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Critics' Picks 

If you see only seven films at this year’s LAFF, make it these

Wednesday, Jun 21 2006
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OLD JOY (USA) Kelly Reichardt’s adaptation of Jonathan Raymond’s short story about two longtime friends who embark on a weekend camping trip in the Oregon wilderness was the best narrative film I saw at Sundance this year — a haunting, melancholy contemplation of male friendship and the unrecoverable past. Called everything from a straight version of Brokeback Mountain to a granola Sideways, Old Joy is really a film about our inability to stop time, and about the search for sanctuary in an increasingly chaotic world. In the case of Mark (Daniel London), a pregnant wife regards his boys-only getaway with manifest disdain; Kurt (musician Will Oldham) is about to be evicted from his home and has little idea of where he’ll go next. As they venture into the woods, they reminisce about a former roommate who now lives in Big Sur; pass by a juice shop that used to be an independent record store; and, more often than not, merely soak up the beauty of the passing landscape, which Reichardt’s camera contemplates as some final, endangered frontier. Reichardt, who made a stunning feature debut 12 years ago with the Florida-set neo-noir River of Grass, allows the story to unfold according to its own sedate rhythms, drawing excellent performances from London and particularly Oldham, who delivers a haunting portrayal of one of society’s marginal people — a man who could well disappear into the ether without anyone realizing he was gone. (Italian Cultural Institute, Fri., June 23, 5 p.m.; Landmark Regent, Sun., June 25, 7 p.m.) (Scott Foundas)

DELIVER US FROM EVIL (USA) A movie that will chill you to the bone and overwhelm you with sorrow, director Amy Berg’s debut documentary feature focuses on the victims of one of the Catholic Church’s most prolific sex offenders, Father Oliver O’Grady, who molested dozens of children, both male and female, infants and adolescents, throughout the 1970s and ’80s in California. Remarkably, Berg also turns her camera on O’Grady himself, an avuncular Irishman with a lilting brogue and a candid (if dissociative) way of discussing his sins, who now roams free in his home country and agreed to be interviewed extensively for the project. I can think of few films, fiction or nonfiction, that have drawn us this close to the heart and mind of a dissembling monster. Deliver Us From Evil begs no sympathy for the devil, but it does cast O’Grady as merely one part of a vast conspiracy of silence that dates back centuries and now reaches to the highest ranks of contemporary Church leadership (including Los Angeles’ own Cardinal Roger Mahony and even Pope Benedict XVI). Yet the movie is finally less a full-frontal attack on Church orthodoxy than it is an intimate study in how people of faith cope — or fail to — with the ultimate violation of self and sacrament. (Majestic Crest, Sat., June 24, 7 p.m.; Landmark Regent, Mon., June 26, 4:15 p.m.) (Scott Foundas)

IN BETWEEN DAYS (Canada/South Korea/USA) The story of Aimie (Jiseon Kim), a teenage Korean girl newly immigrated to Canada, this debut feature by Korean-American director So Yong Kim seems to be constructed entirely of the ineffable and intangible, those fleeting moments that most movies treat as throwaways. Aimie drops out of a class and uses the refunded tuition to buy a bracelet for Tran (Taegu Andy Kang), the boy friend she wishes were her boyfriend. Against painterly post-card images of Canadian winter, she narrates letters to her absent father. Sometimes, she just trudges through freshly fallen snow, enjoying the crunch it makes beneath her boots. For years, I’ve wondered what kind of movie the Chinese director Jia Zhang Ke might make if he followed his ever-migrating rural Chinese characters into the great Asian-American diaspora, and more than once while watching In Between Days, I felt I was seeing just that. But So — who also co-wrote the film with her filmmaker husband, Bradley Rust Gray — is a gifted artist in her own right, with a rare appreciation for the poetic possibilities of digital video. And in her screen debut, the 21-year-old Kim proves a remarkably fluid screen presence. (Landmark Regent; Thurs., June 29, 9 p.m.; Sat., July 1, 7:30 p.m.) (Scott Foundas)

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GO  WHO NEEDS SLEEP? (USA) The master cinematographer Haskell Wexler (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, In the Heat of the Night) directed this angry and impassioned documentary about the deaths of Hollywood film crew members who have been killed in auto accidents caused by falling asleep at the wheel. The result is — no pun intended — a powerful wake-up call, not just for an industry prone to sacrificing safety in the name of “getting the shot,” but for an entire nation that once fought passionately for the eight-hour workday and now, ever more willingly, works itself to death. (Mann Festival; Sat., June 24, noon) (Scott Foundas)

I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT CHEESE WITH (USA) Chicago-born comic Jeff Garlin (best known as Larry David’s long-suffering manager on Curb Your Enthusiasm) wrote, directed and stars in this wan comedy about a struggling actor battling a weight problem and looking for love in all the wrong places. Garlin makes for a warm and immensely likable screen presence, but the movie itself is a shambles of sub-Curb randomness, unrewarding celebrity cameos (including Paul Mazursky, Sarah Silverman and Amy Sedaris) and tiresome jokes about Garlin’s overbearing Jewish mother and a remake of Marty starring teen idol Aaron Carter. (Majestic Crest; Fri., June 30, 7 p.m.) (SF)

THE BOYS AND GIRLS GUIDE TO GETTING DOWN (USA) Writer-director Paul Sapiano’s primer on Los Angeles nightlife follows a collection of hard-partying Angelenos over one long bender of casual sex and recreational drug use. Styled as a straight-faced informational film — complete with dry, British-accented voice-over — Guide includes lessons on how to drive drunk “safely” and why cocaine is a “fun” drug when snorted but a “sketchy” one when smoked. Generous minds may regard this as satire; others (including this reviewer), as a repellent, flash-in-the-pan bid for hipster chic. (Majestic Crest; Sun., June 25, 7:30 p.m.; Tues., June 27, 4:45 p.m.) (SF)

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