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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: LAFF

Richard Linklater's 'Bernie' to open 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival

May 23, 2011 | 10:30 am

Bernie 2 Richard Linklater's new film, "Bernie," starring Jack Black as a Texan mortician, will open the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival, event organizers announced Monday. The independent film, which does not yet have domestic distribution, joins a lineup of both low-budget and largely commercial fare at the Los Angeles Times-sponsored festival, which runs from June 16-26 at L.A. Live.

The black comedy centers around an  undertaker (Black) who commits a crime but is still popular within the community, especially with one surly, wealthy widow (Shirley MacLaine). The movie reteams Black with Linklater, who directed the comedian in 2003's "School of Rock." That was the last box office hit for the filmmaker, best known for his work on movies such as "Dazed and Confused," "Before Sunrise" and the subsequent "Before Sunset." His last directorial effort, 2008's "Me and Orson Welles," starring Zac Efron, received positive critical reviews but flopped upon its release in theaters.

The festival also revealed that it will welcome musician Quincy Jones and writer Frank Pierson for a conversation about the legacy of filmmaker Sidney Lumet. Meanwhile, the event's guest director, Guillermo del Toro -- whose "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" will close the festival -- will present a little-seen Italian film called "The Arcane Enchanter." Del Toro is presenting the 1996 release, written and directed by Pupi Avati, as an example of a film that influenced him.


2011 Los Angeles Film Festival will welcome stars Guillermo del Toro, James Franco, Ryan Reynolds and more

2011 Los Angeles Film Festival lineup unveiled

With 'Limpet' remake, Richard Linklater could take a new plunge

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Jack Black stars in "Bernie." Credit: Los Angeles Film Festival.

2011 Los Angeles Film Festival will welcome stars Guillermo del Toro, James Franco, Ryan Reynolds and more

May 11, 2011 | 11:16 am

Katie Downtown Los Angeles better get ready to roll out the red carpet.

After announcing the bulk of its lineup last week, the Los Angeles Film Festival on Wednesday revealed its slate of more glamorous screenings and events. The annual festival, which is sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, will welcome Guillermo del Toro as its guest director, and his film "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" will close the festival. That means star Katie Holmes and maybe even husband Tom Cruise should be on hand to lend some star power to the movie gathering, which runs from June 16 to 26 at L.A. Live. It's taken a long time for the movie to get a premiere date: The horror film was produced by Disney's Miramax film unit, but its release was held up when the parent company was shuttering and selling off the specialty film division. Although Del Toro is credited as the film's producer and co-writer, he was a very active participant in the film's making.

The festival's special screening will be "Green Lantern," the highly anticipated film based on the popular DC comic and starring Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively. That likely means the crowd will be comprised of more fanboys than last year, when "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" played in that slot and hundreds of teen girls camped out in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Robert Pattinson.

Meanwhile, two smaller but also buzzworthy films will be shown in the gala screenings program. One is "Drive," which stars Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan and is about to have its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. The other, Chris Weitz's "A Better Life," is about an illegal immigrant's quest to start over in Los Angeles. It will have its world debut at the festival.

Continuing his quest to make an appearance at every significant cultural event, James Franco will sit down for a conversation about "film, poetry and pushing the creative envelope," according to the festival's release. He will also present a film he wrote, directed and stars in, "The Broken Tower," about gay poet Hart Crane. 

LAFF will also welcome Julie Taymor, who recently came under creative fire for her involvement in the highly criticized and troubled "Spider-Man" musical on Broadway. She will be discussing how one takes source material and makes it work in theater or film.


2011 Los Angeles Film Festival lineup unveiled

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Katie Holmes stars in "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark." Credit: FilmDistrict.

2011 Los Angeles Film Festival lineup unveiled

May 3, 2011 |  9:00 am

L!fe Happens- Krysten Ritter, Rachel Bilson, Kate Bosworth Movie lovers who were unable to make the trek to Utah in January for Sundance may feel better once they see what the Los Angeles Film Festival has planned.

A number of films that proved popular in Park City will screen for local audiences at the Los Angeles Times-sponsored festival -- which offers both specialty cinema and fare that is more commercial. From June 16 to 26, more than 200 films, music videos and shorts from over 30 countries will be shown (including 27 world, North American and U.S. premieres). Organizers successfully moved the festival from its longtime home in Westwood to downtown Los Angeles last year, and this year the majority of screenings will again be held at L.A. Live.

Among the films that played at Sundance are Mike Cahill's upcoming Fox Searchlight release "Another Earth"; actress-turned-director Vera Farmiga's religious drama "Higher Ground"; and "Page One," a documentary about the New York Times. Other Sundance titles are "Terri," "Tyrannosaur" and "The Future." Those are just some of the 18 movies that are part of the festival's Summer Showcase selection. "Senna" and "Project Nim," two popular documentaries at Sundance, will be shown in other sections of the festival.

The festival, produced by the nonprofit group Film Independent, is still keeping the wraps on the movies that will open and close the festival, as well as details on its gala screenings and special programs -- which last year included eventual Oscar best picture nominee "The Kids Are All Right" and the crowd-pleasing "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse."

Leave It On the Floor - Phillip Evelyn, Andre Myers A number of the films unveiled so far have a distinct L.A. pedigree, including "Crime After Crime," which raises questions about Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's role in the appeal of a 1982 murder case; "Leave It on the Floor," an African American musical; "L!fe Happens," about some Silver Lake roommates; "Mamitas," a coming-of-age story shot against L.A.’s downtown skyline; and "How to Cheat," a comedic look at an L.A. couple's struggle to get pregnant.

But the movies are hardly all California-centric. The Narrative Competition section features entries from countries including Austria, Iran and Canada. The festival also will offer an International Spotlight program focused on four Cuban films.

Meanwhile, some of the more intriguing titles look to come from the documentary competition. One of those movies, "Once I Was a Champion," centers around the death of Ultimate Fighting Championship star Evan Tanner. Another, "Salaam Dunk," focuses on a group of young female basketball players in Iraq. And "Wish Me Away" documents country singer Chely Wright's decision to come out publicly as a lesbian.

General admission tickets to individual films go on sale May 31. Contact the ticket office for passes, tickets and event information by calling (866) 345-6337, or visit LAFilmFest.com. Check out the full lineup below the jump. ...

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Kenneth Turan's film picks of the week: 'Oklahoma!' and 'The Leopard'

June 24, 2010 |  8:15 am


Saturday is going to be a great day for lovers of really big movies on really big screens, not to mention vintage movie theaters, as two great films play. Traffic willing, you could see them both.

It starts at 2 p.m. (with a repeat show at 8 p.m.) at the venerable Alex Theatre in Glendale with a 35 mm Cinemascope showing of Rodgers and Hammerstein's swell musical "Oklahoma!" The Broadway version ran a then-record 2,212 performances over five years, and the film features Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae marveling at corn that's as high as an elephant's eye.

Then it just takes a leisurely drive across town to make a 6 p.m. screening at the Orpheum on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles of the stunning digital restoration of the Burt Lancaster-starring "The Leopard."  This is the complete three-hour-and-five-minute version of the magisterial Luchino Visconti epic, also starring Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon, that justifiably wowed audiences at Cannes.

Either way, you can't go wrong.

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale in "The Leopard," which is screening as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival. Credit: Los Angeles Times file photo

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LAFF 2010: 'Cold Weather' brews a welcome storm

June 22, 2010 |  8:15 am


One of the nice things about film noir is that it isn't a form that's attempted very often, like the friend from high school you're happy to see because he only drops in once every few years. There have been the requisite mini-revivals  -- the most recent of consequence back in the late 1990s, post-"L.A. Confidential" -- but they're usually brief. Compared with, say, the lone hero of a dystopian action movie, it's downright rare to see a detective of even the soft-boiled variety on the big screen.

Which means that when it is tried, it's usually by someone appreciative of the form. Which in turns means that even when the film isn't fully successful, there's at least plenty of ingenuity behind it. That's what Rian Johnson infused into his 2005 cult hit "Brick," the noir he re-imagined, with gusto, in a Southern California high school. And that's what Aaron Katz deploys generously in his low-budget "Cold Weather," a title that premiered at SXSW and continues its warm festival run, ahead of release from IFC in the fall, at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Ingenuity is hardly the only reason to enjoy Katz's film. The movie, which we caught Saturday night at LAFF and had an encore screening last night, is a noir only in the loosest sense (the film catalog actually describes it as a "comic mystery"), which is exactly why it's fun to watch. It's really more of a Sundance slacker movie -- post-college kid returns from Chicago to his hometown of Portland, Ore., to live with his sister and work a menial job in an ice factory -- that subtly morphs into a detective story when said slacker's ex-girlfriend goes missing and he and his work buddy and sister begin pursuing various leads to find her.

We of course won't review the film in this space -- although we're hopeful many others will at the time of IFC's release -- but suffice it to say that it's funny and charming and even a little exciting, especially when the mystery picks up and we move from the Sundance-y long takes and silences into the thrill of the chase. The acting is strong (the movie also offers a chance to see new indie It girl Trieste Kelly Dunn, who's also in the LAFF entry "The New Year") and there are also some great shots of Portland, a city that, like any good noir setting, becomes a character in its own right.

Perhaps what's most enjoyable is that while the film is aware of the tropes of a good detective story -- the missing girl, the clues left behind in a hotel room, a man and his partner conducting an investigation in a bleak-looking city -- it doesn't (unlike "Brick") explicitly send them up. In fact, part of the appeal is that it's just as interested in the characters in a non-mystery context, and spends a lot of time teasing out details about them that it unobtrusively puts over on us as we're caught up in the chase.

And that, in turn, makes the mystery more enjoyable. Because you don't need or expect the film to become a mystery, you don't need it to fit every piece together as it would in, say, "D.O.A.," or "The Big Heat." "The film has a foot in both worlds," Katz said at the Saturday night screening. "We wanted to take the genre and the people seriously." It does, and Katz does, which is what makes both the film and the emerging director (this is his third movie) worth watching.

When it comes to detective stories, it's always good to see an old friend again, especially if he's taken on some endearing new habits.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A scene from Aaron Katz's "Cold Weather." Credit: IFC Films


David Ansen's L.A. Film Festival approach: Mass with class

LAFF 2010: Jonah Hill: I'm not really like Cyrus in real life

LAFF 2010: An over-the-top evening with John Lithgow

In Tillman & Restrepo, a pair of Aghanistan movies that seek a place above politics


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LAFF 2010: Jonah Hill: I'm not really like Cyrus in real life (VIDEO)

June 21, 2010 |  8:45 am

It's already been a big summer for Jonah Hill, the 26-year-old funnyman whose face has been plastered on "Get Him to the Greek" posters across town for the last few weeks. In that film, he plays the sympathetic dweeb role that audiences have come to associate with him since 2007's "Superbad."

But at the L.A. Film Festival over the weekend, where Hill's latest film -- the squirm-comedy "Cyrus" -- was premiering, the actor showed off another side, as he played the unlikable, socially inept title character, a 21-year-old with an uncomfortably close relationship with his mother (Marisa Tomei). He's still a dweeb, but he's a lot less sympathetic.

"I've always thought I'd like to do something dramatic, and I have that element in my taste and just what I like in movies," Hill told us on the red carpet Friday. "I didn't see any of myself in [Cyrus], thank God." 

As for the actor's relationship with his mom?

"She's wonderful; I love her," he said, looking into the camera. "Hi, Mom. I love you."

More video interviews from the red carpet with stars Tomei, John C. Reilly and directors Mark and Jay Duplass, after the jump.

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LAFF 2010: The cast of 'The Kids Are All Right' goes downtown (VIDEO)

June 18, 2010 |  1:58 pm

Kids Before the Lakers-inspired bedlam erupted Thursday night in downtown Los Angeles, an eager crowd gathered at L.A. Live's new Regal Cinemas to kick off the opening night of the Los Angeles Film Festival. The 10-day event launched with a screening of Lisa Cholodenko's family dramedy "The Kids Are All Right," the Sundance hit about a lesbian couple (played by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening) whose two teenage kids (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) decide to track down their sperm-donor dad (Mark Ruffalo).

The gang was all there Thursday, minus Bening, who bowed out for personal reasons. We caught up with the cast on the red carpet, where everyone seemed excited that the LA-centric film (shot largely in Venice and Echo Park) was premiering in the City of Angels.

"This movie, I think, is the exact perfect movie for the L.A. Film Festival," said Ruffalo, who had wife Sunrise Coigney by his side. "It’s a really great script. It’s a difficult script. Really well-polished. It has a lot of great humor in it. And it’s done for nothing. We worked very quickly with a very small budget. And I think that’s what the L.A. Film Festival is all about, at its best. [Film Independent head] Dawn Hudson, I know -- that’s what she has in mind by creating this festival."

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Is there some basketball game going on next to the L.A. Film Festival?

June 16, 2010 |  6:31 pm


When it decided to move downtown, the Los Angeles Film Festival wanted to attract heat. On Thursday night, when the festival kicks off its latest edition, it will get what it wants. There will be heat. Maybe too much heat.

An unlikely confluence of events will ensure that downtown Los Angeles is congested in ways that downtown is, well, rarely congested.

When organizers pull the wraps off this year's festival with the screening of Focus Features' Sundance hit "The Kids Are All Right" (followed by the after-party on the event deck at L.A. Live.), the Lakers will be playing an all-important Game 7 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center, heightening the crowds and traffic. Adding to the tumult: Video game conference E3 will be wrapping up at the nearby Los Angeles Convention Center. 

The Lakers won't pose a traffic problem to festgoers on the way in; the screening begins at 7:30, when Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce will be well into their shot-making, and Ron Artest and Big Baby well into the elbow-throwing. But the game should end about the same time as the screening, creating a logjam of Gasol-like proportions. And even if the Lakers win, that could well mean looting, fires and other vandalism, as it did last year after the men in purple and white took the title (and that game was on the road).

For their part, festival organizers tried on Wednesday to put a happy face on the crowd control issues. "Tomorrow night is a great celebration of two homegrown loves: cinema and the L.A. Lakers," said festival director Rebecca Yeldham. "There’s nowhere else to be tomorrow night, and we can’t imagine a more thrilling start to the 2010 L.A. Film Festival.”

Organizers obviously couldn't have known what a hothouse downtown would be on that night when they chose to open the festival on this night. (Well, they knew about E3, but couldn't have known about the Lakers.) And the Los Angeles Police Department does promise an increased presence, say our colleagues at the L.A. Now blog. But any way you slice it, it will be a pretty jammed scene.

Then again, LAFF and new host AEG say they want the remade program to look more like Sundance, Toronto and other world-class festivals. And what's a world-class festival without the choking crowds.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Lakers fans engage in mild celebration. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

The bestselling 'Freakonomics' loses its freak on the screen

June 16, 2010 |  7:00 am


It must have seemed like a great idea in theory: Round up All-Star documentarians like Morgan Spurlock, Alex Gibney and Eugene Jarecki and have them shoot mini-documentaries based on the ideas of contrarian bestseller "Freakonomics." Then put the book's authors, Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, in interstitial segments. A hit documentary will surely follow.

But as the authors are fond of saying, correlation isn't causation. Just because many of these elements might be correlated with a good movie doesn't mean they give rise to one. "Freakonomics" (yes, this is a film; some readers have been surprised), which screens at the upcoming Los Angeles Film Festival ahead of its theatrical release, shows why certain kinds of books probably shouldn't travel to the movie theater. We wanted to like the film and its intellectual adventurousness. But it's hard to get too enthused.

Spurlock's entry, about the importance of baby names, seems slight and self-evident (sometimes a name affects how the world perceives you, but ultimately it's up to the person to shape their own fate). Gibney's starts promisingly, investigating the cheating rates among sumo wrestlers, but bizarrely segues into an exploration of honor and whistleblowing in Japan.

Jarecki is charged with articulating the book's most famous claim, that Roe vs. Wade prompted the murder rate to drop 20 years after the ruling, when many of the unborn would have reached the age of criminal behavior. But it's explained with so little style that the theory almost seems obvious and unsexy. It's also muddled by call-outs to other theories of the crime drop, which here seem just as reasonable as the Roe vs. Wade factor, making the authors' bold counterintuitive theory of the book unpersuasive.

The final installment, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing's film about whether you can bribe children into better behavior (it's centered on an experiment in which ninth-graders were handed cash if they upped their grades) is a little more subtle and also tells a better story. (The children depicted are decently rounded characters). But the conclusions are too mixed to be meaningful, and there's no real depth to the investigation -- there is, for example, little said about the long-term effects of conditioning a child to receive money every time he learns.

The underlying problem in all this is (as you probably suspected the second you heard about the project) is that it's not easy to bring an idea-driven book to the screen. On the page these arguments can seem provocative because Dubner and Levitt are eager to explore every crevice of potential disagreement. And even when they don't wash away all doubts, their rhetorical brio often makes up for it. But it's much harder to present arguments and counterarguments in a documentary. And rhetorical brio rarely obtains when those putting it forward are not writers but talking heads. You're left with boiled-down, whitewashed versions of big ideas that, as expressed here, don't seem too shocking or even convincing.

There's been a lot of talk recently about a different idea-driven book coming to the screen. "Moneyball,", Michael Lewis' treatise on baseball statistics, is being given a dramatic makeover from Hollywood storytellers like Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zallian. Critics have asked if that treatment could dilute the book's intellectual power, and it might, but at least it will shape it into a story, something noticeably absent here.

That suggests its own hypothesis. Normally, when a novel is being adapted into a film, screenwriters are wise to draw from their literary source. When it comes to nonfiction, however, it may be that it's best to deviate from it. In this regard, at least, the counterintuitive theory proves correct.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Freakonomics logo. Credit: Magnolia Pictures.

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AEG Chief: LAFF can be as big as Sundance

April 9, 2010 |  7:16 pm

We got a chance to catch up with Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of AEG, about the company's aims for the Los Angeles Film Festival.

LaffOn Thursday morning, the LAFF announced that it would move nearly all of its events out of Westwood and into various AEG-operated venues downtown. On Thursday evening, Leiweke told 24 Frames that he hopes to grow festival attendance to 250,000 (last year it hovered around 85,000).

"This should rank up there with the great film festivals of the world, with Toronto and with Sundance," Leiweke said. "We want to be in a situation where some of the biggest events in the film world take place at the Los Angeles Film Fest."

Leiweke acknowledged that those goals lean grandiose. "It's not something that's going to happen tomorrow," he said, adding "it's going to take years." The festival has years, though not that many of them;  the deal between LAFF and AEG runs for three festivals.

At this year's gathering, events will be scattered throughout downtown, at venues such as L.A. Live, the Nokia Theatre, the Orpheum and the Regal Cinemas. Organizers hope the shift away from the Mann Village and its neighbors will provide the festival with a burst of momentum. "At the end of the day, we want to remind people that life [in Los Angeles]  started here," Leiweke said. "We're the entertainment capital of the world. We've got to figure out a way where we can have one of the best film festivals in the world."

-- Steven Zeitchik


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