Take a ride with Neil Young Journeys

Electricity was literally and figuratively in the air last night at the Los Angeles Film Festival site at LA Live. Although the red carpet was all about Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, the longest audience lines and most excitement surrounded Neil Young Journeys. When I reviewed the piece in the run-up to the festival, I called it essential viewing for Neil Young fans, who seemed to be out in full force. The film screens at 5 pm today, so any one who missed it last night, or wants another encore from Young, will have another chance to Keep On Rockin’ In the Free World.

With the film having screened at the festival, I can now say that Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is one of the year’s true cinematic disappointments, a mangled mess with good intentions and an exciting premise that failed to deliver on any meaningful front. The first twenty minutes are a biting black comedy. The last twenty minutes are familial and interpersonal dramas, executed in an evocative and touching manner. Sadly, everything in between is a disjointed mess, and the things that work all feel like they don’t belong in the same movie. First-time director Lorene Scafaria does appear to be doing her best, as her instincts are to make the material as cynical as possible. Sadly, the final outcome is something far more watered down.

Gimme the Loot enjoyed its final showing at the festival yesterday. Being the only film showing at the 5 pm time slot, the auditorium was one of the most full I’ve seen at the festival thus far. The film was well received, and with good reason. Gimme the Loot is an urban coming-of-age story centered around graffiti culture. The cast of newcomers including Ty Hickson, Tashiana Washington, and Zoe Lescaze possess remarkable charisma and chemistry.  Writer/director Adam Leon proved with his first feature to be a gifted storyteller, and works in perfect concert with his cast to deliver a story that’s equal parts fun and fulfilling. Sundance Selects will be distributing the film later this year, and its one to keep an eye out for.

Reportero also screened for the final time at the festival last night. Bernardo Ruiz’s documentary about the struggle for a free press in Mexico and the Mexican Drug War was full of compelling characters, real-life heroes, and vital information. Tragically, even with a 71-minute running time, the film lacks any real focus and in an effort to cover so much in such a small amount of time, ends up feeling like it doesn’t deeply cover anything.

The hot ticket in the 10 pm time slot last night was Juan of the Dead, which enjoyed its second and final showing at the festival. Audience members were turned away, with filmmaker Alejandro Brugues offering to buy them drinks in lieu of getting into the screening. It was that heart, intelligence, and wisdom he brought to much of Juan of the Dead, a zombie road movie set in Cuba, infusing a great deal of political allegory and societal commentary. Despite a high quotient of intelligence and humor filling many of the bits that make up the movie, the film is more interested in shtick and sight gags than a sustained sense of story and substance. Audience members spent 94 minutes mildly chuckling, with the film never penetrating any deeper than that.

Looking ahead to tonight, the hot ticket promises to be Searching for Sugar Man, which I reviewed more in-depth prior to the festival. Suffice it to say its still my #1 pick for best film of the festival and of 2012 so far. 10 pm is the final showing of Saturday Morning Massacre which is also still the most fun I’ve had at any movie showing at the festival, and one not to missed on the big screen. A Band Called Death and Crazy & Thief are also both enjoying additional showings tonight, and are both excellent film-going choices.

I’ll be catching a secret screening during the 7 pm hour, and then seeing the Malaysian martial arts crime thriller Bunohan: Return to Murder at 9:40 pm. Here’s hoping I see you there.

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All material copyright 2007-2012 by Craig Kennedy unless otherwise stated