Dan Bakkedahl, left, and Oliver Cooper in "Four Dogs." (Joe Burke, Four Dogs )
California-made and -set films often turn up at LAFF. Among this year's standouts:
This feature debut from writer-director Ryan Coogler is a gripping drama drawn from the real-life incident in which a 22-year-old man was killed by transit police in an Oakland train station on New Year's Day 2009. Starring Michael B. Jordan in a stirring turn, the film finds dramatic tension in the struggles of the everyday and builds to the tragedy of a life cut short. Having won major prizes at Sundance this year and with the Weinstein Co. now behind it, "Fruitvale Station" should remain in the conversation for months to come.
A look at changes in the procedure and protocol as the emergency room staff of Los Angeles County Hospital transitions from one facility to another, this documentary provides a startlingly up-close look at the practice and business of hospitals. The film is directed by Ryan McGarry, himself an emergency room doctor at L.A. County, giving the film a sense of immediacy and intimacy that a more dispassionately uninvolved filmmaker might not have. Sure to be a real conversation starter, the film promises some spirited and emotional post-screening Q&As as it makes its world premiere to a hometown crowd.
Oliver lives a slacker existence in L.A., having abandoned any illusions of pursuing an acting career while crashing with his flight attendant aunt in return for walking her dogs and cleaning her pool. He fills his days with weed, the occasional escort and his cynical best friend, but it's a joyless, disconnected existence. When a female friend of his aunt's comes to stay, he takes notice of everything he is letting pass him by. Lead actor Oliver Cooper co-wrote the script with director Joe Burke, and the film hews to an observational, low-key style.
"In a World…."
Set against the world of movie-trailer voice-over announcers — how's that for L.A. specific? — this is the feature debut as writer-director for actress Lake Bell. She also stars as a woman trying to break into this male-dominated industry. The film boasts a strong supporting cast (Fred Melamud as Bell's highly competitive father creates a character that is a real piece of work), and it has a fresh and light feel, revitalizing the contemporary romantic comedy.
"Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton"
The story of the L.A.-based record label Stones Throw Records, known for forward-looking hip-hop and retro-soul, this documentary is a chronicle and a celebration. Founded by DJ Peanut Butter Wolf, the label has its roots in the death of Wolf's musical partner Charizma, giving an emotional undercurrent to the label's mission and the film itself. Directed by Jeff Broadway, "Our Vinyl" features archival footage and live performances from artists such as J Dilla, Madlib, Mayer Hawthorne and Dam-Funk, plus interviews with Questlove, Mike Diamond, Tyler the Creator and Kanye West.