Notes from the LA Film Fest – Part 3

LAFF 2007Last night was the big premiere of Transformers in Westwood. I was at The Landmark, as far away from Westwood as I could get and still be a part of the festival (about a mile and a half) so I can’t tell you what anyone was wearing or who they showed up with or what they thought of giant toy robots breaking things. You could probably watch ET or The Insider and someone will tell you all about it.

I need to backtrack though. Yesterday I jumped ahead and talked about Tuesday’s poolside chat so let me go back to Monday and talk about some more of the movies I saw. At that point, I was feeling a little glum. The weekend resulted in two ok movies and one disaster and I was beginning to wonder if my shotgun approach to festival selection was going to bite me in the ass. I had 9 movies to go. Were they all going to suck?

Luckily, things started to improve right away.

I Don’t Want to Sleep AloneI Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (Hei yan quan). Taiwan/France/Austria 2006. One of seven films commissioned in 2006 as part of Vienna’s New Crowned Hope Festival in commemoration of Mozart’s 250th birthday. This one comes from Taiwan’s Tsai Ming-liang and it takes place among the large multi-ethnic poor population of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The film is light on plot, focusing instead on relationships and specific moments and situations. The narrative, such as it was, involved 4 or 5 main characters and their interactions. There was little dialogue and the only music was an occasional pop song on a radio listened to by one of the characters. It sounds spectacularly boring and I probably can’t convince you otherwise, but for the first hour I was absolutely captivated. Most of the action involved one or another of the ‘main’ characters performing basic, time consuming but difficult tasks – like moving a mattress from a dumpster on one end of town to an apartment on the other.

Ok, now I’ve made it sound even more boring when I’m trying to convince you it was fascinating. It’s hard to explain but there was something hypnotic about it all. The thing that held it all together in the first half was an act of stunning human kindness from one complete stranger to another as one character nurses another back to health following a vicious beating by street criminals. The guy had no expectation of reward from his act and it’s pretty clear his life was rough enough without having to care for a total stranger. It was amazing to watch. In the end, the movie is kind of about people speaking different languages, from different parts of the world and on the lowest rung of the economic ladder, reaching out to one another in strange ways looking for hope and comfort. It was not an easy film to watch, especially if you like your movies with heavy doses of plot and action, but if you can get into a meditative groove on humanity, you might want to keep an eye out for this one. I found it to be pretty remarkable and exactly the kind surprise I hope to come across at a film festival. I don’t think any of the films in the New Crowned Hope series are going to get any kind of release, but they seem to be making their way through different film festivals. In Mandarin, Malay and Bengali with English subtitles. (June 25)

How to Rob a BankHow to Rob a Bank. USA 2006. This one screened as part of the narrative competition and I knew even before I paid for my tickets last week that I was probably going to regret seeing it. The thing is, I’m a complete sucker for a heist film. The genre is so completely played out that it rarely rewards anymore, but I can’t help it. It’s almost a Pavlovian reaction. You say heist and I start drooling unconsciously. If you’re a young aspiring filmmaker, make your first film about some kind of robbery gone bad and you will have at least one person paying to see it: me.

The truth is, I was pretty worn out already after the difficult I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone and I seriously considered skipping this one since I knew it was going to suck anyway. As I exited the Billy Wilder theater however, there was already a long line outside the Mann Festival theatre an hour before How to Rob a Bank was supposed to start. Now, it’s not easy to get people in L.A. to line up an hour early for anything so I thought maybe this might be something special. I guess I was lulled by the enthusiasm of others. A rookie mistake I’m sure, but I’m not so jaded a festival goer (yet) that I’m immune to that sort of thing. The end result is I waited in line with the rest of the people; a bunch of Entourage-wannabe looking characters milling around looking like they thought they owned the city. Are these types everywhere or is it just L.A.?

Anyway, what I got was a low-grade, Direct-to-DVD quality take on every heist-gone-wrong picture ever made. I’m not complaining, because I deserved it. I’m just saying. The good news is that it wasn’t half bad. If I came across it on late night cable, I’d probably watch it and be entertained and tell someone the next day “Hey, I saw this movie on cable last night with that girl from Traffic…” The girl is Erika Christensen. The guy is Nick Stahl. Nick is pissed because he has $20.27 in his bank account which he can’t withdraw because the ATM fee will lower his balance below $20 which is the smallest amount you can take out. He goes inside the bank to raise hell, gets mixed up in a robbery and ends up locked in the vault with Christensen. On the outside is Gavin Rossdale (Yes, that Gavin Rossdale) with guns and thugs and on a cell phone is the mastermind of the whole operation: David Carradine. It sounds like a thriller, but it’s largely played for laughs and I’m happy to say it’s frequently pretty amusing. Not a great movie, but not a bad B-grade guilty pleasure. In fact, maybe it was the perfect way to unwind after the more challenging I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone. 

The funny part is that David Carradine showed up and on the way out someone grabbed his hand, shook it vigorously and said “Thank you for coming, Grasshopper”. The look he got back from the aging actor probably took a year or two off the poor young man’s life. Luckily he didn’t ask Mr. Carradine to try and snatch the pebble from his hand or he may have received a serious beating. I might have even helped hold him down myself. (June 25)

More to come from Tuesday and Wednesday…

LAFF part 1 here
LAFF part 2 here

LAFF part 4 here

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4 thoughts on “Notes from the LA Film Fest – Part 3

  1. Most of the stuff I went to there was a standby line, but I don’t know about upcoming stuff. Have you been to anything?

    There’s a thing with Buck Henry tonight, but I’m supposed to see 2 Days in Paris that’s playing at the same time.

    I’d heard about that Young at Heart doc. Sadly I skipped all the documentaries which is pretty stupid since LAFF has a pretty good documentary reputation.

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