The Los Angeles Film Festival is Back with Something for Everyone

by Carrie Specht

Once again the LA Staple Center campus is about to be bombarded with a taste of Hollywood. Home of the Los Angeles Film Festival, the Regal Theatre at the corner of the campus at Olympic and Cherry streets in downtown will soon be over run by filmmakers, and movie fans of all types as they spend eleven days taking in all the LAFF has too offer. And this year the selection is impressively diverse.

Opening Thursday, June 14 the festival starts off with Woody Allen’s highly anticipated latest feature, To Rome with Love. The big name cast includes Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg, Judy Davis, Roberto Benigni and of course, Allen himself. It’s not quiet like the little independents the festival use to feature opening nights back in the day, but for all his star-studded casting, Allen still manages to hold his independent status if only on a technicality. Likewise, the closing night film on Sunday, June 24 is not exactly keeping in theme with independent filmmaking. After all, Magic Mike is about a bunch of male exotic dancers lead by Hollywood heart throbs Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum. However, I’m sure both films will be big crowd pleasers that bring in audiences that might not otherwise attend such a festival. It’s certainly a great way to attract the uninitiated to a world beyond the usual megaplex.

But if you want a true taste of what the festival is all about then I urge to check out what’s showing in between the all the fanfare at the beginning and the end of the two week event. The Gala Screenings include a fanciful and original tale from Fox Searchlight featuring a six-year-old girl in the Delta (Beasts of the Southern Wind), a story of an African American woman adjusting her life in the face of drastic changes (Middle of Nowhere), and a Steve Carell comedy about the end of life as we know it (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World). And the Narrative Competition has even more diversity to offer with four of the ten films coming from outside the United States, including entries from Portugal and the Czech Republic.

Of course, if you really want to talk independent filmmaking, be sure to check out the Documentary Competition selections. With subjects ranging from the responsibility of the HIV infected to Midwives, and from Punk Rock to Vampira, you’ll undoubtedly have plenty to provoke and intrigue you. And naturally the International Showcase has a vast array of countries represented, from Taiwan/Myanmar to Switzerland (go to http://www.lafilmfest.com/ for a complete schedule). Then there’s the Summer Showcase. To me this is just a fancy title for the American made (or financed) independent feature films. You know, the ones made outside of the traditional Hollywood production system. Heavily peppered with an unusual number of documentaries (almost half) there’s a wide range of subjects and genres to interest even the most die-hard Saturday matinee, popcorn-munching fanatic. Last year I stuck a pin in this section to help me decide between screenings and I was not disappointed. So, go ahead and be daring. Try something new at the movies. Of all the time to experiment, this is it.

Whatever you decide to see at this year’s festival don’t miss out on the enormously popular Community Screenings. Set at an outdoor venue (check site for details) these classic films are selected for their vast appeal to the young and old. These are for the most part films that appealed to parents of the younger generation when they themselves were the age of their offspring. These films include E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Dirty Dancing (with a dance along), and what I consider the best of the bunch, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. On a cool summer night in the heart of downtown LA, what could possibly be more memorable than sharing a cherished film of your youth with the ones you cherish? And it’s a wonderful way to introduce movie fans of any age to classic cinema, as well as the culture that’s available to them in the amazing city of Los Angeles.

I didn’t even touch on the films in The Beyond showcase, The Retro showcase or the Short Films, so be sure to use the links listed to check everything playing at the 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival. If you try it once, I’m sure you’ll want to make it a part of your annual summer festivities. It’s that good.

Snow White and the Huntsman is a Great Summer Treat, But No Hit of the Season

by Carrie Specht

Snow White and the Huntsman is opening to great fan fare and anticipation, with both audiences and filmmakers expecting great things from the special effects, high action take on the well-known and beloved fairytale. However, I’m afraid both may be expecting a little too much. Especially since its rival production, Mirror Mirror fared poorly last March making about $18 million upon its opening and just $62 million all together domestically (nowadays that’s considered low). And the studios other visual effects laden film of the summer, Battleship pretty much sank upon its release. Then add in the factor that the movie’s imdb.com popularity rating has been steadily dropping the last few weeks. These signs suggest that what the film has to offer may not be enough to make it the box office smash it was designed to be.

I’m not saying the extremely well produced production is going to fail. In fact, having seen the film last weekend at a sneak peek screening provided by The American Cinematheque I can say that it does live up to the hype. It’s a beautifully made film that’s well worth the price of admission, even at LA prices. That being said, Snow White and the Huntsman lacks sticking power. Meaning that I really enjoyed the film while I was in the theater, but pretty much forgot it once I was back in the real world. So, it’s bound to make a lot of money initially, but it seems unlikely it will be the summer’s biggest box office winner even though it sports an impressive cast and a spectacular look.

I had the same problem with last summer’s Super 8. Like the J.J. Abrams’ film, Snow White and the Huntsman suffers from a great story that at times is poorly executed. In this case the movie is very repetitive when it comes to certain plot points. After all, how many times do we have to demonstrate the power of Snow White’s inner and outer beauty? And is it necessary to have the evil queen’s brother fail in his quest again and again, and in the same way? Both points are way over played. And why don’t we get to spend more time with the Dwarfs? I’ll trade one of the brother’s failed attempts for more Dwarfs. And don’t get me started on the quick dismissal of the kiss that brings Snow White back to life. In my opinion it is not addressed properly because the filmmakers are setting us up for a sequel. In short, the film falls short of satisfying the qualities required to make it a movie audiences want to see again and again.

Since the disappointment of Battleship, the studio has reassessed it’s opening weekend prediction, and is setting it in the low to mid $30 million range. Apparently, the strength of that prediction relies upon whether or not men chose to see Snow White and the Huntsman over whatever else is out there. Being the only new wide release of the weekend, the prospects are good, but then Men In Black III just opened last weekend and that’s a guys picture if I ever saw one. And of course, The Avengers is also still in theaters. With two films that are highly appealing to men, already a part of a successful franchise and worthy of repeat viewings, audiences may chose to see what they already know they like. And that’s how blockbusters are made.