The Los Angeles Film Festival begins tonight with a special pre-fest screening of "Man of Steel," but the flashy blockbuster is in something of a minority in the festival's program, which is littered with small scale narratives and documentaries full of promise. With close to 200 films from around the world, including 20 world premieres, the first big U.S. festival of the summer offers a wide range of options. Here are a few that we're looking forward to checking out as we kick off our coverage of the festival.
"All Together Now"
Lou Taylor Pucci was one of the standouts of the recent "Evil Dead" remake, but that's not the only new movie that finds him going wild in the woods. This one's a little more upbeat, though. Pucci stars in writer-director Alexander Mirecki's real time story of an all-night barn concert promises plenty of hard rock delights and deadpan humor that seems well-positioned to join the time-honored cinematic ritual of celebrating the relationship between youth culture and music. Descriptions and clips from the movie suggest a near-documentary approach that allows the music scene to become a character in the story. [Eric Kohn]
Found footage horror movies are ubiquitous these days, so it's always interesting when filmmakers attempt to import classic approaches to the horror genre into this emerging form. "The Delivery" takes cues from "Rosemary's Baby" in chronicling a young couple who allow their pregnancy to get the reality show treatment. Naturally, things go awry with a series of unexplained phenomena that hint at the presence of supernatural forces and possibly something wrong with the baby-to-be. As the tagline reads, "Not every child is a blessing." And not every found footage horror movie is a home run, but "The Delivery" looks promising for its intense, doom-laden scenario and the media satire that accompanies it. [Eric Kohn]
"I'm So Excited"
How could you not be so excited for Pedro Almodovar's new film? A narrative set almost entirely on an airplane, it re-teams Almodovar with Javier Cámara ("Talk To Her"), Cecilia Roth ("All About My Mother"), Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas (though the latter two in cameo roles) and judging from the trailer -- and early reviews -- it looks a campy return to Almodovar's delightful comic roots. Opening LAFF as a North American premiere, the film is already a big hit in Almodovar's native Spain (and in many other European countries). And if you're not in L.A., you can still be so excited: The film hits theaters on June 28th.
"Levitated Mass: The Story of Michael Heizer's Monolithic Sculpture"
Movies about L.A. events are natural fits for LAFF, but "Levitated Mass" looks promising for other reasons that don't have anything to do with the local hook. Documentarian Doug Prey ("Art and Copy") trains his camera on Heizer's massive art installations, with particular emphasis on the Levitated Mass sculpture he brought to LACMA last year. The 340-ton rock isn't so easy to move, so Prey's documentary promises to go beyond an overview of Heizer's creative practice and look at the immense practical challenges the artist must face. With the mass itself scheduled to be on display at the festival, audiences will get a unique chance to experience Heizer's art with a greater understanding of its significance than ever before. [Eric Kohn]
"The New Black"
It's been an incredible year for LGBT-themed docs on the festival circuit ("God Loves Uganda," "Valentine Road," "Before You Know It," "I Am Divine," etc.) and that may very well continue with Yoruba Richen's LAFF world premiere "The New Black." It takes a look at the many negative assumptions about homophobia in the African American community, creating a dialogue about LGBT rights, religious influence on homophobia and the legacy of the civil rights movement. It's a timely topic and one oft-ignored in the generally white LGBT doc canon. [Peter Knegt]
"Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton"
Los Angeles-based label Stones Throw Records was founded by DJ Peanut Butter Wolf in 1996, and has since released a bevy of acclaimed, left-of-center albums from the likes of Madvillain, Dilla, Quasimoto, Dam-Funk and Mayer Hawthorne. Using live concert footage, archival material, and home videos with the folks it influenced (including Kayne West, Common and Talib Kweli), Jeff Broadway's doc "Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton" appears to carry the unique stamp the label has left on the music world. [Peter Knegt]
Eddie Alcazar's intimate documentary reveals the travails of former championship boxer Johnny Tapia in his own words. Tapia, who died last year, is a striking figure whose portly, tattooed body tells a story of ups and downs that rivals "Raging Bull." The movie promises an especially momentous experience for its footage being the last of Tapia's interviews, in which he recounts his struggles with addiction and the experience of success at the center of one of the more extreme sports in history. Notably, the film has been produced by Lou DiBella and rapper 50 Cent, who has said in interviews that he can relate to Tapia's experiences growing up in lower class communities. If successful, "Tapia" may have the potential to engage many more viewers than those naturally interested in the sport. [Eric Kohn]
"Two Men in Manhattan"
Not everything at a film festival needs to herald the new. Sometimes it can be a great platform for under-appreciated gems. In addition to the sleeper hits of the festival circuit, this also applies to older movies that never received their proper due. The great French director Jean-Pierre Melville made first-rate crime dramas like "Bob le flaumbeur" (which partly inspired the French New Wave) and "Le Circle Rouge," but 1959 "Two Men in Manhattan" has rarely screened in the United States. The movie stars Melville himself (in his only lead role) as a journalist seeking a French diplomat in a noir-drenched New York City. The Cohen Film Collection has prepared a newly restored print of the movie for the festival. Here's hoping it can travel across the country to the island that provides its name. Melville's skillfully-enacted application of suspense hasn't aged a day. [Eric Kohn]
A year after her narrative "Middle of Nowhere" won significant acclaim and awards, director Ana DuVernay has moved into the documentary realm. In "Venus Vs.," DuVernay explores the off-court work of tennis legend Venus Williams. While most are aware of her and her sister Serena's tennis careers (as explored in recent doc "Venus and Serena"), this film tells the story of Venus' tireless campaign for fair pay between female and male players. Featuring interviews with pioneering female tennis players Bille Jean King and Maria Sharapova (as well as Williams herself), "Venus Vs." is having its world premiere at LAFF. [Peter Knegt]
"The Women and the Passenger"
This Chilean import finds directors Patricia Correa and Valentina MacPherson delving into life's big questions via four cleaning ladies at El Pasajero, a sex hotel in Santiago. Following them throw their daily routine (which includes wiping coke from nightstands, often to the the sounds of banging headboards from adjacent rooms), the film lets these women -- all quite happy with their work and personal lives -- share their thoughts on love, relationships and sex. [Peter Knegt]