Friday, June 17, 2011

REVIEW: Los Angeles Film Festival

DAY 1:
So I was lucky enough to attend the LA Film Festival for the red carpet world premiere of Richard Linklater's new film "Bernie," starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey.  After several Redbull/Vodkas, it was time to strumble down the red carpet.  I flowed past the fleet of paparazzi, who were clearly very excited to take my picture.  Oddly, you have a PR escort that announces you to the photographers.  This makes things very weird because no one knows why you're on the filmmaker's carpet.  But, it felt good to muck up the system, if only for 10 minutes.  Special thanks to LAFF & Mr. Richard Linklater for a great premiere.

< Thank you, WireImage.

< WireImage next to Rick.

< JB & Kevdog rocking the after-party of "Bernie."

< Opening night after-party at LA Film Fest / LA Live.

< Noir app shot from the red carpet.

< LA Film Fest stylin' me out.  Thanks, gang.

We got to sit directly behind Linklater, while he watched his movie in front of his first real audience.  I watched his every reaction, the light of the film flickering off his face.  When the director sits in front of you, there's pressure on you to laugh in the right places.  I made it a priority to not even fidget, because I could inadvertently cause a scene to get cut because I twisted in my seat in the wrong place.  Jack Black was most excellent as the real life convicted murderer "Bernie."  Black even manages to crack you up with his final "waddle" into prison in the film's final scene.  It's truly a talented individual that can make you laugh while simply walking away from camera.  "Bernie" is a low budget quirkfest, with plenty of real life Texas character interviews to keep you laughing.  Shirley MacLaine was awesome as the mean-as-a-snake wealthy matriarch.  I particularly liked the (*spoiler alert) mid-Act 2 climax of Bernie shooting MacLaine's character, as she reacts in closeup to her own murder.  However much I love Rick's films, I felt he confused his genre in several scenes deep into the film.  But he made me laugh the hardest during the "mini-states within Texas" scene.  Being an old-school Texan myself, I understood and appreciated his deft explanation.  Linklater was one of the first Texas-bred filmmakers to come out of Austin, and I remember reading about SLACKER when I was just a young puppy at SMU in Dallas.  He made me feel I could just go out and make a movie, and that energy ultimately brought me to LA.  Thanks, Rick, for doing it all these years, and keeping it real from the hillbilly kingdom of Texas.  Overall grade: B+

DAY 2 - I saw the U.S. Premiere of "Drive" by director Nicholas Winding Refn, and starring Ryan Gosling, Albert Brooks & Bryan Cranston (by Bold Films - opens wide on Sept 16th, 2011).

I am a huge fan of the director's low budget first film "Bronson."  It was dark and imaginative, and shot for less than a milli.  After hearing the buzz from the "Drive" Cannes world premiere, and Refn's subsequent win of the Palm d'Or for best director, I couldn't go wrong on my Friday night.  Based on a book by James Sallis, Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt driver that moonlights as a getaway driver for mob-related crimes.  Things go awry, and Driver (that's Gosling's name in the film) must make things right at the cost of his personal safety.  The first 10 minutes are spell-binding with a combination of "slow-chase, fast-chase" between the LAPD and Gosling.  Loved this sequence.  I also liked the mid-Act 2 climax of a robbery gone wrong, followed by a car chase with a slow motion crash and getaway.  But, make no mistake, this is no car chase movie.  "Drive" is a stylish drama with great actors, and some intense action scenes.  The 80's synth music score sets this film apart from a normal crime-noir thriller, and the atmosphere is excellent (e.g. Gosling wears an inhuman rubber mask to settle a score on a moonlit beach).  The gore factor takes me out of some scenes, and the ending is a bit cliche.  But, I loved Albert Brooks as the jovial, blood-thirsty mobster, and Gosling simply crushes it.  I highly recommend this drama when it opens on Sept 16th.  
Overall grade: A-

To read a real review: MOVIELINE "DRIVE"

DAY 3:

< I went to the filmmaker lounge for the Pechanga Casino Night party.  This was a high energy party with lots of fake blackjack.  I had a few Stellas, and eyeballed the Maker's Mark.

< I ventured into the MMA documentary "Once I Was A Champion."  This was a very sad, but inspiring doc about one of the more interesting fellows of the MMA world, Evan Tanner.  Being a long time UFC fan, I was pretty bummed to hear of his passing, and now I got the full story after his death.  There was no mythologizing of the man, but a brutally honest telling of his story from the friends he left behind.  Evan was no meathead in the MMA world, but a sensitive and brutal warrior that seemed to spend his life seeking a deeper understanding of the world around him.  It was a very heartfelt doc, but also very sad to see Evan's potential wasted due to his obvious alcoholism.  In the last years of his life, Evan became a writer of blogs, and his fans (myself included) got to enjoy the fruits of his interesting labor.  It's clear that even though Evan left us too soon, he touched so many along the way.  Godspeed, warrior-poet.  Overall grade: B

DAY 4:
< Being a big fan of James Franco, I stepped up for the world premiere of his new directorial effort "The Broken Tower."  The film is a black and white biography of a poet from the 1920's named Hart Crane.  With very limited budget, Franco jumps around from New York to Paris to Cuba to Mexico.  If you like 5 minute takes of an angst-ridden Franco walking to nowhere, you'll love this movie.  I hated it, but love the filmmaker because he takes chances.  I really liked the poetry readings by Crane, but could've used a few tracking shots of the audience reaction to help break up the monotony.  If you like 10 minute takes of Franco reading poetry, you'll love this movie.  I did enjoy the black and white, suspension bridge angst shots, but after 10 minutes of it, I needed a vampire or a zombie to keep me interested.  Some sort of antagonist, or a protagonist goal would've helped me endure the 90 minute torture.   Overall grade: C-

< I followed the Franco screening with the DEVIL'S DOUBLE premiere party at WP24.  This was a weird party with lots of old rich men entertaining gaggles of super-hot 28 year old actress/model/yoga instructors.  Did I just see Jack Nicholson talking to Sarah Palin?  Was the Stella beer making me see things?  Nope, just body double actors that added an odd, but much needed theme to the party.  The view was cool, but I missed out taking any pics.  Meh...

DAY 5:
< I was very excited to see the Brazilian film "Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within."  I heard only good things about this film from Sundance 2011, but wasn't able to catch it.  The film is directed by Jose Padilha, and is a pulse-pounding, real-world actioner taking place inside the prisons and favelas of Rio de Janeiro.  It has excellent characters and plot that are intertwined with the corruption of Brazilian politics.  The human elements are what make this film great, and the gritty handheld camera work made me tingle.  Sure, there's chopper play, but well-done chopper play.  At times, it was a "Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" map where you chase the drug dealers across the favela's rooftops, but also had heartfelt soft scenes between father and son.  I really liked that both main characters were on the side of good, while being compelled to use different methods to achieve their goals.  The film is a bit melodramatic towards the end, but it all adds up to a complexity rarely seen in American actioners.  Overall grade: A

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