L.A. Stories Premiere at Sundance

<em>Tangerine</em>, <em>The Overnight</em>, <em>Dope</em>, and <em>City of Gold</em> point the lens at life in Los Angeles
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Tangerine
Sean Baker’s Tangerine dives head first into the lives of sex workers who occupy the intersection of Santa Monica and Highland. “I was attracted to the drama that surrounds [that neighborhood],” says Baker, who co-wrote the dramedy with Chris Bergoch and cast two first-time actors, Mya Taylor and Kiki Katana Rodriguez, in leading roles. “Also it’s just a very visual place on a cinematic level.”

Shot all on iPhones with spectacular results, the film follows the two best friends as one attempts to seek revenge on her cheating pimp/boyfriend (played convincingly by James Ransone) while the other tries to keep the drama to a minimum.

“There’s just so much to explore in L.A.,” says Baker. “Just recently I was driving slightly east of downtown and I was wondering why more Hollywood productions aren’t shot around there. It’s beautifully desolate.”

The Overnight
Writer-director Patrick Brice brings a couple from Seattle (played by Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott) into a curious situation with new found friends (Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godreche) in The Overnight, where four adults attempt to navigate new relationships and old issues.

“I wanted Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott’s characters to be fish out of water in a way,” says Brice, who’s from Northern California but has called L.A. home for the last decade or so. “I think L.A. is an easy place to get lost, culturally speaking, and there is so much bad shit to fall into, like a Subway in a strip mall. At the same time, it’s a place where there are so many wonderful and amazing things going on. With this movie and through these characters I wanted to poke fun without making it just a parody of yuppies, hipsters, or the upper middle class in L.A.”

Dope

Rick Famuyiwa’s fifth feature, Dope is set in “The Bottoms”–-a gang-run, drug-infested neighborhood in Inglewood. Malcolm (an excellent Shameik Moore) doesn’t fit in there, what with his love of all things 1990s and hip-hop. Poignant, funny, and smart, the film takes us on a ride with Malcolm and his buddies who get caught in the crossfire of a drug deal gone wrong. In the process, Famuyiwa takes us into the home of an upper-class family overloaded with expensive toys and a popular nightclub run by gangsters and makes fun of Starbucks Coffee by replacing the sign with “Seven Bucks Coffee.”

“When you shoot at iconic locations such as Randy’s Donuts [which has a cameo about halfway through] or the L.A. Forum,” says Morrison, “you feel the history and it’s electrifying. These locations really infuse the film with a sense of place and character that is essential.”

City of Gold
City of Gold follows L.A. Times food critic Jonathan Gold around the city, taking us on a restaurant ride fit for a foodie. “Even if they’ve never been here,” says Gold in the beginning of the film, “[people] think they know [this city].” The first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, Gold has shaped the industry significantly, making the art of critiquing food a little less snobbish by reviewing hole-in-the-walls, mom-and-pop shops, and, of course, taco trucks.

“It wasn’t deliberate to open the film talking about taco trucks,” says the director, Laura Gabbart, who shot the movie over five years and re-cut it a few times. But the rolling culinary institution is as L.A. as traffic on the 405. “The chef Wes Avila is one of L.A.’s treasures,” Gold explains. “He studied haute cuisine, worked for Alain Ducasse in Paris and fancy restaurants all over L.A., but he decided the best level of what he was doing was going on his own and selling out of a truck. He’s getting the same cooked ranch pork that the very best restaurants in L.A. barely have access to.”

The film explores the urban sprawl of L.A. and takes us into its many neighborhoods rarely seen on screen. It touches on Gold’s family a bit, his (bad) writing habits, and even his stint in the L.A. punk rock scene. Still, the focus remains on the impact of L.A. food culture. Towards the end of the mouth-watering film Gold tells his cameraman, “I think ‘taco’ should be a verb.”

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