Frame of Mind: Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF)
Models. The word alone can send women into a panic of self-doubt and conjure body image issues galore. What is it about models that makes women intensely insecure? It is not the models, the women to be exact, that perpetuate this reaction in women but the manner in which cultures substantiate that a model is the ideal, the embodiment of perfection. To be beautiful one must look like a model. This is of course an impossible feat for a woman as we cannot all look the same way, nor should we want to--and we do not all have access to make-up artists, personal trainers, nutritionists, and all of the other necessities that go along with a life in front of the camera. The societal pressures to be perfect, to be model-like, is a constant sociological problem that has been addressed in numerous documentaries. Have you ever wondered what the aging model thinks about the entire situation? How they handle growing older in a profession that glorifies youthfulness and admonishes aging? Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders has assembled some of the biggest fashion models from the past 60-years to discuss these questions, and more, about their life as part of the modeling world in About Face.
Denis Côté, DP Vincent Biron, and producer Sylvain Corbeil have created a singular (beast of a) movie with Bestiaire. Offered the chance to shoot at a rather tired safari park in rural Quebec, Côté decided to make an experiment, to find new ways of making images of animals.
The sounds are heard around a burgeoning middle-class street in Brazil’s Recife, half of which used to be owned by silver-bearded patriarch Francisco, but which is now mostly tower blocks. First-time feature director Kleber Mendonça Filho reworks some of his shorts material to lay out a mosaic of life on this particular, present-day street, both aurally and visually, centered largely on the extended family who have always lived there. The camera wanders through a playground of kids, or spies on a kissing couple near a rooftop below. Other extras and kids pop up from time to time – the kissing girl even gets to answer to her called-out name later on – but the film concentrates on a relatively small handful of characters, following them through the inconsequential mundanities of everyday life.
At every film festival there always seems to be one movie that strikes you as a viewer more so than any other. For the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival the honor goes to Director Mads Matthiesen's Teddy Bear. The promotional image for Teddy Bear displays a hulking figure of a man, bodybuilder Dennis (real-life super-heavyweight bodybuilder Kim Kold), curling his biceps in front of a mirror with a barbell weighted far more than most people could carry with both hands. Dennis is covered in tattoos, rippling with muscles, and looks nothing like the gentile man you come to know in Teddy Bear--a juxtaposition of a title if there ever was one to the striking figure of the man it refers. But Dennis is all heart, a sweet-natured man who yearns for love but is painfully shy.
Presented by the Director himself, William Friedkin, Killer Joe played to a full house on the second night of the Los Angeles Film Festival 2012 and the entire room was laughing out loud, enjoying every minute of this dark and twisted tale. As Friedkin puts it, "It's a comedy by the way, you must not freak out."
The advent of cinema created a world where artists could create moving portraits, an artistic medium not bound my any form of limitations. Rarely a film is created that holds a transgressive quality, the ability to move you completely out of your comfort zone and violate the standard laws of filmmaking. Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin, who co-wrote the screenplay with Lucy Alibar, has done just that, and more. Beasts of the Southern Wild may be classified as a magical realist film, wherein the real and the fantastic exist in the same place, simultaneously, and without pure distinction.
When Drag City announced a couple of years ago that they were releasing a long-lost early ‘70s album by a band you never heard of, named Death, comprising three black brothers from Detroit who made punk rock years before anyone else, the knee-jerk reaction was to assume this was just hipster bait. But your (my) knees should know better, for Drag City can be trusted by and large, and the band and their story are truly worthy of their unusual, if belated, place in the pantheon.
Laure's family has recently moved to a new suburb in France. With her short blonde hair and ambiguous features it is unclear on first meeting Laure on screen if she is indeed a boy or a girl. This of course begs the question, "what makes a person look like a boy or a girl?" Laure prefers the walls of her bedroom to be blue, and her parent't happily oblige. She wears long shorts and t-shirts, never a dress. Her short cropped hair is typical for a boy of her age, as is her lack of girly attributes like barrettes. When she speaks her voice does not carry high or low, with no indicative speech markers of either gender. But Laure is a girl by birth, she just happens to not outwardly portray feminine characteristics and in turn her first meeting with a local girl, Lisa, results in the misunderstanding that Laure is indeed a boy; and she does nothing to correct the situation.
The year is 1982 in Peru. Cayetana (Fatima Buntinx) lives in a spacious home outside the city with caretakers. Her mother, and stepfather, are returning home after a long while away and Cayetana is not interested in seeing either of them. Buntinx makes the most disinterested, annoyed, and ultimately bothered facial expressions--this is an actress who does not need dialogue to convey emotion, it is written all over her face. Now Cayetana is a bit of an odd-ball; some may call her sinister. In reality, she is a child going through a great deal of emotional turmoil and unfortunately the good intentions she should have veer towards the bad.
From Korea comes Director Kim Min-suk's Haunters. A film centered around two men specifically who both harbor exceptional abilities. Kyu-nam (Koo So) believes himself to be ordinary. Having just lost his job at a junk yard he is seeking employment. He finds work at a pawn shop, and believes this is the moment his life will take off and become great. When an unknown man (Gang Dong-Won) walks into the shop one day and freezes everyone present, being Kyu-nam's two friends, and the owner, things begin to get weird. Weird in that the only person who does not freeze is Kyu-nam. He is not ordinary after all, but is the only person this unknown man has ever come into contact with who is not susceptible to his powers. This of course causes great panic in our unknown antagonist, who has lived his entire life with the ability to freeze people, as well as control their actions with his eyes.
The dry humor that surrounds Familiar Ground (En Terrains Connus) is just that, dry--a lifeless, suburban enclave of Quebec where the most interesting amusement comes in the form of a giant blue inflatable something or other in front of a car dealership. This is not to say the film isn't good, far from that actually. It is very much internalized, leaving the characters to meander through their humdrum lives interacting with one another on such superficial and unemotional levels that the pure existence of the lifelessness becomes somewhat fascinating.
Director Asif Kapadia takes Senna's story from his humble beginnings in Brazil to his star turn on the track in the documentary Senna with great success. Structuring the documentary like a narrative feature, as written by Manish Pandey, it maintains a successful story structure that becomes full of more energy, drama, and feeling than many fictional story's put to film. Told with a linear structure through archival footage (from F1, Senna's family, as well as news coverage), actual voice-over of Senna himself explaining parts of his career and life, as well as still photographs and other voiceover narrative Senna's fascinating story comes to life, without the feel of a stiff documentary.
Sgt. Gerry Boyle is an Irish Guard, aka policeman, in a small town in the West of Ireland. As the man in charge he takes little, if anything, seriously. When his newest recruit and he discover a dead body of a man they do not recognize it is with dark humor, and a general sense of not giving a --ck that Boyle cheekily investigates the crime. This death is not so easily forgotten as the United States sends their own investigator, FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) to team up with Boyle on the case. For this is a case that is much bigger than Boyle thought, it involves drug trafficking, murder, and cover-ups. For a lawman of a small town in Ireland this could be the case of a lifetime, for Gerry Boyle it is more of an inconvenience.
The stuffy, bourgeois lifestyle in England was quite the opposite life Christopher Isherwood desired to have as a young man. In Berlin things would be different for the published author, who was a homosexual during a time where such a lifestyle choice had to be hidden at all costs. Christopher and His Kind tells the story of Christopher's time in Berlin. A time of great freedom and passion with the rent boys, of fanciful and daring conservations with the sensational and heartbreaking Sally Bowles; and the first glimpse of real love in a time of great fear and anxiety as the Nazi command begins.
Project Nim is not a film about a happy chimpanzee who came to live with humans. It is more a commentary on the flaws of behavioral science, the flaws of mankind, and above all the realization that it is possible for a primate species to evolve in unimaginable ways--if only humans were a strong enough species to allow the flourishing to occur without dire consequence.
While watching Another Earth is a completely enjoyable experience, thanks in part to the performances by the very talented William Mapother (John) and Brit Marling (Rhoda) it is a very routine and predictable film. Rhoda is awash with grief and must reconcile with herself and the man she hurt; as she goes about doing this it is obvious where the film is going to take you. The side-story of there being another Earth out there, and the upcoming launch of a group of civilians going to visit it, is important but obvious in the direction of the story. The ending, completely expected and a tad redundant.
"Print Media is Dead!" Well, not exactly dead but it is slowly dying. Numerous newspapers across the country have gone out of business since the Internet grew exponentially, providing immediate content distribution via a free source model. Some of the largest newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times (and its sister publications) have been forced into bankruptcy to protect themselves, resulting in a much smaller version of the paper with less than stellar content. Andrew Rossi's documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times goes inside the largest newspaper in the United States, The New York Times, to document the effects the Internet, and changing media platforms, have had on the paper, as well as seeking answers to the question that has been circulating for years amidst the changing tides of media distribution, "When will the New York Times cease to exist?"
It is astonishing – incomprehensible, even – that local indie drama How to Cheat should have won the acting prize for its ensemble at this year’s LA Film Festival – the leads of Sawdust City, for example, were far more deserving. True, the acting is one of the least bad things about the film, and if star-acting is the trick of making the character become the actor as opposed to vice versa, then across the handful of films of his I have seen, indie everyman Kent Osborne is certainly a star, and one of the most charmless onscreen today.
Frivolous lawsuits, tort reform, caps on damages, just a few legal terms that if you asked the average person on the street the likelihood they would know what these things are is questionable--or at least that is the belief Director Susan Saladoff wants you to have given her on-the-street interviews in the documentary Hot Coffee. The film centers around four specific cases, each relating to one of the above terms, and how they have impacted the legal system today. It is an incredibly dense documentary that provides little entertainment value to the material being presented. Consisting of interviews with the parties involved in each case as well as others, and additionally legal jargon or definitions titled throughout Hot Coffee feels like an educational video. In its defense, it provides great detail on the matters addressed, yet it is plagued with poor production values and a clear social message at the end that is off-putting to a viewer who is not easily influenced.
I realize it may be difficult to see Pablo Escobar as a positive influence on Colombia. This is the great paradox of the film. It defies the historiographies and provides a new outlook. We may go as far as to say Andrés is similar to Pablo in that he is fully what Pablo was partly. The good soul who wanted no more than to give pride to his country. Only to have that stripped away from him by his own people when murdered. As the filmmakers Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist state about making the film, "it became clear that this was far from a classic "deal-with-the-devil" narrative". That statement only becomes more and more clear as every piece of history is revealed. Call Pablo a devil if you like but be prepared to see a side of him that has not been seen before while being introduced to a man full of love for his country who could only have existed with the devil by his side, Andrés Escobar.
It is impossible to know the events of that day or what happened between Director and Subject leading up to filming. By the way the scene plays out it is hard for me to see anything other than a form of reality television occurring. As we all know, reality television is nothing close to reality, it is scripted. I can hope this is not the case and I do not mean to take away from the amount of work involved with this documentary as the production value is good. I simply cannot reconcile that what I have seen is in fact natural. All I could think at the end, when trying to decide where this film falls in the documentary genre, is that it belongs with Nanook of the North (Robert J. Flaherty 1922).
When The Tillman Story draws to a close and the lights go on you will feel a rush of emotion. I noticed a definite quieting of people as they left the theater as if deep in thought and in need of processing what they had just watched and in turn learned from. This is a film everyone should see because it unmasks so much in terms of our government and military. To say you will enjoy the film is impossible. I did not enjoy watching this movie but I did appreciate it and gain respect for all involved. For to tell this story could not have been easy and took much bravery to put it out there for the world to see regardless of the repercussions. No matter what reaction the film evokes in you remember it is not just the story of Pat Tillman. It represents all military personnel and the truth that what happened to Pat can and will happen again.
The opening credits are accompanied by still photographs of a bank robbery. The music melancholy and foreboding. The final title frame is a portrait of the animal kingdom. The lion standing tall amongst the other animals. The films title hovers for a moment over the portrait and we immediately realize this is a film about power and dominance. What we do not yet know is how the film will depict the destructive nature of such power and it's fleeting existence.
[Excerpt] You want desperately for more light, more noise, anything to clue you in to what is going to happen. All of your senses awaken in an attempt to find answers. To solve the puzzle before the characters do so you can sit in peace for the rest of the film. This peaceful existence never happens because there are no answers it seems.
"If you like your history bloody, this is the film", Director Neil Marshall introducing Centurion to the audience at The Los Angeles Film Festival Ford Theatre screening. Those are strong words to live up to and it was with great pleasure that the film delivered just what he promised. Centurion is an epic of small proportions.
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