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FESTIVAL NOTEBOOK

No secret but still low-profile

June 18, 2005|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

Some of the things I look forward to each year on opening night of the Los Angeles Film Festival are seeing indie icons such as Catherine Keener treated like Meryl Streep, or finding the entire cast of the opening-night film occupying a row in the upper deck of the Cinerama Dome and being introduced to tumultuous applause. I'm also usually curious about the festival intro short -- it helps if it's entertaining because it's shown before each and every screening.

This year, none of that happened. I spotted no indie icons (though they might have been there), the cast of "Down in the Valley" was not introduced Thursday night (though one of its actors, David Morse, was spotted), and the intro film was more like a brief Rorschach test, with amoeba-like circles morphing into palm trees.

We also missed out on seeing guest director Sydney Pollack, who had to be whisked to the airport to catch a plane.

The festival's presenter, FIND -- that's Film Independent, formerly IFP Los Angeles (I wonder how long we'll have to keep explaining that) -- handed the podium over to Elijah Wood, an honorary festival chair. Wood copped to being previously unaware of the festival despite living in Los Angeles for 15 years (in his defense, three of those years were spent in New Zealand making those hobbit movies), before introducing "Down in the Valley" director David Jacobson.

Jacobson said that he was even more pleased to have his film open the LAFF than he'd been to take it to Cannes because he's an L.A. native and his film is set here. OK.

The film was interesting enough for about 90 minutes. Unfortunately, it clocks in closer to two hours. Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood, Rory Culkin and Morse form a solid ensemble and are mainly responsible for its watchability. Jacobson has created some memorable characters and there's some witty dialogue, but it ends up being pretty silly as Norton's drifter puts the moves on Wood's character, a disaffected San Fernando Valley teen oppressed by her corrections officer father (Morse). As good an actor as Norton is, they would have needed a less well-known persona to pull off that character. The minute he opens his mouth you're thinking, "hayseed Travis Bickle!" Ever since "Primal Fear," the audience is suspicious of Norton. It's more surprising when he turns out to be exactly what he seems in a film.

Sitting up front and to the side at the Dome is always a trip. The curved screen gives the impression you're seeing a movie projected on the inside of a swimming pool, minus the water. You get used to it, but it makes some of the more disorienting shots even more so.

There was an after-party at the Hollywood Palladium, but I didn't stay long.

It was sponsored by Bebe and there were models positioned around the room presumably modeling their fashions. It made me a little sad. It was like being in a zoo for really tall women, and men without dates kept talking to them as they were trying to work.

*

On calendarlive.com

Go behind the scenes of the films -- and festivities -- at the L.A. Film Festival with film critic Carina Chocano and film reviewer Kevin Crust. Read their daily Web diary at www.calendarlive.com/filmfest.

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