The Los Angeles Film Festival kicks off this Thursday, kicking summer into super high gear for L.A. cinephiles and bringing a peek at what the rest of the year holds for those of you in other parts of the world. There’s generally something for everyone, but we like to leave out the boring parts; in combing through the schedule of movies, I’ve opted to highlight the ones most likely to appeal to Nerdist readers (self included). Check the official festival website for showtimes and ticket availability, and if you can’t make it, take a peek down the list to see what titles you might be looking forward to the most when (and if) they hit general release.
Ballads, Blues and Bluegrass - If you’re looking for a way to eulogize the recently departed Doc Watson, this documentary, which was shot in 1961 and never released until now, might do the trick. Willie Dixon and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott also perform in this movie shot in the apartment of Alan Lomax, “famed ethnomusicologist” (as opposed to the more generic variety of ethnomusicologist, one assumes).
Beasts of the Southern Wild - Every few years, urban cinephiles rally around a movie that reminds them just how gosh-darn
weird the South can be, and it sounds like this Sundance favorite fits the bill. Plus it’s set in the Mississsippi Delta post-Katrina, so anything bad that happens in it can possibly be blamed on the previous White House occupant that nobody likes any more. This is of course pure speculation – the movie is well-liked and will probably be good, but on paper it sure sounds like a potential football in the culture wars.
Beauty is Embarrassing - A documentary about Wayne White, former set designer for Pee-wee Herman, Weird Al Yankovic, and Beakman (he also voiced Randy, Dirty Dog and Mr. Kite on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and Vance the Pig in Big Top Pee-wee). He’s now out on the road with a one-man show, and if he’s any good at telling stories, they’re bound to be good ones.
Bestiaire - Non-narrative look at the relationship between man and beast, which includes footage of lions and zebras. For viewers who think Disney Nature documentaries have too much story, or who thought Sweetgrass was one of 2009’s best movies. It sounds a bit like going to the zoo without the guilt one might feel about animals being in cages. Or the fresh air.
Brave - As I’ve pointed out before, the name “Katniss” sounds a lot like “Caithness,” one of Scotland’s main provinces, which suggests a neat segue from The Hunger Games to another would-be blockbuster about a plucky teen girl who’s a crack shot with a bow and must save her home country in a battle against the odds. Be sure not to look at any of the toys from this movie (currently in stores), as they reveal some major secret plot points. Coming as it does from Pixar, Brave seems to have as sure a shot at success as the other girl-archer flick, and Scottish mythology is a potentially rich source of untapped material.
The Breaking Point - Did you think remakes and re-imaginings were strictly a modern innovation? Not so, as this 1950 adaptation of the novel To Have and Have Not (maybe you’ve heard of the other movie version?) demonstrates. More faithful to the Hemingway novel than Bogie and Bacall, it stars John Garfield and Patricia Neal as its hardened heroes. Directed by Tim Burt…er, sorry, make that Michael Curtis.
Bunohan: Return to Murder - A Malaysian action-drama about two brothers: one a Thai-style kickboxer being pursued by a hitman, while the other stays home tending to his ailing father in hopes of gaining all the family inheritance. Watch your back, Indonesia and your Raid franchise! (Maybe)
Celeste and Jesse Forever - Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones play a couple who try to remain friends during an allegedly amicable divorce, and… who cares about the specifics? After Hot Rod and his being the best thing on SNL for years now, I’ll see Samberg in anything. Even that one where Adam Sandler’s his dad.
The Compass is Carried by the Dead Man - Think Babel meets Weekend at Bernie’s. A 13 year-old boy trying to get into the U.S. from Mexico picks up an elderly traveling companion who promptly dies, his rigor mortised hands tightly clutched around an all-important compass. And that’s only the first strange thing that happens.
Crazy & Thief - A seven year-old girl and a two year-old boy set off on an adventure to find the Star of Bethlehem in a cardboard time machine. Starring director Cory McAbee’s kids, which could be a warning sign… or the inspirational equivalent of a Caine’s Arcade: The Movie.
Dead Man’s Burden - It’s a western. So, you know, cowboy hats and gunfights and stuff. Plus Richard Riehle, who’s in almost literally everything. Which is not a complaint.
Dirty Dancing dance-a-long - Ooh, ooh, wait for it… you’ll have the TIME OF YOUR LIFE! Maybe. If watching an ’80s classic along with a Latin dance troupe and costume contests is your idea of that. It’s free and outdoors.
Easy Money - already scheduled for a big Hollywood remake, but for my money they should run it with the original Swedish title of Snabba Cash. A broke student named JW enters a world of crime in order to impress an upper-class girl. Hard to see how that plan could possibly go wrong, but it involves the Yugoslavian mafia.
G-Dog - You know those Homeboy Industries tortilla chips you see at the grocery store sometimes, the ones made by ex-gang members? This is a documentary about Jesuit priest Father Gregory Boyle – known to his charges as, yes, G-Dog – who started that whole thing. Rehabilitation by tasty snacks – that’s a platform most of us can get behind.
Gimme the Loot - Two New York graffiti artists hatch the ultimate scheme – tagging the big apple in the Mets’ Citi Field. But they’re going to need money and a plan. Written and directed by Adam Leon, who used to be a P.A. on some Woody Allen movies. Perhaps he’s rebelling here – this sounds like one of the most un-Woody storylines one could come up with.
The History of Future Folk - Aliens who planned on destroying all humans change their mind and start a bluegrass band instead. Why not? Seems like the more fun thing to do. Wouldn’t have been my first choice of musical genre, but if it keeps them away from the deadly ray guns, pick them banjos, boys.
It’s a Disaster - Four annoyingly hip couples bicker their way through an apocalypse they barely notice. Julia Stiles, David Cross and America Ferrera are among them. Well, hell, if you were in a room with them, would you care what was going on outside? Cross, however, should have had a heads-up, as the fact that we actually got a third Alvin and the Chipmunks movie with him in it was pretty clearly a sign.
Juan of the Dead - We know Cubans make the best cigars, but how are they when it comes to zombie movies? Find out in this horror-comedy that gently spoofs the communist regime, as it follows two young men who set up a for-profit zombie extermination business, all while the government continues to claim that the undead are simply “dissidents.” Booby prize to the first reviewer to call this film “Juan, singular sensation.”
Killer Joe - NC-17, y’all! Matthew McConaughey’s big push for critical redemption continues in the title role of a perverse cop-turned-hitman. From the director of The Exorcist, who’ll probably make my head spin and spit pea soup if he can pull it off.
The King of Pigs - Dear Harvey Weinstein – here’s how you could have gotten all of us to go see your movie about bullying. Make it a cartoon! This animated feature from South Korea focuses on two old friends drinking and remembering how hard they had it as kids when they were treated as “pigs.”
The Last Elvis - A real-life Elvis impersonator plays a fictional Elvis impersonator who lives in Buenos Aires and works at a crappy factory job. His only joy comes from dressing up as the King, but then some kind of tragic accident makes him rethink his life priorities. But, c’mon – what could be a bigger priority than rockin’ out as Elvis? Surely anything else is crazy talk.
LUV - Common plays an ex-convict trying to mentor his 11 year-old nephew and get away from the baggage of his past. Also starring Dennis Haysbert, who could suggest that they switch to Allstate to be in good hands, and actual ex-con Charles S. Dutton.
Magic Mike - Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey play male strippers, not just in that fantasy movie in your head any more, but an actual movie-movie directed by Steven Soderbergh. At last, a film where their abs and cheesy grins are actually meant to do the acting for them. Arguably the third installment of Steven Soderbergh’s “Putting Every Erotic Daydream of His Ever on Film” trilogy, following his movie where a porn star played a high-class hooker, and the one where a female MMA fighter was really hot.
A Night Too Young - Two 12 year-old boys buy booze for a woman, her reluctant lover and the friend who wants to be more than that. Being a generous conflicted love triangle, the three adults invite the boys to party with them. Because it’s a Czech film, we can blame this all on Eastern Europeans being strange.
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty - I’m going to be quite honest and say I’m not really sure what’s up with this one, so here’s the description from the festival catalogue. Make of it what you will: “‘You seem to have captured the attention of an intriguing young lady… you see that you’ve missed a call. There’s a voice mail; she tells you that she won’t be seeing you tonight.’ Thus begins a simple love story, but before there was this film, there was a short. This is the meta-textual story of that short and the story of showing the girl in question the short.”
P-047 - Two Thai friends – one a writer, the other a locksmith – like to break into strangers’ houses in order to experience different lives for a while. Hard to see how that could possibly go wrong or get complicated. And yet it does.
People Like Us - Star Trek and Transformers cowriter Alex Kurtzman directs…a touching drama? What? Seriously, here’s the plot: Chris Pine’s estranged father dies, and he meets the sister he never knew he had, played by Elizabeth Banks. Based on a true story. Seriously, this is from the people who usually bring you outer space explosions. If you like chick-flicks and are dating somebody who doesn’t, that’s your hook right there.
Red Flag - Indie filmmaker Alex Karpovsky (Rubberneck) plays “Indie filmmaker Alex Karpovsky” who hits the road for a series of screenings immediately following a bad breakup. Filmgoers familiar with the tropes of film festivals will undoubtedly get the jokes, but can it play beyond this circuit? Does it matter? If you’re at the fest, you are probably one of the familiar.
Robot & Frank - Frank Langella is an elderly thief who’s going senile. Peter Sarsgaard is the voice of his robotic caretaker. Before he loses his mind completely, the old crook manages to convince his mechanical companion to assist him in a few last schemes of the illegal sort. Skeletor should have learned by now that robot henchmen usually fail. Also starring James Marsden, Susan Sarandon and Liv Tyler.
Saturday Morning Massacre - What if the gang from Scooby-Doo found themselves in an honest-to-goodness slasher movie with real supernatural killers? Hanna-Barbera can’t go there, but by thinly disguising the characters and under the fair usage of parody, this movie will. If it succeeds, we look forward to more such mash-ups: maybe Yogi Bear as a man-eater, or the Flintstones being driven to extinction by actual Neanderthals.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World - Have you ever tried to hit on someone who looked like Keira Knightley, and had her say, “Not if you were the last man in the world?” Here’s the movie that puts it to the test, pairing her with Steve Carell. They’re on a pre-apocalypse road trip to find Carell’s high-school sweetheart, but methinks they’ll end up hooking up instead.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - Benedict Cumberbatch gives a show-stopping performance as he steps into Ricardo Montalban’s shoes to take on Chris Pine’s Kirk, in an exclusive sneak peak at J.J. Abrams’ newest…Just kidding. It’s the original, for free, with special surprises for anyone who comes in costume. And we really hope they have a “KHAAAAAAAN!”-yelling contest.
To Rome with Love - Woody Allen comedies aren’t really geek movies, but he is inarguably cinema’s most famous nerd, thus the inclusion on this list. Allen actually appears in this comedic love-letter to the capital of Italy, sparing us the spectacle of someone like Kenneth Branagh trying to adopt his mannerisms. Also in the cast: Roberto Benigni, who still rules. Yep, I say that even after seeing his Pinocchio (dubbed and subtitled versions – I’m a stickler); it’s somehow cool to hate the guy, but check him out in a Jarmusch film sometime.
Vampira and Me - Before Elvira, there was Vampira, immortalized in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, and portrayed by Lisa Marie in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. Film critic and filmmaker R.H. Greene (full disclosure: a friend of mine) has put together a documentary about the side of the erstwhile Maili Nurmi that you haven’t seen.