Film Festivals

Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. They say bartenders make great therapists, but does that still apply long after the bar has been sold and the bartender has moved on? Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) would probably say no after their couples therapist (Ted Danson) sends them on a very strange weekend retreat. The married couple arrives at the prescribed destination to find that the grounds — including a main house, guest house and numerous gardens — are theirs and theirs alone for the weekend. Well, kind of. It seems that part of the good doctor’s plan to help the couple work towards becoming better versions of themselves, and in the process become a better couple, involves a very unique way of facing and experiencing those better selves. The One I Love is about some very universal feelings and themes — ones we’ve all experienced in real life and seen portrayed onscreen — but it presents them in refreshingly original, engaging and entertaining ways. I’m being vague here for those that want to go in fresh, but fair warning, I’ll be revealing a little bit more after the jump. (Still nothing that legitimately counts as a spoiler though.)

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review kill team

Editor’s note: This is a rerun of a review that was originally published during the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. The Kill Team is the most daring documentary of the year so far. The production did not involve traversing the Pacific Ocean on a raft or dodging government censors, but filmmaker Dan Krauss’s military exposé is not that kind of audacious. Rather, this is an example of real journalistic bravery, both in its content and its composition. Its subject matter is among the most challenging in recent memory, the case of the Maywand District murders. At least three innocent Afghan civilians were killed by U.S. Army soldiers in early 2010, to be charged later that year. To even bring this story to the screen takes a certain amount of chutzpah. Yet the daring of The Kill Team goes beyond the simple presentation of this tragedy. Krauss hides nothing, nor does he get lost in horrifying images and testimonials. This is not a film about the sensational aspects of evil, the unapproachable sociopathy of a small number of soldiers. Rather, Krauss drives right into the ethical conundrum at the center of the murders, the inherent violence of not only the war in Afghanistan but of modern warfare in general. He doesn’t offer any answers. This is crucial. The Kill Team respects its audience, trusting us to rise to the occasion of witnessing these events, but it does not tell us which conclusions to draw.

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Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. The Daybreakers are a group of five men whose rap sheets include murder, armed robbery, assault and worse, but after trying their hand at kidnapping a three year old boy only to see the ransom drop go bust they decide to add something new to their repertoire — fatherhood. They raise the boy, now named Hwayi (Yeo Jin-gu), as their own. It’s a harsh childhood as five sociopathic fathers is no replacement for the love of a real parent, but he learns kindness and affection from his surrogate mother, Yeong-joo (Lim Ji-eun), who’s also a long-term captive of the men. Hwayi is raised to fear and respect his fathers, but they’re also capable of bonding with the boy in an attempt to shape him into one of them. Over the years they teach him their various specialties until finally, twelve years after stealing him from his parents, they take him on a job and pressure him to make his first kill. Already affected by being forced to murder someone, Hwayi is thrown for a far bigger loop when he discovers the identity of the victim and the details of his own existence. Hwayi: A Monster Boy is a rare example — and I don’t say this lightly — of nearly perfect genre cinema. Writer/director Jang Joon-hwan‘s long-awaited follow-up to 2003′s Save the Green Planet is a deft and bloody melange of action, suspense, comedy, heart, drama and humanity […]

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THE RUN

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. Khaliff (Aaron Aziz) has returned to his home village after seven years away with the military. It’s no pleasant homecoming though as he arrives after his father is murdered by a group of thugs and his sister has been kidnapped. What’s an angry young man with elite military training to do? He begins investigating both crimes — a step the local authorities seem unwilling to take — and discovers a world of small town corruption, organized crime and sex slavery. With the help of a peppy cab driver and the woman Khaliff loved and left behind seven years ago he goes looking for his sister with both fists (and feet) flying. It’s never a good sign when you watch an action movie and think to yourself, with no exaggeration, “I could do that.” This is especially the case if you’re a movie blogger. The new Malaysian film, The Run (aka Lari), is just such an example though as it’s an action film with utterly unimpressive action. This leaves a familiar and simple plot to hold the movie up, but the execution there is equally inept.

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Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. Raymond (Matthew Gray Gubler) is a recent college grad with an MBA and a strong desire to work. Unfortunately he’s holding out for something in upper management, and that something is not on his career horizon. Defeated he returns to his hometown to move back in with his mom and dad (Barbara Niven and Ray Wise), but while he expects living at home again to be a nightmare he’s unprepared for just how horrific it becomes. A little dead girl is discovered buried in their backyard, and the find is soon followed by all manner of supernatural shenanigans and terrifying apparitions. Raymond is no stranger to ghostly visitors as he used to regularly see and commune with the dead as a child. He lost the ability as he grew up, but reminded of his true calling and with the assistance of a dryly sarcastic bartender (Kat Dennings) he sets out to appease the vengeful spirit and return the household to normal. Director/co-writer Richard Bates Jr.‘s second film, Suburban Gothic, is a bit rough around the edges at times — due clearly to budgetary limitations as opposed to creative ones — but none of that gets in the way of the high energy and generous laughs packed into a tight and very funny 90 minutes.

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TIFF

We may be within spitting distance of this year’s Comic-Con, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t spend some time getting excited about the next next big event: this September’s Toronto International Film Festival. The festival has now unleashed the first bit of its slate, and it’s already the kind of talent-packed, big name-crammed, jaw-dropping kind of thing we’ve long come to expect from the festival. Honestly? I’m sort of already packing my bags right now, because I don’t want anything slowing down my ability to see a whole mess of these films (even excessively and embarrassingly early preparations). This announcement includes thirteen Galas and forty-six Special Presentations — just a smidge of the festival’s full slate, really, but the one that’s the most glitzy and recognizable — which includes thirty-seven world premieres and plenty of films we’ve been waiting a long time to see. Eager to see what TIFF has to offer? After the break, take a look at every single film announced today, including twenty-three titles that already have us excited to decamp to Canada in two months.

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Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. Beth (Aubrey Plaza) is dead, and her boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan) is all torn up about it. Sure they were having troubles and it looked like they might be heading for a split, but now that she’s gone — as in gone gone — he’s finding it difficult to think about anything else as he sinks into his pit of despair. Hoping for company with like-minded people he takes to spending time with Beth’s equally distraught parents, but just a few days later they shut him out of their lives. Distraught and driven for similarly bereft companionship he heads to their house only to glimpse something odd through a window. Beth is still alive. Kind of. She’s returned from the dead, and overcome with joyful confusion her parents are hiding her from the world. Beth’s memory isn’t all that great — she’s really stressed about a test she has tomorrow and has no idea that she’s dead — but Zach isn’t bout to turn his back on this second chance at a struggling relationship. Every couple hits some bumps in the road right? He soon discovers though that some love stories are better off dead.

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Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. Blaire (Shelley Hennig) is online chatting with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) while they wait for their other four friends to join. The couple takes a brief stab at cyber-sex before they’re interrupted by the gang, but something isn’t right with their Skype connection. A seventh person is on the call. No one knows who it is, the person isn’t speaking and nothing they do seems to get rid of it. They soon discover the mystery caller’s motive has something to do with the suicide of a girl named Laura Barnes exactly one year ago. Once the caller starts communicating it’s with death threats, shocking revelations and the seeming control of each person’s computer. Attempts to disconnect or reach outside help are squashed, efforts to delete certain pictures or accounts are made impossible and ultimately the six friends are forced to face just how tenuous their friendships truly are as they come face to face with the guilt of past misdeeds. Cybernatural uses a similar format to the recently released The Den, but it does so to tell a very different story. We see only what appears on Blaire’s laptop screen, and nothing else, but in those dozens of windows and tabs a tale of cruelty, failed relationships and revenge unfolds. This sounds terrible I know, but you’ll just have to trust me here. It’s a slickly made production that serves to enhance […]

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Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. A family is involved in a minor fender bender and proceed to snap some pics of the accident, but South Korean soldiers arrive in an attempt to confiscate their cameras. No photos are allowed this close to the border between South and North Korea, but the matriarch of the family stands firm asking the soldier incredulously, “What, do you think we’re spies?” Of course they are North Korean spies, passing themselves off as an entire family of four, and they’ve been living and working in the South for years. But while they’ve committed murder and other deeds in the name of the Great Leader back home the pressures of being away from their own families as well as being immersed in a more free and open society are beginning to take a toll. When news from the North triggers the team to take an unsanctioned action they find themselves on the wrong side of their vicious handlers and facing the end of not only their mission but also of their lives. Think of Red Family as a season of “The Americans” condensed into a 100 minutes, and you’ll have an idea of the genre dynamics and subjects at play here. The balance between honoring and respecting their homeland while facing constant exposure to a place that goes against everything they ever knew leads to temptations, behaviors and decisions that Kim Jong-un would most definitely […]

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Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. Naoto Tamura (Yuki Yamada) is a bit of a dick. He’s obnoxious and indifferent to everyone around him including his hard-working mother, but he takes his attitude one step too far when he lashes out at her. While on his own a short while later he receives a package with a novel titled “Live” in it timed to a phone call and a video. His mother has been abducted, and she’ll be killed unless Naoto participates in and wins the caller’s elaborate “death triathlon.” He sets off to the first location only to discover that he’s not alone. A dozen other people, each frantic and glued to their cell phones, are also in the race. Other players lessen Naoto’s odds of winning, but so do the various obstacles put in their place including, but not limited to, a pair of bikini-clad crossbow-wielding women on roller skates. You probably thought Live was looking like a serious movie didn’t you.

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Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. Let’s just get this out of the way right up front. Yes, Zombeavers is about zombie-beavers. No, they don’t look even the slightest bit realistic. Yes, you’re still going to love this movie anyway. Three sorority sisters head to a remote cabin by a lake for a girls weekend away from the boys. The trip was motivated by the recent revelation that Jenn’s (Lexi Atkins) boyfriend cheated on her with an unknown skank leading Mary (Rachel Melvin) to organize the weekend to help her friend heal. Zoe (Cortney Palm) is just along for the ride and the possibility of a full-body tan. Their plans are interrupted by two types of mammals. First, their boyfriends arrive looking to set up camp in the girls’ vaginas, and then the undead beavers show up looking for food. So yes, it essentially follows the old horror trope about the dangers of young people mixing wood and beavers.

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Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. The country is in disarray after a financial collapse. Which country isn’t exactly important, but judging by the accents and locations on display let’s go with the United States of Middle Eastern South Africa. Criminal syndicates run rampant while neutered and frequently bribed police struggle to keep them in check, and the biggest victims are also the smallest as child sex trafficking becomes the crime du jour. Into this societal morass comes a waif-like girl in the violent grip of a clearly malicious thug. Her name is Sawa (India Eisley), and after blowing out the back of the guy’s head with an exploding bullet she continues on her way up the food chain of evil deeds looking for the man at the top, the man responsible for her parents’ murder, the man she is intent on killing. Along for the ride are her father’s ex-partner (Samuel L. Jackson) and a homeless teen (Callan McAuliffe) who taught himself parkour. Kite, based on an anime from 1998, is a post-apocalyptic and mostly generic mash-up of The Professional and Léon, and before you say “But Rob, those are the same movie” rest assured that I know they’re the same movie. This film takes the former’s central conceit of a young girl’s thirst for revenge assisted by an adult and mixes it with the more sexualized latter film that was deemed too challenging for American audiences. Granted, it’s […]

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Fantasia

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. Reiji (Tôma Ikuta) is not a good cop. Not only did he score the lowest in the police academy’s history, but the citizens he’s serviced have had nothing but complaints about his lack of work ethic and unprofessional behavior. The latest incident — one that leads him to defend and qualify his own level of perviness as compared to real criminals — ends in his long overdue dismissal from the force. But as that door closes a new window opens, and Reiji jumps right through. In a manner of speaking. His boss, in collaboration with Japan’s version of the DEA, want him to go undercover in the yakuza, specifically with the Sukiya-kai gang, to discover the source of a deadly new street drug and arrest the man at the top. It won’t be easy, but if there’s one man for the job it most definitely isn’t Reiji. Unfortunately, he’s all they have and the only one seemingly capable of passing their tests. The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji is a mouthful of a title, but it’s worth opening up and taking it in as the film is easily Takashi Miike‘s most purely entertaining movie in thirteen years. With a sharp script, great performances and just the right amount and kind of cartoonish antics the film manages to be incredibly funny, wildly engaging and a bonkers feast for the eyes that riffs beautifully on the […]

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Pathe

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. Jacky (Vincent Lacoste) is just like every other guy in the Kingdom of Bubunne. He’s uneducated, forced to wear a burka-like outfit every day and is entirely subservient to women. The ladies rule the land by force and tradition and make up the entirety of the military and government all the way up to the General who is in complete charge. Men can be performers of course, but their duty is in household chores meaning the best they can hope for is to have one of the many powerful women take their leash — take them as their own in marriage — and become the head of their own household. But Jacky’s dreams go beyond finding a strong and successful woman to settle down with as he has his eyes and heart set on the General’s daughter (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who’s next in line to rule the kingdom and currently searching for a husband. The competition is stiff (see pic above), but with love and a whore of a revolutionary uncle on his side he just might stand a chance. Jacky in the Kingdom of Women is, quite obviously, a satirical take on gender politics, and it hits its target more often than not with humor that runs the gamut from biting to broad to scatological. It’s as far from subtlety as it is from reality, but the gags still work throughout. Unfortunately, it […]

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Film Composers panel

When you get three different musicians in a room, you never know what may happen. But when you get three composers in a room, it turns out there are more similarities between them than differences. Mark Isham, John Ottman and Aaron Zigman have an impressive combined resume having created the music for such films as A River Runs Through It, Crash, The Usual Suspects, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, John Q, and The Notebook. While their musical styles may be different, their approach to their work is very similar. BMI’s Doreen Ringer Ross once again assembles an impressive panel for the Composer Coffee Talk (which featured actual coffee this year!) during this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival. Whether you are a composer, a filmmaker, or simply someone who appreciates good film music, read on to find out how Isham, Ottman, and Zigman deal with the changing musical landscape, how important a director can be to a composer’s career, and how communication and collaboration are the keys to success.

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Debra Granik

Ronnie Hall’s nickname may be Stray Dog, but he is anything but a stray left on his own. Debra Granik’s documentary, Stray Dog, shows how friends and family surround Hall, but he still struggles to keep himself from feeling alone and displaced. A Vietnam veteran, Hall clearly carries scars and wounds that may never fully heal, but he works every day to better his life and the lives of those around him. At first glance, Hall looks like a tough biker, but it becomes clear that Hall’s biker “gang” is an extension of his family and a community he (and others like him) need. Stray Dog follows Hall and his wife, Alicia, as they take to the road to travel with their fellow bikers and vets making their way to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. This is a yearly tradition for Hall, who is well-liked and well-known among the group, but the simple life he has carved out for himself continues to grow when his granddaughter gets pregnant and Alicia’s two sons, Jesus and Angel, come to live with them. Granik takes an interesting approach with Stray Dog by not including any interviews with the documentary’s subjects. She instead lets the film become a silent character study of Hall in his day-to-day life that speaks volumes without needing additional commentary. Hall claims he is not good at giving advice, but the conversations he has with his fellow vets say more than any interview ever could.

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Federighi Films

It’s the near future, and the world (or at least this part of it) is suffering from a decade-old drought. Two teens in the newly desert-like state of Oregon struggle to survive on what used to be a family farm — Dean (Booboo Stewart) hides out in the attic, Kendal (Haley Lu Richardson) makes runs to the nearby well for water — but their efforts are hampered by his failing kidneys, a roving band of violent marauders and the well’s dwindling water supply. They have a plane in a nearby barn, but it’s in need of a very specific engine part, and it soon becomes clear that they may not last until that piece is found. Dean’s health grows worse each day, and Carson’s (Jon Gries) gang is stepping up their efforts to eliminate threats to the region’s limited water sources. What’s a teenage girl with moderate shotgun and samurai sword skills to do? The Well offers up a smartly-crafted, lo-fi apocalypse that packs in substantial substance and care for its budget. Director/co-writer Thomas S. Hammock delivers a mostly convincing and desolate world along with a highly empathetic lead character who acts as our guide through a life seemingly without hope.

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Lionsgate

Joe (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) have a funny story about how they met, but it may be one you’ve heard before. David Wain and co-writer Michael Showalter pull together some familiar faces for They Came Together which sends up the romantic comedy genre with funny, and surprisingly layered, results. As Joe and Molly recount their story over dinner with their friends Karen (Ellie Kemper) and Kyle (Bill Hader) the classic tropes are quickly laid out for all four characters – Joe worked for a large corporation that threatened to put Molly’s quirky shop out of business while Karen and Kyle’s marriage may (not so secretly) be on the rocks. The script’s on-the-nose descriptions of each character (as described by the characters themselves) actually works to frame them as self-aware people forced to play out roles we have seen before and allows the hilarious cast to play within those lines.

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Harmontown

Dan Harmon is a contradiction. He is happy and sad, loving and cruel, appreciative and narcissistic – but above all, he is bitingly honest. This trait is what makes him a great writer and a compelling documentary subject. After getting fired from Community (the show he created), Harmon began the podcast, “Harmontown,” which became his form of therapy in the wake of this latest rejection. Hamontown follows Harmon, along with his co-host Jeff B. Davis, Dungeon Master Spencer Crittenden and his girlfriend Erin McGathy, as they take “Harmontown” on the road. Harmon is also faced with writing two new pilots, one for CBS and one for FOX, which become “homework” he is constantly working on (or not working on) while on the road. Director Neil Berkeley asks Harmon at the beginning of Harmontown what he learned while on tour and the rest of the documentary works to try and answer this question. Berkeley allows Harmon to interact with the camera and even gives Harmon his own camera, but this choice is when the film falters because Harmontown is best when documenting Harmon, not putting him directly in the driver’s seat. Harmon is known for being boisterous, which has been known to get him into trouble (a fact confirmed by many of his friends and former co-workers), but it is during his more reflective moments that Berkeley is able to capture that reveal what a tortured soul Harmon is. And the true problem is he is brutally aware of this fact.

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Key and Peele

Comedians Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key may be best known for their outlandish characters, but Key & Peele works so well because the situations the duo create are grounded in reality, which then becomes the breeding ground for their comedy. The two comedians sat down with former Detroit Free Press critic Elvis Mitchell (current host of KCRW’s The Treatment) Sunday night during the Los Angeles Film Festival to discuss their approach to comedy and analyze some of the sketches that helped define the style of comedy they wanted to create with Key & Peele. Both Key and Peele agreed that the number one “rule” when working on any scene for the show is to work against audience expectation, but Key explained that it is not always about doing a 180-degree turn when a 60-degree turn would be more unexpected. They have cut scenes that were too similar to other sketch comedy shows because the duo tries to keep from emulating things that have been done before. But Key and Peele are certainly influenced by certain sketches and shows that helped make the framework of Key & Peele.

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