Los Angeles Film Festival Recap: The Movies, part 3

Okay, so we’re back one more time to wrap up my series of posts covering my reactions to the movies I managed to see at the Los Angeles Film Festival. If time and my temperament permits, a special kvetching post will be forthcoming. You can see my earlier posts on the films here and here.

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* “Cane Toads: The Conquest” — I saw this the same night as I saw “Cyrus” and, while I got a bit tired towards the end, probably because it had been a long day, I couldn’t help but be delighted and impressed by this unapologetically entertaining documentary. Made in high end 3-D, writer-director Mark Lewis told the audience with some pleasure that his film has been dubbed “Avatoad” by several critical wags.  Whatever comparisons there may be to the Cameron film, this one is definitely funnier.

What it actually is a sequel to a twenty-five year old documentary (“Cane Toads: An Unnatural History”) detailing how these toads were brought to Australia to combat an agricultural pest. The amphibians utterly failed at that task, but utterly succeeding at reproducing themselves by the billion and being perceived as a pest themselves by displeased Aussies. The new film explores the various aspects of the creatures and how they interact with humans in Australia, with some making a sport of how many of the creatures they can exterminate, and others fighting to stop the slaughter or studying them, and, in the case of one little girl, making a pet of one beloved and friendly toad.

Full of invention and wit, “Cane Toads: The Conquest” is easily the funniest ecological nature documentary I’ve ever seen — it’s also, easily, the only one that could qualify as a somewhat dark comedy of sorts, a clever combo of science, silliness, and ecological awareness. As much as I liked the film, overall, I do have to admit that that was overshadowed by the fact that none other than Werner Herzog was sitting in front of me, who is said to be working on his own 3-D documentary. Exactly the guy you’d want to be sitting next to you at that kind of doc.

* “Farewell” — This blend of fiction and documentary film is the tale of the 1929 round-the-world trip of the German Graf Zeppelin as reported by its lone female passenger, a real-life English journalist/aristocrat. Written and directed by Denmark’s Ditteke Mensink, the film is mainly a fictionalized story of starcrossed love, and the real-life writer really did have a lifelong secret love affair with a married colleague. Comprised entirely of found footage, mostly from the actual historical trip, which was probably the biggest zeppelin story until the Hindenberg disaster effectively killed lighter-than-air travel, the story is told in the form of a highly emotional narration in the form of a diary.

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Although I was as wowed by the amazing footage as many critics seemed to have been, I was somewhat disappointed with the film as a whole. Lacking the informational interest of a more conventional doc, the film didn’t really work as a drama for me either. It’s bit humorless and static — especially since our male lead that our heroine is over the moon for isn’t exactly your usual dramatic leading man — and, like the zeppelin trip, the love story winds up largely where it starts.

***

And that, believe it or not, is it — for the movies, anyhow.

  

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