From elephants to “Knight Rider” to Levon Helm — and, of course, there’s always “Twilight: Eclipse”
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With close to 100 films screening over 11 days, the Los Angeles Film Festival can offer a daunting array of possibilities.
So for those inclined to sample the offerings on display in downtown Los Angeles from June 17-27, here’s a little help: a dozen (all right, a baker’s dozen) good reasons to go downtown.
“Ain’t In It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm” (right)
Back when Martin Scorsese made “The Last Waltz” in 1976, the Band’s songwriter, Robbie Robertson, talked lots about how the road had been the death of that great American rock group. But the Band’s drummer, Levon Helm, never stopped playing or touring, despite drugs and bankruptcy and throat cancer. Director Jacob Hatley offers an intimate (and to my mind, essential) portrait of the best singing drummer in rock ‘n’ roll history.
A tough Australian drama about petty crooks, vicious thugs and a teen who has to negotiate his way through the criminals in his family and the cops on his tail, David Michod’s spare, dark film moves to a deliberate pace and continuously rachets up the tension. Most of the violence is not explicit, but the film is definitely not for the faint-of-heart.
“Cane Toads: The Conquest” (left)
Worried about beetles threatening their sugar crop, Australian farmers imported cane toads in the 1930s. Oops. A billion and a half toads later, Mark Lewis has followed his 1988 short film with what is reportedly an irreverent, unhinged, tongue-in-cheek look at environmental catastrophe – in 3D, no less. This one looks like a hoot and a half.
The Duplass Brothers move from mumblecore to semi-mainstream – or, at least, they recruit a batch of mainstream actors (Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei) for an Oedipal comedy that looks as creepy as it is amusing. A “freakishly engrossing black comedy,” says the Village Voice.
Jeff Malmberg has already won awards at the South by Southwest and Seattle festivals for this sensitive documentary, which follows an upstate New Yorker who tries to recover from a vicious beating by retreating from reality and recreating a World War II Belgian village in his back yard, populating it with dolls who act out a story in which good triumphs over evil.
“One Lucky Elephant” (photo at top)
“Toy Story 3” is about what happens when it’s time to put away your toys; here’s a documentary about what happens when it’s time to put away your elephant. Lisa Leeman’s film follows the bond between Flora, an African elephant, and her trainer of 17 years, who must find her a new home when the elephant retires from her circus life. The June 19 premiere screening will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by New York Times journalist Charles Siebert.
Made on the centenary of the Mexican revolution, the film is an aggregation of short films from 10 young Mexican directors, including Rodrigo Garcia, Mariana Chenillo and actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. I hear it’s uneven (what omnibus film isn’t?), but with a real cumulative power.
Last year, a raucous LAFF screening of “Anvil!” at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater, followed by a performance by the band, launched a new theatrical strategy for that hit documentary. This year, viewers may get a similar charge out of Mark Landsman’s doc about a groundbreaking high school funk band from the ‘70s, which will be followed by a reunion of the musicians all these years later.
“Tiny Furniture” (right)
The easy take on writer/director/actress Lena Dunham is that she’s a female indie version of Woody Allen, an auteur of urban neurosis. But I get the sense that Dunham’s film rises above what LAFF’s artistic director David Ansen dismisses as “the murky middle” of navel-gazing indies. “I’m not sure I’ve seen a film … so accurately and unblinkingly depict what it’s like to feel unattractive,” wrote Karina Longworth.
“Waiting for ‘Superman’”
David Guggenheim is the guy who really won the Oscar that people think went to Al Gore for “An Inconvenient Truth”; his follow-up takes on America’s public education system, with reportedly devastating (and emotionally shattering) results.
And since it feels awful to leave so much out, here are some of the others I’m interested in seeing: the documentaries “The Tillman Story,” “Freakonomics,” “Make Believe,” “The Peddler,” “The Red Chapel,” “Secrets of the Tribe” and “The Two Escobars.”
Also: the dramas “Mahler on the Couch,” “Four Lions,” “Golden Slumber,” “Street Days,” “Cold Weather,” “Monsters” and “Hello Lonesome.”
And: the restored version of Visconti’s “Il Gattopardo,” the 1913 silent film “The Life of Richard Wagner” (playing at REDCAT as a performance of Wagner’s “Die Walkure” takes place across the street at the L.A. Opera), and the 25th anniversary screening of “Desperately Seeking Susan.”
And one more: “Utopia in Four Movements,” which sounds completely impossible to classify.