Film Festivals

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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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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published: 11.26.2014
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