Saturday, June 21, 2014

L.A. Film Festival 2014

We don’t attend the L.A. Film Festival every year, but did manage to find time to see four movies this year. All of them were excellent—which is not always the case—so it was worth the schlep downtown during the week, when we’d normally be vegging out in front of the TV. Here are my quick reviews:

Tim served in the Navy during the war. My family and I watched daily coverage on the nightly news. I doubt either one of us will ever get over Vietnam. Directed by Rory Kennedy, the film effectively uses archival footage to chronicle the fall of Saigon in April 1975, while also honoring the unsung military as well as non-military heroes who stayed in-country till the bitter end. This is a very moving and edge-of-seat story, even though we already knew the ending. Rory, who was the creative force behind the outstanding documentary Ethel, about her mother Ethel Kennedy, introduced the film and took questions afterward. Watch for Last Days in Vietnam later this year as an American Experience episode on PBS.

I’ve loved Kurt Russell since he appeared in the Disney film The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes in 1969, but I never knew his father was famous, too. Not only did Bing Russell play the deputy on the long-running TV show Bonanza, he also owned an independent baseball team, which ended up making sports history in the mid-1970s. Directed by his grandsons Chapman and Maclain Way, this wonderful documentary captures the incredible story of Bing Russell’s unconventional Portland Mavericks. Seems like the entire Russell clan was in the audience, including Kurt’s mother, but unfortunately no Kurt. The movie was bought by Netflix and will be shown in July. Highly entertaining!

Unless you are completely plugged into the movie scene, which we are not, sometimes it’s risky buying tickets for films listed only by title, actors, director, and a brief description in the festival program. We’ve been burned before. But this movie was great. Made very much in the quirky flavor of A Simple Plan and everything by the Coen Brothers, Cut Bank is a terrific example of a small town caper gone horribly wrong. It is, of course, also very violent and darkly funny and has an incredible cast that includes John Malkovich, as the sheriff who suddenly has to investigate his town’s first murder, and an hilarious Bruce Dern as the victim. A Q&A with the filmmaker and cast members Teresa Palmer and Oliver Platt followed the screening.

Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name, the story is set in 1962 Greece, where a rich American couple (Viggo Mortensen and a luminous Kirsten Dunst) meet a young ex-pat con man, named Rydel Keener (Oscar Isaac). As in The Talented Mr. Ripley, also based on an Highsmith novel, it quickly becomes apparent that things are not as they seem, making for a good old-fashioned yet exciting thriller. Plus the scenery is gorgeous. Due to be released in theaters later this year.

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