Films I've watched at recent 2016 LA Film Festival
Movies reviewed by Oliver Carnay
It’s hard to juggle your time between Dances With Films 2016 Film Festival held at the Chinese Mann’s 6 and LA Film Festival 2016, yet I also have to be gone on same weekend for FilmOut San Diego. And so I was only able to watch a couple of films.
This year, it is the first time LA Filmfest collaborated with Arclight Cinemas in Culver City. Yearly, they have used the Regal Cinemas at Staple Center, the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood, and different theaters in Westwood. It’s kind of hard for me to travel coming from the valley but I kind of like the ambience of its new venue.
OUT OF IRAQ is a fascinating documentary film from Dir. Eva Orner and Chris McKim. For five years, the duo followed Nayyef and Btoo’s love story and triumph. Nayeff was stationed in Ramadi, Iraq ans an interpreter for the U.S. military while Btoo was an Iraqi soldier. Homosexuality is still forbidden in the country and gay men are persecuted, tortured and murdered so they have to hide their relationship. Nayeff was able to get out of the country and get settled in Seattle, Washington. He meets a gay activist who got interested with their story. Btoo has to make a decision to leave his family and country. A plan to apply under a refugee status with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) is not working out. Another plan came out -- to apply in Canada and travel to Seattle. It took more than five years after the two were separated, getting out of Iraq, fleeing from persecution and finally reuniting in America.
Both directors managed to make a thrilling and heartfelt film were most gays can relate to. Discrimination and helplessness in situations like Btoo and Nayeff is something to talk about as it really still exist in countries like Iraq. It was harrowing to know that in Iraq, with the existence of Talibans and the growing Isis group, gays can be punished, being killed on the streets, or being thrown out from the top of the building (as you can see in the film).
COMPANY TOWN is a groundbreaking investigative documentary from Dir. Natalie Kottke-Masocco, about the people and employees of a big company situated in the small town of Crossett, Arkansas who are working for the largest paper mill and chemical plants Georgia-Pacific, owned by billionaire brothers charles Koch and David Koch of Koch Industries. and the town folk’s fight to eradicate and get justice when they found out the waste of the company is being dumped everywhere which has killed many people as they get sick and die of cancer.
Prominent in the story is David Bouie, a pastor and community leader who has lived in Crossett for 30 years. He has worked at Georgia-Pacific for ten years while his wife has worked for the company for 25 years. Her sister was killed in the tissue paper machine while working at the company and her older sister who also worked there for years has recently died of cancer. Together, they are a couple who are brave enough to represent and fight Koch Industries polluting their town. Another character featured is Hazel Parker who is a Crossett residence for 51 years. Her mother and sister had cancer and her father had prostate cancer. Her father died in 2010, her mother in 2006, and her sister in 2001. Numerous testimonies from several residents are also featured in the film.
Heartbreaking and frustrating, this problem is happening in different countries. It asks the question about how state government agency like who really police the government employees of Department of Toxic Substances Control on their negligence and how we fight red tape from big businesses such as Koch Industries.
NAMOUR received the 2016 LA Muse Award and truly a deserving laurel from director Heidi Saman for having an original style in creating a film that is not typical, bringing the cultural assimilation among first generation immigrant aspirations but a dramatic fusion of unusually accomplished topic. Namour focused on 20-something Steven, a bored and lonely Egyptian-American guy who works as a valet parking attendant in a posh hotel somewhere in Beverly Hills. He still lives with his family. His parents are divorcing, his grandmother is being moved against her wishes, to a convalescent home. Set during the recession in 2000. Adding to his financial problems and boring routine job is his girlfriend. Unpredictable and brilliantly written on screen, this movie is a winner.
11:55, directed by Ben Snyder and Ari Issler, is one of my favorite films at this year’s LA Filmfest. With great performances from some of unknown Latino actors starting with the underacting Victor Almanzar in the lead role (who also wrote the script) and Elizabeth Rodriguez who plays Almanzar’s sister. Goya Robles (plays Teyo) steals some of the scenes while Julia Stiles and John Leguizamo’s cameo roles are notable.
11:55 is the hour and seconds of the time leading to the end of a problem of two rival gang members. Nelson Sanchez (Almanzar) returns to his hometown after serving in the U.S. military in Afghanistan. A homecoming surprise has been staged by his sister Angie (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and other family members, together with his old-time girlfriend Livvy (Shirle Rumierk) and hopefully soon to be wife. Sanchez, before leaving his hometown to work in the military, left a burden on his shoulder -- he accidentally killed the brother of his gang’s rival leader during a gang stakeout and he was wanted for long since. When news goes out that he is back, Nicky Quinn (Mike Carlsen), the brother of his rival gang he killed is also out to get him. He reaches out to his former allies but nobody wants to make a move and help him fearing of escalating the situation. He is all alone to plan how he can persuade Nicky not to kill him.
A HUNDRED STREETS from Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated director Jim O'Hanlon. Notable from his work as a tv director, O’Hanlon’s first feature treat is a powerful and gripping multi-layered drama about different people of race, background and social status, where their paths and characters cross each other while living within the hundred streets of London neighborhood.
We see a couple: Max (Idris Elba), a former famous rugby player whose life is falling apart because he is temporarily separated from his wife-teacher Emily (Gemma Arterton). His wife left him because of infidelity and drinking problem. Emily herself is confused, dealing with a former lover Jake (Tom Cullen) who wants to win her back. There is Kingsley (Franz Dameh), a young drug dealer who wants to have a better life. He meets an old artist Terence (Ken Stott) who happens to know Emily and the teacher who will give a chance to take an audition, recommended by his new trusted friend Terence. And there is George (Charlie Creed-Miles), the nerdy cabbie driver whose only hope is to adopt a child so he can please his wife. All of them need major changes in their lives, which will be interconnected. Something will happen through the course of the narrative that will have a big change in each of their lives.
I loved how the film introduces each layered characters in the story. The plot and screenplay is greatly paced out, easily followed, which keeps you glued to the screen. Great performances, as I expected, from Idris Elba who is always effective in any given role he plays. I was moved, and became a fan of this unknown actor Franz Drameh (and realized he is on the tv series “DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow”)! The movie opens with a great full panoramic view of the Chelsea borough of London along the River Thames -- that view is so majestic and I had a sense I am going to love the movie after.
CHEE AND T, directed by Tanuj Chopra, is a comedy film about two debt collectors “Chee” and “T” (played by Sunkrish Bala and Dominic Rain) who are tasked with getting their boss’ wild nephew, Mayunk (the hysterically funny Asif Ali), help him prepare for his engagement party. Mayunk’s uncle, Uncle Rob (Bernard White) has been Mayunk’s guardian. Unknown to his relatives and friends, Mayunk is hiding something, which he thinks is already obvious. On the day of his engagement, he plans to “out” himself.
I didn’t have much time to think which ones I am going to watch on my first day at LA Filmfest so I went in with the flow of which ones are most popular. I though I was going to be annoyed and fall asleep. I wasn’t expecting anything. But to my surprise, I somehow enjoyed the movie throughout until it ended. It probably because of Mayunk’s character and the way jokes are delivered. The plot is simple but it was good enough as an indie film.