The Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, which opens its fifth edition tonight at 7:30 at the Directors Guild of America with a premiere of Phil Joanou's meditation on love and loss, "Entropy," offers a clutch of vibrant, venturesome pictures. Among them is Nickolas Perry's tender, heart-wrenching "Speedway Junky" (Monday at 10 p.m.), in which Jesse Bradford plays a naive young man with dreams of becoming a race car driver who hitches a ride to Las Vegas, where he swiftly ends up in the streets. Taking him in tow is the seasoned but vulnerable gay hustler Eric (Jordan Brower). "Speedway Junky," which features Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a ruthless hustler and Daryl Hannah as Eric's compassionate ex-showgirl friend, are also impressive. Gus Van Sant served as executive producer.
Ash, who made a notable debut with "Bang" at the festival in 1995, returns with another strong, edgy film in "Pups" (Sunday at 3:05 p.m.), in which a bright, hyper 13-year-old (Cameron Van Hoy) comes across his mother's handgun. On the way to school, he and his girlfriend (Mischa Barton) hold up a bank and end up taking hostages in a standoff with an FBI team led by a seen-it-all veteran (Burt Reynolds, in a fine, understated performance).
Andrew Dosunmu's captivating documentary "Hot Irons" (Saturday at 11 a.m) celebrates the artistry and ingenuity of the hair stylists in Detroit's black community. Nicole Cattell's accompanying "Come Unto Me: The Faces of Tyree Guyton" documents the controversial efforts of Detroit artist Guyton to transform a blighted block with brightly painted junk assemblages and murals.
David Schisgall's "The Lifestyle" (at the Directors Guild on Saturday at 3:40 p.m. and at Harmony Gold Preview House, 7655 Sunset Blvd., on Sunday at 5:15 p.m.) is sure to be one of the most talked-about films in the festival, a candid (and then some) documentary on swingers, mainly middle-aged and older, who are otherwise conventional, even conservative, couples who spice up their lives with multiple sex partners. Other films that have developed a buzz: "Saturn," "Pop & Me," "The Dream Catcher," "Hit and Runway" and "Bellyfruit." Closing the festival is "The Big Brass Ring," which writer F.X. Feeney and director George Hickenlooper adapted from a script by Orson Welles with Oja Kodar. The Directors Guild is located at 7920 W. Sunset Blvd. For full schedule: (888) ETM-TIXS.
The Goethe Institute, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100, screens its second of three Fritz Lang silent classics tonight at 7 with the two-part "Dr. Mabuse" (1921), accompanied by pianist Robert Israel. (323) 525-3388.
The American Cinematheque's "New Films From Germany" screens six features and a program of shorts Friday through Sunday at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre. Among them are Rainer Kaufman's wickedly funny "The Pharmacist" (Friday at 9:30 p.m.), a huge hit on home ground and starring the radiant Katja Riemann as a deceptively modest pharmacist who becomes entangled with a dissolute dental student with a rich grandfather. Riemann also stars in Katja von Garnier's "Bandits," a comedy about four women from a rock band, which precedes "The Pharmacist" at 7 p.m., and she and Von Garnier will be on hand between screenings.
Hans-Christian Schmid's "23" (Sunday at 4 p.m.) is a bleak, ambitious and challenging tale about a young '80s radical (August Diehl), enthralled by a mystical text proclaiming the existence of an alternative universe. Schmid will discuss his film afterward.
While all seven offerings sound intriguing, Faith Akin's "Short Sharp Shock" (Saturday at 9:15 p.m.) is surely among the most accessible. It's a warm, gritty gangster picture set in Hamburg and centered on a group of pals of differing ethnicity in which one, recently out of prison, finds himself in conflict over his desire to go straight and in his sense of loyalty to his comrades. (323) 466-FILM.
Katharina Otto is such a skilled filmmaker, catching us up in the hectic world of four young models in her documentary "Beautopia" (opening Friday at the Grande 4-Plex for one week) with clarity, energy and comprehensiveness, it's a shame she mars her accomplishment with her snide, contrived narration. Nonetheless, the film offers interesting glimpses of promising hopefuls, as well as commentary from legendary fashion figures, including Lauren Hutton and Veruschka, women of estability and common sense. Otto has a hard time admitting it, but there are worse fates for young women, provided they are resilient and disciplined, than a career as a model. (213) 617-0628.
Michael Katz's "California Myth," opening Friday at the Monica 4-Plex, is a competently made but routine midlife-crisis drama starring Tyrone Power Jr., a capable actor who's as handsome as his famous father. Sherry Hursey co-stars as his level-headed, pregnant wife. (310) 394-9741.
Another routine entry, "Do You Wanna Dance?," which opens Friday at the Music Hall, is a trite, sentimental tale about a dance instructor (Robert Krantz, who also wrote and produced the film), who in a scrape with the law is ordered to perform 500 hours of community service. He winds up in Chicago's Greek community, where under the supervision of a priest (Robert Costanzo), he's supposed to teach dance to elderly parishioners as a form of exercise. What he's not supposed to do is pursue the pretty daughter (Patricia Skeriotis) of one of the richest, most powerful members of the church. Directed by Michael Achilles Nickles. (310) 274-6869.
Note: "Universal Hitchcock," 13 films from the master of suspense, runs Friday through May 6 at the Nuart Theatre. (310) 478-6379.