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LA Film Fest 2014 is finally done and over with! It was nine days of just non-stop parties, screenings, and events! I didn't watch as many films as I intended to and even missed a few screenings on my list but nonetheless, I had an incredible time just soaking in the invigorating energy that emitted from film-lovers and the movies alike. In total, I saw 13 films, which is only half of what I usually see at fests but it's all good because I got to see some of the best documentaries and narratives I would not have been able to see anywhere else! Naturally if I wasn't drowning myself with at least two films a day, I was tangoing the night away, stuffing my face at all the events, or taking thousands of photographs! (I will do anything for free food, ya hear me?!) I hope more people can join me at LA Film Fest next year but till then, watch my video of all the shenanigans that went down!

Top films:
Violette (Dir. Martin Provost) A
Frank (Dir. Lenny Abrahamson) A
Club Sandwich (Dir. Fernando Eimbcke) A
Out in the Night (Dir. Blair Dorosh-Walther) A
The Overnighters (Dir. Jesse Moss) A
Han Gong-Ju (Dir. Lee Su-jin) A
Starred Up (Dir. David Mackenzie) A

Other films:
Snowpiercer (Dir. Bong Joon-ho) B+
Jimi: All Is by My Side ( Dir. John Ridley) B-
Uncertain Terms (Nathan Silver) B-
Two Faces of January (Dir. Hossein Amini) B+
The Well (Dir. Tom Hammock) C+
Jossy's (Dir. Yuichi Fukuda) C-

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Year: 2014
Director: Steve James
Country of Origin: USA
Rating: NR
Time: 115 mins

In this day and age where it seems like being a paid film critic is one of many dying breeds in this post-recession era, it is with honor to watch one the greatest professional film writer of our time, Roger Ebert's story come to life. In my quest on becoming a "serious" film critic, it only seemed natural to become knowledgable about the man who became the poster child of the art by listening to the audiotape of his memoir, "Life Itself: A Memoir." When the news broke out that a documentary adapted from his memoir was in the works, I was a bit skeptical till they announced Steve James' name attached to it. The revered documentarian behind the profoundly intimate works like Hoop Dreams (1994) and Stevie (2002) is no novice to capturing and telling a concise and powerful portrait of someone. Even if you are not big fan of Ebert, it is a great documentary to see a man who started from the bottom and became one of the most influential people in the world in Life Itself

The film starts out with Roger Ebert's last four months of his life in the hospital where he is being treated for thyroid cancer. It is shockingly refreshing being confronted by the stark image of the late Ebert with his jaw removed and loose skin dangling down rather than the gleefully pulp figure we are so used to seeing in the media (like picture above.) With quotes directly from his memoir, James was able to give a just adaptation to his memoir beginning with Ebert's humble beginnings in Urbana, Illinois to his alcoholic troubles to his infamous feud with Gene Siskel. As much as Life Itself is a biography of Ebert's life, it really is about the unspoken love and hate bond between Ebert and Siskel that gives the film more vibrancy and intimacy contrary to what Ebert presents their friendship as in his memoir. There are numerous clips of Siskel and Ebert bickering, teasing, and just provoking each other to unspeakable length like real-life siblings who know no boundaries. It is at this moment where Roger Ebert becomes more than a world-renown critic that we all know and more of a human who is just as stubborn, opinionated, and boisterous as we all are in our moments of heat.

It's heart-wrenchingly personal, downright laugh-out-loud funny, and spiritually transcendent. There are testimonials from Martin Scorsese (who executive produced the film), chief NYT Film Critic A.O. Scott, Documentarian Errol Morris, even Werner Herzog talks about Ebert's mark on the world of cinema along with much, much, more. The film is a real treat for all film lovers and general public alike. I had the privilege of watching the film at a pre-screening at Cinefamily with James and Ebert's wife Chaz Ebert in attendance. Even months after the initial screening, the inspiration dispelled by the documentary is still pungent and everlasting. The last paragraph of his memoir as well as his final blog post are words that are permanently engraved in my mind as he inscribed, "So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies." Yes, Ebert, yes, you will. 

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OMG!! What is this! I am been deprived of truly mind-imploding cinema as of lately! So you can understand my overly enthusiastic and giddy excitement when I heard that one of my favorite Spanish filmmakers Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel, Biutiful) is coming out with a new film called Birdman! Michael Keaton plays an actor who, sometime after achieving fame for playing a superhero, sets out to redeem himself by staging an adaptation of Raymond Carver's What We Talk about When We Talk About Love on Broadway. The premise might sound a little wonky but have no fear because after you witness the insanity that ensues in the teaser trailer, you will be surely drunk on ecstasy for this film as I am!!!

Clearly, I am not the only one who was surprised at Keaton being the main actor in this film because we all know, his glory 90's days are unforgettable as Beetlejuice and Batman. AMIRIGHT? But seeing his mental state completely unravel to angry mush makes me all warm inside. This casts is basically compiled of my dream team starting with Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough. Zach Galifianakis is also in it but you all know how I feel about him. This Birdman trailer is absolutely bonkers and loaded with enough special effects that it leaves a bad after taste in my mouth but I'm hoping his usual gritty trademark filmmaking is still intact to deliver us another profoundly universal story. Just the opening sequence alone of Keaton nonchalantly gliding back stage to a soothing cover of  Gnarls Barkley 'Crazy' is an intensely beautiful showcase of the power of Inarritu's vision! (That tracking shot though!!) Either way, I am enthused with this possible new direction he is taking with cinema. Hopefully we see it soon at Toronto or something! Birdman comes out October 17!

Stills (Thx EW)



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The first teaser trailer to the much anticipated directorial debut by Justin Simien, Dear White People, has arrived everyone! I first heard about it when it won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough talent award at Sundance this past year. I'm so glad that Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions has acquired all the U.S. and Canadian rights to bring this very special film to us. The film is based on Simien's own experiences at a predominately white university, which centers on four black students at an Ivy League college where a riot breaks out over a popular "African American" themed party thrown by white students. 

I don't know about you but this is an insanely great premise considering that even though the story may sound a bit ludicrous, this kind of shit happens far too often than it should. Just by the teaser, it seems like Simien has delivered a razor sharp and tongue in cheek exploration and open discussion about racial identity in a so-called "post-racial" America. This teaser is so deliciously appetizing that it definitely quenches my thirst for a film that discusses diversity and race in our seemingly progressed society. The film stars Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris), Tessa Thompson, Tetonah Parris, Brandon P. Bell, Kyle Gallner, Malcolm Barrett, and Naomi Ko! Dear White People will come out October 17th! (It can't come soon enough!)

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I guarantee you that once I tell you the premise of Caterpillar, you will just roll your eyes and claim it as another cruel Japanese film that probably has Takashi Miike's sick, twisted, and violent humor written all over it. Caterpillar is about a wife (Shinobu Terajima) who finds her husband (Keigo Kasuya) returning from the Sino-Japanese war as a war hero but with a horribly mutilated body in which he is reduced to a torso with no limbs, deaf and mute, and burns covering half of his face. Sounds like another crude Miike film am I right? Contrary to what you might expect from the synopsis, Caterpillar is a tense critique of Japanese nationalism, militarism, and male dominance told through a domestic melodrama between a husband and wife in the dreadful World War II era.

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Jenny Slate is baaaaaaack! I had not known who Jenny Slate really was before being introduced to her painstakingly hilarious character Mona-Lisa Saperstein on Parks and Rec. Had I known she was the voice is the DARNEST CUTEST animated short, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On and been on SNL, I would've, would've, would have.... done nothing. My motto is better late than never. AMIRIGHT?! After her contract was not renewed due to the possible eff up when she dropped the F-bomb on the first episode of SNL, she decided to take on feature films full throttle! And thank god she did because now, we get to witness Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child a game-changing rom-com flick that changes the discussion of abortion on screen. It is genuinely laugh out loud hilarious as Slate plays an aspiring stand up comedian, Donna Stern who recently gets dumped by her boyfriend, loses her job, and then accidentally gets pregnant by her one night stand! All of this sounds beyond shitty but the movie makes light of the situation in endearing and humorous ways.

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The adaptation of John Green's wildly successful YA novel, The Fault in Our Stars is finally out and it does not disappoint! If you are a fan, obviously you have watched this. What I should've done was watch the movie first before I read it because hearing the novel (via audible) muddled my judgement of if the film is as great as a stand alone film. So even though my judgement might be little biased and faulty, let me assure you as a TFIOS fan as of just a few days ago, the movie does the novel some justice! Particularly due to Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort's heart-felt and powerful performances. Without a doubt, their love was palpable throughout the theater as streams of sniffles were heard for miles. I'm amazed I was even able to hold some of my tears in. ( I was wearing make-up and it was 11am, so that explains it!) Regardless, my friend Arshad and I review the film. Let me know what you guys think! 

Follow Arshad: Instagram // Facebook // Twitter // Blog // Website
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Michel Gondry's Mood Indigo is one of the film I've been anticipating to make it to the U.S. market. Good thing Drafthouse Films acquired it and will be releasing it in July! If it has Gondry's name + romantic theme, I am LIT.ER.ALLY all over that like peanut butter on jelly! The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is hands down one of my favorite films ever! With it's moody cinematography, innovative mis-en-scene, mind twistingly brilliant storyline, and idiosyncratic performances by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, it's no wonder why I love Gondry's unparalleled and creative vision!

Mood Indigo is an adaptation of the 1947 novel Froth on the Daydream by Boris Vian. This is a surreal and poetic tale of Colin (Romain Duris), an idealistic and inventive young man who meets Chloe (Audrey Tautou) and falls in love. Shortly after they get married, Chloe becomes diagnosed with an unusual illness cause by a flower growing in her lungs. Gondry seems to be tackling a more delicate subject of love and death which almost always will make me bawl from just a shot of someone crying alone (the fEeEeELz)! Mood Indigo seems like the ultimate tragic love story but from what I hear, it is a visual masterpiece like his other films. I simply cannot wait to see another powerfully tragic  love story that embodies all of his thematic quirkiness of infectious whimsical imagery and heart-swooningly offbeat characters. Mood Indigo comes out July 18th.

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The X-Men are baaaaacccckk! We get to see old faces: Wolverine, Storm, Kitty Pryde and some new faces: Beast, Blink, Quicksilver, and much much more! X-Men: Days of Future Past is the 7th installment to the long running X-Men franchise including all the Wolverine movies. I don't know about you but I am starting to feel the fatigue of all these Superhero movies. The millennium will be known as the era of outcasted people in tights and sequels. And as much as it was bound to happen, unless they keep shelling out better content, I am going to quickly get sick of it. Good thing Kickass' very own Matthew Vaughn helped with the screenplay because even though Bryan Singer is a decent director on his own, I'm sure Vaughn had an immense impact on the success of the reboot of the series. Despite the negative comments I have about Singer, Days of Future Past was effortlessly thrilling in its action, performance, and story. It's been a while since I've been that invested and engaged with the X-Men and it feels good to feel that way again. 

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It's that time again! It's officially summer and that means Los Angeles Film Festival has arrived! There are tons of films I want to see this year and I'm sure it'll be another insane year of back to back screenings of the best of what Los Angeles has to offer. It's going to be an intense 9 days hence why, I need to prepare myself nnneoow! Like doing some jumping jacks, bringing back up battery, and finding a diaper (oking but not joking!) cause we all know standing in lines for hours+ is a job of its own. But all my bodily problems aside, I definitely need to prepare myself for the next few weeks which are going to be iiiiiinnnnnnsaaaane with not only LAFF films but other films coming out in theaters! There are so many incredible films LAFF has to offer from foreign gems to American independents but I am the most excited about Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer, Club Sandwich, Out in the Night, Han Gong-Ju, Starred Up, Two Faces of January, Dear White People, and Jossy's to say the least! So without further ado, here is my schedule for the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival!

June 11: Opening Night

Snowpiercer (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

"Bong Joon-ho, director of The Host, Memories of Murder, and Mother, has become a cinematic superstar molding traditional genres to his visionary ends. Working with an all-star international cast and the biggest budget of his career, he gives us in Snowpiercer, a blazingly original--and darkly funny--vision of the future.

In this wild post-apolcalyptic thriller, the planet has frozen, thanks to a botched attempt to reverse global warming, and all the surviving humans are packed aboard a self-sustaining train that endlessly circles the globe. But the train is rigidly divided by wealth and class, the downtroddden massed together in the ear and ripe for revolution. Led by Chris Evans, they begin to make their violent way to the front, where the master of the train awaits them. Is this science fiction, or an allegory of our times?"

June 12: 

Runoff (Dir. Kimberly Levin)

"Goregously shot against the backdrop of rural Kentucky's working farms, first-time writer/director Kimberly Levin's beautifully crafted, emotionally gripping debut explores the all too real struggles of the American farming community.

Betty is a fiercely committed matriarch driven to desperate measures by a failing business, her husband's deteriorating health and a family home on the brink of foreclosure. Played by Joanne Kelly, Better is the beating heart of this sensitive, skillfully written narrative, which flips the standard gender dynamic and brings unexpected insight and realism to an established genre. Levin's stirring family drama touches on matters of social conscience and environmental justice to ask: How far will we go to save our families?"

Jimi: All Is by My Side (Dir. John Ridley)

"Before he was the iconic artist who shook rock and roll to its core, Jimi Hendrix was a backup guitarist working small clubs in New York City and struggling to survive. By chance, he was noticed and befriended by Keith Richards' girlfriend Linda Keith, who was taken by his seductive combination of innate talent and shy sincerity. Chronicling his friendship with her and the short, significant period he spent in London before his groundbreaking performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, Academy Award-winner John Ridley's inspired, poignant biopic reveals a fascinating, complex free spirit on the brink of greatness.

Hip hop star Andre Benhamin is a transcendent as a young Jimi who, largely through his tumultuous, passionate relationships with the women who loved him, found a voice that changed the world."

June 13: 

I See Music: Exploring Beyonce's Visual Album 

"A simultaneous audio/visual experience showcasing the non-linear short films that illustrate the songs on Beyonce's recent release, followed by an extended talk with the creators and directors of those videos."

Comet (Dir. Sam Esmail)

"Hurtling back and forth in time over six years of a passionate, complicated relationship, this high-style love story crackles with brilliant repartee and simmers with true feeling. Emmy Rossum is the bright, skeptical Kimberly, and Justin Long is the tightly wound Dell. They first meet in a random encounter at Hollywood Forever, where they've both come to watch a meteor shower. It's the start of a romantic roller coaster ride that leaps from a Paris tryst to a squabble in New York to the Hollywood Hills, taking risky and unexpected emotional turns with daredevil aplomb."

June 14:

Violette (Dir. Martin Provost)

"Emmanuelle Devos gives an astonishing performance as the volatile, bisexual, pioneering feminist writer Violette Leduc, whose stormy life intersected with the giants of post-war French literary world--Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Jean Genet, Jean-Paul Sartre.

Director Martin Provost, who showed his affinity for outsider artists in Seraphine, shuns stuffy biopic conventions as he follows Leduc from her asexual marriage to the gay writer Maurice Sachs to her arrival in Paris, where she comes under the wing of her stern, imperious mentor, de Beauvoir, uncannily captured by Sandrine Kiberlain. De Beauvoir opens all of Paris' intellectual doors to Leduc, but our brilliant, difficult heroine, brought to voluptuous life by Devos, wants even more."

'Woman Who Call the Shots' Panel 

Uncertain Terms (Dir. Nathan Silver)

"Needing a sudden escape from the city, Robbie leaves Brooklyn to stay in the Hudson Valley with his aunt, who runs a home for pregnant teens. As the only man in the house, Robbie captures the attention of many of the girls, and when he strikes up a friendship with Nina, who is dealing with her own relationship troubles, tensions run high in the house. In trying to stop Nina from making the biggest mistake of her life, Robbie finds himself caught in a love triangle between Nina and her baby daddy, Chase."

Frank (Dir. Lenny Abrahamson)

"When an American band with an unpronounceable name asks him to sit in for their ailing keyboardist, Jon, a dreamer with aspirations of musical stardom, finds himself with an unlikely ticket out of his drab seaside town A weekend gig soon turns into months--long recording sessions in a remote cabin in Ireland, where, under the Dadaist guidance of frontman Frank, who always--always--wears an oversized fake head, Jon and his cohorts struggle to record the greatest album ever made, equal parts musical genius and total absurdity."

Club Sandwich (Dir. Fernando Eimbcke)

"Paloma and Hector are best friends; they're also mother and teenage son. On their annual summer vacation, their unique relationship is tested when Hector meets Jazmin, an assertive young woman his own age who vies for his affections. Dreading the inevitable, Paloma attempts to maintain her position, but room-service milkshakes with his mom, no matter how cool she is, can't compete with the promise of a romantic encounter, and Hector begins to withdraw more frequently to Jazmin's hotel room down the hall."

June 15:

Out in the Night (Dir.  Blair Dorosh-Walther)

"In New York City's West Village in 2006, four gay African-American women were brutally assaulted by a stranger whose unwanted sexual advances they'd jude spurned. In defending themselves, they also unwittingly left themselves vulnerable to draconian prison sentences that wrested them from their supportive New Jersey families. Dorosh-Walther returns to the scene of their alleged crime, using security footage to condemn the deplorable conduct of unscrupulous reporters and callous police officers. With a deep compassion for its subjects tempering its outrage over the indignities they've suffered, the film poses a troubling question: How would have this unfolded had it been four straight white women instead."

The Overnighters (Dir. Jesse Moss)

"When the small North Daokta town of Williston turns into a boom town due to fracking, unearting vast pools if oils, hordes of unemployed men, some with questionable backgrounds, descend on the unprepared, overcrowded and anxious search of work."

Funny Talk: A Conversation with Key and Peele

"A special comedic journey with Keegan--Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the stars of the hit comedy sketch show, Key and Peele. The Peabody Award winning duo, who are included in Time Magazines list of the 100 Most Influential People of 2014, will discuss the roots of their comedic philosophy, their experiences growing up biracial, and present clips from some of their favorite movies that have influenced their irreverent style."

June 16:

Han Gong-Ju (Dir. Lee Su-jin)

"One of the most successful Korean independent films on record, Han Gong-Ju is the harrowing tale of a young girl's struggle to find herself after having the life she knew traumatically taken away from her.

The film begins as Gong-ju, the titular high school student played in a remarkable turn by 26-year-old Chun Woo-hee, is informed she is being forcibly transferred to another school, one where nobody knows her. There, even as she takes tentative steps toward building a new life, she finds she must face the ordeals of her past, the details of which are slow and sensitively revealed by first-time filmmaker Lee Su-jin. Never allowing his scathing social critique to overwhelm the emotional core of Han gong-ju, Lee has made the most acclaimed Korean film of the year."

Starred Up (Dir. David Mackenzie)

"Blood flows thicker than water in this gritty prison drama. In a breakout performance reminiscent of Tom Hardy's elemental turn in Bronson, Jack O'Connell is astonishing as Eric, a young offender whose explosive rage lands him in the correctional facility that also houses his estranged father, played by Ben Mendelsohn. As Eric takes the savage measures necessary to ensure his survival, he occasionally drops his guard, betraying a keen analytic mind and anarchic sense of humor, and while he's not beyond hope, he may have finally pushed his luck too far."

June 17:

Two Faces of January (Dir. Hossein Amini)

"In the summer of 1962, on holiday in Greece, a glamorous American couple--played by Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst--meet a penniless young Yale dropout turned tour guide played by Oscar Isaac. This, however, being an adaptation of a novel by Patricia Highsmith, creator of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train, no one is quite who they seem to be. Soon enough Mortensen is dragging a corpse down the corridor of his luxury hotel, and these three not-so-innocents abroad are thrown together in a tangled web of jealousy, deceit and dancer, with the Greek police in hot pursuit."

The Well (Dir. Tom Hammock)

"At the edge of a barren valley, all that remains of the Wallace Farm for Wayward Youth is a few hollowed--out husks of buildings and the memories of Kendal, a seventeen-year-old girl who can barely recall when the valley was lush. It's been a decade since the last rainfall, and society at large has dried up and blown away. Only Kendal and a few others remain, barely scarping by while dreaming of escape. When a gang leader named Carson lays claim to what little precious water remains underground, Kendal must decide whether to run or hide or bravely fight for what little she has left in this post-apocalyptic thriller."

June 18:

Dear White People (Dir. Justin Simien)

"Samantha White is a bold young student at the prestigious Winchester University who wants change and is not afraid to provoke it. Tired of the empty gestures and the phony platitudes over students offer the administration in the name of diversity, Samantha walks the ornery talk she gives on her radio show, Dear White People by running for president of the all-black residence hall. If only everyone could keep up with her politics."

Jossy's (Dir. Yuichi Fukuda)

"Five reluctant young women are recruited to become Earth's last line of defense in this broad parody of Japanese Super sentai shows like Kamen Rider and the countless iterations of the Power Rangers. Wearing the prerequisite color-coded uniforms, the team must fight off intergalactic villains like StinkBug and Mutant Mucus despite an utter lack of training. Even more problematic, however, is discovering that alien invasions are terribly inconvenient when they arise during a first date or trip to the salon, forcing our heroes to choose between their personal lives and saving the planet. (Spoiler: The planet doesn't always win.)"


Whew! The only day I am probably not going to is the closing night. By this time, I will be so delusional and tired, I will probably be speaking in tongues and my eyes will be rolled back to back of my head.  Even with all these films that I am going to see, I am only scratching the surface of what the Los Angeles Film Festival has to offer. There is definitely a lot of films I am going to miss like Cut Bank (ft. Liam Hemsworth), the Shorts and Music Video program (which I helped program!), 10 Minutes, Harmontown (doc about Community creator, Dan Harmon!), and so many others I wish I had time to see. But sadly, I only have one body and don't have little minions to send to watch all these films for me! Regardless, its going to be another fantastic year and something about June, it's always such an intense month of film watching! EVERYTHING GOOD COMES OUT IN JUNE! It's going to be one hell of a month! Be sure to follow all my other social media outlets so you can follow my crazy adventures!

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