LAFF

Over the past few years, the idea of the traditional “nuclear family” has changed from a father, a mother, and 2.5 kids to any number of variations from two dads to two moms to a mom and two dads. Televisions shows like Modern Family and next season’s The New Normal have embraced this idea and show audiences on a weekly basis that no matter who makes up a family, at the end of the day, love is love. Gayby tells the story of a woman (“hag since birth” Jenn, played with aplomb by Jenn Harris) and her gay best friend Matt (Matthew Wilkas) who would both like to have a child and decide to do so together. Instead of going the ol’ turkey baster route (at least at first), the two agree to do it the “old fashioned way” to create their gayby. With Matt finding himself recently out of a long-term relationship and (unsuccessfully) getting back into the dating scene, both he and equally-single Jenn decide to try online dating. Things are made only more complicated when Jenn is forced to move in with Matt while her apartment is being painted, by her boss’ brother Louis (Louis Cancelmi) no less. As Jenn and Matt try and find new romantic relationships for themselves, they never stop their quest to have a baby together. After weeks of trying, the pregnancy test comes back positive, but thanks to their accelerated dating lives (and a box of expired condoms), things become even more complicated.

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The “Talk Score to Me: Emerging Filmmakers on Collaborating with Composers” panel at the Los Angeles Film Festival was an interesting concept that brought together up-and-coming filmmakers with the composers who created the original (and affordable) music for their respective short films. ASCAP and Project Involve put together a Composers Workshop that gave these four filmmakers (Erin Li, Mason Richards, Susana Casares, and Aaron Celious) the opportunity to select from eight different composers through a “speed dating session” to decide who they would want to collaborate with on their films. The guideline for their films was “California Stories” that took on the idea of democracy. Each filmmaker took this idea in a different direction with four shorts that each tackled this topic, but in very unique ways. Moderated by composer Art Ford, each director screened their shorts and then took to the stage with their respective composers to explain their different processes and experiences working together.

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Director Spencer Parsons (I’ll Come Running) introduced Saturday Morning Massacre to a packed crowd of horror film enthusiasts late Tuesday night as something you would see if you stayed up all night watching B-horror films (while possibly indulging in some “Scooby snacks”) and now the sun is coming up, cartoons are on, you are eating a massive bowl of sugar (i.e. Count Chocula), and you find yourself starting to doze off. Massacre follows four paranormal activity detectives (plus their dog Hamlet) as they try and solve mysteries that seem to be due to ghosts or other mysterious activity, but (much like the Saturday morning cartoon they seem to emulate) these amateur detectives uncover more misdeeds than ghosts on their missions. A promising job (meaning they will actually get paid) comes in, and group leader Nancy (Ashley Spillers) has the crew pile into Frankie’s (Sean Ryan) van (which has yet to prove to be mysterious) and head to a mansion that appears to be haunted. On their way to the mansion, the van starts to break down and as they try and to figure out what the problem is, Officer Lance (Paul Gordon) pulls over to check on the group. When he realizes their destination, he warns them against staying the night in the house and, clearly taken with Nancy, offers to come by after his shift to check on everyone. Nancy is confident that everything will be fine and is excited at the prospect of a paying job, but even more so, […]

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Many films try to take you back to those nostalgic days of childhood through images and stories, but Crazy & Thief gives you an actual voyeuristic view of the world through the eyes of a seven-year-old and a two-year-old that naturally takes its audience back to that time in their lives when the world was all ankles and adventure. Much like Calvin and Hobbes would take to their forest-filled backyard for adventure, Yaya aka Crazy (Willa Vy McAbee) and Johnny aka Thief (John Huck McAbee) take to their “backyard,” the streets of Manhattan, on a quest to find a time machine (naturally). After creating their own star map (or treasure map, depending on how you look at it), Crazy and Thief set out to follow the various stars to see where they lead them. Structured like a storybook, the film follows different chapters as these two mini shoplifters (kids gotta eat!) encounter various “characters” along the way. Much like the kids in children’s books and cartoons invent monsters (usually born from misinterpreted shadows), Crazy & Thief takes audiences directly into that imaginative mindset and shows us how children can view adults when they are pretending with chapters titled “Cyclops” and “Giant.” This idea of depicting a living storybook is furthered with Yaya drawing pictures (much like those you would find in these books) on the map to mark where they have been and what they have seen.

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Documentaries are tricky beasts – while true stories come with their very own special cinematic weight (especially the ones that would be deemed “too fake” or “too strange” in a narrative form, such as something like Bart Layton’s tremendous The Imposter), it’s often the very subjects of compelling stories that derail their respective films excitement or cohesion. Not everyone has the spark or charm to light up a big screen, no matter how interesting their real life experiences might be. A good story isn’t the only thing that a documentary needs – they also need a good subject. Fortunately for Till Schauder and his The Iran Job, the filmmaker has Kevin Sheppard, one of the most instantly likable and effortlessly charismatic documentary subjects to hit the genre in quite some time. Schauder and his producer (and wife) Sara Nodjoumi conceived of the basic subject matter of The Iran Job before they found Sheppard – they wanted to use the experience of an American basketball player competing in Iran and for an Iranian team as a non-political entry point in shedding light on the embattled country. The pair searched for months and were almost ready to scrap the project when they found Sheppard, and how very lucky for them that they did, because it’s not only Sheppard’s personality that drives the emotion of the film, it’s also one of the major factors in The Iran Job‘s unexpected and surprisingly critical secondary storyline.

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Who would you want to be with when the world ends? While we here at FSR have been bringing you the various movies you should watch before the world is set to end come this December, writer/director Lorene Scafaria takes on the idea of who you would want to stand with in those final moments. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World follows Dodge (Steve Carell), an insurance salesman (oh, the irony) who seems lost as the rest of the world is falling apart around him. One night, while watching the grim news (anchored with class by Mark Moses), Dodge encounters his quirky neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) and they bond over the unspoken need to have someone to spend time with, even if it means just sitting and watching television together. When Penny gives Dodge a stack of his mail (which she’d been accidentally receiving for months), he finds a letter from an ex-girlfriend (one he considered the love of his life) which prompts Dodge to find her and spend his last days with his one true love. After a terrifying riot breaks out around their apartment building, Dodge grabs Prius-driving Penny to save her (and bum a ride.) Promising to bring her to one of his friends who has a plane (which could get her to England to see her family one last time), the duo (and Dodge’s inherited dog, Sorry) embark on a road trip to get to those people they realize are most important to them.

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The “Coffee Talk: Composers” panel is always a highlight of my LAFF-ing each year and this year may haven taken the cake as it not only featured my number one composer from last year (Mr. Cliff Martinez, thanks to his outstanding scores for Drive, Contagion and The Lincoln Lawyer), but it also began with panelists Martinez, Rolfe Kent (Young Adult), and Michael Penn (Girls) breaking out into an impromptu performance of the Lawrence of Arabia theme with Martinez on djembe, Kent on ukulele, and Penn on theremin. These odd instrument choices made it clear from the start that this was a lively group and the discussion would prove to be just as unpredictable. Moderated by BMI’s Doreen Ringer-Ross, it was apparent from the start that this trio all have a great deal of respect for one another, but it was hard not to notice the good-natured competitive tinge to their respective relationships as well. Read on for the ten things I learned during this year’s composer panel.

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There is literally nothing more natural than for a human being (or, really, any mammal on Earth) to give birth – it’s ostensibly the exact thing that the body was made to do. Yet, over time, the modern birthing process has turned into something rooted in fear – all that screaming, all that blood, all those terrified demands for doctors to “give me the juice!” – and the joy of having a child has been usurped by the presumed inevitable pain of delivery. Yet, in Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore‘s tremendous documentary, Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and The Farm Midwives, the pair present a different way of thinking about and actually giving birth, and while those specific techniques may not be for everyone, their film does provide a very satisfying takeaway for the masses.

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LAFF: Eclectic Mix

Each year the Los Angeles Film Festival features a program they have titled ‘Eclectic Mix’ which brings together a number of music videos (remember those?) that span style, artists and countries and act almost as a shorts program, with a really good soundtrack (and all on the big screen!) This year marked my third time attending the program for what may have been its strongest showing yet. The theater was notably packed and watching videos from France, Japan, Canada and the United States was not only interesting, it was a lot of fun. I have rounded up my top 8 videos out of the mix that combined great music with interesting or funny narratives and visuals that prove music videos may be a dying medium (“I want my MTV”), but it certainly should not be a forgotten one.

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Before screening The Queen of Versailles at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, the film’s director (Lauren Greenfield) described the film as a story about dreams and what it means to strive for, achieve and potentially lose those dreams. The American dream is built on the idea that you rise past where you began in life and The Queen of Versailles dives head first into this idea taking us inside the lives of Jackie and David Siegel as their incredible wealth affords them the opportunity to build their dream house. Both Jackie and David came from humble beginnings and grew into the owners of the biggest single-family home in America (not that they planned it that way.) David found financial success through his Westgate Resorts timeshare business while Jackie parlayed her good looks into a successful modeling career, eventually winning the Miss Florida title (and David’s heart.) Their dream home, named “Versailles” for its grander and the palace it was modeled after, encapsulated what you give the couple who has everything – a home with a bowling alley, a stadium sized tennis court, a stadium sized baseball field, a health spa (to name just a few of its expansive amenities) and ended up with a home covering enough square footage to be considered a new “land” in the center of dreams and fantasy, Disney World.

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Perhaps we were spoiled with last year’s Midnight in Paris, auteur Woody Allen‘s return to (delightful) form after a few years of basically forgettable, minor efforts like Whatever Works, Scoop, Cassandra’s Dream, and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Suffice to say, Allen’s next cinematic trip to a classic, romantic European city has come complete with heightened expectations, and while his To Rome With Love occasionally harnesses some of the charm and ease of Paris, it’s a wholly different film experience, and a less enjoyable one to boot. Much like Paris, Allen has lined up a sizable and talented cast for his latest outing, though he’s chosen Rome as his own spin on throwaway rom-coms like New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day and the far superior Love, Actually, instead of focusing on a single leading character. Allen uses the city of Rome as the (often only) link between all manner of people – Italians, Americans, young, old, famous, common, talented, sexy, unsexy, ambitious, bored, confused, the list goes on – and lets them play out their theatrically-tinged trials and tribulations against a gorgeous Roman backdrop. It’s frothy and fizzy enough, but To Rome With Love isn’t the sort of film that is likely to leave a lasting impact on its audience. It’s popcorn entertainment for the indie set.

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Fans of indie darling (dudeling?) Alex Karpovsky and his brand of wry, dry humor are probably going to flip the hell out over the multi-hyphenate’s latest feature. Karpovsky wrote, directed, and produced the feature, which he also starred in as a loose-ish version of himself. Red Flag centers on a filmmaker named, err, Alex Karpovsky, who sets out on a mini tour to pimp his latest film while in the midst of a total emotional breakdown, thanks to his unfeeling now-ex-girlfriend. The film’s new trailer is Karpovsky through and through, and Red Flag looks to be unflaggingly (tee hee) hilarious and creative. Check out the first trailer from Red Flag after the break, along with screening information for the film, which will have its World Premiere at LAFF this week.

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Neighbors, man, amirite? Can’t live near ‘em, can’t just crush their skulls. In Laura Colella‘s lo-fi charmer, Breakfast With Curtis, young Curtis finds some unexpected friends in his hippie neighbors over the course of one summer. Of course, the exclusive clip from the film that we’ve got for you below happens to take place before those friendships come together, but it can only serve to show just how remarkable the eventual bonds truly are. Yeah, they’re not quite pals yet, but we’ll just have to see how that all hashes out. Colella’s film is a true indie film, one that was filmed in her own house and uses her own friends, neighbors, and housemates to make up most of her cast. That sort of love just has to flow into the finished product. Check out our exclusive clip and poster from Breakfast With Curtis after the break, along with screening information for the film, which will have its World Premiere at LAFF this week.

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In Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worral‘s stirring Call Me Kuchu, we meet soft-spoken activist David Kato, a former teacher fighting for something very dear to his heart – the repeal of Uganda’s stunningly homophobic laws and the blocking of their “Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” which proposed no less than death for HIV-positive gay men, and prison for anyone who fails to turn in a known homosexual. While the simplest of Google searches for information on the film will likely turn up news on some of its most heartbreaking narrative twists and turns, the film is better experienced fresh. However, this trailer for Call Me Kuchu effectively telegraphs the aims and spirit of the film without spoiling some of its more wrenching emotional moments. Check out the film’s trailer after the break, along with screening information for the film, which will be having its U.S. Premiere at LAFF this week.

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Earlier this week, we got a look at David Fenster‘s Pincus in the form of a funny and insightful little trailer, and now we get a chance to see lead actor David Nordstrom in costume as the eponymous Pincus. Well, “costume” in the sense that he’s not wearing a shirt and has decided to accessorize with a weirdly shiny cowboy hat and one heck of an axe. Wait, Pincus isn’t a Deliverance remake…is it? No, no, it’s not! Fenster’s film blends together narrative and documentary styles to tell the tale of two Pincus men – Nordstrom’s lovable loser David and his ailing father (played by Fenster’s own dad, Paul Fenster). It’s an emotional and personal story, but hey, it’s also one that involves an axe and questionable head apparel, so we’re likely in for some chuckles, too. Check out our exclusive still after the break, along with screening information for Pincus, which will premiere at LAFF this week.

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Welcome to one of the most moving and technically beautiful trailers we’ve ever had the pleasure of posting in the name of film festival coverage. Mark Kendall‘s La Camioneta: The Journey of One American School Bus is just that – a documentary that charts the “retirement” of a decommissioned school bus sent to Guatemala to be reinvented as a “camioneta,” the most common public transportation vehicle in the country. But being a camioneta is not easy, and neither is being a camioneta driver, as Kendall’s film teaches us that in the past six years alone nearly one thousand drives and and fare collectors have been murdered due to vicious demands by local gangs. Kendall’s film weaves together the camioneta’s tale with that of five men who either make or drive the vehicle, and if the final film is even half as visually interesting and emotionally stirring as this trailer, La Camioneta will be one of the finest docs to play at the festival. The film had its World Premiere at SXSW in March, won the NAHCC Award at the Nashville Film Festival in April, and was supported by the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, the Jerome Foundation, IFP, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Check out the film’s trailer after the break, along with screening information for LAFF.

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Much like another LAFF film we profiled earlier this week (that would be Sun Kissed), Til Schauder‘s The Iran Job is, on the surface, a story focused on a singular personal story that grows and changes into a film with national (and even global) repercussions. The film centers on American basketball player Kevin Sheppard, an endlessly charming guy who makes the somewhat offbeat and possibly dangerous decision to accept a gig playing ball in Iran. Sheppard is pleasantly surprised to find that his worst fears were unfounded – he’s welcomed to the country and the sport, and he ends up forming some tight bonds with some most unexpected new pals. But despite the beauty that Sheppard finds in Iran, it is still a country in crisis and a people on the edge, and The Iran Job also documents the uprising and suppression of the Green Movement. And though that certainly sounds like heavy stuff, what this first trailer for The Iran Job shows us is a lively, energetic, and rousing glimpse at a film that could end up being one of the festival’s biggest crowd-pleasers. Is it the human drama, the unexpected friendships, or the awesome Iranian rap and hip-hop playing over the action that look and sound so good? It just might be all of it. Check out the trailer for The Iran Job after the break, along with screening information for the film, which will premiere at LAFF this week.

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Independent cinema is not lacking for stories about lovable losers who still live at home, but David Fenster‘s Pincus is an indie slacker story of a very different color. The film stars David Nordstrom (who eagle-eyed indie lovers might recognize from a SXSW favorite of mine, Leave Me Like You Found Me) as the eponymous Pincus, who may or may not be Fenster in a fictional form. Pincus has returned home not because he’s some kind of drop-out, but to assist his father Paul, who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease and slowly wasting away. Of course, that all sounds a bit heavy, but Fenster sweetens the Pincus pot with a filmmaking technique that straddles narrative and documentary, a cast of supporting characters to ease both Pincus and Paul, and what can only be described as a lingering sense of mystery that transcends earthly problems. The film is also a true labor of love for Fenster, who not only wrote and directed it, but also edited it, lensed it, and produced it. Oh, and Pincus’s dad? That’s Paul Fenster, David’s dad, who has been living with Parkinson’s for thirteen years. Check out the film’s trailer after the break, along with screening information for the film, which will premiere at LAFF this week.

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The plotline for Maya Stark and Adi Lavy‘s documentary Sun Kissed is compelling enough on a microcosmic level – the film centers on a Native American couple whose two children both have a rare disorder that essentially makes them allergic to the sun – but it’s made all the more powerful by the film ultimately encompassing something far greater than just one family’s personal tragedy. With the disease (XP) at the center of the film, Sun Kissed explores the treatment of the Navajo people by the U.S. government and how the Navajo nation’s greatest historical tragedy may have impacted the startlingly high number of instances of XP in their community today. The film’s first trailer effectively weaves together the different portions of Sun Kissed‘s plot, all while leaving viewers hungry for still more information. It is also, in the simplest terms, one hell of a tearjerker. Check out the trailer for Sun Kissed after the break, along with screening information for the film, which will premiere at LAFF this week.

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Making a first feature is hard enough already without adding in the period garb, historical accuracy, and horses (oh, the horses) that a classic-feeling Western demands, but filmmaker Jared Moshe doesn’t back down from those challenges with his Dead Man’s Burden. Premiering at this month’s Los Angeles Film Festival, the film centers on the trials of the McCurry family, hardscrabble homesteaders who are not only trying to survive the elements, but internal strife at its very worst. When a long-thought-dead member of the McCurry family returns after the passing of the patriarch of the family, things come to a startling head. Beautifully lensed, Dead Man’s Burden looks to be a modern story that lassoes a classic feel quite handily. The film features two saddlebags full of rising talent, including Barlow Jacobs (Shotgun Stories), Clare Bowen (Nashville), and David Call (Tiny Furniture). The film also includes cinematography by Robert Hauer and production design by Ruth De Jong (There Will Be Blood, The Master, The Tree of Life, To The Wonder). Check out the film’s first trailer after the break.

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