Towering above other films so far previewed for the Los Angeles Film Festival, which commences Friday at various venues, is Christopher Munch's "The Sleepy Time Gal." Munch first came to attention with "The Hours and Times," in which he sensitively imagined what might have occurred between John Lennon and Brian Epstein during a brief Barcelona interlude, and "Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day," a remarkably evocative account of the struggle to bring rail travel to Yosemite.
He has followed his first two intensely idiosyncratic films with yet another: a luminous portrait of a beautiful middle-aged San Francisco freelance writer (Jacqueline Bisset) who has reached a turning point in her life and longs for contact with the daughter she gave up for adoption; in the meantime, the daughter (Martha Plimpton), a successful Manhattan attorney, has reached her own crossroads, yearning to discover the identity of her birth mother.
"The Sleepy Time Gal" has a depth, range and subtlety far greater than most American films, and Bisset's superb, unsparing portrayal is supported strongly by Plimpton, Seymour Cassel, Frankie R. Faison, Amy Madigan and Carmen Zapata.
"Gal" screens Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at Harmony Gold Preview House, 7655 Sunset Blvd.; Monday at 10 p.m. at the Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd.
Speaking of reunions, Derek Simonds does a nifty job in coming up with a fresh take on the friends-from-college get-together with his alternately amusing and unnerving "Seven and a Match" (DGA, Saturday at 4:30 p.m.; Harmony Gold, April 28 at 11 a.m.).
Faced with the recent accidental death of her parents, the loss of her job and the imminent loss of her far-from-solvent parents' big old Colonial Revival estate in rural Maine, lovely Ellie (Tina Holmes) decides to cheer herself up with a weekend party of her pals from Yale, among them an edgy magazine editor played by "Blair Witch" star Heather Donahue. The result is a house party at which the group as a whole comes off as largely unsettled and uncertain beneath a snide veneer. The film's distinction lies in the director's intention that his characters be understood rather than liked.
Among the documentary offerings are Daniel Baer's wonderful "The Hotel Upstairs" (DGA, Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and Monday at 5 p.m., screening with "Amato: A Love Affair With Opera") and Roger Hyde's hilarious "Queen of the Whole Wide World" (DGA, Sunday at 10 p.m. and April 28 at 5 p.m.).
San Francisco boasts 27,000 residential hotel rooms, and 50 of them are on the three upper floors of the old Columbus Hotel in the heart of noisy tourist magnet North Beach. Baer spent much time befriending a group of residents, mainly aging bohemians. Baer culled from 35 hours of footage and more than 5,000 still images to create a memorable 57-minute gem.
In 1989 a couple of friends put on a drag contest spoofing the Miss USA competition that has now grown into an elaborate annual pageant that fills the Wiltern and raises more than $130,000 for AIDS charities.
Hyde acquaints us with seven contestants, one a professional drag performer, Worthie Meacham, another a young Latino supermarket staffer, Oscar Quintero, and the rest all involved in the entertainment industry. They talk freely about being gay, about losing friends to AIDS and about their plans for the contest. The resulting show is a rousing celebration of camp sensibility at its most outrageous, amusing and lighthearted. Scott Lane, a dancer and singer turned costumer, creates a sensational can-can-kicking Miss France, yet with far less experience and resources Quintero creates a dazzling Miss Mexico. "Queen of the Whole Wide World" is also a tribute to the wit and resilience of its participants.
Among the many shorts screening in the course of the festival is LAFF regular Scott Saunders' "Welcome to Willieworld," which evokes in a beautiful, jagged rush of images the hectic existence of a New York paramedic (Felicity Seidel) as she contemplates the paradoxical nature of life and death. Adapted by Maggie Dubris and Seidel, the short precedes the Monday 9:45 p.m. and April 26 at 5 p.m. screenings of "Cookers" at the DGA. (800) 965-4827.
The American Cinematheque is presenting Friday through Monday, before its national release by TriStar and Sony Pictures Repertory, the U.S. premiere of Jackie Chan's 1989 "Miracles," which he directed and which has been lifted loosely from Frank Capra's "A Pocketful of Miracles," Capra's 1961 remake of his 1933 "Lady for a Day."