This year’s the Los Angeles Film Festival featured everything from apocalyptic romances to Cuban zombies. With the festival winding down, we’ve compiled a list of reviews by Indiewire film critic Eric Kohn to streamline your recapping experience.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Supremely ambitious and committed to profundity, “Beasts” sets the bar too high and suffers from a muddled assortment of expressionistic concepts, but it still manages to glide along its epic aspirations.
Juan of the Dead
“Juan of the Dead,” Cuba’s first zombie movie, has garnered attention just for its mere existence– a zom-com shot on location in Havana! What a new and exciting cinematic oddity! Despite, and because of, its exotic origins, “Juan of the Dead” lives up to the hype, more than delivering the goods as a raucous horror comedy deeply school in the zombie genre and with a uniquely Cuban flavor.
Gimme the Loot
“Gimme the Loot” simply observes its charming ne’er-do-wells as they hurtle through an inner-city lifestyle with little choice except to keep moving forward. From the first scene, in which the duo awkwardly jack paint canisters from a store and hop into their getaway car, Leon establishes his characters as a pair of lawbreakers living on the fringes of society but remain essentially innocent, giggly children. Inhabiting the same bubble of hip-hop attitude as “Wild Style” did nearly 30 years earlier, Leon’s movie resurrects the subculture with genre charm and low-budget appeal.
Searching for Sugar Man
When 1970s Mexican-American singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez faded from view, he’d never had much visibility in the first place. Typically known only as “Rodriguez,” the musician’s gentle pop tunes and activist spirit came through in a handful of albums that were barely noticed in the U.S. However, “Searching for Sugar Man,” documentarian Malik Bendjelloul’s remarkable chronicle of Rodriguez’s neglect on his home turf and unexpected stardom in South Africa, compellingly argues for his place in the canon of great American rock stars, whether or not he wants the spot.
Dead Man’s Burden
There is no creaky saloon or jangle guitar score in “Dead Man’s Burden,” the directorial debut of indie producer Jared Moshé, but its spectacular desert vista, sunburnt and caked in dust, lends the convincing aura of a magnificent Western. While technically a highly contained drama involving no more than four main characters and three locations, “Dead Man’s Burden” benefits from its small scale by boiling down the genre to its barest ingredients. It has Western spirit in its bones, if not the means to pull it off on a grand scale, but that’s enough to do justice to the grimy, bullet-battered standards it aims to satisfy.
Whether truly narcissistic or an eloquent portrait of narcissism, Alex Karpovsky’s “Red Flag” is an utterly hilarious ode to the modern struggles of the microbudget American filmmaker. While the prolific Karpovsky has starred in Andrew Bujalski’s “Beeswax” and Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture” — and more recently appears in Dunham’s “Girls” — his trajectory behind the camera predates those notable turns. “Red Flag” merges his skills as actor and filmmaker better than anything preceding it by telling a quasi-autobiographical story.
The debilitating genetic disorder Xeroderma Pigmentosum makes sunlight fatal to those afflicted with it from a young age and leads to a dwindling neurological condition that eventually culminates with death. Medical specialists usually discuss it as an extremely rare condition that surfaces among one in a million people, but compared to the larger population, its occurrences among descendants of Navajo clans virtually form an epidemic. The American Indian has never had it easy, which makes the recurrences of XP into an eloquent distillation for the greater struggles of a long-suffering minority. Maya Stark and Adi Lavy’s documentary “Sun Kissed” does just that to extremely powerful effect, as it follows a couple in search of the cause for their children’s fatal condition and forced to confront the nature of their entire history.
Crazy and Thief
Shot on the cheap and co-starring his two very young children, “Crazy & Thief” is a gentle treat for McAbee enthusiasts and a mildly curious study of juvenile behavior for everyone else, which is certainly enough to satisfy this fan. Adorable to the extreme, the movie centers around McAbee’s children Vy and John, alternately identified by the titular names as well as “Johnny” and “Yaya,” informal designations that fit their youthful spirit.
It’s a Disaster
Because it only cuts surface deep, “It’s a Disaster” gets away with using its disposable science fiction backdrop in service of an effective message. “This whole end-of-the-world thing has really got me reexamining our relationship,” one character says. In its relentless display of romantic dysfunction, “It’s a Disaster” caustically asserts that even the most foolhardy relationships are prone to spontaneously erupt.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” valiantly tries to inject a familiar premise with renewed emotional discernment and instead flails about in search of it. The directorial debut of screenwriter Lorene Scafaria (“Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist”), “Seeking a Friend” follows a pair of would-be lovers on a meandering road trip that takes place in the weeks leading up to the destruction of the Earth, a tried-and-true set-up that provides a simple backdrop for exploring lost souls in search of meaning in their final days. While smartly observant in individual moments, however, Scafaria’s thinly conceived story fails to deepen its scenario beyond the basic allegorical possibilities of the oncoming apocalypse.
To Rome With Love
Funny in fragments, Woody Allen’s “To Rome With Love” is crammed with enough unrelated incidents to fill one of his short-story collections and has the same lack of cohesion. The director’s latest European excursion eagerly satirizes a touristic point of view while simultaneously indulging it by romanticizing the titular scene. As usual from Allen, the first-rate cast — a much larger collection of international faces than his last few ventures — relishes the opportunity to dig into Allen’s frantic one-liners and self-deprecating wit. But even Allen himself, appearing in front of the camera for his first role since 2005’s “Scoop,” looks a little lost in the mess.