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LA Film Fest 2017: Patti Cake$, by David Bax

22 Jun

It may not be immediately clear to you, when watching Geremy Jasper’s Patti Cake$, that the movie is set in Northern New Jersey (it may take you as long as until the first Bruce Springsteen song shows up on the soundtrack to figure it out). But, thanks to Jasper’s firm command of tone and atmosphere, you’ll understand that you’ve set down in a place of scrappy strivers and bitter burnouts who are both inspired and intimidated by the shadow they live in. For what it’s worth, it takes place in Bayonne.

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LA Film Fest 2017: Never Here, by David Bax

22 Jun

Camille Thoman’s Never Here, with its tale of a curious innocent embroiled in a criminal mystery, clearly draws inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock. In one scene, a character is even watching The Lady Vanishes on television, just to make the connection obvious. But there’s another influence at work here. With its dark rooms, its psychological dread and the main character’s increasingly slippery grasp on her own identity, it’s one of the most Lynchian films not actually made by David Lynch.

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LA Film Fest 2017: The Big Sick, by David Bax

21 Jun

Specificity is key to what makes Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick such an unqualified success and easily the best romantic comedy since Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child. This isn’t (or at least isn’t primarily) an issue-driven movie in which a Muslim Pakistani American dates a white girl, even though our president’s anti-Muslim stances and attempted policies have made the film more poignant than was likely intended. No, this is a movie about a man who is Muslim and Pakistani and also a stand-up comic who loves cult horror movies like The Abominable Dr. Phibes and who starts to date a white girl who is also a college student who hopes to become a therapist. It’s also incredibly sweet and funny as hell.

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LA Film Fest 2017: Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town, by David Bax

21 Jun

Introducing itself with a song by Corin Tucker’s pre-Sleater-Kinney band, Heavens to Betsy, Christian Papierniak’s Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town kicks off with energetic, punk rock promise. Soon, though, what Papierniak seems to be positioning as a quintessential Los Angeles movie devolves into a series of unexamined stereotypes about the city as a background to a lazy wisp of a plot.

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LA Film Fest 2017: The Female Brain, by David Bax

21 Jun

During a resurgence of feminism and an increased social awareness of the plights of the marginalized, a movie called The Female Brain, directed by a woman, ought to be a milestone, a rallying point. Yet, despite eventually arriving at a positive message (traditionally feminine behavioral and psychological traits should not be categorized as weaker than masculine ones), Whitney Cummings’ directorial debut is content to hit on a variety of well-worn tropes, both romantic—Toby Kebbell as the stalker with a heart of gold!—and comedic—Sofia Vergara and Deon Cole as middle aged people who try drugs!—on its way to ultimately upholding, rather than destroying, outdated stereotypes.

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LA Film Fest 2017: And Then I Go, by David Bax

20 Jun

In one of the very first scenes of Vincent Grashaw’s And Then I Go, fourteen-year-old protagonist Edwin (Arman Darbo) struggles to open an uncooperative locker in a middle school hallway during the brief, cacophonous rush between periods. The intimate and tangible attention to detail in this moment brings the viewer immediately back to that time and place in their own lives. The immersive feeling continues, too; only a few minutes later, we see a schoolyard fight unfold in exactly the blunt but specific way in which such things have always happened to kids like Edwin and continue to happen to them today, with bullies who are dumb enough to express themselves with their fists but observant enough to know just how to get you to lash out first. Grashaw so expertly pulls the viewer into that feeling of misfit teenagedom–where you’re old enough to be enraged by your place in the world but helpless, not yet granted the agency to do anything about it–that the identification with Edwin is already sealed long before you realize he’s on the path to possibly opening fire on his classmates with his friend’s father’s rifle.

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LA Film Fest 2017: The Little Hours, by David Bax

20 Jun

It will be hard to avoid reviews of Jeff Baena’s The Little Hours that accuse it of being a “feature length sketch.” It’s not an entirely unfair charge, given the basic comedic presence of a film that takes place in the 14th century but has all its characters speaking in modern, vulgar language. Certainly, it’s funny to see nuns gossiping about each other like shallow sorority sisters and then yelling at the convent’s field hand, “Don’t fucking talk to us!” But if that were the only joke, it would wear thin quickly. Luckily, Baena has more in mind.

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LA Film Fest 2017: Beauty Mark, by David Bax

17 Jun

In an early scene in Harris Doran’s Beauty Mark, protagonist Angie (Auden Thornton) is being chastised by her boss at a Louisville convenience store for being on the phone with a debt collector while ringing up customers. “It was an emergency!” she protests. “It’s always an emergency!” he fires back. That’s a concise and lucid summation of the nature of poverty, when you really are constantly on the brink of complete collapse. Unfortunately, it’s one of the few times in the movie where Doran chooses empathy over proselytizing. Beauty Mark has important things to say on important topics but it’s simply too dry; the power of the story is lost in the endless point-making.

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LA Film Fest 2017: Maudie, by David Bax

15 Jun

Aisling Walsh’s Maudie, with its perfect storm of biopic, period piece and conspicuous accents (Nova Scotian, in this case), has all the trappings of an “actor’s showcase.” Usually, such movies are histrionic and programmatic. But Walsh and especially her two lead performers craft their true life tale into something of meaning, an exploration of how compassion, affection and love can change a person over the course of their life, like a river carving out a canyon.

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Episode 534: LA Film Fest 2017 Preview

11 Jun

In this episode, Tyler and David discuss what’s coming up at this year’s LA Film Fest as well as reactions to negative reviews of Wonder Woman.