‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ has a definite bite

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A vampire is such a handy creature for filmmakers in search of a metaphor or two. Mortality is usually the first bite, and Ana Lily Amirpour’s stunning first feature, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” definitely takes a stab at that.

But it is the way in which the writer-director uses the specter of vampires and vices to take an off-center cut at Iranian gender politics and U.S.-Eurocentric pop culture that sets the film apart. They might seem poles apart, but the mashup is unexpectedly on the nose, or neck, or wherever else a vampire might choose to feed.

The Iranian American filmmaker, who was born in London but grew up in Miami and now lives in California, builds the mythical Bad City, where the vampire lurks, out of bits and pieces of a multitude of ideas and influences.

In almost every decision the director makes, there is a calculated risk, more heartening each time she takes it. The film is shot in black and white. The spare dialogue is spoken in Farsi (with English subtitles). The soundtrack draws on haunting Iranian rock and 1980s-era U.K.-style techno pop. The result is an exhilarating melange of Amirpour’s parents’ memories of their homeland and her own experiences and impressions.

The pump in the desolate, decaying oil town of Bad City, like a giant mechanical praying mantis, is among the pointed imagery, an ever-present reminder that issues of commerce as much as religion hang in the air. (Parts of Bakersfield stand in nicely.)

The vampire is a girl, and as with all the characters, she’s identified as a type, not by name. From a distance, the Girl, played with a ghostly grace by Sheila Vand (“Argo”), looks like she’s wearing a chador, head and body covered in a black shroud designed to divide her from the world. That she is the most dangerous of all is but one of the satisfying, ironic touches.

As the camera moves closer, we see that her garb is closer to cape than chador, often unfurling behind her in the wind. Fitting since, in a bizarre way, Amirpour has made her a crusader too.

A skateboard copped from the Little Boy (Milad Eghbali) becomes the Girl’s preferred mode of transportation and gives the film some ties to modern times. But there is a very strong retro strain running through the film, from the vinyl records the Girl plays to her possible love interest, the Persian James Dean (Arash Marandi). In his white T-shirt, jeans and leather jacket, he does remind you of a 1950s-era heartthrob.

Since this is as much an old-fashioned romance as a political statement, there is a “meet cute” for the couple. The Persian is drunk, lost, trying to find his way home from a costume party. He went as Dracula. She’s out looking for a late-night snack. They end up talking instead, until she takes him home.

Sparks don’t exactly fly, but there is an immediate and eerie chemistry you pick up on — part smoldering, part surreal. They are strangers, but they have dealings with many of the same characters. Bad City is a small town, all lives interconnected.

The Persian is the closest thing “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” has to an innocent. The rest of the players are different shades of bad, each adding layers to the points Amirpour is making.

The Pimp (Dominic Rains) runs drugs and women and is ruthless. The Prostitute (“The Blacklist” and “House of Cards’” Mozhan Marnò) works the streets for him because it’s the only work she can find. The Gambler (“How I Met Your Mother’s” Marshall Manesh), also the heartthrob’s father, is awash in his various addictions, heroin supplied by the Pimp the most deadly. The Rich Girl (Rome Shadanloo) is an entitled tease, especially when it comes to the hot gardener, who is the Persian James Dean. The Rockabilly (Reza Sixo Safai) is a transgender-esque man/woman and nearly invisible to the residents of Bad City, who no doubt would prefer he not exist.

The Girl is slowly working her way though the bunch, deciding who should live or die. So is the heartthrob; he’s just not handing out death sentences. Her drive is as much about right and wrong as hunger, though it’s never said. The other burning question under consideration is whether love will change one or both of them, but not in an ooey-gooey “Twilight” way.

Amirpour worked with cinematographer Lyle Vincent, production designer Sergio De La Vega and costume designer Natalie O’Brien, in a visual style that drew on such disparate influences as Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Within that tableau, the actors extend the tone, dancing around each other and around issues as if they were at the mercy of forces far beyond them. The vampire suggesting, perhaps not.

Amirpour’s fascination with macabre storytelling can be traced to her first experiments with film, a slasher short shot with her dad’s camera when she was 12. The writer-director’s 2012 animated short, “A Little Suicide,” was about a cockroach’s mental breakdown. Next up, she’s working on a cannibal love story.

For now, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is a mesmerizing taste of Amirpour’s work, filled with enough creative invention to whet the appetite for more.

betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

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‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes, Farsi with English subtitles

Playing: Nuart Theatre, West Los Angeles

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

Best-Rated Heated Mattress Pads Reviews and Deals – Flipboard

Ohhh, I LOVE the fleece heated mattress pad inside this buying guide: http://flip.it/BxGq8 That looks super warm and cozy. I might never get out of bed…lol!

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Paramount, Google start on ‘Interstellar’-sparked ‘time capsule’ film

Paramount Pictures and Google have started taking submissions for a “time capsule” short film documentary inspired by Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.”

The studio and Internet giant are asking fans of the film to share memories and highlights of their “life on earth” to help “preserve the past.” Filmmakers David Brodie and Angus Wall will turn selected submissions into a film that Nolan will curate.

“Let’s give future generations a way to remember where they came from,” actress Anne Hathaway, who plays Brand in the film, said in the time-capsule project’s promotional introduction video.

“What are the moments that best represent mankind’s time on earth?” Matthew McConaughey, who plays Cooper, echoed in the video. ”Tell us. Show us. Inspire us.” 

The project is part of the film’s innovative marketing campaign, which launched in October. The campaign brings Nolan’s film and Google platforms together for one immersive experience: the “Interstellar Space Hub.”

Using platforms such as Google+, Google Play, YouTube and Google for Education, the Hub allows users to immerse themselves in the Nolan film, which opened in wide release on Nov. 7.

The three-hour film follows Cooper, an engineer and pilot who has been called upon to lead an expedition through a wormhole to find a hospitable new planet for humanity because Earth is turning into a giant dust bowl. His costars include Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Hathaway, Wes Bentley and David Oyelowo.

Upon entering the Hub, users are told they can start their own “space hunt” by clicking around the galaxy. As users click on stars and various other clues, they can unlock new movie-related factoids.

In addition to the space hunt, users can look up show times, learn more about different film platforms (70mm, 35mm, 70mm Imax, digital motion picture viewing), purchase tickets and partake in Google+ Hangouts.

Memories for the time capsule can be submitted on the Hub’s website through Dec. 15.

For more news on the entertainment industry, follow me @saba_h

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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Arguing Paris’ fate in the compelling ‘Diplomacy’

In “Diplomacy,” veteran German director Volker Schlöndorff and two of France’s top actors, André Dussollier and Niels Arestrup, convincingly imagine how a Swedish consul and a German general could have argued the fate of Paris in the closing days of World War II. Back and forth the two men go at each other with passion and conviction, trading arguments like championship jabs. Given that the outcome is anything but a secret, it’s quite a triumph that this film involves us as thoroughly as it does in the ebb and flow of their compelling conversation.

Twitter: @KennethTuran

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

Pixar redraws the lines for ‘Good Dinosaur’

Pixar’s orphan movie “The Good Dinosaur” has a new parent — and a new story.

First-time feature director Peter Sohn, an artist at the studio in Emeryville, Calif., since 2000, unofficially took over the film a few months after Pixar executives removed its first director, Bob Peterson, amid creative concerns in the summer of 2013.

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For the record

Nov. 18, 5:20 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said that Benjamin Bogas was voicing a character in “The Good Dinosaur.” Bogas is not working on the movie.

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Over the last year, Sohn has been quietly streamlining the story, a buddy comedy about a teenage dinosaur and a human boy, in preparation for a November 2015 release.

“The heart of the story remains the same,” Sohn said, in an interview last week. “It’s always been about this young dinosaur growing up. But the world itself has changed a lot. Nature has become a character.”

Director changes are relatively common in animation in general, where multi-year production schedules can test a person’s creative and managerial stamina, and at Pixar in particular, where “The Good Dinosaur” was the fourth of the studio’s last eight films to see a swap.

But the midstream move caused a cascade of headaches for Pixar and for its parent company, Walt Disney Co., which pushed “The Good Dinosaur’s” release date back 18 months from May of 2014.

The timing change left Pixar without a 2014 film, bumped Andrew Stanton’s anticipated “Finding Nemo” sequel, “Finding Dory,” to 2016 and caused the company to lay off 50 employees.

“For Pixar it was a dramatic event,” said Jim Morris, the studio’s general manager and executive vice president of production. “It was tough on the company. Most studios would have said, ‘The movie’s fine. It’s not bad.’ And it wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t great. We wanted to have a great movie.”

At the time, Pixar’s leadership, including studio president Ed Catmull, felt Peterson was creatively stuck on the film and was proving too slow to make important story decisions. Sohn had been serving as Peterson’s co-director, a position akin to that of a deputy at Pixar.

As in Peterson’s version, the film still posits that an asteroid never hit the Earth and the dinosaurs never went extinct; a teenage Apatosaurus named Arlo takes a wild, young human boy named Spot as a pet.

Sohn has jettisoned some of Peterson’s signature ideas, such as modeling the dinosaurs on Amish farmers, and added new elements, including treating nature as the film’s antagonist.

“When Bob was taken off, I was supporting the film as best I could,” Sohn said. “It felt like, this child, this film still needs to be raised. It was just about how to take care of the thing at that time. … Trying to keep the original vision of this film intact and trying to plus it as well.”

In taking over the film, Sohn, 37, becomes part of a new generation of directors succeeding Stanton, Pete Docter and “Toy Story 3″ director Lee Unkrich, all of whom are in their late 40s.

Born in the Bronx to Korean immigrants, Sohn got a summer job working on Brad Bird’s 1999 animated cult classic “Iron Giant” while studying animation at the California Institute of the Arts.

At Pixar, Sohn distinguished himself in the art, story and animation departments, directed the 2009 short film “Partly Cloudy” and became known around the studio for his wide-eyed, ebullient demeanor. Sohn has even inspired a Pixar character — Russell, the enthusiastic boy wilderness explorer in the movie “Up.”

“He has this warm, open, innocent view of the world which he channels well into humor,” Morris said of Sohn.

Sohn got the “Good Dinosaur” job after he presented a possible new version of the film in storyboards last summer, according to producer Denise Ream.

Because of Sohn’s relative inexperience, Ream enlisted some of Pixar’s veteran department heads to help him finish “The Good Dinosaur,” including production designer Harley Jessup and director of photography-lighting Sharon Calahan, both of whom lent “Ratatouille” much of its visual richness (incidentally, that successful 2007 film was another of Pixar’s controversial director changes, from the idea’s originator, Jan Pinkava, to Bird).

Peterson remains at Pixar and, according to Morris, has been working on Docter’s next film, “Inside Out,” and on “Finding Dory” as a writer. He declined to comment for this story.

“Being a director in animation is a lot harder,” Morris said. “By the time you get to the set in live action, you’ve got your actors, your location. You’ve got a crew assembled. In animation, you’ve got to build everything. You don’t get anything for free — the beautiful sunset or the improvisational moment of the actors. You don’t really know until somebody’s in the director’s chair whether it’s going to work out.”

Follow me on Twitter: @ThatRebecca

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

‘Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me’ tracks ailing singer’s farewell tour

“Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” opens with the Alzheimer’s-afflicted singer watching home-movie footage while his wife, Kimberly, prompts him to identify the younger faces — including his own — flickering across the screen.

It’s just one of the deeply moving moments that make up the director James Keach’s documentary, which should be an Oscar contender. The film puts a brave, much-adored face on a disease that has touched so many families.

Chronicling the country great’s final concert tour, the extremely intimate film follows Campbell’s mounting challenges, both on stage and off, in the months following his 2011 diagnosis.

Testimonials from Campbell’s diverse fan base include Bruce Springsteen, Bill Clinton and Steve Martin, who was a young writer on “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” but it’s the performance footage that speaks most eloquently.

Surprising his neurologist with his still-keen musical skills even as brain scans indicate worsening cognitive abilities, Campbell embarks on what would become a 151-date tour, handling the occasional forgotten lyric or chord key with humor and grace. As the tour and the disease progress, it’s clear that his concert in Napa in late 2012 would be his last.

Soon after, Campbell, now 78, co-wrote and recorded his final song, the recently released “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” But it’s ultimately another song — the opener for those farewell concerts, “Gentle on My Mind” — and the tenderly sung lyrics “It’s knowing I’m not shackled by forgotten words and bonds” that deliver a truly touching poignancy.

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‘Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me’

MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements, brief language

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Playing: Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills; AMC Burbank Town Center 8

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times