LAFF 2008: Whiskey Wanted

What to make of a film festival that made its name on indie fare now opening and closing with big-budget summer blockbusters from Universal? In fairness, the folks behind the Los Angeles Film Festival have thought that one out, noting that both WANTED and HELLBOY II are directed by critically acclaimed foreign filmmakers. This is true, though Guillermo del Toro and Timur Bekhmambetov are not exactly artsy unknowns, having made their names on commercial genre fare that just happened to have subtitles; if the latter’s NIGHT WATCH had been in English rather than Russian, it would have been considered as mainstream as UNDERWORLD. As for del Toro, it goes something like this: vampire movie, giant bug movie, ghost story, vampire comic book sequel, demon comic book movie, dark fairy tale movie, HELLBOY II, and then THE HOBBIT, sure to be one of the most commercial hits of all time. Methinks these movies were selected for more than just the directors’ foreign-ness.

But if I sound like I’m complaining, rest assured that isn’t the case. There may be things to complain about this year, like the parking, which doesn’t look to be quite as convenient as last year, and may be a large part of the reason that most of the movies don’t start till late afternoon. Though even that I can’t complain about as far as opening night goes, since I found a meter a block from the Majestic Crest, and it had 30 minutes on it; for 31 cents, my parking for the night was paid, and I didn’t even have to panic about the garages closing early.

LAFF 2008: Whiskey Wanted

With over an hour to kill in Westwood, where to go? Every time I come back here, it seems like the only places I liked closed down. Most recently, i.e. at last year’s fest, I became a fan of the Jay and Silent Bob comic book store. Naturally, it moved. I also liked Hollywood video, which is now empty, though the Batman Forever mural inside remains.

Thankfully the Westwood Brewing Company is still going strong, and has a decent happy hour. Usual rule of thumb with strange beers on tap is that you shouldn’t be fooled by fancy tap tops, but something called Bare Knuckle, which boasts a tap handle sculpted like a fake bronze statue of a boxer, was quite tasty, Guinness-like and three bucks a pint.

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I had tickets for WANTED at the Majestic Crest; only later did I learn that the real-deal premiere was happening over at the Mann Village, and we were just the overflow. Ah well, less crowds; but if you were hoping for some kind of anecdote about Angelina Jolie, I never saw her. Sorry. The only person from the film I saw at any point is the woman who plays James McAvoy’s fat and ugly boss. Lorna Scott’s her name, and she has a ton of credits, but she will be known primarily for some time to come as “the fat bitch from WANTED.” Hey, no offense, I’m just saying the casting notices almost certainly said “fat bitch.” That’s how she’s described. But if it bothers you, I’m sure I can describe every other character in dismissive language too. Did you know that in the original comic book, the character of Fox, played by Angelina Jolie in the movie, was based on Halle Berry as a visual reference? Shall we assume every sexy black actress was unavailable for the role?

Then again, the character played by McAvoy was inspired by Eminem, and I really don’t think we need him to star in this movie. But had they gotten a black actor for the role instead, that would have been some amusingly color-blind casting AND an ironic blow for hip-hop.

WANTED begins with a cheesy office party for the aforementioned heavy beeyotch, and then narration kicks in about being a boring white-collar worker who likes IKEA furniture. This is Wesley Gibson (McAvoy), and before you FIGHT CLUB fans can say “I am Jack’s rip-off,” there’s a sequence with another guy who, after a running start, charges through a window (that money shot you’ve seen in the trailer and the pic above), busts some shots off in mid-air, then alights on another rooftop where he wipes out a few snipers, only to find it’s a trap, and get offed by a magic bullet similar to the one which killed JFK, that can curve around things in mid-air.

Let’s be very clear upfront: If you are going to be the sort of guy who, at this point, says, “Hang on a minute. Human beings cannot jump from skyscraper to skyscraper. I require a darn good explanation for that!” then, I’m sorry, this isn’t the movie for you. Later plot developments will involve the ability to curve bullet trajectories in the air, and by the time the hero ends up using exploding rats as weapons, you just can’t be like that. In the comic book, the characters were all super-villains that had wiped out all the Earth’s heroes; here, they’re just assassins that can do crazy Matrixy shit. Would it help you if they added a line of dialogue about how “We’re all mutants, and are born with an oversized pineal gland that can bend the airwaves in such a way as to alter bullet curvature”? Too bad. You don’t get that. Like the craziest Hong King directors, Bekhmambetov just shows you they can do this, and lets you roll with it or not.

I’m surprised it took nine years for someone to think that a cross between FIGHT CLUB and THE MATRIX was a good idea. And yes, there is a Nine Inch Nails tune prominently on the soundtrack, not to mention the fact that Gibson’s apartment is right by a big loud railway...just like in SEVEN (which I refuse on principle to refer to as SE7EN, just so you know).

Gibson, who’s such a wuss that even his ATM insults him, suffers from panic attacks that he medicates without realizing that in fact what he’s having are bullet-time moments that would allow him to do crazy slo-mo action stuff if only someone would train him how. Enter Fox (Jolie) who appears in time to save him from a bad guy named Cross (Thomas Kretschmann) and take him to the secret hideout of the Fraternity, a whole team of these crazy-powered people, led by Morgan Freeman. Gibson was abandoned nearly at birth by his father; turns out dad was the building-jumping guy from the beginning of the movie, and it’s time to follow in his footsteps.

Oh, and here’s the best part. These assassins figure out who they’re going to kill based on a binary code hidden in the fibers of a giant weaver’s loom. It’s called the Loom of Fate, and no, it’s never explained why exactly they think this is a good idea. Nor what happens if the name that comes out of the code is, say, John Smith...how would you know which John Smith to kill? If you have a generic name like that, consider moving out of Chicago. The victims chosen are supposedly people who will do a lot of bad things later if left to live, which makes you think about the morality at work here. “The magic loom told me to kill that guy because he’s going to hurt people later” is dangerously close to “God told me to smite Iraq before they can use weapons of mass destruction.” Not to mention the frequent scenes of hitting bullets with other bullets is the same principle as missile defense, except that it actually works in movies.

Gibson’s training goes pretty much like FIGHT CLUB, too...everyone beats the shit out of him and breaks his bones, but fortunately they have magic wax-baths on hand that heal things in Wolverine-speed. This may all sound pretty stupid, but it’s really closer to batshit insane, which I can roll with. Angelina’s first line in the movie is “You apologize too much.” The movie itself never does, even when it has car-fu to equal SPEED RACER’s.

So yeah, WANTED is insane fun. Also somewhat insane is that outside of the Crest theater, there was a shuttle to take people to the after-party...THREE BLOCKS AWAY! Don’cha know there’s a gas crisis, people?

The after-party was good, but it also had a big segregated VIP area, which was bathed in cool blue lighting rather than the white Christmas tree lights in the plebeian holding area. I think the food we got was pretty much the same, though. Chicken and couscous, pasta with shrimp, sirloin sandwiches, and a really kick-ass mustard-and-garlic potato salad.

More to the point, the party was sponsored by Jameson Irish whiskey. This is rare. Traditionally, film festivals have a beer sponsor and a vodka sponsor. Rarely whiskey. I’ve been beating the drum for whiskey for years. And now it’s happened. But the whiskey lines weren’t that long, so I worry that Jameson might get discouraged, which would be a shame.

The only big names I saw in our non-VIP area were Lori Petty and Morgan Spurlock.

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