Downtown Visions & Genre Temptations: The 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival – Feature

Moving a long running event to a new home is always an experiment in tendencies but the ideal seems to have served the Los Angeles Film Festival well in its new home in Downtown LA. Pushing beyond the intensiveness of having the new Twilight movie “Eclipse” premiere at LA Live to great fanfare, the centrality of the Downtown Regal Cinemas seen just off the 110 has its advantages and drawbacks. It does precipitate the population to give Downtown a break beyond its conventions and Laker games. Despite the fact that Westwood has its shortcomings (the biggest being its lack of theaters), there was a warmness to its background while Downtown still requires a little bit of “get-to-know-you”.

The intensive solution rewinds around the Zone Lounge atop the adjacent parking structure where the afternoons offer the presence of folk music and the ever present Coke and Zone pairings while a dexterious amount of filmmakers trying their hands at art as physical manifestation with paint.

The nights bring the Stella and Leblon infused late nights but the reality is that the later progressions of film warrant the extension of life primarily to the theater which, at times, is a big balance of will within the texture.

Two films within this genre structure specifically stood out.

Monsters“, directed by Gareth Edwards, made its mark as part of the SX Fantastic progression at SxSW. Despite the inevitability of its comparison to “District 9” in reverse, this independently made gem harks in its progression of “War Of The Worlds” (the old school version) and even more so to the dexterity of its filmmaker in terms of the extensive visual effects effectively used. Much of the idea is based around the progress that once you see the creature at the beginning, the question becomes where is it coming from next. This specifically ranged in the Q&A portion after the film. The human structure is simply a framework but, in casting, Edwards specifically used a real life couple, one of which was an actor, and simply puzzleboxed the picture while they were shooting around Guatemala. What it tends to show, in this arena of psuedo-reality filmmaking, is that the audience is more willing to accept what they see with this style than they were simply 4 years ago. While some of the schlepping through the jungle reminds one of “Romancing The Stone”, the boat voyage down a river gives the adequate representation to “Heart Of Darkness” despite an overtly hopefully ending.

Mandrill“, an action film ode from an opposite angle, knows its boundaries but, with the increasing mobility and structure of the Red, the difference is becoming neglible. While some of the action sequences seem a bit stilted, the actual performance, through in a structure reminiscent of a Latin James Bond, has distinctive pacing and fun within its structure. Like Tarantino, whom the director cited along with Sergio Leone as an influence, the film’s plot is inherently revenge- based and follows a cold hearted assassin who becomes embroiled with a target he is sent to kill. Easy to understand, the high production value and parallel musical intonations with subtle homages to “Saturday Night Fever” including a Latin version of “Manhattan Skyline” really bring the film into focus while creating an identity of its own.

In terms of other movies, there was a touch-and go-tendency inflected in many of the requisite films.

“R”, a hard knox story set in a Danish prison, shows the plight of a petty theft convict who ends up just trying to keep his head above water while biding time. The drama follows a fairly conventional set up but the progression of the lead actor in perceiving his own hope versus the darkness of the men he is imprisoned with becomes a exercise in the greater good where the lowest common denominator wins out.

Hello Lonesome“, a multi-layered story on the nature of human contact, suffers from many of the shortcomings that plagued Sundance entrant “3 Backyards“. It knows where its structure begins in that of a person alone, a couple trying to find their own identity when tragedy strikes and an older woman trying to recpature a bit of youth through a younger lover. The most effective involves Harry Chase, a real life voice-over artist, because the paradox becomes the ideal driving the plot. The director effectively captures the internal lives his characters are rebelling against despite their best intentions.

The New Year“, made on a scant budget, follows the sweltering life of a girl on a dead-end track trying to figure out her ultimate move. In a film that could easily be discounted at times because of its meandering plot, the resilience of the lead actress Trieste Kelly Dunn keeps the flair moving at a distinct pace buoyed by a visual and mental style that defies description at times. Like the inner beat poet, Dunn truly seems to capture the generation being profiled without seeming trite or melodramatic, simply real.

The Wolf Knife“, which like “The New Year” was also shot in Florida, is much more amateurish in its progression. Created more as a study in voyeurism in the psychology of two young women escaping their mundane lives, the mindset more than randomly mirrors the ideology of Harmony Korine. The distinct difference is that director Laurel Nakadate seems inert on the actual plot served more by the dystopian and isolated shots of eyes and faces determining fate than what the girls are actually perceiving. Granted the verite style of the shooting merits a certain perception but ultimately it more ingratiates the story than helps it.

One Lucky Elephant“, the lone documentary entry seen, revolves around the sanctimonious balance of the majesty of elephants and the life that awaits some in the circus and post-retirement. Discussing the ideology with Director Lisa Leeman and her Writer/Producer Cristina Colissimo, the point inevitably turns to the infinite emotional and psychological aspects of these animals. Having interacted up close on two elephant treks in Thailand, these animals’ personalities are unbounded and, at times, so inherently vibrant that their ultimate mishandling seems more a crime than others. The key, as evidenced in the documentary, is love which David Balding, who brought her to the States  to become the star of his circus as a young elephant, lavishes upon her. The inevitable conflict eventually becomes the nature of separation and the inherent (or lack of understanding) of the true motivations inside this elephant’s mind when circumstances create a need for both human and animal to move on.

The Los Angeles Film Festival shows, with a bigger influx of attendees this year, at least on the consumer side, that a change of structure, especially with a city committed to repositioning their downtown area, can be effective. Like its Fall parallel in the AFI Film Festival, this annual fete continues to blossom, not simply by its evolving persona but by a dexterity of programming that both highlights and differentiates.

Delicious Interludes & Rebellious Natures: The 2010 Sundance Film Festival – Feature

The balance of the Sundance Film Festival rests in its ability to remain fresh while straddling the obvious points that have made it both a commercial and artistic crossroads. With a “Rebel” marketing campaign to emphasize its preternatural affluence to the revolutionary mind, the elements of the overwrought passage of gifting lounges from past years still abound. The key right now is in balance and a return of the economy. While levels are nowhere near where they were years ago in terms of pick ups, the low attendance of last year has picked up a little allowing for a more perspective impression of the market. Because of last year’s success after the post-festival pick-up of “Paranormal Activity”, the Park City At Midnight section has taken on an inherent glow for now, out of low budget creativity can emerge a blockbuster.

Films #1 The initial swath of films showed a pertinence of the element of morality and the construct of Darwin’s theory of evolution where survival is dictated by the smarter and the more vicious of the pair.

The first film, “Sympathy For Delicious” marks actor Mark Ruffalo’s directorial debut in a story about a crippled DJ who, after living in his car, realizes he has the power of healing. Christopher Thornton, who is confined to a wheelchair in real life, writes the script and stars as the DJ in a movie which takes a decidedly unsympathetic view towards the element of redemption. Ruffalo himself plays a priest struggling with intention and faith as what he believes is “defined providence” is balanced with real world problems. Granted the film treads on the supernatural with its premise but the ideal becomes one of Judas in a modern world. The temptation lurks in the aura of a bass player who lures him to the element of becoming famous while she herself is struggling with addiction. Placing Juliette Lewis in this role with Orlando Bloom as the lead singer brings a poignancy in the essence of exploiting miracles for one’s own edification which shows some dereliction of presence. The mythic poise of the film sounds alot more grand than it is portrayed on screen because of an understated style and lack of overarching music.

The second film, “Animal Kingdom” takes its matters to a primal level. The casting of Guy Pearce originally seemed to indicate a type of “Memento” shifting. However the progression here is purely survival. The story is told from the point of view of a young man who loses his mother in the first minutes of the film to a heroin overdose. He then goes to live with his grandmother and his three criminally minded uncles including the viciously cruel Pope (played by Ben Mendelsohn). Mendelsohn is able to reap some humor from this utterly unsympathetic heathen who has no regard for emotional structure at all. Joel Edgerton (who played Owen Lars in “Revenge Of The Sith”) has the most viable range especially in his teaching of his nephew as to how to wash his hands. The breakout of the piece however resides in the lesser known uncle who brims with uncontrolled anger and emotion. In many ways, Sullivan Sheperton reminds one of Russell Crowe because of the paradoxes of perception plus the Australian heritage. Nonetheless, he commands the screentime he is in with consummate focus.

Parties #1 The intrinsic nature of Sundance resides in its intention to network but the integration always depends on the level of noise plus respective interest.

The Bing Bar which became a stalwart of this festival on Main Street provides two idealized bar areas in glass view for maximum gawker value. Entering towards the far bar for the UTA Party became a question of Margaritas since the respective filmmakers made their way through within a hooked corner as the small IFC shindig highlighted simultaneously. Later on in the late night, the inset bathed in blue lights as the Gen Art space at 201 Heber highlighted the effects of the 7 Days party with a Patron sponsored bar effecting an intrinsic cocktail with kick called Second Skin. The requisite next afternoon saw the NYU/Tisch School Party upstairs within at The Riverhorse On Main where alumni and newly minted graduates/students mingled for the possibilities of the future.

Bing Supper Club Like the Bon Appetit in previous years, the ticket on Main Street for effective identity and luscious food was the Bing Supper Club hosting a delectable potpourri of different chefs and artists.

The first of tender, the Echoes Of Hope Foundation Dinner, highlighted the plight of foster kids to achieve and make it through college with the help of guardian angels. Chaired by Luc Robataile of the LA Kings along with his wife, the foundation brings needed motivation and help to those who need that extra hand to achieve and attend today’s high tuition colleges. The guest chef, Larry Alexander of STK in Los Angeles, proved exceptional with a multi-course dinner that hit all the right notes. The introduction of the beef tartar swirled in congruence with its silky caramel truffle while a meat and potato soup filled with braised beef and carmelized onions primed the focus. The entree course mixed land and sea with a delicious short rib ensconced in wild mushrooms while an apple cider glazed diver scallop vindicated with exceptional taste.

The second evening attended, the “Sympathy For Delicious” cast dinner celebrating Mark Ruffalo’s directorial debut, rallied with stars Orlando Bloom and Juliette Lewis in highlighting a story of faith and rock music. The guest chefs for the evening were stellar in comparative rights with Katsuya Aechi of Katsuya and the indominatable Michael Mina of XIV blended essences of both the sea and land in distinctive possibilities. Katsuya’s effervescent sushi offered a blended of octopus and tuna minted with a tangy sauce while Mina brought forth a balance of Kobe beef stew paralleled with a grilled Kobe flank which was both tender and tantalizing.

Skullcandy Sessions: Joan Jett & The Blackhearts Harry O’s always perseveres in the incumbent progression of the hot ticket. With Nas and Wale performing on subsequent reflective nights, the rock fix to be transcended was the undeniable Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. In town with a focus in hand with the premiere of “The Runaways” based on her 70s all-girl band of the same name, Jett raged onstage with a visceral nature that one would expect. Belting out old hits like “Crimson & Clover”, “Do You Wanna Touch” and “I Love Rock N’ Roll” along with new material like “Androgynous” and “Fetish”, Jett was running blood as leather bikini clad girls danced in tandem on the top of the center bar. In true Sundance fashion, Jett brought out her Runaways bandmate Cherie Currie and the film’s stars Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning for a photo-op but kept it pure by not encouraging any half baked reunions instead decidedly racing into another hard rocking tune as the fans chanted along.

Films #2 The second intonation of films at Sundance seen uses higher profile actors in paradoxical approaches to material with subtle and limited effects.

The first, “3 Backyards” is an artsy Long Island tale of a group of locals heading about on their daily diatribes in nothingness. Marred by an incessant visual style that doesn’t quite work and a lack of pacing, director Eric Mendelsohn becomes too encompassed in the minutae that he seems fascinated by. Drawing on a style much like David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” but without the intensity and emotion, the ideals perceived here become mediocre despite having some exceptional actors to fill the fairly unclear roles. Elias Koteas of “Crash” and “Thin Red Line” wanders in tandem around his house and the neighborhood bordering LaGuardia Airport searching for meaning but his intention and wants are never brought viscerally to the forefront. By comparison, Edie Falco, playing an artist musing on the curiousity of celebrity who takes a famous actress (played by Schindler’s List actress Embeth Davidtz) to the ferry, works with exceptional fortitude on a very thin line of uncomfortability with literally nothing to work with in terms of an overall structure. The piece ultimately ends with questions that do not necessarily warrant follow-up answers because of lack of interest.

The second film, “High School” fares better but only because it knows what it is, truly, to a fault. With the success of “The Hangover”, the intent is to find that next break-out comedy. Warren Zide, who launched the “American Pie” franchise is smart in understanding that buzz needs to be built from the ground up. This comedy which bodes on the premise that two students get an entire high school stoned on high end crystal gonja works simply because of the premise. The odd player within the structure is Adrien Brody playing the Rasta Stoner (like Drexel from “True Romance” if he lived near Ridgemont High). Brody is funny but one obviously permeates that his talents are infinitely above the material. He doesn’t play anything halfway and his intensity shows through on all points while Colin Hanks and Michael Chiklis as school administrators play broad strokes harking for “Ferris Buellar” but instead getting “Parker Lewis”. The entertainment is not excpetional but passable in an efficient way.

Chefdance: Kerry Simon/Simon LA With the continuing highlight of exceptional chefs, the aspect of Las Vegas should always be respresented and the enticement of Simon shows the respect garnered. Sitting at the table with Hard Rock Casino royalty, Skullcandy execs and Billy Bush enhanced the point of networking in plain view but ultimately the food spoke volumes in tandem. The inset of diver scallops within a pillow of antebellum grits gave way to a luscious turkey and white bean chili with organic cheddar that was simply ravishing. A tangy beet salad followed by the main course of parmesan gnocchi and a braised short rib balanced the thrusters with a yin/yang throttle. The desert of warm chocolate pudding with carmelized bananas and toffee crisp melted in a parade of tantalization.

Lounges With all the aspects moving towards overwhelming possibilities, especially in specialty cocktails and dinners, the lounges, which have pulled back in a small manner in recent years with the aspect of gifting, reflected an overall permutation within the industry.

The Main Street Lounge across from The Lift was the most easily traversed because of its location and balance of high tech and practical. Like at Comic Con, NVIDIA along with Real D were showcasing their intentions of 3D, albeit in two different forms. NVIDIA showed the essence of 3D digital imaging using Fuji cameras which shows the ability of where consumer brands will be able to evolve in the next few years. Real D, buoyed by video game development and the success of “Avatar”, continues to make strides forward adhering the basis of 3D to a mainstream market.

Badcock Apparel, within Main Street, was the most fun because it realized the tongue-in-cheek essence of the event. Sporting gray tees signifying the title phrase in addition to “Hung Well”, the “Moby Dick Plumbing Service” took the cake with a requisite black rubber cock ring and a flurry of blondes with great senses of humor to make the interim all the more fun.

Elsewhere within the structure, Poken offered a new social networking possibility that, while intensive, requires an adoption by industry-wide recipients but has its head in the right place. Oki SLC offered manicures which gave the hands a rest but gave the girls reign when specified fingernails were painted black in advance of the Joan Jett concert that evening. Lifetherapy, situated a room over, idolized exceptional hand lotion with its “Vacation” line which loved in its vanilla overtones that were simply heavenly.

The House Of Hype Lounge, always a stalwart of exceptional fun at Sundance, occupied the same structure as Bing Supper Club, with a bouncing bar that combined LA cool with a roadhouse sensibility. Throwing back a couple Stellas with some Crown Royal shots warmed off the falling snow blanketing Main Street while Kitchen 24 prepped grilled brie sandwiches with piping hot tomato bisque that soothed the stomach.

Occupying the Yoga Studio structure near The Library which was the infamous location of the “Inside Deep Throat” party many Sundances prior, the Tweet House seemingly thrived because of its specified location. Buoyed by the intensity of Anejo Tequila, the Tweeting Panels balanced forth while the flickering shots enticed the masses. Later, at a midnight party, the smoke relished through the back walls as Dirty Blondes were drank with abandon signaling the quieting of the lights.

Parties #2 The continuation of networking always rests within where the final thoughts lie both with talented colleagues and requisite futures.

At The Canyons, sequestered away from the peering eyes of Main Street, HBO Docs helds its soiree as attendees stuggled to watch the closing minutes of the NFC Championship with watchful intent. Highlighting festival inlay “Sins Of The Father”, the attendance of Stewart Copeland of The Police and Josh Harris, the elusive subject of “We Live In Public”, provided ample wandering influenced by an exceptional sushi bar and excited murmur in the crowded foray.

The Gersh/Butcher Brothers Party held in the background of Spur off Main Street celebrated the low budget horror mavens and undeniably hard workers who definitely know how to party throwdown. The Brothers premiered their new film “The Violent Kind” within the Park City At Midnight sector which was undeniably the hot ticket in terms of buyer interest. As Red Rum was shot and Jim Beam necessitated a celebratory toast unbecoming, the thrust of another Sundance makes its bow.

The 2010 Sundance Film Festival progressed in its possibility of balance between art and commerce. With films that skirt the line between commericial and experimental, the rebellious nature shown seems attainable but with a keener sense of business which is all the more apparent in the deals at hand.