The Los Angeles Film Festival strives to be both urban and urbane with its move downtown and a far-ranging program of foreign films and documentaries. But take a closer look and you'll notice that this event covets the Comic-Con crowd as well. If you need proof, take note of the fact that at one major screening this year, fans who come dressed as Darth Vader or Yoda get free popcorn — and that's not even a joke.
FOR THE RECORD:
Los Angeles Film Festival official: An article in Sunday's Calendar section about the LAFF called Doug Jones the festival's assistant artistic director. His title is associate director of programming. —
The festival, which runs through June 27, closes with a Nokia Theatre screening of "Despicable Me," the animated superhero farce starring Steve Carell; plus, on Wednesday, the festival hosts the West Coast premiere of "The People vs. George Lucas," a documentary that delves into the complicated legacy of the "Star Wars" films (and, yes, this is the show where anyone in costume gets free popcorn).
There's also a batch of sci-fi and horror movies by new filmmakers, among them "Monsters," an aliens-on-the-loose tale by British writer-director Gareth Edwards that the festival's assistant artistic director, Doug Jones, calls "this year's 'District 9,' " a reference to the film that wound up with an unlikely Oscar nomination for best film earlier this year.
The festival also features four onstage "conversations," and three of them are pure fanboy territory. On Tuesday, John Lithgow will be onstage at the Regal Cinemas to discuss the deliriously odd 1984 sci-fi film "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension" and George Miller's "Terror at 20,000 Feet" from "Twilight Zone: The Movie." The next night at the same venue it's Sylvester Stallone and "The Expendables." On Friday, at the Grammy Museum, it's a talk with B-movie titan Roger Corman.
This all adds up to a festival that is just as beholden to Flash Gordon as it is to Fellini. To understand the fanboy heart that's beating inside this year's cinematic body of work, we ran through the schedule with Jones, a fanboy of the first order — he is, after all, someone who camped out to get prime seats for the 1997 re-release of "Star Wars."
"Monsters" (Wednesday, 10:15 p.m., Regal Cinemas; Saturday, 7 p.m., Downtown Independent)
Jones said this is the must-see moment at the festival for fans of out-of-left-field sci-fi. Written and directed by Gareth Edwards, "this is essentially this year's 'District 9.' It's coming out of nowhere. Nobody knows this guy, and the movie is flying under the radar…."
He added: "The story is about a space probe that crash-landed on the Mexico border with the U.S., and it was carrying spores. Now, six years later there's this huge swath of land that is off-limits, it's no man's land because it's infected with giant, neon squid aliens. There's a war photographer, a young guy, who's down in Mexico and is given the task of getting his daughter's boss back up to the States, and, for various reasons, they have to go through the infected area."
"The People vs. George Lucas" (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., John Anson Ford Amphitheatre)
Alexandre O. Philippe's documentary about the inspiring and frustrating pop-culture legacy of the Jedi universe actually includes Jones as one of its voices. Along with "Star Wars" producer Gary Kurtz, "Coraline" author Neil Gaiman and Darth Vader actor David Prowse, Jones is one of the interview subjects who try to frame the true legacy of the wizard of Skywalker Ranch.
The setting sends a message, Jones said. "It's not a film-festival screening. It's at the Ford, so it's outdoors and it'll be fun. We don't ever want to be dull or boring, we want that element of surprise where we don't know what's coming next. If you don't have that, a festival begins to atrophy."
"Centurion" (Friday, 8:30 p.m., John Anson Ford Amphitheatre)
Neil Marshall, the British writer-director of the 2005 horror film "The Descent," goes to the year AD 117 for his new film, "Centurion," which stars German actor Michael Fassbender as a Roman solider whose battle-weary battalion is trapped in northern England and fighting to make its way through enemy territory. "There is a legend about a Roman legion that disappeared after going up against this really, really brutal clan called the Picts, and this is Marshall's version of what might have happened," Jones said. "It's '300' versus 'Braveheart,' in a way, but it's very much a Neil Marshall film, very sharply written and action-packed."
"The Last Exorcism" (Thursday, 8:30 p.m., John Anson Ford Amphitheatre)