Daniel Fienberg and Hanh Nguyen
Be sure to check out our ongoing coverage of the films, guest speakers, red carpet events and our unsolicited thoughts on the World Cup.
Sunday, July 2
'Sunshine' Brightens Closing Night
Nine-year-old Abby Breslin, star of "Little Miss Sunshine," summed up the exuberant and slightly offbeat mood of the Los Angeles Film Festival's closing night when she hopped up on a speaker during the outdoor after party at the Wadsworth Theater and proceeded to boogie to Rick James' "Superfreak."
"Little Miss Sunshine," directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, centers on young Olive Hoover (Breslin), whose dreams to win the titular children's beauty pageant in California prompts her family to journey from Albuquerque in a battered VW bus. Among the wacky travelers is uptight dad Richard (Greg Kinnear), mom Sheryl (Toni Collette), silent brother Dwayne (Paul Dano), depressed uncle Frank (Steve Carell) and grandpa (Alan Arkin).
With the exception of Collette, the film's principal actors made it to the night's gala screening or after party. While most just stuck around for photos or on-air chats, Arkin deigned to speak with Zap2it for a few minutes to explain why he signed on for the project.
"I thought it was a brilliant script. It's rich, complex and unpredictable," he says. And although the adults support Olive's dream in the film, he understands that sometimes parents and kids don't always have the same goals.
"Yeah, [my parents] wanted me to be an accountant," he says. "I think they would have been happier if I'd done something stable. I think they would have preferred if I finished college, which I didn't. But there you go."
The film, which was five years in the making, was a labor of love for those involved, such as producer David Friendly, who comments, "This is a movie that's all character-driven and just all about the quality of the writing and the performances and those are the hard ones to get made because it's not obvious."
He also shares one of his favorite scenes in the film: "There's a moment in the film where Toni Collette is really mad at Greg Kinnear and she's just circling the bus. And she's not saying anything, just staring him down. I think it's a really powerful moment. Without words, the power that she can communicate is spectacular."
After the screening, festivalgoers filed outside to the aforementioned party, which was strung with orange lights. Guests consumed shish kebabs, grape leaves, flatbread, hummus and tabouli along with copious amounts of the flavored Absolut of their choice.
Others seen having a good time or giving a remarkable semblance of doing so were a shaggy-haired Haley "I see dead people" Joel Osment, Ben Foster looking very different from the "X-Men's" Angel sporting a scruffy beard and newsboy cap, "Super Size Me" guinea pig Morgan Spurlock, "Melrose Place" alum Grant Show, Willie Garson and a number of the festival's indie filmmakers.
"Little Miss Sunshine" Premiere Photos
But Really, We're All Winners Here
As previously reported, the Target Filmmaker Awards determined by the festival's jury, were handed to narrative feature "Gretchen" and documentary "Deliver Us From Evil" on Wednesday, June 28. Just before tonight's "Little Miss Sunshine" screening, LAFF Co-Chair Christina Applegate announced the audience awards, for which the non-industry viewer gets his/her say about what's worthy of coughing up $10 for the price of admission. Writer/star Jennifer Westfeldt's divorce comedy "Ira & Abby" won for the narrative category, while "Mario's Story," about a teenager jailed for life for a murder he didn't commit, took the documentary prize.
"We met Sister Janet Harris ... and she told us about this young man who had at age 16 arrested, convicted and sentenced to life in prison," "Mario's Story" director/producer Susan Koch tells Zap2it.com. "And it intrigued us. So we thought we'd look into it and we got hooked. And here it is seven years later with a film."
Co-director Jeff Werner adds, "[Documentaries are] great stories. It's hard to write a good story. If you try to write a fictional narrative, it's very hard to come up with an original great story. Life is original. I think a lot of people gravitate toward the truth to the stories that come out of documentaries."
Mike Akel's "Chalk," which competed against both "Gretchen" and "Ira & Abby" in the narrative category, finally got recognition with the outstanding performance award for its ensemble cast. The mockumentary style comedy about four high school faculty members struggling to do their jobs stars Sharon Haragan, Chris Mass, Janelle Schremmer and Troy Schremmer.
Awards for the short films were also announced and went to: Gustavo Taretto's "Side Walls" (narrative jury prize); Cedar Sherbert's "Gesture Down (I Don't Sing)" (documentary jury prize); Adam Parrish King's "The Wraith of Cobble Hill" (animated/experimental jury prize) and Diego Quemada-Diez's "I Want To Be A Pilot" (audience prize).
This year, the LAFF spiced up its formula by moving to the theater/shops/restaurant-packed Westwood area, by adding new events such as the casual filmmaker lunch talks and by adding new categories like "Guilty Pleasures," which encompassed films like "Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror" and "The Boys' and Girls' Guide to Getting Down." LAFF officially became the most largely attended festival in Los Angeles this year, drawing more than 80,000 attendees.
"One always hopes: 'If you build it, they will come,'" says Film Independent's Executive Director Dawn Hudson. "That's what's so exciting. It's really exceeded our expectations. With this festival we really took a step forward in creating the world class film festival we've been trying to create for the city of Los Angeles. What the response has been from the community has been fantastic."
"Ultimate Avengers 2"
directed by Curt Geda and Steven E. Gordon.
Although I was able to catch a sneak preview screening of "Ultimate Avengers 2" on the big screen, it's thankfully going to get a straight-to-DVD release on Tuesday, Aug. 8. The animation and character design are pleasing, while the story is appropriately preposterous for a comic book film. Unfortunately, half-hearted character development, alternately silly or bland dialogue and an affected tone ruin its entertainment value.
T'Challa, the newly appointed king of the isolated African nation of Wakanda, seeks out Captain America in order to track down his father's killer, a mysterious Nazi who appears to be invulnerable. All the Avengers get in on the action, which escalates into a much bigger skirmish when Thor discovers that aliens are mixed up in the trouble that ultimately threatens all of mankind.
Frankly, there's always theatrics, overdone dialogue and logical leaps in comic book stories, but "UA2" rarely moves past petulant whining and one-note melodrama. Captain America sounds more like an angst-ridden teen, and Giant Man is just repulsively abusive and selfish. Dialogue is just plain awful sometimes, as heard in this exchange about searching for the god Thor:
"He's been a no-show at every environmental protest on the planet."
"Keep checking every hippie rally you can think of."
The one bright spot is Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, who actually seems to exhibit loneliness under his wise-cracking, playboy attitude. Also note that this film is a direct sequel to February's release of "Ultimate Avengers" on DVD and expects viewers will know who characters are without catch-up exposition.
Sunday, July 2
A Bang *and* a Whimper
A busy 10 days at the Los Angeles Film Festival came to an end for me on Sunday with one of the better projects I've seen and one of the worst.
"Conversations with Other Women"
written by Gabrielle Zevin, directed by Hans Canosa
"Conversations with Other Women" has been playing at various film festivals for nine months, which is rarely an encouraging sign, so I was surprised by how moved I was by the film, a humane little two-hander starring Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart as a man and a woman who flirt at a wedding and end up in her hotel room. They seem to meet as strangers, but they may also have a past.
The main gimmick is that the entire film is told in a split screen. Often it's just there to provide the perspective of both stars, the shot and the reverse-shot, giving viewers a chance to watch different parts of each actor's strong work. The split screen also makes room for flashbacks and for hypothetical situations, romantic paths not taken. I spent much of the movie struggling with Canosa's formal choices, wondering if the framework was necessary or valuable. From time to time, though, I caught an expression on an actor's face, an unexpected reaction, a coy or sad look aside and those moments validated the split screen and yielded a constant sense of discovery.
The film is a very bittersweet love story and it feels, at its very best, like Richard Linklater's brilliant "Before Sunset," my favorite film in this genre. The stars are sexy, funny and utterly vulnerable and Zevin's screenplay has both one-liners and raw emotionalism. I'd hope this can find an audience when it moves into limited release in August.
On a side note, I loved the supporting work by Nora Zehetner (so good in "Brick" as well) as the young Helena Bonham Carter. Also, although she has only one small scene, Olivia Wilde gets two or three really big laughs, not bad for a beautiful actress whose humor has never really been glimpsed before.
written and directed by James M. Hausler
Someday, over beer, I'd really love for Hausler to explain to me what happened with "Wild Seven." A 10-years-late Tarantino rip-off set in Arizona, "Wild Seven" is full of banal obscenities, supposedly funny violence, off-handed racism and homophobia, badly integrated pop culture references and cheesy musical cues. It also seems to be missing several major scenes. Did the filmmakers run out of money? Were several canisters of film destroyed in the developing process? Did the actors only have a one-week production window? I'm not sure how else to explain why Hausler was able to find time for a dozen different time-lapse images of the desert landscape, but the film doesn't really have an ending (or a couple clearly major bits of character interaction in the middle).
Since it's impossible to judge the film based on what isn't there, I can only wonder what Hausler did to lure Robert Loggia, Richard Roundtree and Robert Forster into such an awful mess of a project.
Even though it was screening in the "Guilty Pleasures" part of the Festival, anybody getting much pleasure from this should feel guilt indeed.
Saturday, July 1
'Hell' on Earth
The red carpet screening of "Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell" became more of a family affair thanks to Jane Seymour. The former "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" had her husband and brood in tow to promote their various projects.
In the post-apocalyptic adventure, Seymour has a cameo as the last president of the United States, while daughter Katie Flynn pulled double duty as the film's line producer and a futuristic, nigh-invulnerable sadist with a perfect tan. Seymour's husband James Keach talked up his upcoming film "Blind Guy Driving," starring Chris Pine, while son Sean Flynn discussed his drama "Numb," which will screen at New York's Beautiful Decay Festival on Aug. 18.
"Threshold of Hell" is appropriately full of horrifying brutality and fake blood. The scene that stands out among the cast members, however, is a peaceful one in which Quincy the Robot (Paul Whitty) sings a little ditty and strums the ukelele while his master Tex (Kevin Wheatley) listens.
"It's the best moment that we had," says Katie Flynn. "It just came out of nowhere and it's beautiful. You have to have him sing for you."
Whitty graciously obliges by singing the first verse and then explains how his character learned the song: "The way we kind of approached it is that it was something that Quincy probably sang to Tex when he was a little kid. My creator had put that song into my programming. But actually, I wrote the song right before we shot the scene. It worked out very well."
Tex has traversed the country on foot, accompanied by his two robot bodyguards Quincy and Yul (Chandler Parker), to enthrone the prophesied king of New America. On they way, they've captured Cannibal Sue, played by producer Jamie Bullock, who shares how she tapped into her character's hunger-fueled cannibalistic rages.
"Totally from producing," she explains. "I would be in costume, and I would have someone come up to me and be like, 'I need $10,000.' I was like, 'Oh, really?' That would kind of propel me into the next scene. 'We don't have that money. I don't know what to do.' So I would kind of mutilate everyone around me.
In real life, Bullock doesn't go for human flesh but turns to goat cheese when she gets the munchies. Which brings us to the winning answer to tonight's red carpet question: "In a post-apocalyptic world, what role would you fall into?"
Jonny Gillette, who co-directed with Wheatley, responds: "I think I would probably be the guy who tries to bring back cheese because cheese is probably not going to be prevalent in post-apocalyptic times. Someone has to be there to do the cultures. Everybody loves cheese. Cows, I'd like to do without. I'd like to stick mainly to goats if that's possible."
directed by Mike Akel
We've become connoisseurs of the mockumentary by now thanks to Christopher Guest's films such as "Best in Show" and the American version of the British workplace sitcom "The Office." "Chalk" utilizes the genre's familiar devices -- interviews, handheld camera shots and expository text -- to create a chuckle-worthy experience that manages to be restrained and sensitive at the same time.
Co-written by real-life high school teachers Mike Akel and Chris Mass, "Chalk" follows the lives of four faculty members: the chummy Mr. Stroope (Mass) who has his eye on the Teacher of the Year title this year; lonely Coach Webb (Janelle Schremmer) who wants people to know that "not all P.E. teachers are gay"; her best friend Mrs. Redell (Shannon Haragan), who's stressing out as Assistant Principal; and Mr. Lowrey (Troy Schremmer), a technically minded man who's finding his first year as a history teacher daunting.
Director Akel has a light touch, allowing Stroope to ad lib some of the more outrageous moments, but thankfully resisting the urge to go over the top. Using real-life students and very little scripted dialogue keeps the film natural and fresh. While there are many quirky and fun moments in the film, it reaches a high during the "Spelling Hornet," in which teachers are on the spot to spell today's urban slang in a spelling bee-type format. Later, another teacher comments: "I agree with the connecting with kids, but I don't agree with the bastardization of the English language."
"Our Daily Bread"
directed by Nikolaus Geyrhalter
This haunting documentary relies on its images with only ambient noise on the soundtrack to make an impression. Director Nikolaus Geyrhalter takes a laborious look at how food is harvested, produced or slaughtered in the otherworldly world of factories. He generally plants a camera in one spot and lets the action play out for a couple of minutes, forcing the audience to ponder the robotic movements that bring food to our table.
It's a film that will likely make a (temporary) vegetarian out of the more squeamish viewers who prefer not to think of meat as coming from an animal. PETA would do well to endorse this film. In the audience, I could hears sounds of startled horror as a piglet was castrated on-screen, and many people had hands clasped firmly over their mouths. But the whole time all eyes are riveted to the screen's hypnotic repetitions.
Geyrhalter makes an interesting choice not only to focus on animals and plant products being prepared, but also films the anonymous factory workers going about their business. Whether the worker is taking a lunch break, gathering lettuce heads late at night or snapping the trotters off a pig, the camera is just as cooly objective. The lack of narration, scripted dialogue or score creates an eerie atmosphere that gives us plenty of time to think about our willful ignorance of the mechanics of food industry.
Saturday, July 1
LAFF Films 3, France 1, Brazil O
When France beat Brazil and won the 1998 World Cup, I was watching with my cousin Judith at a bar in Jerusalem. Today, while France pulled perhaps a bigger upset, I watched the first half and then had to go watch Los Angeles Film Fest movies.
In short, Allez Les Bleus... And on to the films (in reverse order, to mix things up):
"Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell: The History of New America, Part 1"
written by Kevin Wheatley, co-directed by Jonny Gillette and Kevin Weatley
I'm not sure that you can force a cult movie into being, but Kevin Wheatley and Jonny Gillette sure try to make things happen with "Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell: The History of New America, Part 1," an overly calculated slice of quirk that's most audacious in its ineffective attempts at audacity.
Set at some point in the 21st Century, "Beach Party" reflects back on the heroes of post-apocalyptic America, focusing particularly on Benjamin Remington (Bill English), nephew of the deceased King of America (Daniel "The Other Baldwin" Baldwin), and Tex Kennedy (Kevin Wheatley), yes, of those Kennedys. Told in a jaunting History Channel-style documentary fashion that masks the film's utter lack of story, "Beach Party" introduces a heaping portion of characters, but never distinguishes amongst most of them. Some characters are cousins, others twins, but for the most part, the cast's idea of acting is making funny voices, yelling and then repeating what came before. Some of the post-production effects are innovative, but most of the film is shot in ugly digital video which has been modified to make it even uglier.
At first, when I hadn't laughed for 20 minutes, I thought that perhaps the film's comic sensibility was just an acquired taste and that eventually I'd . No dice. Despite its dystopic aspirations, the film's level of political satire goes no higher than a joke or two about how Kennedys don't have to answer to anybody. Ha. Given that the theater was packed to the gills with a riotous audience that came ready for enthusiastic respond, I'd say that the across-the-board reaction to the film was muted, with only sporadic laughter.
Through it all, I couldn't help but feel that Wheatley may be more clever than anything on screen here suggested. Don't try so hard next time, would be my best advice.
written and directed by Fabian Bielinsky
Bielinsky, best known for 2000's "Nine Queens," died earlier this week at the age of 47. Sad as that may be, the filmmaker's death made Saturday's screening at the Majestic Crest into an event. Even if some viewers came with ghoulish curiosity, they were treated to a twisting crime drama and a complicated character piece. A contemplative thriller that unfolds at an art film's pace, "The Aura" is likely to get morbid distribution boost from Bielinsky's passing and from the near-inevitability of an American remake.
Ricardo Darin, who also starred in "Nine Queens," is fantastically morose as Esteban, a taxidermist with epilepsy and a photographic memory who dreams of committing the perfect crime. It's something he'd never think to do until a hunting accident puts him in the middle of a planned heist.
Unlike "Nine Queens," which mostly felt fresh to viewers who missed David Mamet's "Homicide," "House of Games" and "The Spanish Prisoner," "The Aura" doesn't rely on surprises or massive reversals for its intrigue. The film is carefully plotted and every visual or auditory clue has a payoff, but it's really about the decisions the main character makes. Yeah, the movie will likely be too slow and obscure for impatient viewers, but it's obviously the work of a talented filmmaker, who we lost too soon.
Oh and the American remake has to star Nicholas Cage.
Shorts Program #3
There may be something in the water in Argentina, home of "The Aura." As much as I liked "The Aura," the best film I saw today was Gustavo Taretto's short "Medianeras" ("Side Walls" in my LAFF program), a gem of a romantic comedy about two isolate strangers (Javier Drolas and my new fantasy South American girlfriend Mariana Anghileri) living in Buenos Aires, destined to be together, but kept apart by chance. In one lovely scene, the characters, in their own apartments, cry while watching Woody Allen's "Manhattan." It's a great parallel because like "Manhattan," "Medianeras" is a love story to a city as well, with the architecture of the city serving as perhaps the film's true lead. It's a beautiful little film.
Also standing out in the crop of shorts was Alex Weil's "One Rat Short," a complicated bit of computer animation that avoids the genre's most familiar cliches, the anthropomorphized animals and cutesy voices and bright colors. It's a dark, moody trip into a scientific lab, where a New York City rat falls in love with a research test subject and havoc ensues, spurred on by an empty Cheetos bag. It's like a twisted version of "The Rats of NIMH."
Although rough around the edges, I appreciated Avishag Leibovich's "Diet Liebovich," a sometimes funny, sometimes touchy look at her Israeli family's unhealthy dining habits.
What none of those films had, though, was Lauren Graham riding in a car with three flamboyant drag queens and a garden gnome. The film that did have that premise, "Gnome," was cute, but not nearly as rewarding as the basic idea would suggest.
Friday, June 30
Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
The second feature collaboration by the partners who brought us "The Fluffer," an indie film about the porn industry, "Quinceanera" takes a 180 and celebrates the traditional Mexican coming-of-age for a young woman, but with several twists. Magdalena (Emily Rios) has mysteriously fallen pregnant even though she's a virgin, causing her boyfriend Herman (J.R. Cruz) to abandon her and her father (Jesus Castanos-Chima) to turn his back on her.
She moves in with her independent greatuncle Tio Tomas (Chalo Rodriguez), who sells a Mexican hot chocolate known as champurrado to the neighborhood from a cart. Her other new roomate is fellow family outcast cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia), who befriends gay couple Gary and James (David W. Ross, Jason L. Wood). The three create their own family unit that's put to the test when their neighborhood becomes gentrified. "Quinceanera" succeeds because of its huge heart that's epitomized by the character Tio Tomas.
While the film feels casual and humorous, it's sneaky because there's actually quite a lot of emotion and deeper issues addressed, such as Carlos' exploration of his sexuality with the gay couple. The filmmakers treat the subject and culture respectfully, affectionately and with a surprising amount of insight, aided by the cast's natural performances.
The Pleasure Principle
Along with Tyra Banks and Ken Mok, director Richard Glatzer created reality sensation "America's Next Top Model," a clip of which appears in the film. Many viewers count this a guilty pleasure, and on the red carpet for the LA Film Fest's centerpiece screening, the cast and filmmakers share some of their own guilty pleasures:
At this year's Sundance Film Festival, not only did "Quinceanera" win the jury prize, but it earned the coveted audience award as well. The cast and filmmakers share a few reactions they've received from moviegoers:
RICHARD GLATZER - "We're much more Carlos and Magdalena than we are the couple in the film."
On the Party Line
Both the "Quincenera" after party and the "Last Rites" pre-party were held at the same time at venues a block apart. At the Westwood Brewery, I felt like I stepped into an actual quinceanera, not only because of the pink and silver balloon decorations, but also because of the multiple generations getting down on the dance floor to Latin dance numbers as well as Kanye West's "Gold Digger."
Over at sushi lounge Tengu, partygoers got in the mood for the midnight screening of "Last Rites." The film places two Los Angeles gangs -- South Central's The Lords of Crenshaw and East LA's El Diablo Muerto -- in the same place to meet an arms dealer. Strangely enough, it's not their rivalry or the cops outside that's the problem. No, it might just be the horde of zombies about to descend on all the tender, delectable humans.
At the party, I observed director Duane Stinnett and producer/writer/actress Krissann Shipley were making the rounds and then spotted Morgan "Super Size Me" Spurlock in the crowd. While this was all fine and interesting, I got really excited when I saw that his wife (the vegan chef from "Super Size Me") Alex Jamieson was there too.
My brain, immediately switching over to cheesy reality show mode, recalled that she was on an episode of the Style network's "How Do I Look?" as a fashion victim. And yes, I actually asked her about it. She was pretty open about how she didn't know what she was getting into, and assured me that her two friends, the "accomplices" on the show, were really sweet and not the critical terrors depicted.
As conversations about fashion are wont to do, talk turned to zombies, creatures that Ms. Jamieson has a love-hate relationship with. Like many zombie fans, she says the appeal is that they seem like they could exist somehow. Unlike some zombie fans, however, she has not taken precautions with her home or person in case of a zombie attack. At this point, Mr. Spurlock walked over and chatted about non-zombie related topics (like the start of his second season of "30 Days") and then whisked his wife away to another party for pal Jeff Garlin, whose film "I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With" screened earlier that night.
An unconfirmed but fairly knowledgeable source at the party let slip these two tidbits that may or may not come to be:
Friday, June 30
Forget it Jake, It's Koreatown
The Los Angeles Film Festival announced its jury winners earlier in the week, which suggests an interesting conundrum to seeing competition films in this final weekend -- do you go to the movies because you want to see the depth and breadth of this year's Festival crop, or do you skip the movies if you know they weren't found worthy of a juried award? As a completist, I opted for the former, seeing two narrative competition films, neither of which was the winner, Steve Collins' "Gretchen."
The Lather Effect
directed by Sarah Kelly, co-written by Sarah Kelly and Tim Talbott
There was a period back in the mid-90s when all you needed to make an American indie film was an ensemble of character actors spewing pop culture references, a cheeky soundtrack and an appearance by Eric Stoltz. Having worked as a production assistant on films like "Sleep with Me" and "Killing Zoe," Sarah Kelly knows the formula well and brings it into the 21st Century with "The Lather Effect" a quirky "old friends reunite for boozing, sex and hidden secrets" movie that almost desperately wants to be a Gen-X "Big Chill." It fails to that degree, but it still provides a showcase for a winning cast of familiar faces who rarely get the opportunity to play big screen leads.
Actors like Connie Britton ("Friday Night Lights") and Sarah Clarke ("24") and William Mapother ("Lost") have rarely had the opportunity to seem to relaxed and human and they're well complimented by performers like Peter Facinelli ("Fast Lane") and David Herman ("Office Space") who get their most multi-dimensional parts in years. Watching Ione Skye, I couldn't help but wonder if there's an alternate dimension somewhere in which she has Jennifer Connelly's career. Thinking back to "River's Edge," "Say Anything..." and "Gas, Food Lodging," it's impossible to plot out a career path in which she could have been less properly utilized. She's only 35, Hollywood. It's not too late.
The movie has the slightly insufferable feeling of watching a group of buddies hanging out and drinking and partying, but never getting invited inside the party yourself, but it finds warmth by the end. For a film of its budget, its "Greatest Hits of the '80s" soundtrack is utterly fantastic, even if it features many of the exact same songs that you can hear on dozens of compilation albums or in "Grosse Pointe Blank."
Finally, the movie gets bonus points for a fabulously out-of-place cameo by The RZA.
written and directed by Chris Chan Lee
Earlier this year, "Brick" proved that film noir sensibilities can be transposed into a modern day high school environment, which makes Chris Chan Lee's attempt to make a '50s-style hard-boiled thriller in contemporary Koreatown seem plausible. Unfortunately, despite some worthy ideas, the movie never really comes together.
Sung Kang, getting more mainstream exposure along with co-star Leonardo Nam in "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" plays Sam, a small-time crook who returns to LA after a one-year absence. He's come back to settle a few scores, pull off one last big deal and make things right with the gal (Kelly Hu) he left behind. It's pure noir, shot to hell by the use of digital video.
For every intriguing composition utilized by Lee and cinematographer John DeFazio, there are dozens of shots where the filmmakers just try to hard and attempt to use every trick in the DV arsenal. Just because DV makes it easy to cheat the white balance for filtering tricks and to simulate slow shutter speeds and to freeze frames at will doesn't mean that you have to make every image into an affectation. The aesthetic is so muddled that the film comes across as ugly and stylized, entirely at odds with the flat readings that accompany every line of dialogue.
Finally, the movie gets bonus points for Russell Wong's baffling decision to play his platinum-haired tough guy with a Christopher Walken impression.
Thursday, June 29
Pabst Blue Ribbon!
Greeted by a lengthy standing ovation, David Lynch faced a crowd of worshipful fans -- the gal sitting next to me was beyond hyperventilation and just kept muttering that she can't believe she's there -- with a mixture of openness and awkwardness that could only be described as Lynch-ian. Lynch was at Westwood's Majestic Crest to avoid talking with film critic John Powers before a 20th anniversary screening of his subversive masterpiece "Blue Velvet."
The print of the film was flawless -- Fredrick Elmes' lensing of this one is about the best color cinema has to offer -- and Lynch was in fine form. Dressed in a plain white shirt and a blazer and looking both welcome and uncomfortable, Lynch ducked, dodged and jokes, twiddling his fingers the entire time, like a trumpet player awaiting a solo.
A few highlights:
Thursday, June 29
Did We Call It or What?
After giving positive reviews for both "Gretchen" and "Deliver Us From Evil," we here at Zap2it are psyched that both films received jury prizes at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Wednesday (June 28). At a ceremony at the W Hotel, "Sideways" star Virginia Madsen and "The West Wing" actor Jimmy Smits presented the Target Filmmaker and Documentary Awards. Charlize Theron also picked up the second annual Spirit of Independence honor as well.
Just in case you're too lazy to scroll down to our previous entries, here's recap of the two films:
"Deliver Us From Evil" is Amy Berg's documentary about Father Oliver O'Grady, a Catholic priest who, with the full knowledge of the Church, sexually preyed on children and parishioners for more than 20 years. When matters got out of hand, he was moved from one congregation to another. Berg tracked down O'Grady in Ireland who delivers a matter-of-fact, unrepentant and ultimately chilling interview discussing his crimes.
"Gretchen" is Steve Collins' full-length feature about the awkward and frighteningly obsessive titular teen (Courtney Davis) whose emotional issues cause her to lose her head when it comes to men. Collins' darkly funny film interprets the teenager's penchant for drama with saturated colors, overblown scores and outrageous characters.
Since neither of these can be deemed "popcorn" films or fluffy crowd pleasers, the audience gets its say at Sunday night's (July 2) closing night ceremony following the "Little Miss Sunshine" screening. Audience and Short Film awards will be announced by Christina Applegate.
Wednesday, June 28
When TV Shows and Terrorists Bomb
So many of the films showing this year at the Los Angeles Film Festival are in dire need of attention and support, little films that will never get seen outside of LA without a guardian angel distributor soaring in. That's not the case for tonight's (June 28) viewing options. "Right At Your Door" already played at Sundance and will be released by Lionsgate later this year, while "The TV Set" will eventually use its star-studded cast -- including David Duchovny, Sigourney Weaver and Ioan Gruffudd -- to secure a theatrical run.
"The TV Set"
written and directed by Jake Kasdan
Kasdan continues to tip-toe around the immense potential he showed in "Zero Effect," his 1998 feature debut. With "The TV Set," he delivers a television industry satire that's at once extremely funny and superficial.
David Duchovny plays Mike, a TV writer-producer mining his own personal demons for a dramedy pilot about a young man returning home after his brother's suicide. The film follows his project -- titled "The Wexler Chronicles" -- through the exhausting pilot process from casting to potential pick-up, as he deals with his hammy leading man (Fran Kranz), his sugar-coating manager (the always sparkling Judy Greer), the micromanaging network head (Weaver, obviously having a ball) and the well-meaning British programming exec (Gruffudd), discovering, as Weaver's character explains, "the process changes things."
There have been a sufficient number of behind-the-scenes Hollywood industry satires in recent years that little in "The TV Set" feels new. What Kasdan lacks in originality, he makes up for in keen observation. The film is a detailed cornucopia of insider wit and wisdom from the disturbingly plausible shows on the fictional network -- "Bart's Your Uncle," "World's Grossest Meals" and the demographic smash "Slut Wars" make the schedule -- to its darkly comic insight into the creative people who want to avoid making the world more mediocre and the bottom-line-devoted bigwigs who fear any sign of originality. Just about everybody in the film -- including Duchovny, Greer, Gruffudd, Lindsay Sloane, Justine Bateman, M.C. Gainey, Willie Garson and Kathryn Joosten -- has collected a steady TV paycheck in the past, providing an extra layer of authenticity.
"The TV Set" played well to a packed industry crowd and this "in-the-know" will get a kick out of how savvy it usually is. But will anybody outside of Los Angeles and New York care? Only a little, I'd wager.
"Right at Your Door"
written and directed by Chris Gorak
"How do you make a movie about a dirty bomb detonating in Los Angeles and the subsequent chaos for a price-tag described by Gorak as "a lot less than a million dollars"? "Right at Your Door" somewhat solves that problem by concentrating its attentions on two people -- unemployed musician Brad (Rory Cochrane) and wife Lexi (Mary McCormack). When the aforementioned bombs go off in LA (no culprit is ever credited), Lexi is on her way into work, while Brad is safely at home. Sealed inside -- the film's true hero may be duct tape -- he has some difficult choices to make when Lexi returns, covered with deadly soot.
A piece of speculative fiction with a tenuous basis in post-9/11 fact -- the film's lack of interest in the chemistry and biology of a dirty bomb attack is almost refreshing -- "Right at Your Door" mostly restricts its storytelling to a single house in Echo Park, where the main characters are forced to confront their conflicting needs for love and self-preservation. Meanwhile, Gorak manages to throw in a few smart jabs about our national paranoia and about the notion that we could count on the government to protect us in such a crisis.
Relying mostly on radio broadcasts to expand the film's limited world, Gorak keeps up the intensity with tight close-ups and hand-held camerawork, as well as just a few hints of well-timed special effects. He gets good work from McCormack and one of the strongest and most consistently dramatic performances of Cochrane's career. The film isn't always logical and the directing style eventually gets exhausting, but for its scale, "Door" is an admirably taut and plausible thriller.
Wednesday, June 28
Seen and Heard: "TV Set" Q& A and Target Red Room
"There are hordes of people when you're on a TV set. Not whores, David. Large groups of people."
"I think that it is pertinent to anybody who's ever had to make anything for anyone."
"I felt it was this cruel joke. This is what it's like: 'Do I have to bleed again?'"
"I have very little in common with the guys from 'Entourage.' I love that show, but it's not my life."
"I've worked on sitcoms for 10 years and thanks to your movie, I think I quit."
"They had you at 'Hello'?"
directed by Ian McCrudden
In an attempt to protect what's his, lobster fisherman Eben Cole (Thomas Hildreth) commits a hot-headed act that lands him in jail. But he loses more than just five years of freedom. He's lost his wife (Amy Jo Johnson), his father, his job and the respect of the small, tight-knit community he calls home. Rebuilding his life is a difficult prospect, especially if he can't necessarily regain what he's lost.
Gorgeously shot and sensitively written by McCrudden and Hildreth, "Islander" feels immediate and real, as if a camera crew fresh off the ferry was documenting someone's life. Each of the performances is commendable, especially Hildreth's quiet determination and Johnson's floundering resolve.
While many will sympathize with Eben's situation, the film's tone is so even and calm, it's hard to get involved emotionally. At one point, Eben's mother tells him, "What we deserve has got nothing to do with it. We persevere." It's a practical attitude, but doesn't really credit human emotion and the will to struggle against odds. Watching the film, I felt I was just as passively accepting as Eben's mother and that some spark was missing.
Tuesday, June 27
Doggies, Nannies and Snakes -- Oh My
It was a Snoop-less evening, at least at the red carpet premiere of the rapper's "Hood of Horror," an anthology of three horror vignettes making its debut at the festival. That didn't stop the crowds from milling around to catch a glimpse of ex-Playmate of the Year Brande Roderick or former WCW champ Diamond Dallas Page.
Roderick, who plays a Southern woman married to a man who stands to inherit a substantial amount, has also wrapped shooting on the upcoming adaptation of the popular chick lit book, "The Nanny Diaries," starring Scarlett Johansson.
"I play Tanya in that. I am another Southern girl and I'm an alcoholic with a child," explains Roderick. "And my child and Scarlett's child [that she cares for] are very good friends, and they come over for playdates. And when Scarlett brings over her child, I'm always intoxicated and on many medications. We have foodfights and make cakes and I dance and sing to Donna Summer songs. She's the best character."
Roderick's fellow "Hood of Horror" co-star Lin Shaye also has another film coming out, the descriptively titled "Snakes on a Plane," starring Samuel L. Jackson. She plays the "older, crusty" flight attendant named Grace who's on that ill-fated, reptile-infested flight over the Pacific.
"I actually have a wonderful moment of heroism where I save this baby from being bitten by a rattlesnake," she says.
While I'm eager to see her fend off the sinister serpent, I'm more excited by a necklace she's wearing with the "Snakes on a Plane" image -- two snakes entwined around a plane -- as a gold and jewel-encrusted charm dangling from a chain. Noting my admiration, she promises that it will soon be available on New Line's Web site and at shopintuition.com.
Spilling Guts on the Red Carpet
Most of the actors in the film meet an untimely end and are proud of it. Here's a sampling of red carpet and Q & A highlights:
"Was there a script? I think somebody smoked it."
"In my dying scene I was dying for like six hours. They put this prosthetic over my eyes so I couldn't see anything for like six hours."
"I play a security guard of this young man who promises God that if he becomes a famous musician, that he will go on to help other people. Instead, a great many people, once they achieve success, forget the people that brought them there. I try to show him his life. Her name is Clara, and she's a little bit like Clarence in 'It's a Wonderful Life' in that she's sort of tooting her trumpet trying to get him to see the truth."
"Sticky. It's edible, but you won't catch me eating it."
"I'm a bad person. I hate being a bad person! Eventually, I get what's coming to me."
"I play Fatcap. Just a gangster, f***in' tagger, just tagging up on the wall, causing trouble. I don't do no motherf***in' movie unless I get to cause trouble and stir up some s**t. I get my ass kicked by a girl man, by Posie and s**t. It felt good. I can take a beating from a girl. It's alright."
"Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror"
directed by Stacy Title
There's a very good reason why this horror anthology was placed under the LAFF's "Guilty Pleasures" category. Not particularly well-acted or written, "HOH" is nevertheless amusing for its senseless violence, dynamic anime sequences and of course the Dogg himself doing his thing. The premise that sets up the three stories is fairly convoluted, but basically Snoop gives three bad people a chance at redemption before they're ushered off to Hell.
The first vignette, "Crossed Out," stars the bone structure-blessed Daniella Alonso as Posie, a tagger who witnessed a murder-suicide as a child. Go-to scary dude Danny Trejo, who plays the Derelict, straps her down and forces a tattoo on her right hand, which gives her the power to kill other taggers when she spray paints an X over their name. Some quick music video-type cuts makes this fast-paced and colorful, while the first two Posie-related deaths are gruesome crowd pleasers.
"The Scum Lord" takes far too long to set up, but it helps that Anson Mount is obviously having a lot of fun as the titular villain Tex who, with his Southern wife Tiffany (Brande Roderick), intend to systematically kill off the Vietnam vets at an old folks home so he can inherit his father's property free and clear. This is probably the least successful of the three stories, especially since the vets, who preach on about honor, suddenly turn bloodthirsty and rather cruel.
Finally, "Rhapsody Askew" delves into the world of rapper Sod (Pooch Hall) who's faced by an omniscient security guard named Clara (Lin Shaye) who shows the musician that on his path to glory, he broke a promise he made to God. When Sod is visited by a literal ghost (Aries Spears) from the past, he signs his own death warrant. Shaye actually gives this segment some much needed gravity, while Spears' ad-libs are just plain wacky.
Tuesday, June 27
Did You Hear the One About the Nazi, the Volvo and the Slackers?
Freshly returned from Mexico City and secure in the knowledge that nothing combats jet-lag (and tequila-lag) like three consecutive Los Angeles Film Festival competition screenings, I hit one doc and two narrative entries, all with very different subject matter.
Tuesday (June 27) night's viewing, in order:
directed by James Moll
Moll's "Inheritance" isn't quite like any Holocaust-themed documentary I've ever seen before. Monika Hertwig, an initially unassuming German housewife, grew up thinking her father died fighting in World War II, only to discover, at the age of 11, that he was actually Amon Goeth, the heartless concentration camp commandant made infamous by Ralph Fiennes' performance in "Schindler's List." But Monika's story isn't one of overcoming her past and becoming an inspirational figure. Despite having no memories of her father, his legacy has tarnished her life, not because of the ways other people judge her, but because of the way she's judged herself.
Part of the healing process for Monika is a meeting with Helen Jonas-Rosenzweig, who was essentially Goeth's slave at his villa outside the Paszow camp. Helen knows that Monika wasn't responsible for the horrors she witnessed, but she refuses to sugar-coat Goeth's evil.
Moll's film is a shattering portrait of these two women, full of misery, but also psychological insight into both Monika's character and an entire Generation of Germans, the children of Nazis. The filmmaker sometimes over-relies on the musical score, which is sometimes so overpowering that Monika's words have to be subtitled, despite her perfect English. Also in delving into Monika's hatred for her parents, Moll drops the ball in not exploring her own daughter, whose drug problems have left Monika raising her cherubic grandson, the film's ray of hope for the future.
written and directed by Derek Sieg
Just your standard story of a mechanic (Lukas Haas) stalking a beautiful violinist (Brianne Davis) and, in turn, being stalked by a lovely waitress (January Jones). Putting a finger on the exact tone Sieg's debut feature is complicated, because it goes back an forth between quirky humor and leisurely romanticism with easy, all with a regional flavor, shot in Charlottesville, Virginia.
As is often the case with first-time filmmakers, Sieg has a better grasp on the characters and their interactions than on the film's narrative. Certain characters -- the waitress' abusive semi-stepfather, most particularly -- are only there are plot contrivances so that the movie isn't entirely about the odd and effective budding love between our two stalkers. With "Brick" and "Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," Haas and Jones have been in two of my favorite films of the past year and they have an easy chemistry, working best without dialogue (words, like plot, slow Sieg down). Jones has the look and delivery to become the muse for the right indie director.
"Swedish Auto" is a small film and it doesn't fully gel, but the performances, plus Josh Robertson's mournful score and Richard Lopez's chilly, washed-out cinematography, keep it watchable.
written and directed by Mike Otto
Talking to Otto on the "Devil Wears Prada" red carpet last week, he told me, "I'm trying to stalk Richard Linklater while he's here... I wrote him this letter like two years ago and I've been carrying it around in my folder and when I found out he was going to be here, I was so excited. I'm either going to show up at hotel room and slip it under his door, or I'm just going to rush him whenever I see him."
In that context, it isn't surprising that Otto's "Analog Days" has plenty in common with Linklater films like "Slacker," "Dazed and Confused" and "SubUrbia." It's a soundtrack-driven story of a group of community college outcasts living just outside of Los Angeles drinking, smoking, pondering the future and mocking the phonies who surround them.
Featuring a cast of fresh-faced unknowns, "Analog Days" often achieves that Linklater kind of fly-on-the-wall smart-aleck observationalism, but Otto cheapens his sympathetic main characters by surrounding them with flat, easy targets for satire. The parade of boorish jocks and pretentious art school students are even more one-dimensional than the villains in the high school films of John Hughes, Otto's other clear influence.
This was the first LA Film Fest screening I've been at that wasn't a sell-out, though this wasn't its premiere.
Monday, June 26
Two Guys, a Dirty Bomb and a Pizza Place
The LAFF's daily Lunch Talks, in which anyone off the street can bring their meal and listen to LA Times entertainment writer John Horn's informal chat with filmmakers, began today with first-time writer/director Chris Gorak.
In his "Right at Your Door," Brad (Rory Cochran) and Lexi are about to reconcile after their five-year marriage has fallen apart. "Things are looking up for about five minutes," explains Gorak. And then the dirty bomb hits, trapping Brad inside the house and Lexi outside, with the other contaminated folk. How will those two crazy kids get together now?
It's an atypical disaster flick that Gorak compares to "Jaws." "[It's like] the movies where people are marooned -- in this case, the toxic ash is the shark," says the filmmaker.
Shot in 19 days on a tight budget, "Right at Your Door" will be released sometime this summer.
Black (and Blue) Dahlia: A Conversation with James Ellroy
In a room containing novelist James Ellroy, film critic Elvis Mitchell and "Hostel" director Eli Roth, Roth is the least outrageous, merely there to watch the spectacle that is Ellroy. The writer greets the standing room-only auditorium at the UCLA's Italian Cultural Institute with mastubatory gestures and his usual: "Peepers, prowlers, pederasts, pedants, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps."
It's almost -- but not quite -- as fun to watch Mitchell, the supposed interviewer, crumple his notes helplessly and let Ellroy control the evening. Throughout, they discuss what constitutes noir, both written and cinematic, and view clips of screen adaptations of Ellroy's work, including the upcoming "Black Dahlia" starring Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank and Aaron Eckhart.
Numerous verbal highlights follow, but my favorite surreal moment occurred while we waited for the lights to go down for the first clip. Ellroy briefly enterained us with his shadow puppetry skills: a crocodile and a rabbit. And now the quotes ...
"James Woods looks like Al Gore with cystic acne."
"I bought cheap cars, ate dinner and serially married women."
"'Chinatown' is a dog. It's badly plotted, poorly acted, worse ... with no feeling for L.A. Its iconic status is cast in stone and very few people are loath to contradict it."
"It is the film noir that that overrated tuna 'Chinatown' wanted to be."
Yet, "It's very much Ellroy-lite."
"It wasn't much of a f***in' book to begin with. Thomas Harris has done it better. It wasn't a big fall from grace."
"In every scene, in every voiceover, his performance out-acts every performance in 'L.A. Confidential.' Hartnett reads the lines ... exactly the way I wrote it with near-perfect inflection every time."
"Come here on vacation; go home on probation."
"One great theme: 'You're f***ed.'"
"Read Camus and James M. Cain side-by-side and see what vibrates your vindaloo."
We have a lot of sex but "challenge the urge, and in that dichotomy lies our greatness."
Mitchell had one good line, uttered after Ellroy told him that legendary germophobe/racist Howard Hughes put lubricated condoms on doorknobs he thought black people had touched.
MITCHELL: "So he won't be on 'Oprah' either."
Sunday, June 25
Pink Power Ranger Subdues Red Lobster
You can't really beat free Maine lobster, unless it's free lobster eaten in the company of "Islander" star Amy Jo Johnson, of "Felicity" and "Power Rangers" fame. The actress was preying on her hapless crustacean with beer in hand (Johnson, not the lobster) at the Westwood Brewing Company's lobster bake in honor or the world premiere of "Islander" directly following the dinner.
Thanks to a handy platter printed with instructions "How to Eat a Lobster," I picked through the critter in record time, availed myself of the wet naps and grabbed an "Islander" goody bag. Contents: bottled water, Maine Invites You magazine/travel planner, lobster-shaped candles, lobster-shaped picks and a plush Neopet.
How does the Neopet fit in? Check back when I post the review later.
Yeah, Yeah, But What About the Codpiece?
For LAFF's first poolside chat, we weren't exactly poolside because the W Hotel had to boot us out to a balcony to make way for a cooler event. We suspect that it may have something to do with Russell Simmons, who was hanging out in the lobby. While the poolside chat probably wasn't as def, it was pretty enlightening. Entitled "Film and Fashion: A Misconception," the informal chat drives home that "Fashion has nothing to do with costume design."
Moderator John Landis - Director of "Animal House," "Blues Brothers," "Trading Places," "An American Werewolf in London," "Spies Like Us," etc.
Deborah Nadoolman Landis - President of the Costume Designer's Guild, designer for most of Landis' films and "Raiders of the Lost Ark"
Louise Mingenbach - Costume designer for "Superman Returns," "X-Men," other Bryan Singer films, "Starsky & Hutch"
Jeffrey Kurland - Costume designer for several Woody Allen films, "Erin Brockovich," "Ocean's Eleven" and upcoming "Nancy Drew" and "Dallas" movies
"But first, 'Deer Woman' on DVD June 27."
"This nice kid came in wearing tennis shoes ... and I thought, 'What a sweet little PA keeping me company while I'm waiting for the big scary director to come in.'"
"We wanted Superman to be the only blue, the only red and the only yellow in the film."
"Working with [director] Michael Mann once is almost like working with him twice."
"Costume designers are really cultural anthropologists. We are the Margaret Meads of our time."
"Spandex has come a long way since 1976."
No Homeroom at the Inn
A sardine-packed screening of the schoolteacher comedy "Chalk," shot in the fake "documentary" style of "The Office," had to turn away disgruntled wait listers (including me). The two scheduled screenings sold out so quickly, LAFF had to schedule a third screening next Saturday to accomodate the overflow. I plan to camp out early for that and see if it lives up to the hype.
Saturday, June 24
What's Up Docs?
Because film festivals should be about more than red carpets and Emmanuelle Chriqui and because my colleague Hanh has been the only one of us to actually see a movie at the LAFF, I spent seven hours at the Westwood Crest theater this afternoon, enjoying the shooting stars on the ceiling and checking out a trio of documentaries, two of which are in the main LAFF competition. Reasserting nonfiction is what the cool kids want to see (with or without penguins), all three films were sold out and the evening's final Crest screening, "Darkon," looked to have a full house as well.
Today's viewing, in order:
"Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater"
directed by Julie Anderson
It will surprise nobody who knows me that the late Republican Senator from Arizona, Barry Goldwater, and I share very little ideological ground, which left me a bit shocked by how much Anderson's neatly made film moved me. Viewers of a certain generation who only know Goldwater from his lopsided 1964 loss to LBJ and the famous commercial with the girl, the daisy and the nuke may not be swayed by the insight into his politics, but they'll come away finding it hard not to respect a man of such pure and committed principles.
"Mr. Conservative" is produced by Barry's granddaughter CC Goldwater and a straight historical chronology of his political career is intercut with glimpses into his family life that are rarely sentimentalized, despite an often-grating score. The usual assortment of talking heads show up to support Goldwater, including George Will and John McCain. More interesting is the begrudging admiration from people like Al Franken and James Carville. Unfortunately, Hilary Clinton's confession that she was a Goldwater Girl in 1964 comes off as political opportunism. Best of all is the lingering awareness of how corruption and the religious right have corrupted the things that Goldwater stood for and how disgusted he would likely be by the current state of the Republican party.
The audience received the film warmly and the competition entry is set to appear air on HBO in September.
"The Wild Blue Yonder"
written and directed by Werner Herzog
Herzog's impossible-to-describe film -- Brad Dourif plays an alien who narrates a story of space exploration over actual NASA space footage and underwater images from sub-Arctic shelf divers -- isn't in the competition, which may be a good thing. There were a number of walk-outs and I overheard one young lady mutter to her date, "I wish I'd brought a book, but at least you got some sleep," which doesn't bode well for a film that runs under 80 minutes.
Although the film is maddeningly obtuse at times, I found it frequently hypnotic as well and fully understood the closing credit that read, "We thank NASA for its sense of poetry." I think it would be interesting to watch "The Wild Blue Yonder" paired with Chris Marker's seminal "La Jetee."
"Deliver Us From Evil"
directed by Amy Berg
If you're looking for an early favorite to sweep the jury and audience documentary prize, this may be a good bet based on the series of standing ovations for the utterly unflinching look at sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, focusing particularly on Father Oliver O'Grady, who the Church essentially harbored for decades, moving him from congregation to congregation, despite mounting evidence that he molested countless children, boys and girls.
It's a story you probably feel like you've heard too many times before, but what sets this doc apart is the fact that Berg got O'Grady to go on camera and on-the-record about his crimes from his safe haven in Ireland. His testimony -- full of both contrition and cluelessness -- plus interviews with several of the survivors of his abuse, make for a graphic and horrifying record. The film is well structured so that every new revelation feels like an absolute nadir, until things go lower still.
It's not a flawless film. Berg may over-reach in her final act attempts to implicate the Vatican, the Pope and even President Bush in the conspiracy. The film also suffers from some closing heavy-handedness that's unnecessary given how well the story speaks for itself [Cut the final shot of Jesus on the cross, Amy. It's overkill.].
Berg told the appreciative audience that she doesn't have distribution yet. I'd expect that to change soon.
Saturday, June 24
Oh, to Be a Luddite
After my aforementioned recorder mishap, the night of Friday (June 23) was apparently destined for technical difficulties. During "Ira & Abby," the sound went wonky during a Fred Willard love scene (yes, you read correctly), and then I had to wait 45 minutes to catch "Gretchen" because of a projection problems. Intermittent audio, video and power problems plagued the screening and subsequent Q&A for the rest of the evening. LAFF is still working out the kinks after moving to its new venue in Westwood after relocating from the Sunset Strip.
written and directed by Steve Collins
To be honest, I've never liked the name Gretchen because it sounds so much like "wretched." That's an accurate description for the title character's mindset, which writer/director Steve Collins exaggerates into a melodramatically deadpan epic of teenage purple prose proportions. Courtney Davis channels the awkward, face-scrunching yet lovable antics of a younger Mary Lynn Rajskub to tap into 17-year-old Gretchen's angst.
Everything is weighty in her teenage mind which translates into swelling "Moonlight Sonata"-style scores, uncomfortable.quiet.pause-filled.dialogue, garish costuming and hair that makes Donald's Trump combover look chic (especially one wig worn by "Office Space" star Stephen Root in a surprise appearance). All these overblown, offbeat expressions, however, come together in a heartbreakingly sweet way that makes you cringe and laugh at the same time.
It's difficult to describe Collins' visual and narrative style, which must be experienced to be believed. He makes our grotesque emotions visual, and after a while, you realize that it's not such an exaggeration after all.
Smells Like Teen Spirit
"After I put my hair in the 'twin turbos,' wore the high turtlenecks and small leggings, I was pretty much there. And Steve would often tell me, 'You hate yourself. You hate yourself. You hate yourself.'"
"I like hair. It's a wasted tool in filmmaking."
Saturday, June 24
Watching Indie Films Is Patriotic
Why are independent films gaining popularity?
"Because democracy works." -- Jason Alexander
Okay, I'll confess. My recorder totally punked out on me. I was on the red carpet (June 23) for the new "divorce comedy" "Ira & Abby" and doing great: accosting the stars with hard-hitting, yet casually playful questions and receiving insightful answers in return.
Alas, despite the stars waxing so eloquent about the film, all that my recorder played back was empty space for 25 minutes due to an erroneously flipped switch. Shame and chagrin. The Jason Alexander quote above is just one drop in the vast bucket of great wisdom I had planned on sharing with you.
So, courtesy of my faulty memory, here are brief highlights:
Judith Light - The ex-"Who's the Boss?" actress returns to comedy playing Ira's mother Arlene. She next tries her hand at independent filmmaking with a project produced under her shingle Tetrahedron, along with Mythgarden.
"Ira & Abby"
directed by Robert Cary
Writer/actress Jennifer Westfeldt has done it again. "Ira & Abby" is a gem of a film that's as hilarious as it is sweet and insightful. Neurotic Ira (Chris Messina) meets free-spirited Abby (Westfeldt) and there's such undeniable chemistry, that she proposes after only six hours of conversation, pointing out, "Half of all marriages end in divorce anyway, so we have a good a chance as anyone."
Their whirlwind romance seems to affect all those around them, including their supposedly happily married parents. What follows is a flurry of infidelity, therapy sessions and the requisite bit of soul-searching. Is marriage or divorce the answer? What was the question?
Westfeldt's dialogue isn't just entertaining, but she has also an uncanny ear for the stream-of-consciousness way that people actually speak. You leave the theater feeling smarter, not because of the use of big words or concepts, but because your mind has to be nimble to keep up with the dialogue's fleet-footed shifts.
Westfeldt is adorable as Abby and is the obvious heart of the film, while Messina's take on Ira is heartbreakingly fallible yet likable. Jason Alexander, Fred Willard, Judith Light, Frances Conroy, Robert Klein, Chris Parnell and Darrell Hammond comprise the stellar supporting cast.
Friday, June 23
Advice On Which Films to See:
With dozens of films screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival over the next two weeks, making choices will be difficult business. To help separate the cinematic wheat from the cinematic chaff, I took a few minutes on the red carpet on Thursday (June 22) to ask some entirely impartial observers -- the filmmakers and stars of the competition films -- why they would recommend seeing their entries above others.
A few of their answers:
Mike Ott (writer/director of the narrative "Analog Days"): I would say if you like John Hughes movies, it's kind of like that. I don't know. Hopefully a lot of people won't like it. I'm hoping people either really like or really hate it.
Jeff Werner (co-director of the documentary "Mario's Story"): Our film is a film that took seven years to film and it's about the loss of youth and the loss of justice for the character who still remains in jail and who's an amazing character, actually.
Katie Flynn (Jane Seymour's daughter and co-star, line producer on "The Beach Party on the Threshold of Hell"): It's a Monty Python for the MTV generation, is how we like to say it. It's a post-apocalyptic dark comedy, political. It's really funny. It's really new.
Mike Akel (co-writer/director of the narrative "Chalk"): If you like to laugh -- and I'm just gonna throw it out there -- we've got the funniest film, I'm serious. It sounds little cocky. I'm not cocky, but we've screened our film a lot. It's really funny. If you like the office, you'll love our film.
Connie Britton (star of the narrative "The Lather Effect"): The movie is basically a 'Big Chill' for the thirtysomething generation and it got just a ton of heart. And for me, it's my favorite kind of movie. It's the old-fashioned kind we used to make where it's people talking to each other and relating to each other and it's got comedy and it makes you cry and what can be better than that?
That ought to make things a lot easier.
Thursday, June 22
The Devil and Anne Hathaway Both Wear Prada
"The Devil Wears Prada" is a studio film based on a best-selling novel featuring a slate of big stars, which makes it an odd choice to open a festival sponsored by Film Independent.
"Some people need a little convincing to come out and I think a big movie like this will do just the trick," notes co-star Adrian Grenier, who showed up on Thursday night as "Prada" opened the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Film Independent executive director Dawn Hudson agrees, "We love starting the festival with this film that everyone -- man, woman, old, young -- wants to see. The festival embraces the whole spectrum of independent films, from avant garde to studio films to noir, horror, classics, it's really about the love of film."
It certainly helps bring out the shutterbugs and the celebrities, including "Prada" leading lady Anne Hathaway, looking lovely in a yellow dress. She seems almost embarrassed to admit who she's wearing.
"Prada," she says, pausing. "I know. Fitting, isn't it? I just picked it out. I was actually going to wear something else and then at the last minute I found out someone else would have worn it, so it was pandemonium in my hotel room. I just picked this out because it didn't need altering."
One person not wearing Prada is "Desperate Housewives" co-star Shawn Pyfrom, who admits he was mostly there because his girlfriend wanted to see the movie. She's dressed to impress, but Pyfrom is in a t-shirt and jeans.
"Trust me, I've gotten sh** all up and down the carpet," he sighs. "She tried to get me to dress up and I was like, 'I don't need to dress up. It's a premiere. It's fine. Babe, I'm going in a shirt and jeans. Who cares?' And I get here and everybody's dressed in frigging suits and dresses and whatever. I look like the douchebag who showed up in jeans and a t-shirt. Oh well. Because, at the end of the day, they're not going to be like, 'Oh, that Shawn Pyfrom kid was all undressed and whatever' so who cares? And I am going to be comfortable when I watch this damn movie."
Having a film the size of "Prada" open the Festival produces the odd clash of cultures where directors of serious competition documentaries and their hard-working publicists beg reporters from glossy weeklies for a couple minutes of attention on the red carpet, at the same time that those same scribes would much prefer pleading with the skeletal Nicole Richie -- who whizzed by with nary a glance -- for even seconds of her time.
Of course, taking the time to talk to those directors meant that I missed my couple seconds with Los Angeles mayor and "George Lopez" guest star Antonio Villaraigosa. Maybe next time.