LAFF

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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Alex Karpovsky

Editor’s Note: This review originally ran during the 2012 LAFF, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. There are few things that navel-gazing filmmakers like gazing at more than, well, their own navels, which is why independent cinema is flooded with vaguely veiled stories that are obviously about their makers and little else. In Red Flag, writer/director/producer/star Alex Karpovsky embraces this mini-genre (to the point that his character is named “Alex Karpovsky” and he’s on the road showing his film Woodpecker, a film Karpovsky actually made and a trip he really did take) to characteristically witty and dry effect. But it’s Karpovsky’s willingness to make his own character not look like a sensitive genius (or “a charismatic mega-fauna” as a deranged fan calls him or even “an adroit filmmaker” as he eventually tries to tout himself as) that frees the film from ego and opens it up to actual humor and significant proficiency. For the sake of clarity, this review will refer to the character of “Alex Karpovksy” as “Alex” and Alex Karpovksy the filmmaker as “Karpovsky,” because this could get a bit confusing (fortunately for Karpovsky, his final film is not).

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Luv Movie Review

Editor’s note: LUV hits limited release today, so please take a look at Allison’s LAFF review of the film, originally published on June 19, 2012. Set on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, writer/director Sheldon Candis’s feature debut LUV creates a world that is both beautiful and terrifying seen through the eyes of characters who also slide back and forth across that line. After watching his nephew Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.) shyly look away from one of his female classmates who seemed to be showing interest in him, Woody’s uncle Vincent (Common) decides to have his eleven-year-old nephew spend the day with him instead of going to school and “learn real world shit.” Vincent is a well-dressed man who drives around town in a sleek black Mercedes and carries a nice leather briefcase from meeting to meeting. It is no surprise that Woody looks up to him and his day in the “real world” starts off like a fairy tale with his uncle buying him a custom-made suit and treating him like a business associate rather than a little kid.

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Middle of Nowhere Movie 2012

Editor’s note: With Sundance winner Middle of Nowhere hitting limited release, here is a re-run of our LAFF review, originally published on June 21, 2012. The concept of loneliness permeates director Ava DuVernay’s sophomore effort, Middle of Nowhere, as we watch Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) struggle to move forward after her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), is given a eight year prison sentence. We open on Ruby and Derek during one of their weekly visitations, and the desperation to get through their situation plays all over Ruby’s face while Derek seems more hesitant to look too far into the future. Ruby is hanging on to the hope that with good behavior, Derek’s sentence will be reduced from eight years to five and she makes him repeat this mantra before she leaves. We learn that Ruby had been on track to go to medical school, but now with Derek locked up, she has decided to put it off in favor of being able to make her weekly visits (and the two hour, each way, bus ride to get there) and be home for his phone calls. It is clear that Derek does not want Ruby to put her life on hold for him, but stubborn and passionate Ruby will hear none of it. She has a plan and believes if they each keep their heads down, they will soon be together again and get their lives back on track. But can things ever go back to the way they were after eight potential […]

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Editor’s note: Celeste and Jesse Forever opens in limited release this Friday, but back in June, we saw the film at LAFF and positively loved it (so much that we’d marry it). This review was originally published on June 22, 2012. You’d be correct in mistaking Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) for a happy couple. All the signs are there – inside jokes, Celeste’s shiny “C & J Forever” pendant, dinners with friends, professions of love, even a special sign language – but, alas, you’d be wrong. Celeste and Jesse are not forever, in fact, they’re getting a divorce. The opening credits of Lee Toland Krieger’s Celeste and Jesse Forever (penned by Jones and co-star Will McCormack) zip us through Celeste and Jesse’s relationship – from shy happiness in high school, to high stakes sexual chemistry in college, to blissful young marriage, to now (and now is exactly when things get messy). When we meet Celeste and Jesse, the pair are still acting as if they are romantically involved – and that’s the problem. Jesse has taken up residence in the couple’s backyard cottage (his studio), but other than that, everything else is status quo – the affection, the bond, the connection – and while the two of them seem content with the situation, it unquestionably needs to change. And fast.

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Editor’s Note: On July 11, 2012, Easy Money opened its limited release in the United States. In honor of that release, we’re republishing Allison Loring’s review from the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival. She was quite fond of it, which leads us to believe that you should read the review and perhaps even see the movie… Based on the novel “Snabba Cash” (also the film’s original title) by Swedish author Jens Lapidus, Easy Money tells the twisted tale of what it really means to make “easy money” and the ramifications of those supposed shortcuts. The film opens with Jorge (Matias Varela) staging a daring prison break (despite only having a year left on his sentence), and subsequently falling right back into the world of drugs and violence that clearly got him locked up in the first place. But a move like that never comes without consequences, as we meet Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) who has suddenly found himself a full-time father while still trying to run his (at times) brutal business practices. Far from the world of drugs and criminals is enterprising business student Johan “JW” Westlund (Joel Kinnaman) who is liked by all, but (despite how it may seem) struggles to keep up with the lavish lifestyle of his wealthy friends and classmates. At first glance, it doesn’t seem obvious that these three characters have anything in common, but we soon realize that the thread that connects them all is the desire for quick cash, the hope for a better life because […]

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The jokes write themselves – It’s a Disaster is, in fact, not a disaster at all (though a brief glitch during the film’s final screening at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival did result in half of the audience tittering “it’s a disaster!” to a temporarily blank screen). Todd Berger‘s film takes some familiar ingredients – an end-of-the-world plot, a cast of characters who are stuck with each other, suburban brunch at its absolute worst – and mixes them up into one heck of a funny and acutely realized comedy stew (quiche?). Amusingly acted, incredibly well-written, and surprisingly adept at mixing and mingling disparate tones, It’s a Disaster is the exact kind of fresh comedy that audiences hope to find at film festivals. The film centers on a Sunday brunch that is already going to get a bit weird – hosts Pete (Blaise Miller) and Emma (Erinn Hayes) have an ulterior motive for bringing together their best pals for their traditional couples brunch, and it’s not just to meet Tracy’s (Julia Stiles) latest boyfriend, Glenn (David Cross). Likewise, it’s also not watch the Kivels (Kevin M. Brennan and Rachel Boston) go at it when they’re not talking about their latest adventures with drugs and music. And it’s not even to dance around the delicate topic of just when Hedy (America Ferrara) and Shane (Jeff Grace) are going to tie the knot. Of course, all that will happen – along with the most unplanned event of all: a decidedly unnatural disaster […]

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Film has certainly explored the female side of the world of stripping, but rarely has the glittered curtain been pulled back on the male side of this risqué form of entertainment. Director Steven Soderbergh paints this picture with his signature style and does so in a way that shows us the highs and lows of living a cash-only lifestyle, the sort that can seem like one big party, but one that leaves you questioning your future when the sun comes up, the high from the night before wears off, and you realize you have nothing more than a stack of ones to show for your “day at the office.” Magic Mike focuses on Mike (Channing Tatum), a man with a plan who is a natural hustler, bouncing from odd job to odd job, saving his cash, and working on his plan to start his own custom furniture business. Mike is a charmer, not just with the ladies, but with anyone he meets thanks to an unflappable, positive outlook on life as he good-humoredly chuckles in the face of even the most outlandish of situations he finds himself in. But Mike is not some good-looking blockhead, he knows where his strengths lie and has parlayed that into a successful run at a male revue, Xquisite, where he is “second in command” to the club’s owner, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey.) Mike is constantly watching the bottom line and while he is certainly having a good time, he considers it all a temporary stop […]

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Big Easy Express

Big Easy Express takes audiences on the train that drove the bands Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes from Oakland, CA to New Orleans, LA on their Railroad Revival Tour. Unlike the usual practice of separating bands into different, cramped tour buses as they travel between shows, the Big Easy Express allows these three bands to travel together and proves that, sometimes, the journey is better than the destination. With room to move around, an open bar, and a bunch of talented musicians, the jam sessions never end and it becomes hard to tell if the bands are more excited to get on stage and perform for their fans at each stop or get back on the train to perform with each other. As the bands leave the stage, instruments in hand, they become a make shift parade as they walk back to the train, still playing, and continuing to do so the moment they get on board. The music in Big Easy Express is constant as we get an up close look at the various shows performed along the way as well as the music constantly being performed on the train itself. We watch as these musicians learn from each other, trade instruments, write new songs, and slowly (but surely) start to turn into a seamless group of talent rather than individual bands.

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Aaron Sorkin

Please read this article with caution as it does contain plot details that some may consider spoilers for the first episode of HBO’s The Newsroom. After screening the pilot episode (“We Just Decided To”) of Aaron Sorkin’s new show The Newsroom, the Los Angeles Film Festival audience was treated to a Q&A session which featured Sorkin himself along with executive producer Alan Poul, director Greg Mottola, and moderated by Madeleine Brand (The Madeleine Brand Show.) Anyone who has attended a Sorkin Q&A (or seen the man speak) knows that it is the equivalent of being shot out of a cannon. Sorkin’s signature fast-talk does not just live on the pages he writes, it is also how Sorkin speaks himself. It was clear that whatever Sorkin and Brand had spoken about prior to coming into the theater had left them both riled up. Brand (much like the Northwestern professor does to Jeff Daniels’ character, Will McAvoy, in the first scene of the premiere episode) refused to let Sorkin get away with non-answers or quips. Brand continuously pushed him until Sorkin, the man of a million words, let out an exasperated breath… and then jumped right back in.

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