Film Festivals

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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Earth to Echo

A group of misfit friends band together to save their homes from being torn down (and their friendships from being torn apart) when a harmless adventure gives them more than they expected… stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Earth to Echo certainly starts off like a Goonies update for the iPhone and YouTube generation, but screenwriter Henry Gayden and director Dave Green infuse enough heart into the narrative to help the film stand on its own. They also get a lot of help from an adorable extraterrestrial. When a new freeway threatens Alex (Teo Halm), Tuck (Astro), and Munch’s (Reese Hartwig) neighborhood, and their cell phones start acting weird, the boys follow a map that has taken over one of their phones. It leads them out to the desert and raises questions about what’s really going on in their beloved neighborhood, but the most important thing they find is a new friend in the form of little alien Echo. (Those who love Wall-E will want to check out the tangible version created here.)

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LAFF 2014

At this point I have to believe that filmmakers planning to shoot found footage films pretty much never stop to ask themselves the simple question… why? Fine fine, budgetary reasons. Sure sure, there’s an audience for it. But shouldn’t filmmakers maybe have a narrative reason for the format too? If the movie can be filmed more traditionally without any real change or impact on the story itself, then maybe it doesn’t need to be found footage. If your editing — complete with music cues — betrays the logic of your chosen format, then maybe it doesn’t need to be found footage. If you can’t explain in a single sentence how an audience is viewing your movie (under the guise of it being “real”), then maybe it doesn’t need to be found footage. Inner Demons doesn’t need to be found footage.

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LAFF 2014

Criminals are usually thought of as hardened lawbreakers, but shows like Orange is the New Black have started painting a different picture of those put behind bars. While the show is based on the real life experiences of former inmate, Piper Kerman, Orange is the New Black is a fictionalized series. However Darius Monroe’s documentary, Evolution of a Criminal, is an unflinchingly honest exploration that shows how one bad choice can affect not just the life of the criminal, but everyone around them. Monroe is able to peel back the curtain in such a revealing way because the criminal he is exploring – is himself. Monroe did not have a troubled childhood or a strained relationship with his family – the problem was he cared too much. After realizing the true financial burden his family was facing, Monroe dedicated himself to being a good student with his eyes on college and a part-time job to help with the family finances. But after his family’s home was burglarized, Monroe decided on a different way to get his family out of their growing debt – robbing a bank.

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LAFF 2014

Power is a tricky thing. Does it come from running a house hold, proving you can make it on your own or forcing others to bend to your will? Supremacy tackles all these questions in an amplified cat-and-mouse game that has all its players struggling for the upper hand as they race against the clock. After serving fifteen years in prison, Tully (Joe Anderson) is released into the company of a woman sent to get him by his white supremacy group. The erratic Doreen (Dawn Olivieri), who toggles between being mystified by Tully and feeling as though she needs to go toe-to-toe with him, is clearly a “groupie” of the group, but also seems like she is in no state to spend time in a car with an ex-con. After a few hours on the road, the two are pulled over and Tully’s recently won freedom starts to unravel at an alarming pace. The swastika tattoo under Tully’s left eye immediately gives away his allegiance, but Supremacy turns into an intriguing battle of wills when Tully and Doreen find shelter in the home of the stoic Mr. Walter (Danny Glover). Mr. Walter is not the biological father of the children living in the house, but he is their clear patriarch as he tries to protect his wife, her son and daughter, and two grandchildren. Glover is the picture of restraint as he speaks in pointed whispers and preaches to his family about patience. It is clear Mr. Walter has faced men like Tully before, but what is most intriguing is […]

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Snowpiercer

For director Bong Joon-ho, the future looks bleak. Based on the French graphic novel, “Le Transperceneige,” Snowpiercer takes audiences a mere twenty-six years into the future when an attempt to stop global warming leaves the world frozen and uninhabitable. The only humans left alive now exist on a self-sustaining train that endlessly circles the earth making their new home feel more like prison than salvation. For those segregated to the back of the train, life is a constant struggle where every meal (and moment) is regulated by a select few lucky enough to have boarded at the front. The Snowpiercer is ruled by it’s omnipresent inventor, Wilford, and his unflinching rules are upheld by Mason (Tilda Swinton) who is equal parts comical and terrifying. Trying to survive under this constant oppression, it is not long before those in the back of the train decide it is time to overthrow their self-appointed rulers. This rag-tag army, as led by the surly Curtis (Chris Evans), band together to push their way to the front and try to figure out why they are being treated like second-class citizens.

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Night Moves

Editor’s note: Our review of Night Moves originally ran during last year’s TIFF, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. Early in Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, a film about pollution and its effects on the environment is shown to a group of Oregon environmentalists, including Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Josh (Jesse Eisenberg). Post-screening, the film’s director is bombarded with the usual kinds of questions any filmmaker is forced to field at such an event (surely there’s a cut featuring someone asking what the budget was somewhere out there), but a defiant Dena only wants to know what sort of “big plan” can be put into action to right the wrongs against our planet. With just one question, Dena puts all of her cards on the table, and so does the film. Dena and Josh are primarily concerned with big plans – and they’ve got one. Intent on blasting a hole in the burgeoning industrialization taking over their state, the two have been slowly cooking up a plan to do just that, by busting a hole in a nearby dam. Aided by Josh’s friend Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), the three are already in the final stages of their ecoterrorism scheme by the time Night Moves kicks up, and the film’s first act ticks steadily toward to their criminal (and perhaps criminally stupid) act.

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Tribeca Film Festival

This year there were well over 50 shorts screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. That’s quite a lot. Spread across nine programs, they’re a diverse bunch both in form and quality. They come from all over the world, too, though there’s a significant emphasis on home-grown New York City filmmakers. This variety makes any attempt at synthesis a little daunting, so instead of drawing any sort of overarching thematic conclusions I’ll just go ahead and tell you which ones are the best. Here are 12 of them, in alphabetical order.

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In Your Eyes at Tribeca

Joss Whedon was a busy man with The Avengers. But in between the writing and the shooting and the wrangling of a real, live Hulk (I’m assuming that was the real Hulk, right?), he also shot Much Ado About Nothing on his days off. Apparently Much Ado wasn’t enough, because Whedon actually had a third project in the works at the same time. In the early months of 2012, Whedon’s screenplay for In Your Eyes was being shot in New Hampshire. Not by Whedon, mind you, but by Brin Hill – and before you say, “Who?” Hill is known mostly for writing the competitive b-boy flick Battle of the Year. Somehow, Whedon found a way to oversee the production anyway, even if it was just through a tenuous psychic connection. Which, conveniently enough, is the very same plot device at the center of In Your Eyes. Starring Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) and Michael Stahl-David (the lead in Cloverfield), it’s a love story touched by a vague kind of movie mysticism. Kazan and Stahl-David fall in love despite the fact that they’ve never met and live on opposite sides of the country. Somehow, a metaphysical, psychic-ish connection is to blame. The film premieres this Sunday at the Tribeca Film Festival, and Entertainment Weekly has shared the first three minutes in case you won’t be in NYC but would still like to take a look. And why wouldn’t you?

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Time Is Illmatic

If you’re a working musician who has residential roots to New York City and you happen to have some sort of fraught relationship with your family, the Tribeca Film Festival has a spot for you: Opening Night. Last year, the festival opened with the debut of Mistaken For Strangers, a documentary about the band The National, with a tight focus on the band’s lead singer and his doofus brother as they attempt to coexist on tour together. This year, the festival bowed with the premiere of Time Is Illmatic, another documentary centered on a working musician (in this case, rapper Nas) who has residential roots to the city (he grew up in Queens’ Queensbridge Houses) who happens to have some sort of fraught relationship with his family (though nothing quite so tense as the relationship at the center of last year’s premiere). Time Is Illmatic is pegged to the twenty-year anniversary of Nas’ debut album, “Illmatic,” a hip-hop milestone that, as we are frequently reminded in the film, still resonates today. Nas tells us early on in the film that he sought to make “a perfect album” with “Illmatic,” and though it appears that he absolutely accomplished that, the majority of the film isn’t about actually making the album itself – it’s about making a way out of his existing life into a place where he could even dream of making such an album. Time Is Illmatic is primarily concerned with sharing Nas’ early life experiences (call that the “time” […]

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Rezo Films

On the outskirts of Tbilisi there is a enormous prison. It hovers over those who come to visit and the first images of Tinatin Kajrishvili‘s Brides are of this approach. Women stand on below, looking up at this aging monolith while they wait to be allowed inside. It is an eternal sight that echoes the women of Aci Trezza watching the sea for the return of their sons and husbands in the Neorealist classic La Terra Trema, though here cinematographer Goga Devadiani uses a more intimate framing. Grandeur can be found in the building itself, an imposition of state power. Its walls are so oppressive and its hallways so drab that a viewer unfamiliar with the nation of Georgia might mistake much of this film to be a Soviet-era period piece rather than a contemporary narrative. But back to those women. One of them is Nutsa (Mari Kitia), a young mother whose long-time partner is being held inside. She and those standing by her have visited as a result of a newly changed policy: the inmates are now allowed to receive visitors, but only legally recognized family. Nutsa and Goga (Giorgi Maskharashvili) have two children but no marriage license. The prison has granted this small group, including an elderly woman and a terrified teenager, the right to a brisk wedding inside the prison walls in order to cement future visitation rights.

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Most Anticipated Tribeca Films

Hey, look, it’s film festival time again! (It’s always film festival time, much like it’s always awards season time.) This time around, the films are unfurling at New York City’s own Tribeca Film Festival, and two of our very own NYC-based scribblers are on the ground to cover the best of what the festival has to offer. As ever, the festival offers a robust programming slate of brand-new premieres, holdovers from other festivals around the world (we recommend titles like In Your Eyes, Chef, and Begin Again, if you’re looking to play catch up), and some uniquely compelling titles just daring you to try them out (one word: zombeavers). The festival kicks off tonight with the premiere of the Nas documentary, Time Is Illmatic, and runs until Sunday, April 27th. For these next few days, Lower Manhattan will be jumping with the festival and its many offerings, and we dare say that our own Kate Erbland and Daniel Walber have picked out some of the best.

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Roosevelt Harris in The Great Invisible

In addition to its normal slate of invited and in-competition docs, as well as a tribute to the work of Steve James, this year the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival invited filmmaker Lucy Walker to curate a thematic program of her choosing. Walker built her sidebar around memorable characters, and how they both enrich and sometimes problematize documentary storytelling. It was a choice that resonated not only in the films she chose, such as the Robert Evans doc The Kid Stays in the Picture and Marcel Ophüls’s Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie, and her own 2002 effort Devil’s Playground, but also in the new docs screening throughout the weekend. Many of my favorites from the fest were those that fit well with Walker’s program, as you can see below. From topical and historical stories that are most effective when focused on individual subjects to strictly character-driven narratives, the following five titles represent the best of what the 2014 Full Frame had to offer as well as some of the best docs of the year so far. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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LESSON OF THE EVIL from Takashi Miike

The Stanley Film Fest is the new kid on the block in the film festival game as 2013 was their premiere. We had the pleasure of attending and covering the genre-themed gathering last year, and in addition to the films that played the fest one of the biggest highlights was the location. The historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO hosts the festival, and as horror fans know it was an extended stay here that inspired Stephen King’s “The Shining.” The hotel and grounds are an architectural and atmospheric joy, and the surrounding mountains add a gorgeous sense of natural beauty. Basically, it’s a perfect setting for a horror film festival. This year’s list of films playing the fest is unfortunately light on premieres, but it features a fantastic bunch of critical darlings, new releases and genre favorites. It’s essentially a make-up fest offering a chance to see recent festival hits on the big screen where they belong. Some of the highlights include Jennifer Kent’s wonderfully creepy Sundance hit The Babadook (our review), Gerard Johnstone’s fresh horror comedy Housebound, Hitoshi Matsumoto’s incredibly funny, strange and affecting R100 (our review), and the funniest film of the year so far, Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement’s What We Do In the Shadows (our review). The fest also features some retrospective screenings including Joe Dante’s Gremlins, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, and Mick Garris’ Sleepwalkers. (One of those things is not like the others…) There are other non-screening events planned too including a murder mystery dinner, a […]

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Tribeca Film Festival

When the greatest city in the world (patent pending) is home to your film festival, it seems pretty obvious that said film festival should play plenty of films about said city — a love letter or ten, if you will — and this year’s Tribeca Film Festival appears to be taking that to heart. The festival, now in its thirteenth year, will hit New York City this April 16 through April 27, and the first half of the festival’s slate (the second half will be announced tomorrow) is very heavy on the Gotham-influenced fare. Think of it this way — at this year’s Tribeca, you can take in at least seven films about New York and its various neighborhoods, and then you can step outside into that actual city. Wild stuff, you guys. These seven films span the city and its far reaches, while also spanning a number of cinematic genres (there’s comedy here, but there’s also some hard drama), and covering topics from ballet to hot dogs and everything in between. Take a look at some of the New York City-centric films (narrative and documentary!) that Tribeca will be offering this year, along with some notes on offerings that – sigh – take place elsewhere.

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