24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: LAFF

L.A. Film Festival: The finer points of low-budget genre films

June 24, 2011 |  9:51 am


Low-budget horror films have birthed plenty of major cinematic talents -- Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson to name just two.

With the Los Angeles Film Festival entering its final weekend, the genre steps into the spotlight with Friday's world premiere of Dallas Hallam and Patrick Horvath's "Entrance" -- about a Silver Lake barista (Suziey Block) whose life in the hipster enclave takes a dramatic, terrifying turn on the night of her going-away party. And the festival wraps Sunday with the gala premiere of "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," the update of the 1973 telefilm. The new version was directed by Troy Nixey and produced and co-written by the fest's guest director, Guillermo del Toro.

On Friday at 12:30 p.m. at the L.A. Film Festival's downtown Filmmaker Lounge, Hallam, Horvath and director Ti West -- whose humorous horror flick "The Innkeepers" played the fest earlier in the week -- will discuss how they managed to bring their latest projects to the screen and will share their thoughts on the horror genre and why it's such a fertile creative ground for inventive storytelling. You can watch the panel, moderated by L.A. Times contributing writer Mark Olsen, at latimes.com. The Times is a presenting sponsor of the festival.


L.A. Film Festival: Ti West's 'Innkeepers' aims to mix horror with humor

L.A. Film Festival: Teens take on extraterrestrials in 'Attack the Block'

L.A. Film Festival: James Franco back to the esoterica in another turn as a gay poet

-- Gina McIntyre

Photo: Sara Paxton and Pat Healy in "The Innkeepers." Credit: Glass Eye Pix

L.A. Film Festival: Teens take on extraterrestrials in 'Attack the Block'

June 23, 2011 |  1:59 pm

Who'd be better at fending off an alien invasion: cowboys from the Old West or kids from the inner city?

It's a question that could keep one occupied for hours during a night of mind-altering substances. But thanks to the scheduling geniuses in Hollywood, movie fans will actually get to have that question answered on July 29. That's when "Attack the Block," a dry comedy about a south London gang set upon by extraterrestrials, comes out -- on the same day as "Cowboys & Aliens."

Written and directed by Joe Cornish and produced by the guys involved in fan favorites "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," "Attack" was acquired by Sony Screen Gems after an enthusiastic  SXSW screening this spring. On Wednesday night at the L.A. Film Festival, several hundred Angelenos got a chance to size up the relative merits of the earthly defenders.

One thing's for sure: The British kids in "Attack" are hardly as well-equipped as Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and the other American rough riders of "Cowboys": Aside from a gun or two, the Brit posse's arsenal consists mainly of a samurai sword, kitchen knives, fireworks and a super-soaker.

Then again, their alien visitors seem to come from a much less advanced planet. (No flying saucers with tractor beams here, a la "Cowboys.") One beastie is aptly described as looking like what would happen if a "monkey [had sex with] a fish" while others are extremely furry, ape-like creatures on speed with teeth that glow blue. Actor John Boyega, who plays the 15-year-old crew leader Moses and was present for Wednesday night's screening, said the invaders were on set, not digitally added later.

Unlike the we're-dead-serious, this-is-not-a-comedy "Cowboys," "Attack" thankfully has a sense of humor about itself, if you can keep up with the thick accents. Funnyman Nick Frost appears as Ron, the public housing complex's resident pot farmer, but most of the laughs come from the much younger gang of relatively fresh-faced teens. These are kids who get around on bikes or motor scooters, still have 10 p.m. curfews and face certain challenges in fending off the aliens. One of them runs out of credits on his mobile phone, while another has to convince some local girls that no, he's not playing Xbox -- those really are aliens invading.


SXSW 2011: 'Attack the Block' hits Austin hard

'Cowboys & Aliens'  hosts a genre marriage

'Cowboys & Aliens' to have world premiere at Comic-Con

-- Julie Makinen

Photo: A gang of teens from a south London housing complex are vexed by some alien beasties to comic effect in "Attack the Block." Credit: Screen Gems

L.A. Film Festival: A focus on Film Independent fellows

June 23, 2011 | 10:28 am


Many people know Film Independent as the folks who put together the indie-minded Spirit Awards and also the Los Angeles Film Festival, which wraps up on Sunday. Yet the organization not only showcases films once they’ve been made but also has programs to help upcoming filmmakers bring their vision to the screen. 

The L.A. Times is a presenting sponsor of the festival, and Thursday at 12:30 p.m. at the festival’s downtown Filmmaker Lounge we continue our series of free lunchtime talks. (You can watch at latimes.com.) Joining the discussion, moderated by Times contributor Mark Olsen, will be three filmmakers -- Robbie Pickering,  David Nordstrom and Mike Ott -- who have all participated in the programs of Film Independent.

Pickering, director and writer of “Natural Selection,” won an armload of prizes when his film -- about a devout Christian Texas housewife who seeks to fulfill her dying husband's wish to find his illegitimate son (who turns out to be an escaped convict) -- premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival this year. (It's also playing at the L.A. Film Festival.) Nordstrom, writer, director and costar of “Sawdust City,” had the world premiere of his film Saturday at the L.A. Film Festival. The movie, set in his hometown of Eau Claire, Wis., follows two brothers, who haven't seen each other in years, spending Thanksgiving scouring the town's bars for their father. Ott, a producer on “Sawdust City,” won the Someone to Watch prize at this year’s Spirit Awards for his own film,  “Littlerock.”


Cheat Sheet: Los Angeles Film Festival

Fresh looks at Cuba in the Los Angeles Film Festival

James Franco back to the esoterica in another turn as a gay poet

--Mark Olsen

Photo: A scene from "Natural Selection." Credit: L.A. Film Festival

L.A. Film Festival: Looking at the multiple definitions of family

June 22, 2011 |  6:00 am

Ordinary Family

Family is a constantly evolving concept. At its core are the issues of belonging, acceptance and love. Three films at the 2011 L.A. Film Festival are exploring today's definition of family in very different ways.

Director Linda Goldstein Knowlton explores the lives of four American teenagers, adopted from China when they were babies, in her documentary "Somewhere Between." Mike Akel looks at a family reunion where one man's religious beliefs hinder his ability to accept his gay brother in "An Ordinary Family." And Marie Kreutzer makes her directorial debut with "Fatherless," the story of the four adult children of a commune leader who reunite for the man's funeral and hash out their complicated feelings about their childhoods.

The L.A. Times is a presenting sponsor of the festival, and Wednesday at 12:30 at the festival's downtown Filmmaker Lounge, we continue our series of free lunchtime talks with Akel, Knowlton and Kreutzer on hand to discuss family and filmmaking. (You can watch the chat live here at latimes.com.)


L.A. Film Festival: Chinese adoptees in search of themselves in 'Somewhere Between'

L.A. Film Festival: Kate Bosworth's 'L!fe Happens' follows 'Bridesmaids' down the aisle

L.A. Film Festival: James Franco back to the esoterica in another turn as a gay poet

--Nicole Sperling

Photo: A scene from "An Ordinary Family." Credit: Los Angeles Film Festival

L.A. Film Festival: 'Paraiso for Sale' documents trouble in a Panamanian paradise

June 20, 2011 |  1:00 pm

Turn on the TV news or pick up a paper in the United States, and it’s hard not to find a story about the social and economic impact of Latin Americans migrating northward. But many Americans might be surprised to find out that tens of thousands of Yankees are themselves leaving for Latin America –- many to retire on the cheap -- and stirring up conflicts of their own in their new countries.

“Paraiso for Sale,” a documentary playing at the L.A. Film Festival this week, looks at the issues caused by an influx of foreigners to Bocas del Toro, Panama. A cluster of small islands situated on the Caribbean coast, Bocas boasts sandy beaches, palm trees and a multicultural, multilingual populace that includes indigenous Panamanians, people of Afro-Caribbean heritage and American baby boomers looking for their own slice of paradise.

But conflict has set in as the wealthy newcomers buy up property for development and some seek to evict locals -– many of whom have been living on the parcels for generations and also have some claims to the land. The crush of retirees and tourists has created jobs but also strained local utilities, leading to problems with water and electricity supplies. The situation is complicated by the vague nature of property laws in Panama, lack of government infrastructure and alleged corruption among local officials.

The film (which you can catch at L.A. Live on Monday at 4:45 p.m. and Wednesday at 9:50 p.m.), was directed by Anayansi Prado. Prado is a 37-year-old native of Panama who moved to the United States as a teenager and has made two other films about immigration: 2005’s “Maid in America,” about domestic workers in the United States, and 2008’s “Children in No Man’s Land,” about minors who cross the U.S-Mexico border on their own to reunite with family members in the United States.

“I wanted to tell a story in my home country, and I found it interesting, this reverse migration and the issues that were arising,” Prado said Sunday at the festival.

Continue reading »

L.A. Film Festival: Coming out for the cameras

June 20, 2011 | 10:53 am


Stories of coming out –- acknowledging one’s sexuality and identity to family, friends, the world, and often most crucially oneself –- can be specific and deeply personal. This year’s L.A. Film Festival features three films that tell distinct tales of coming out and personal acceptance.

The L.A.-set musical “Leave It on the Floor” uses the subculture of music and dance balls –- known to many from the groundbreaking 1990 documentary “Paris Is Burning” -- to explore the difficulties of coming out while also finding a place in a new community. The documentary “Renée” looks at Renée Richards, born Richard Raskin, who gained notoriety in the 1970s for seeking and succeeding in her quest to play professional women’s tennis. In “Wish Me Away,” country singer Chely Wright allows an intimate and behind-the-scenes account of the process by which she publicly came out in May 2010.

The L.A. Times is a presenting sponsor of the festival, and Monday at 12:30 p.m. at the festival’s downtown Filmmaker Lounge, we continue our series of free lunchtime talks. (You can watch the chat live here at latimes.com.) Sheldon Larry, director of “Leave It on the Floor,” Eric Drath, director of “Renée,” and “Wish Me Away” filmmakers Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf will be there to talk about their films in a conversation moderated by Mark Olsen.


LAFF: Ti West's 'Innkeepers' aims to mix humor with horror

LAFF: Kate Bosworth's 'L!fe Happens' follows 'Bridesmaids' down the aisle

LAFF: Four Chinese adoptees in search of themselves in 'Somewhere Between'

-- Mark Olsen

Photo: A scene from "Leave It on the Floor." Credit: L.A. Film Festival

L.A. Film Festival: Four Chinese adoptees in search of themselves in 'Somewhere Between'

June 20, 2011 |  8:12 am


 “Somewhere Between” is a documentary that asks a very simple-sounding, but ultimately extremely complex, question: “Who am I?”

For the film’s four Chinese adoptees in America, it’s a philosophical query as well as a biological one.

The 94-minute documentary, directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton (who produced “Whale Rider”), follows the journeys of four teenage girls who were adopted from Chinese orphanages in the 1990s.

In the last three decades, about 175,000 Chinese orphans have been adopted internationally, going to 26 different countries; 80,000 have come to the United States. Most are girls, because of the Chinese cultural preference for a male child.

The film is a personal journey for Knowlton, who adopted a 10-month-old baby named Ruby from China about five years ago. Emotionally raw, “Somewhere Between” has the power to draw both tears and laughter from the audience.

 The film begins with Knowlton visiting the adoption center with her husband and taking Ruby into her arms.

“I knew she’ll have so many questions,” Knowlton says in the film. “Questions I won’t be able to answer.”

And thus she decides to follow the stories of four girls, each of whom is born into similar circumstances but with a unique journey  of her own. While the filmmaking technique may not be highly polished, what drives this documentary are the compelling personalities of these four teens.

Continue reading »

Los Angeles Film Festival: Kate Bosworth's 'L!fe Happens' follows 'Bridesmaids' down the aisle

June 19, 2011 |  4:18 pm


The so-called  "Bridesmaids" wave, that potential boomlet in raunchy female buddy comedies, may or may not materialize in the coming years. But at least one movie resulting from similar impulses is, it turns out, already here: "L!fe Happens," an independently financed film starring a collection of TV-friendly young actresses that world-premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Saturday night and is seeking theatrical distribution.

The  feature debut of Kat Coiro (a writer-director who's part of a sort of east-side-of-LA entertainment mafia) could have been conjured in a writers room headed by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. What if, it asks, a twentysomething Silver Laker, living an at once daunting and trouble-lite post-college life with two roommates, gets pregnant after a one-night stand  but chooses to keep the baby? Spending no time on the reasons behind this rather monumental (and not exactly demographically common) decision, the movie plunges us into the aftermath.

Kim (model-turned-actress Krysten Ritter, who co-wrote with Coiro), Deena (Kate Bosworth) and a  ditz named Laura (Rachel Bilson, in a smaller role than that of her co-stars), share one of those group houses you've seen (albeit with men) in a hundred Judd Apatow movies. Except, of course, for the baby twist; the existence of Kim's roughly year-old son pitches the responsibilities of motherhood against the vagaries of slacker life. He also makes finding a boyfriend kind of difficult.

What appears at first like a comedy about unexpected pregnancy -- a kind of ragged, female "Knocked Up" -- soon levels off into something more akin to "Bridesmaids": a look at how longtime female friendships are tested  when one friend goes through a major life change. As with the Paul Feig hit, that life change brings into the open long-submerged personality differences. Deena is well-read, career-minded and sexually bold. Kim is a kind of nerd underachiever, a dog walker who has big dreams of opening a canine-only shopping mall.  (Someone really needs to come up with better movie-character jobs.)

As the baby demands more of Kim's time, it sets the two women on a surprisingly serious collision course before giving way to Apatow-ian sweetness.

Whether the film's intensity of purpose will come off as thoughtful or strained will of course be for audiences to decide. Coiro, though, says she had little doubt about the social need her movie filled.

"As a director coming into my own career, I found there were no really exciting female characters," she told 24 Frames . "There were the foils rather than the ones driving the ship." She and Ritter decided to write a script that puts the ladies front and center. "L!fe Happens," which was being developed at roughly the same time that Fey's "Baby Mama" was getting made, was conceived at one point as a studio comedy, and even retooled as a network sitcom, before settling into its current friends-and-family indie incarnation. (Coiro met some of the actresses through her husband, Rhys Coiro, best known as the hair-trigger director Billy Walsh on HBO's "Entourage.)

Coiro said she found some of the "Bridesmaids" references she's been hearing a little amusing -- she began working on her movie nearly four years ago, she points out, when "Bridesmaids" was barely a glint in Kristen Wiig's eye. But she says she also takes heart in the comparison.

"I think it's a good sign that we're talking about these things," she said. "There are so few movies where you just see women talking to their girlfriends." ("Sex and the City," she says, doesn't really count; that franchise was "heightened. It's not  the experience of girls coming home after work and eating a burrito in front of the TV.")

At a post-screening question-and-answer session Saturday night, Bosworth chipped in that she was drawn to the layers of friendship in the script. "I loved that it was kind of a love story," the actress said. "Women, we're deep. When we connect, we really connect."

When Apatow and his crew created the raunchy slacker bromance, an indie strain followed several years later in the form of movies such as "Humpday." It's not taking nearly as long for women to follow suit.


Los Angeles Film Festival: L.A.-based movies take center stage

Los Angeles Film Festival: As buzz builds for 'Drive,' Gosling and Refn contemplate a different genre

-- Steven Zeitchik


 Photo: Krysten Ritter (l), Rachel Bilson and Kate Bosworth in "L!fe Happens." Credit: Los Angeles Film Festival

Los Angeles Film Festival: Ti West's 'Innkeepers' aims to mix horror with humor

June 19, 2011 |  7:00 am


It wasn't his first film, but 2009's low-budget horror feature "The House of the Devil" won writer-director Ti West an ardent genre following with its satanic panic storyline and 1980s aesthetic. For his followup, "The Innkeepers," which premiered earlier this year at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin and plays Sunday and Wednesday at the Los Angeles Film Festival, West goes in a very different direction, trading "Devil's" slow-build dread for comedic banter between two desperately bored employees (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) at a reportedly haunted hotel.

The Yankee Pedlar Inn is, in fact, a real place; West and the rest of the "Devil" cast and crew stayed there when that film was shooting in Connecticut and that experience sparked the idea for this screenplay. The movie explores just what happens when some spooky guests -- including an aging actress played by Kelly McGillis -- check in for a stay just days before the hotel is set to permanently close. Though there is certainly some paranormal activity, West said the emphasis this time around was on creating a pair of relatable characters and capturing the mundanity of a not-quite-retail-level job.

"I wasn't trying to make something more mainstream," West told 24 Frames earlier this year, "but just from the story and the characters it's not about a bummed-out girl in a house alone. I know these two characters at the front desk; people should like them. I wasn't trying to do something I knew people would like as much as I was making a movie that I would like to watch. I was definitely trying to make a more fun movie."

West, along with Dallas Hallam and Patrick Horvath -- the filmmaking team behind the Silver Lake-set horror mood piece "Entrance" -- will be part of a panel discussion, "Genre Movies and What Lies Beyond," Friday at 12:30 p.m. The panel will mark the final installment in the series of free lunchtime talks at the downtown festival's Filmmaker Lounge. Please visit this section of the LAFF website for more details.

The L.A. Times is a presenting sponsor of the festival.


L.A. Film Festival highlights
Photos: 'Bernie' premiere with Jack Black
Festival will welcome stars Guillermo del Toro, James Franco and more

-- Gina McIntyre

Photo: Sara Paxton and Pat Healy in "The Innkeepers." Credit: Dark Sky Films


Live chat with magician Lance Burton on Friday

May 23, 2011 |  4:10 pm

Lance-burton1 Master magician Lance Burton was a teen magician once. In fact, he won his first magic competition as a teenager in 1977. So maybe that's part of the reason why the busy Las Vegas mainstay is giving his time to the documentary "Make Believe," which follows six young magicians as they compete to become the "World's Best Teen Magician."

Burton, who appears in the film, will be chatting live with readers at 11 a.m. PST Friday, the day "Make Believe" opens at Laemmle's Sunset 5 in Los Angeles. He'll be talking about magic, teen magicians and "Make Believe." Don't bother asking him how he does his tricks -- but you probably knew that already.

The film, executive-produced by Ed Cunningham and Seth Gordon (the guys behind the cult classic documentary "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters"), was a hit at last summer's Los Angeles Film Festival, where it won the award for best documentary. It also won the audience award at last year's Austin Film Festival.

Below is the trailer for "Make Believe" and the place to sign up for a chat reminder. We'll be chatting in this same space on Friday.





The Cheat Sheet: Los Angeles Film Festival 2011

What's playing at the Los Angeles Film Festival 2011?

LAFF 2010: 'A Family' and 'Make Believe' take top awards

--Patrick Kevin Day



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