Los Angeles Film Festival Opens with Everyone Who is Anyone

When I sat in Royce Hall a few months ago for a preview screening of 'Peaceful Warrior" at the Los Angeles Times/UCLA Festival of Books, I saw the announcement that the Times would be presenting the Los Angeles Film Festival this year in Westwood Village.  I was totally transfixed as the big screen lit up with the event announcement and the dates June 22 through July 2.

New York Times Editor officially opens festival, makes announcement that Lynn Segal will be joining LA Times team

That excitement was most definitely not disappointed by the Festival's opening night, which started with a VIP/press toast and an announcement that Lynn Segal was a 'new addition' to the Los Angeles Times.  His Honor, Antonio Villaraigosa cut the ceremonial ribbon for the event, and then walked the red carpet with the rest of the stars there, including Jeff Goldblum (who looked sexy and handsome as ever).

Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa is interviewed on the red carpet

Beautiful, ever gracious Jane Seymour was there, too, with her son and daughter Katie and was bursting to talk of her most recent film adventure.

'I'm very excited about a new project I'm working on with Kevin Wheatley,' she told me before being whisked away for other press photos.  While another reporter pulled her away, Jane's incredibly good-looking entourage added that the new film is something that's 'part political satire and part Monty Python- and 'incredibly sexy.'  The film, 'Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell: The History of New America, Part 1,' debuted Friday night, June 23 at a one-minute-to-midnight sneak peek. Written, produced, and directed by Wheatley, the film also features Wheatley's acting talent, along with that of Paul Whitty, Chandler Parker, Bill English, Jamie Bullock, Stewar Carrico, Ted Schneider, Alex Reznik, Lea Coco, Johnny Davidson, Daniel Baldwin, Tony Hale, and Richard Riehle.  More on that to follow.

Beautiful Jane Seymour and daughter Katie interviewed on the red carpet

Ann Hathaway, Festival volunteer Ella Newman tipped me, made a grand entrance in a 'lemon, lemon of a Prada dress.'  Hathaway stars with Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, and Emily Blunt in the festival's opening film Twentieth Century Fox 'The Devil Wears Prada.'  Must have been something to see- but then I got to see Ella's terrific silver sneakers with bright pink laces' And speaking of shoes, Olympia Morris had the neatest pair of white open-mesh, round-toe pumps with flowers on them to match her fresh white handkerchief-lace bedecked halter dress.

Shoes were most definitely on my mind because of the choice of 'The Devil Wears Prada' as main event.

Westwood Village never looked so fabulous.  Broxton was darling dressed as 'Popcorn Alley,' celebrating that age-old favorite movie-going snack as well as one of the event's sponsors, Pop Secret.  The Fox Theater and its quaint neon signs had the power of its presence turned up more than a notch with spotlights all around.  The line waiting for the 7:30 p.m. film opening snaked around the corner on Crest almost to Gayley.  I was told by events manager Julie Segal that the Fox holds somewhere around 1500 people, so a 'polite estimate' of attendance for this opening night film could be around 2000.  Not too shabby.  The crowd waiting outside the theater was orderly while they were treated to many star sightings.

'I think it's a great idea to promote the big name projects,' working actor Benjamin Plaut told me when I asked him about 'Devil.'  (He also tipped me to Nicole Ritchie being there.).  'I was here last year,' he added, 'when the festival was held in Hollywood at the Arclight.  The crowd included more independent filmmaker types who were almost too cool for their own good' They got 'The Devil Wears Prada' and this is a whole other level of business and a widening out (for the festival).'  I couldn't agree more; the mix of folk attending this festival was a new kind of 'feel':  serious, artsy, but also with a Hollywood glam, both old- and new-style.

Those at the end of the line- actors trading photographic business cards, indie filmmakers and others trading contact info (I wonder if any new deals were made???) were treated to a van ride down to the Majestic Crest theater on Westwood Avenue (capacity 460) to an 'overflow' theater.  The Crest is a wonderful Art Deco venue with paintings of Hollywood street scenes under black lights on its screening room walls.  Lighting is by way of rainbow-light lamps of frosted glass that bring a soft feel to the place.  There is a beautiful, old-fashioned stage curtain shimmering with silver, and there are even sparkling stars on the ceiling. 

Olympia Morris shows us those great shoes!

The event was so well planned, well staffed, and well orchestrated that it was a real pleasure to take part.  Even transportation was considered, with cool, air conditioned vans running every ten minutes or so, taking VIP guests from receptions to screenings so as not to tire them or cause their Jimmy-Choo-heel-clad feet to hurt.  The movement of personnel was seamless and pleasant- not to mention a fun way to meet other film lovers. I talked with a scout from MySpace.com who told me they had offered promotional space to the festival and filmmakers and were attending to buy content for their filmmakers' section.

Filmmakers ready to enjoy "The Devil Wears Prada" premier

The overflow screening started around 8:30 p.m. and was well worth the wait.  Festival Director Rich Rallen introduced director David Frankel.

'You're the overflow crowd,' Frankel acknowledged, 'so you're the diehards.'  The audience loved it.  'One of the greatest joys of making a film like this,' he told us, 'is for a married guy like me to meet and fall in love with so many women- and a few men.  I've nearly fallen in love with all of the actors.'

'The Devil Wears Prada' is Aline Brosh McKenna's film adaptation of Lauren Weisberger's New York Times hardcover best-selling first novel of the same name.  Ann Hathaway plays the lead of Andrea (Andy) Sachs, a bright young woman who has turned down Stanford law to follow her dream of being a journalist.  Andrea finds her only job option even remotely related to her chosen career is a 'grunt' position at a high fashion magazine in New York City- in an office where every female employee is waif thin and wears designer clothing and footwear with heels high enough to earn them the name 'clackers.'

Her boss, granite-faced Miranda Priestly , played divinely by Meryl Streep, is a high stakes career woman whose life revolves totally around her work.  As such, she has no time to waste with a kindness or a consideration for others and has a well-known history for burning out every employee who comes near her.  Enter our idealistic protagonist- definitely not a quitter- who even goes so far as to change the way she dresses in order to make the job work and 'survive' the legendary editor-in-chief.

Stanley Tucci and friends out to enjoy "The Devil Wears Prada" premiere

The film is well casted.  Stanley Tucci as Nigel, the next-in-line to the Miranda character is a wonderful confidante and supporter of Andrea.  He begins as a staunch critic of everything Andrea does- and of what she wears.  'That's interesting,' he tells her while examining the items on her cafeteria tray.  'Did you know that cellulite is the main ingredient in corn chowder?'  It is this same character who helps Andrea into her first pair of designer shoes- and then three or four more, along with designer dresses and coats and bags from the office's stock room- and watches her learn her own very good sense of fashion style.

Emily Blunt (who plays a character ingeniously called 'the first Emily' with all subsequent assistants of any level to Miranda having that same name) shines as an over-worked, under-appreciated assistant who is trying desperately to have her dream life by way of allowing herself to be demeaned at every opportunity- and who is happy to pay that favor well forward to Andrea and any 'Emily's' who might follow in those foot steps.  'I'm just one stomach flu away from my ideal weight,' she announces candidly to Andrea toward the end of the film.'  This on the heels of initially slighting Andrea five minutes on her assigned fifteen-minute 'lunch break.'

'It's obvious that Emily Blunt is a classically trained actor,' one of my companions on the van ride from the screening told me.  'She went through a broad range of emotions in some of those scenes, and she was 'true' in all of them.'  I couldn't agree more.  Haughty-in-training Emily is angry, demanding frightened, and, well, haughty- all in the space of a few seconds of film and it works beautifully.

'The Devil Wears Prada' has an exciting soundtrack, including work by Seal), and terrific scenes in the great fashion places of New York and Paris, including lovely runway shots and scenes at the tony fashionista places like the St. Regis.  There is even a cameo by the Versacce family.

Filming is bold and creative with some great low-angle shots as the haughty Miranda is introduced by way of 'arriving' at the office and exiting her chauffer-driven Mercedes.  The first thing we see are her high-heeled shoes and, of course, her march step.  The camera pans a full arc around Andrea and would-be suitor Christian Thompson as he attempts to seduce her at an art exhibition. This pulls the audience in and provides a swirling, happy feeling.  And that could sum up the film:  it is a 'happy' feel. 

The film is sexy and energetic, and yet there isn't even any sex in it.  We have so much fun with the caricatures and the color of the fashion world that we don't miss it.  The film is about challenging oneself to try new things in order to grow and breaking away, but it simultaneously captures the intoxicating and seductive atmosphere of the fashion industry.  As such, the film is about choices- choices about how one chooses to conduct one's life, about choices made in order to get ahead, and about integrity.  All of the main characters grow in some way and it is neat to be on the ride with them as this happens.

Andrea learns that she is able to do the job at the fashion house, and do it quite well- if she wants to do it.  She elects not to do it, just as she elects to forego the attentions of the sexy writer who was offering her a personal connection to a plum writing venue. 

Good choice, Andrea, and good choice Los Angeles Film Festival.

Lynn Segal at opening night party

And speaking of choices, the Festival this year offers more choices of film, lectures, workshops, poolside chats, coffee talks, and other events geared toward moviemakers and movie viewers than ever before.  Despite the name of one of its major sponsors, this event is most definitely not a 'secret'; so hurry and get yourself some tickets today so you're not disappointed.

More information can be found by visiting the web site at www.lafilmfest.com.

Text and photos copyright M. D. Caprario

A big thank you to Anna for being such great company, a fellow journalist on scene who also knows what it's like to have to work with a broken tape recorder!


"The Devil Wears Prada"


Cast overview, first billed only: 
Meryl Streep ....  Miranda Priestly
Anne Hathaway ....  Andy Sachs
Emily Blunt ....  Emily
Stanley Tucci ....  Nigel
Adrian Grenier ....  Nate
Tracie Thoms ....  Lilly
Rich Sommer ....  Doug
Simon Baker ....  Christian Thompson
Daniel Sunjata ....  James Holt
Jimena Hoyos ....  Lucia
Rebecca Mader ....  Jocelyn
Tibor Feldman ....  Irv Ravitz
Stephanie Szostak ....  Jacqueline Follet
David Marshall Grant ....  Richard Barnes
James Naughton ....  Stephen

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