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‘Love,’ ‘Upstairs’: Dynamite Double Feature

TIMES STAFF WRITER

L.A. Underground Cinema, a new distributor handling edgy, low-budget features, makes a splashy debut Thursday at the Sunset 5 with a dynamite double feature, Jordan Alan’s “Love & Happiness” (at 10 p.m.) and James Merendino’s “The Upstairs Neighbor” (at 11:40 p.m.). Both have a specifically L.A. sensibility.

Love and happiness are what rugged hit man Charlie (Charlie Mattera, a writer in a socko debut) promises his clientele. Charlie hates L.A. but finds plenty of takers for his services. A man with a code, so to speak, he specializes in taking out spoiled, nasty, rich housewives so that their husbands may have a second chance at happiness.

Alan is a dynamo of a director, restlessly moving from one chic locale to the next, introducing us to an immense cast and ever-increasing plot complications. Don’t worry about keeping track, for it is clear enough that Charlie has about a half-dozen people in his employ, including a beauty salon operator (Keith Bogart, very good) and an auto mechanic, who tag potential victims for him. What emerges from all this is a shrewdly observed portrait of trendy L.A. in which the haves are pursued by the have-nots with implacable ruthlessness, and everyone seems to be living on quicksand whether they acknowledge it or not.

Largely improvised within a frame devised by Alan and Mattera, “Love & Happiness” is swift, darkly funny, totally amoral and decidedly risky. For its sharp observation of right here and now, “Love & Happiness” is a picture for the time capsule.

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Merendino’s “The Upstairs Neighbor” is a superbly controlled work of classic psychological suspense as a young writer (Sebastian Gutierrez, in a highly focused portrayal) living in a spacious apartment in a typically L.A. old stucco four-family flat becomes gradually unhinged by sounds of weird goings-on in the apartment above him. That unit is occupied by a macho guy (Rustam Branaman) who seems utterly normal but who the writer becomes convinced is a satanist engaged in unspeakable rituals.

Merendino thus proposes the timeless question: Is the writer right about his neighbor or is he losing his mind? Also a keen observer, Merendino manages to pull off his suspenser largely in broad daylight--and with a dash of humor besides. “The Upstairs Neighbor” will also screen Friday at midnight, “Love & Happiness,” Saturday at midnight.

Information: (213) 848-3500.

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Magical, Unexpected: The UCLA Film Archive’s “Hungarian Rhapsodies” resumes Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Melnitz Theater with Gyula Gazdag’s “A Hungarian Fairy Tale” (1987), one of those magical films in which events are totally unexpected, yet responses to them seem exactly right. In this dark political satire and fable of the absurd, a night of love between a beautiful young woman with a Mona Lisa smile (Maria Varga) and a stranger results in a childbirth with complex implications. Followed by “The Package Tour,” Gazdag’s 1984 documentary on a return visit to Auschwitz by some its survivors.

Information: (310) 206-FILM.

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New at IMAX: Spectacular, dramatic and informative, Greg MacGillivray’s 29-minute “Stormchasers” (Friday at the IMAX Theater, Exposition Park), in which science is made exciting, introduces us to the work of meteorologists pursuing major storms while taking us via weather-plane right into the awesomely serene eye of a hurricane, among other thrills.

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Information: (213) 744-2014.

From Argentina: “A Passage to Argentina,” a series of 22 Argentine films old and new, begins Friday at the Sunset 5, where it will play through Nov. 21, with all films repeated several times.

Among the films screening during opening weekend is Hector Olivera’s pleasant, low-key “A Shadow You Will Soon Be,” in which a 40ish unemployed computer programmer (Miguel Angel Sola), disembarking from a train that has broken down in the hinterlands, crosses paths with a series of characters, most notably a colorful old circus performer (Pepe Soriano) and a plump, voluptuous fortuneteller (Alicia Bruzzo).

They have a series of whimsical adventures that suggest a sort of stasis in Argentina and that will serve either to propel Sola further afield or back into the mainstream.

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Information: (213) 954-9233.


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