Need a refresher course in your Twist, Monkey, or Mashed Potato? Don’t worry as free lessons start at 7:45 before the 8:30 screening. So stroll on down to Grand Park for a a little Hanky Panky with HAIRSPRAY.

As Elle Woods said, “America, the land of free gift with purchase.” At LAFF you don’t even need to make a purchase thanks to the free gift of movies. As part of the FREE COMMUNITY SCREENINGS, you can catch not only HAIRSPRAY, but the 20th anniversary special screening of Richard Linklater’s DAZED & CONFUSED, the world’s largest trumpet festival in BRASSLANDS and the not-to-be-missed INEQUALITY FOR ALL. What Al Gore and “An Inconvenient Truth” did for the environment, director Jacob Kornbluth and economic expert Richard Reich do for the economy. In plain, simple English with an entertaining and humanizing energy, INEQUALITY FOR ALL is a fascinating documentary that will help you understand the inequality of the economic structure not only in America but the world over while making you feel less like the only hamster running in place in his wheel. An absolute “Must See Festival Film”, INEQUALITY FOR ALL is FREE for one and all on June 22 at 8:30 at California Plaza!

As has now become tradition, instead of a single “centerpiece gala”, LAFF 2013 bodes three - FRUITVALE STATION, ONLY GOD FORGIVES (which reteams that winning team from “Drive”, director Nicolas Winding Refn with Ryan Gosling, in a dark twisted noir Bangkok setting) and LEVITATED MASS: THE STORY OF MICHAEL HEIZER’S MONOLITHIC SCULPTURE - and they are truly “gala” in every sense of the word.

Most of us remember the events that led the news and marred New Year’s Day 2009 when an Oakland BART officer shot and killed Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale Station. A young man who loved his family and friends and was trying to do the right thing by them and accept the responsibilities of adulthood, the unprovoked attack on Oscar was captured on hundreds of cell phones by New Year’s revelers riding the BART at the same time as Oscar. Those images flooded the internet, tv and print news media creating not only a public outcry, but inspiring filmmaker Ryan Coogler to bring us the tapestried emotional portrait, FRUITVALE STATION.

Thought-provoking at its heart, what sets FRUITVALE STATION apart from the news coverage is that Coogler tells Oscar’s story by "piecing together" his last day, thus dispelling preconceived notions about the young man. Although hypothetical and going outside the box with supposition as to Oscar’s internal thoughts, Coogler allows the audience to put themselves into Oscar’s situation and mindset. Concentrating on Oscar’s family and friends and his relationship with them, a beautiful touchstone is laid for every heart as well as extending a seed of hope for those not fortunate enough to have the support system Oscar had. The performances are rock solid and none more than Oscar winner Octavia Spencer who delivers another Oscar-worthy turn as Oscar’s mother. But look no further than Michael B. Jordan for a star turn as Oscar Grant. The supporting cast, including Melonie Diaz, Kevin Durand and Chad Michael Murray is top-notch, with each delivering performances textured with emotion and personality; each resonating with a grounding truth.

And when it comes to the technical aspect of the film, the grain, texture, blend of cell phone videos is seamless and effective. Although editing is slightly uneven with the pacing and at times feel a bit manipulative, certain segments such as the train station events just blow through the roof with excellence. The camera work in the climactic scene is beyond immersive and claustrophobic, making the audience as fearful, uncomfortable and angry as the people on the train.

Already an award winner at Cannes, FRUITVALE STATION is an LAFF stop that everyone has to make.

The world saw it. Los Angelenos lived it. Los Angelenos survived the traffic nightmare. Now see the real journey that asks the bigger question; “What is art?” with the world premiere of LEVITATED MASS: THE STORY OF MICHAEL HEIZER’S MONOLITHIC SCULPTURE. Yep. This is about “The Rock”, and I’m not talking Dwayne Johnson. LEVITATED M ASS is the story of Michael Heizer, the man behind the 340-ton solid granite boulder that spellbound the world over the course of its 10-day journey though the streets of LA - and $10 million price tag - before finding its home at LACMA.

Exciting this year is to see not only multiple films from actors like Brie Larson and Gaby Hoffmann, not to mention what has become almost mandatory at LAFF, a film starring EJ Bonilla, but another Steve Carell movie, THE WAY, WAY BACK, which closes the Fest on June 23rd. Co-written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, those Oscar-winning wunderkinds who wrote “The Descendants” with Alexander Payne, Faxon and Rash make their co-directorial debut here to marvelous result. This is the feel good movie of the year, casting the glow and warmth of the summer sun all year long! The coming of age story of an awkward teenager, Duncan, during summer vacation at the shore on the East Coast, what sets THE WAY WAY BACK apart from the pack is its warmth and genuineness. Trying to adjust to his mom’s new boyfriend (who is less than complimentary and kind when it comes to Duncan) and always feeling the odd man out, the family dynamics are about as honest as they can get. There is not a false word or line of dialogue in the film. Characters are so real, so engaging that you feel like you're hanging with them, watching, listening, learning, laughing, smiling, biking over the gravely sand and wooden bridges, zipping down the slides of the local water park and even hurting. The emotional touchstones of each character, each scenario are all there, and played to perfection by a cast that bodes not only Carell, but Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, AnnaSophia Robb and an outstanding Liam James as Duncan.

Turning our attention to the Competition Films, I am in awe of the level of excellence of films in competition and do not envy programmers Doug Jones and Maggie Mackay and their team at having to narrow down the submissions to these limited slates. In the Narrative section, there are 12 films vying for not only the Filmmaker Award, but which are also eligible for the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. With 8 World Premieres, 3 North American Premieres and 1 U.S. premiere, the Narrative Competition films are:

• All Together Now, Alexander Mirecki (dir) - WP

• Forev, Molly Green/James Leffler (dir) - WP

• Forty Years From Yesterday, Robert Machoian/Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck (dir) - WP

• Four Dogs, Joe Burke (dir) - WP

• Goodbye World, Denis Henry Hennelly (dir) - WP

• The House That Jack Built, Henry Barrial (dir) - WP

• I.D., Kamal K.M. (dir) - NAP

• Mother, I Love You (Mammu, es Tevi Milu), Janis Nords (dir) - NAP

• My Sister’s Quinceanera, Aaron Douglas Johnston (dir) - NAP

• Pollywogs, Karl Jacob/T. Arthur Cottam (dir) - WP

• Winter In The Blood, Andrew Smith/Alex Smith (dir) - WP

• Workers, Jose Luis Valle (dir) - USP

Ten films are in competition for the Documentary Award, consisting of 6 World Premieres, 2 North American Premieres and 2 U.S. Premieres, all of which are also eligible for the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature. The Documentaries are:

• All of Me, Alexandre Lescaze (dir) - WP

• American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, Grace Lee (dir) - WP

• Code Black, Ryan McGarry (dir) - WP

• The Island of St. Matthews, Kevin Jerome Everson (dir) - NAP

• Llyn Foulkes One Man Band, Tamar Halpern/Chris Quilty (dir) - WP

• My Stolen Revolution, Nahid Persson Sarvestani (dir) - NAP

• The New Black, Yoruba Richen (dir) - WP

• Purgatorio, Rodrigo Reyes (dir) - USP

• Rain, Olivia Rochette/Gerard-Jan Claes (dir) - USP

• Tapia, Eddie Alcazar (dir) - WP

So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at my top picks as LAFF 2013 MUST SEE FESTIVAL FILMS.

How about a “Must See” Short Film? Director Joey Shanks has created a stunning sensory experience for us with SCI-FLY. Done almost completely with “in camera” visual effects, Shanks takes you on a totally immersive trip through time and space with a hypnotic light and sound extravaganza. Think the creation montage sequence of Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” for an analogous experience but with more intensity. I have to admit, SCI-FLY has become my “escape” for clearing my head and bathing my mind and soul with awe-inspiring beauty.


A “Must See” for all fest goers and one that I know all my fellow NASA space tweeps will embrace is EUROPA REPORT. Written by Philip Gelatt and directed by Sebastian Cordero, EUROPA REPORT takes the science that we know and have hard evidence of and bump it up tenfold creating an intriguing and tension-filled journey of discovery. Not only using imagery from NASA, JPL and SpaceX, Cordero consulted with the best and the brightest of each group to insure that the science and technology in the film are as accurate as possible.

Forget about putting a man on Mars, how about putting a team on Jupiter’s moon of Europa? We know there is evidence of water under the frozen crust of the moon which means the possibility of life. Impatient and wanting to get a jump on any discovery of life in the universe beyond Earth, a privately funded expedition comprised of a small, diverse, international crew sets out on the multi-year mission heading for Europa. With a multiplicity of cameras throughout their orbiter, as well as multiple exterior mounts, live feeds are transmitted 24/7 back to the science team on Earth. But what happens when the feed stops and all communication ceases? Is the mission - and the crew - dead?

With characters that are fully realized on the page, the ensemble performances elevate each to resonating three-dimensional levels that propel the story with emotion and humanity. Calling on the talents of Michael Nyquist, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra and others as the astronauts with Dan Fogler and Embeth Davidtz leading the team on Earth, there’s not a weak link in the bunch. The cast is truly symbiotic, much like an actual space station crew.

Using a “found footage” format with faux documentary styling, Cordero captivates, delivering science fiction at its purest and most unfettered achieving a perfect blend of science fact with realistic fiction. And thankfully, this “found footage” is not the herky-jerky “Blair Witch” type. No surprise here at the breathtaking beauty and excellence of the cinematography with Enrique Chediak at the helm. Steely bluish denatured interiors of the orbiter captured with a claustrophobic almost fish-eye lensing showcase and celebrate the geometric interior design of the orbiter while exteriors of space will have you gasping at the heart-stopping beauty of the universe. Perfectly executed, camera work and editing keeps the audience as gravityless as the orbiter crew.

Bear McCreary’s score keeps a constant pulsating heartbeat going as if we were in Mission Control listening to medical monitors.

Raising fascinating existential questions about man and where one draws the line in the stars - When and if do we stop searching and discovering? Is the life of one man or a crew worth the price of knowledge? - EUROPA REPORT will have you thinking about the stars and beyond and the heroes that lead the charge.

Embrace space exploration and the best of mankind with EUROPA REPORT.

Part of the Summer Showcase, there's nothing short term about the effects of SHORT TERM 12. An unexpected delight, there's a lightness to the serious subject, at-risk teens in the foster care system - but the story has such depth and so many layers that every scene just peels back another piece of the onion, thanks in large part to the performances of Brie Larson and Kaitlyn Dever. As Grace and Jayden, counselor and youth, respectively, watching these two is like watching a dance of emotion. There is a wonderful ying and yang to not only their characters but each of them as actresses. A dramatic turn for Dever, she delivers an emotional range that raises the bar, going toe-to-toe with Larson who gives Grace a controlled thoughtfulness which propels a feeling for other characters and the audience that's she hiding something, masking something. And again, just as Larson brings out the best in Dever so does Dever with Larson.

Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton delivers a story that is well constructed, character driven as opposed to event driven. Thanks to a wonderful contrast of characters and dynamics, Cretton shows us both sides of the foster care system through the eyes of Mason, a counselor who himself was a foster child. It's a hopeful element put into the audience's mind that lifts the specter of doom from the group home, the kids there, and particularly, Grace and Jayden.

Brett Pawlak's lighting and lensing adds a softness and at times claustrophobic aura that serves the story well. Interior lighting is softer against the institutional yellows and greens. Lensing down hallways and through doorways, allows the audience to feel the same "closed in" emotional sensibility of the kids. Hand in hand is Rachel Myers' production design which celebrates the lo-budget/no budget world of child services (bulletin boards, shared thumb tacks, bare bones old hotel furnishing, dog eared colored paper memos on the bulletin board) while showcasing human creativity with the arts and crafts, especially with the making of Jayden's birthday cards.

SHORT TERM 12 will have a long term effect on everyone who sees it. One of my “Must See” films, SHORT TERM 12 is moving, motivational, hopeful, inspiring.

Can’t get enough of Brie Larson or Kaitlyn Dever? See a completely different side of both as they join Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley in THE SPECTACULAR NOW, a wonderful coming of age story that deals with alcoholism, fractured families and friendship. Set during the final weeks of high school, Teller stars as the uber-popular Sutter. Caring deeply about his friends, but caring more about drinking 24/7 than his grades and always living in the “Spectacular Now”, Sutter may be in a for a rude awakening come graduation day. Dumped by his girlfriend Cassidy played by Larson, the real story begins when Sutter is found passed out drunk on someone’s front lawn by classmate Aimee Finicky. Shy and a loner, Aimee has never circled in Sutter’s orbit and is surprised that he knows who she is and that he wants to hang out with her. What starts out as a means for Sutter to try and make Cassidy jealous, develops into a deep, meaningful and insightful relationship with Aimee that really explores what lies beneath the skin. Of course, although Sutter develops real feelings for Aimee, he needs her to share in his “Spectacular Now” moments and soon has her following him down the alcoholic path of destruction.

James Ponsoldt, who helmed the startlingly honest and meaningful “Smashed” last year which also addressed the issue of alcoholism, continues his ascent as a director with THE SPECTACULAR NOW. Never heavy-handed with his messaging, he has a light touch that allows the reality and honesty of a situation play out with all its complexities. Avoiding cliches, characters are similarly emotionally complex, propelling the film forward with resonating truth.

A spectacular coming-of-age film that is thoughtful and moving filled with charm, sweetness, truth and honesty, THE SPECTACULAR NOW is a “Must See”.

A real com-com charmer making it a “Must See” is FOREV. A contender in the Narrative Competition, FOREV comes to LAFF courtesy of Molly Green and James Leffler who make their feature film debut. A sweet and funny film with a touch of goofiness, Pete and Sophie are neighbors, or friends, or kinda friends but it’s clear from the outset that the somewhat geeky Pete has more than friendship in mind with the adorable Sophie. Unfortunately, Sophie is oblivious to Pete’s affection and interest in her, opting instead for one night stand pick-ups in bars. Going through the motions os life as a struggling actress, Sophie agrees to join Pete on a road trip to pick up his sister Jess from college. Along the 6-hour road trip, talk turns to marriage and a running joke about getting engaged to each other. Before long, the adorbsome couple is not only engaged, but stranded in the desert with a jilted unhappy Jess, an assortment of interesting folks and some emotional road bumps with their pending nuptials.

Yes, “adorbsome” is the word for this quirky bit of goodness and it’s thanks to the magic of Noel Wells and Matt Mider who, as Sophie and Pete, steal your heart. Sweet, fun, engaging and with a few life lessons along the way, charming performances are buoyed by the light bright upbeat cinematography of Robert Edgecomb who does metaphoric wonders with the desert palette and warming bright sun. A road trip montage of Sophie and Pete will have your heart smiling.

I can’t remember a year with such a spectacular line-up of international films and one that really makes the grade as a “Must See” festival film is WADJDA. Talk about breaking the glass ceiling. And I'm not just talking about director Haifaa Al Mansour, the first female director in Saudi Arabia. Or the fact that this is the first Saudi Arabian feature film to be shot within the Kingdom. I'm talking the story itself and the incredible Waad Mohammed who stars as WADJDA! Talk about spunk, sass, charisma, charm, impish likeability. And boy can she work you over with just the tilt of her chin. At such a young age, she turns on a dime with emotion and manipulates both the characters in the film and the audience.

10-year old WADJDA is anything but subservient and doesn’t aim to be. Her best friend is a boy named Abdullah and together they are like two peas in a pod. Doing everything that girls aren’t supposed to do, WADJDA’s big dream is get a bicycle and beat Abdullah in a race. The fact that girls aren’t allowed to ride bicycles is beside the point for WADJDA, especially when she sees a shiny green one at the local store. Refused the bike by her mother, or the money to buy it, WADJDA schemes to make the money herself, bringing the wrath of the school principal down on her and her “unholy” ways, but then ultimately joining the religious club at school with the singular goal to win an annual competition and the cash.

The story of WADJDA is enchanting and to a large degree, universal. Told from the female perspective, women and girls the world over will relate in some fashion to the cultural and political discrimination women in the Arab world face. Through WADJDA we see not only the world "as it is now" with her mother's generation and the oppressions she has faced, but how it can be for girls like WADJDA. There is more commonality in our perceived differences than many realize. And here we see it all. There is something in each of these women that each of us watching can identify with. Interesting is the character construct of the film which, but for the usual boys taunting girls stuff, Abdullah sees WADJDA as an equal. There is no "run and hide", "don't speak your mind". He hasn't become jaded by the adult culture yet and neither has she. The purity and naivete of these two together is enchanting. Your heart roots for them both.

Casting is perfection starting with WADJDA herself - Waad Mohammed. Equaling her charm is Abdullrahman Al Gohani who, as Abdullah, is just as charismatic and likeable as Waad! These two just exude impish fun. Easy to see why Reem Abdullah is such a tv star in Saudi Arabia. As WADJDA’s mother, she is not only flawlessly beautiful, but engaging. Despicable with a Dick Dasterdly look and aura to her is the school principal Hussa played by the single-monikered, Ahd. Perfectly cast as the kind of principal you love to hate...and do.

A production partnership with a Saudi-German crew, we are treated to the clean, unfettered look of Lutz Reitemeier's lensing. There's a clarity to the visuals that is not only appealing but in keeping with the clarity of Al Mansour's story and direction.

Haifaa Al Mansour is clearly one those people who will change the world, both within the Arab world and outside. This is WADJDA, hear her roar!

Leading the charge in the Documentary Competition and a film which goes beyond even being a “Must See” is MY STOLEN REVOLUTION. There’s simply no excuse to not see it. My #1 “Must See” documentary and the #1 “Must See” overall festival choice of LAFF programmers Maggie MacKay and Doug Jones, MY STOLEN REVOLUTION is a very personal and intense story as acclaimed documentary filmmaker Nahid Persson Sarvestani bares her soul, taking us on her journey from her days as a student activist in 1979 fleeing Teheran and the guilt she has lived with for over 30 years. When renewed protests in the country took center stage several years ago, Sarvestani was moved to confront her own demons and seek out those she left behind, including some other fellow female activists and her beloved brother whom she never saw again after leaving.

Framed in the context of seeking out information on her brother’s final days during his 6-month imprisonment and ultimate execution by the Islamic Republic, Sarvestani reconnects with five other women who were not as fortunate as she, and who were unable to flee the country. Interviews with each are powerful and chilling as they relate the horrors of life in the Republic, horrors which included both physical and mental torture. The strength and conviction we see in each woman is inspiring and humbling.

With narration by Sarvestani, interviews are interspersed with historical photos and footage of the violence and political turmoil in the region over the years as well as personal photos. Narrative line is clear and cogent allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the journey of not only Sarvestani, but the women with whom she speaks. Sarvestani’s courage and bravery in telling this story will move you in unfathomable ways, the emotions for which defy words.

Wielding some magic of its own is Sebastian Silva’s CRYSTAL FAIRY. Starring Gaby Hoffmann and Michael Cera, at first blush, CRYSTAL FAIRY, with its filmic grain and texture, is the visual epitome of what an indie film of the 70's and 80's is and was. There is a visual depth and texture that carries the story from the page and performance, making it a sensory experience. And with the CRYSTAL FAIRY, so much of the film is about the senses - the core of Michael Cera's character, Jamie, and his quest for the San Pedro cactus and the anticipated hallucinogenic experience is completely is the Chilean cocaine, weed, etc. which are essential parts of the film.

Jamie is the type of American traveler in a foreign land that gives Americans a bad name. Boorish, insensitive, egomaniacal why anyone even speaks to him is beyond me. Traveling in Chile, Jamie has heard of the hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus and together with a Chilean acquaintance and his two brothers, is determined to embark on a spiritual journey to find the San Pedro cactus and brew up its magical elixir, drinking it on a beach at sunrise. But before they can even start the road trip, Jamie meets a spirited hippie-ish woman named Crystal Fairy at an alcohol and drug fueled bash. Off-handedly inviting her along on the trip, Crystal Fairy agrees to come along - and does - much to Jamie’s chagrin. As the two battle at every turn with Crystal Fairy’s freewheeling, chakra fueled lifestyle going against the grain of Jamie’s OCDC single-minded plan, tables turn, alliances and allegiances shift among the travelers and truths and adventure abound.

CRYSTAL FAIRY rises and falls on Hoffmann. With a more than earthy vibe going, the chakra, magic morning moves, chanting, aural healing, etc. demands an earthy physical appearance and costuming of Hoffmann. (Gotta say - love the Hindu bells and beads as necklaces and bracelets. Fits the whole 60"s psychedelic drug culture vibe perfectly.) She brings a free-flowing persona and attitude to the character but also layers emotional nuance boding fear and secrets. Hoffmann excels with conveying the fear of the onslaught of groping, grabbing and yelling. You know something is hidden under the surface that is behind that.

Cera’s Jamie is beyond annoying and not likeable at all, exuding a despicable, spiteful, arrogant and condescending air to everyone around him. But the character’s persona serves a purpose as it brings the three Silva brothers who co-star as the traveling companions to Jamie and Crystal Fairy, to the forefront and showcases their development going from shy and quiet to more communicative and engaging. Watching the three brothers is one the magical highlights of the film.

The filmic cinematic visual texture perfectly fuels the tonal bandwidth and the gritty nature of the terrain and the mind-altering rough edged elements of the story. And hello-o! The opening and end title graphics are phenomenal!

As I countdown to my top three “Must See” films it gets more difficult as the level of excellence not only in production values, but storytelling and performance, are so exceptional this year. One such “Must See” film is THE PATIENCE STONE.

Not only an emotionally immersive cultural experience, THE PATIENCE STONE packs an emotional punch that just assails you like a bullet to the neck. Writer/director Atiq Rahimi together with co-writer Jean-Claude Carriere, adapt Rahimi’s novel of the same name with such poetic allegory to make one’s heart stop. Pulling back the curtain on Muslim women in a patriarchal society, we are thrust into a war torn country in the Middle East. An arranged marriage between a beautiful young woman and much older man. A husband who is shot in the neck, left paralyzed and comatose is dumped at his home by his comrades for his beautiful young wife to care for. With the battle front moving to their small town and a husband unable to be moved, The Woman takes her small children to her aunt’s home in Riyadh while she dutifully tends to her dying husband. But in the quiet, she is finally able to speak to him, bearing her soul and her secrets as he becomes her Patience Stone.

Starring Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani as The Woman, is mesmerizing. Her eyes speak volumes. Her fingers and hands as well. A simple turn of the head, a tear - everything has a meaning, yet done with an effortlessness that belies calculated theater. She is poetry in motion.

An honest purity and simplicity to the parable of the Patience Stone that when translated to present day and a war torn world, serves as a great comfort and even rationale for the horrors of war and the burdens of certain cultures and religions, such as the Muslim and/or Afghan world. Telling this story on film through the eyes of a woman adds another layer of emotion and gravitas to the construct given how women are looked down upon in such cultures. The non-linear narrative storytelling keeps us on our toes, keeps us interested and as The Woman unburdens herself to THE PATIENCE STONE in bits and pieces, we draw ever deeper into her world and into the magic of the mythology and The Woman’s sensuality.

Hypnotic is Thierry Arbogast's cinematography. Cinematic in presentation, Arbogast creates a theatrical intimacy with low camera angles, skewed angles or eyes pointing upward (which serve well Golshifteh Farahani's performance as she is so often reaching upward, upward as if to heaven seeking answers.) Crisp and polished during intimate monologues, colors are bright with pops of purple and fuschia scene in brief exteriors and which gradually find their way into the filmic process as the story develops and the woman reveals more and more to her seemingly dead husband. Utilizing sunlight to its best advantage as shining through murky plastic or the dainty tatted pattern of curtains, the light softens like a dream, adding to the mystery and magic of the story of the Prophet. Through intense close-ups on the eyes - be it the woman, the husband or the young soldier with a kind heart - souls truly are revealed capturing real emotional truth and pain in the film, showcasing the performances. Resolution is so strong that we see the riddling of individual bullet holes or the chipped paint and plaster from shrapnel - akin to the war chipping away at life the way the woman is chipping away at THE PATIENCE STONE just waiting for it to break open into freedom.

There is a lightness to the lensing that provides a buoyancy to heavy subject matter. As light on her feet as the woman is, so is the camera. as she rises, the camera rises, as she slowly caresses the young soldier or her husband, the camera and the light softly caress and bathe her. Arbogast's camerawork allows us to become part of The Woman's very essence, her most intimate thoughts.

A tour de force performance piece, and one of my top 3 “Must See” Festival Films, is BOXING DAY. Written and directed by Bernard Rose, BOXING DAY is an adaptation of Tolstoy’s contemplative “The Master and The Man.” A wonderful film that has quickly become one of my favorite Tolstoy adaptations, BOXING DAY is an intimate portrait of the human condition and the socio-economic status of the country. Set in present day, Danny Huston is cash-strapped LA business entrepreneur, Basil, who takes advantage of the poor economy and real estate market by snapping up foreclosed properties from banks for quick re-sale and flipping. Needing to take advantage of every opportunity, he leaves his family the day after Christmas - Boxing Day - and heads to Denver to check out some properties. His driver for the day is British ex-pat Nick played by Matthew Jacobs,who has more than his share of middle class problems thanks to a nasty divorce, refusal by his ex to let him see his daughter even for Christmas and excessive drinking which has driven him to AA. At odds with each other through the course of the day, we are privy to class and classlessness in the most unlikely forms.

Sharply observed with a dialogue rich narrative, BOXING DAY is extremely well crafted, allowing the actors to soar, particularly Huston who maintains an air of pompous aristocracy and privilege until the last possible moment when he unconsciously embraces the true spirit of BOXING DAY itself. Matthew Jacobs is a pure delight as the grounded, simple and salt of the earth Nick, resonating with the heart.

Visually beauteous, the starkness and pristine visual of the clean, pure snow of winter in the Rocky Mountains stuns as a blank canvas that creates a perfect backdrop to the performances. Most appreciative is that the bulk of the film takes place under a cold grey sky with the brilliance warmth of the sun ultimately metaphorically appearing at a climactic moment in the story structure.

BOXING DAY is emotional beauty at its purest.

And here it is, what many have been waiting for, my #1 Must See Festival film and hot contender in the Narrative Competition making its world premiere at LAFF - GOODBYE WORLD.

A timely apocalyptic drama that’s intelligent and thought provoking, GOODBYE WORLD bodes a cast led by Adrian Grenier and Kerry Bishe, with Gaby Hoffmann, Mark Webber, Ben Mckenzie, Kid Cudi, Julie Dretzin and Caroline Dhavernas. Directed by Denis Henry Hennelly and co-written by Hennelly and Sarah Adina Smith, GOODBYE WORLD speaks to the issue of what happens when the world turns on itself and we turn on each other.

James and Lily and their daughter Hannah live a secluded life in Northern California. Having walked away from a successful Silicon Valley company he shared with his brother Nick, James long ago realized the delicate nature of society. Electing to have more control over his life and that of his wife and daughter in terms of sustainability and survivability, James has been cultivating his land with goats, chickens, growing his own food, etc. No cell service, no tv. They are virtually self-sustaining. But when a global cyber attack triggered with the text “Goodbye World” cripples the world, his old friends from Stanford, all now activists and achievers, head for the hills and James’ reclusive world.

As old friends who have gone their separate ways and who are now thrown together trapped in an emergency situation, truths, anger, fears, jealousy and passions ignite as the pieces of the global puzzle come together and life as everyone knows it falls apart at the seams calling into question the morals of our time, social responsibility, and the “haves” and “have nots.”

As James, Grenier knocks it out of the park, along with Gaby Hoffmann who, as Laura, a political insider with her pulse on heartbeat of Washington has insight into what’s happening beyond James’ cloistered world (which thematically develops as a microcosm paralleling the much larger structure of the nation as a whole). These two steer the story, imparting information necessary to the narrative while the rest of the cast fuels ideologic action, and none moreso than Mark Webber as die hard activist Benji.

GOODBYE WORLD speaks not only to the questions of personal responsibility for one’s self and others, but also the big question of solving - or preventing - a complete societal collapse and breakdown complete with well known theories interplaying one with the other ; “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”, “trickle down effect” and “everything and everyone is connected.”

Jeff Bollman’s bright, polished, clean yet textured cinematography serves as a beautiful mask of the underlying drama of the story. A strong visual contrast to the thematic elements at hand, Bollman’s visuals are celebratory of the natural beauty of this world, capturing vibrant greens, sunny yellows, warm inviting golden hued interiors. Production design by Katie Byron and Rachael Ferrara is stellar.

Touching on global communications, geopolitical and economic structures and innate human fear, don’t say goodbye to Los Angeles Film Festival until you’ve seen my #1 Must See Festival Film - GOODBYE WORLD.

As comes as no surprise, there are still a few films on my radar, starting with a last minute addition to the Fest which programmer Doug Jones describes as “delightfully scary”, James Wan’s THE CONJURING. Based on the true story of demonologists and paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren who are called upon to help a family terrorized from “the beyond”, THE CONJURING boasts a perfectly chilling cast led by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. THE MOO MAN is a Grade A documentary I’m aching to see as we meet up with organic dairy farmer Stephen Hook and his “happy cows” in Sussex, United Kingdom. From the looks of THE MOO MAN, the happiest cows don’t come from California. Looks like they can be found happily grazing across The Pond.

As always, look for my full reviews of these films and many more, as well as my exclusive 1:1 interviews with the filmmakers, in print and online at, among others,

Los Angeles Film Festival 2013 runs from June 13th to 23rd with the majority of screenings and events taking place at Regal Cinemas in the L.A. Live complex in Downtown Los Angeles. Parking is at a special reduced festival rate ($8.00 per day) and tickets are still available!! For complete information on the festival line up and to purchase tickets, go to the festival website at



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