Every summer, the Sundance Film Festival brings a handful of films directly from Park City to Los Angeles to make their L.A. debut at Sundance NEXT FEST.

This diverse selection of films played in Sundance’s NEXT category – a category that showcases bold films by up-and-coming talents of tomorrow. The festival is held at the beautiful Ace Hotel Theater in Downtown L.A. and pairs comedy and musical acts with each film, making for a full night of entertainment.

This past weekend, Morgan and Ryan Rojas attended NEXT FEST and caught Lemon and Gook, two films that made our heads spin (along with musical acts Lizzo and Sleigh Bells – two female-fronted bands who brought the Ace Hotel Theater’s roof down). 

Lemon (2017) Review by Ryan Rojas

Lemon has been getting reviewed as a cringe-inducing comedy, which is exactly what writer and director Janicza Bravo would like. Making her feature film debut, Lemon is the story of sad-sack Isaac (Brett Gelman, Bravo’s real-life partner), a struggling L.A. actor whose life begins to slowly unravel when his girlfriend of ten years Ramona (Judy Greer) decides to leave him. The break-up is more or less the driving center of this absurdist comedy, of which a number of other nonsensical and low-stakes events orbit around. Some instances include amateurish theater scenes in which Isaac workshops Chekhov’s “The Seagull” with two self-serious actors (Michael Cera and Gillian Jacobs) as well as celebrating Passover with his pregnant sister (Shiri Appleby) and quirky parents (Fred Melamed and Rhea Perlman).

While it’s all utter nonsense, Lemon is still delightful and fun throughout its relatively short eighty-three-minute runtime. The deadpan seriousness of Isaac’s spiral-diving life is a fun time – if neurosis-obsessed humor is your thing. Lemon both challenges its audience to keep up with it as much as it does apathetically stroll from start to finish. It is an interesting tension that is kept intact from beginning to end. If you want to see a movie that may make you as uncomfortable as it does make you laugh out loud, and if you like your comedy brainy and re-wired for your IQ, then Lemon will tickle you in just the right way. 

Lemon is not rated. 83 min. In select theaters this Friday. 

Gook (2017) Review by Morgan Rojas

Writer/Director/Actor Justin Chon was just a boy during the L.A. Riots of 1992. He since took to filmmaking to express his experience as a Korean-American living through one of the city’s most infamously tumultuous times which, until now, has generally been considered a black/white issue. Chon’s latest film, Gook, gives audiences a fresh perspective of how the Rodney King riots affected the Asian population living in Los Angeles at that time. From destroyed businesses to strained cross-cultural relationships, this Sundance award-winning drama uses black and white cinematography to tell a truly unique story that celebrates the artistry in diverse voices. 

Gook tells the story of two Korean American brothers, Eli and Daniel, who struggle to make ends meet by working in their late father’s shoe store, located in the South Central neighborhood of Paramount (a stone’s throw from Compton). The brothers’ tough exterior of gold chains and foul language may seem intimidating to outsiders, but that doesn’t deter 11-year-old Kamilla from hanging around them any chance she gets. Kamilla is a street smart, orphaned black girl whose own dysfunctional upbringing has her searching for the security of a family in unconventional ways. As racial tension runs at an all time high, the special bond between Kamilla, Eli and Daniel is put to the test in a major and life altering way.

Gook is not rated. 94 min. In select theaters this Friday.