Tonight at LAFF: Chris Pine, Michael Hall D’Addario and Elizabeth Banks are  People Like Us

The Los Angeles Film Festival got off to a roaring start last night with the Opening Night screening of Woody Allen’s latest film To Rome with Love. I more or less agree with Craig’s thoughts on the film, which he posted last night. I’m off to carry the banner for Living in Cinema at Rome’s press day, but first wanted to look at what the Los Angeles Film Festival has to offer festival-goers this afternoon and evening.

The first film showing today is The Queen of Versailles at Regal LA Live at 5:00 pm. The Queen of Versailles provides an intimate look into the lives of one of the wealthiest families in America before, during, and after the financial meltdown of 2008. Documentarian Lauren Greenfield managed to craft the film in such a way that the audience spends 100 minutes feeling equal parts empathy and contempt for the family of David Siegel, who made his fortune by building the world’s largest timeshare company. What results is the feeling of a massive train wreck you can’t look away from. If 5:00 pm is too early for you to make it downtown, the film plays again tomorrow night at 9:30 pm, also at Regal LA Live.

At 7:00 pm and 8:00 pm, respectively, the festival is hosting a Gala screening of Fox Searchlight’s Beasts of the Southern Wild and a Summer Showcase screening of Disney/Dreamwork’s People Like Us. Both screenings have hit “Rush Line” status for those without tickets or preferred passes, but as the entire rush line got into To Rome with Love last night, hope springs eternal. As Beast of the Southern Wild is showing in the massive auditorium downstairs at Regal LA Live there should be plenty of room for filmgoers willing to brave the long lines.

Beasts of the Southern Wild comes to the LA Film Festival after winning two awards at Sundance, including the Grand Jury Prize. The first film from director/co-writer Benh Zeitlin is pure Southern surrealist poetry, and truly beautiful and awe-inspiring work. This could easily be a multi-Oscar nominated film come next January and tonight you can be the first on your block to see it.

People Like Us is the perfect offering for those who wish studios still turned out interpersonal family dramas such as Kramer vs. Kramer and Ordinary People. Chris Pine (Star Trek) and Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games) both do career-best work as members of a fractured reunited by the death of their illusive father. This is poignant departure for director/co-writer Alex Kurtzman, best known for his work on the Star Trek and Transformers franchises.

If you’re in the mood to forego previewing films destined to be released in the coming weeks and are interested in seeking out hidden gems, Four and The Iran Job are solid choices, both of which I previewed earlier this week. My itinerary includes The Strawberry Tree and The History of Future Folk. I’ll be checking back in later to let you know how those turn out, as well as previewing some of what the festival has on offer for later in the weekend. Until then, here’s hoping I see you at LA Live.

[Editor’s Note: Also on tap tonight: William Friedkin presents his latest film Killer Joe starring Matthew McConaughey and Emile Hirsch at LACMA’s Bing Theatre at 7:30 pm and fans of FREE will be delighted by the free 30th Anniversary screening of Steven Spielberg’s beloved. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Meanwhile Red Flag, the latest feature from writer/director/actor Alex Karpovsky (Girls, Tiny Furniture) makes its World Premiere Downtown while the highly buzzed Cuban zombie flick Juan of the Dead screens at 11:00.]

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