LAFF

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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Todd Berger

Though it might often seem as if most of the wheeling and dealing that goes into the acquisition of festival films happens actually during festivals, there are plenty of worthy titles that end up getting snapped up months after their premieres (just look at John Dies at the End). Though Todd Berger‘s It’s A Disaster premiered back in June at the Los Angeles Film Festival and we’re just getting word of the film being bought now, there was never any question that the LAFF favorite (and major crowdpleaser) was going to get picked up, distributed, and totally loved by anyone who has the good sense to watch it. IndieWire reports that Oscilloscope Laboratories has acquired North American rights to the film and is planning to release it both theatrically and digitally in early 2013. Written and directed by Berger, the film stars Julia Stiles, David Cross, America Ferrera, Erinn Hayes, Rachel Boston, Kevin M. Brennan, Jeff Grace, and Blaise Miller in a fresh and funny spin on the worn-out apocalypse film trope. It centers on a group of friends who gather for a Sunday brunch and, too consumed with their own (quite funny) dramas, utterly fail to notice that the world is literally ending around them. Oscilloscope’s David Laub said of the film, “It’s A Disaster is a real gem, one of those great discoveries that you don’t come across very often…Todd has combined a perceptive, Woody Allen-esque relationship comedy with a unique take on the apocalypse film, and in the […]

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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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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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Aural Fixation - Large

I am sure the last thing to cross most people’s minds after finding out the world was coming to an end would be music, but for some people, grabbing an armful of records would be as important as grabbing family photos if you were forced to evacuate your home. The poster (and soundtrack cover) for Seeking a Friend of the End of the World shows the film’s leads, Dodge (Steve Carell) and Penny (Keira Knightley), along with dog Sorry, standing in the face of an asteroid set to destroy earth. Dodge and Sorry look like you would expect, knowing a giant asteroid is heading towards you (pensive, scared), but Penny looks nearly hopeful as she clutches a stack of records. While music certainly will not save you from certain fate, it can certainly help pad the landing. Music plays an important role throughout Seeking a Friend, from Penny and Owen (Adam Brody) arguing over who will get custody of which records when they break up to Penny grabbing that armful on her way out of the apartment (potentially for the last time) to the film’s final moments with Dodge laying on the floor, accepting his fate as he lets “The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies wash over him. When the power officially goes out and the world is rendered dark and quiet, the effect is truly eerie and unsettling with only the sounds of the impending elements remaining. The power of music and the escape it provides is suddenly […]

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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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It’s not impossible for lauded animation house Pixar to make a mistake (or two, in the case of Cars, which does still pull in great affection from the younger set), and setting up their first film led by a female protagonist and with a brand new fairy tale as plot backbone in no way sounded like a mistake from conception. But despite a checklist of elements that should mark Brave as a bold new classic for both Pixar and Disney, the film instead diverges spectacularly -  it is both a middling example of Pixar innovation and wit and a beautiful introduction to one of Disney’s most compelling Princesses yet. Simply put, Brave is a poor Pixar feature, but it’s a wonderful Disney Princess film. What Brave has to offer is twofold: a bold new Princess and an exciting new world for her to live and play in. Still better, it appears as if Disney, Pixar, writers and directors Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, and additional writer Irene Mecchi set out to accomplish those exact aims when crafting Brave. That sort of praise might not exactly seem like the kind worth singing, but when it comes to Brave, a film that was conceived of and written by Chapman before she was eventually ousted as the director in 2010, it’s important to note. The aims of Brave are true, but its methodology in getting in there doesn’t quite hit the mark.

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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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published: 04.16.2014
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published: 04.16.2014
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published: 04.16.2014
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published: 04.14.2014
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