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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Los Angeles Film Festival

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

June 23, 2011 |  1:59 pm

Atack_the_Block
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.

RELATED

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: The how-tos of 'How to Cheat'

June 23, 2011 |  1:30 pm

HOW TO CHEAT photo 1 by Gabriel Diamond 

It's not unusual for independent filmmakers to juggle numerous roles in the production of their films. With "How to Cheat," a tonally ambitious blend of comedy and more serious situations playing as part of the Narrative Competition at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Amber Sealey is credited as director, writer, producer and actor. During an interview Monday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles, she was bouncing her 4-month-old daughter and nonchalantly began breast-feeding while answering questions without missing a beat.

Yet serving so many different functions on the film was not without challenges.

"On the one hand I like being involved in all aspects of it, the acting, the editing; it's nice to have your finger in all the pies," said Sealey. "But it is hard, and I think the thing that probably suffers the most is my acting. While I'm in a scene with someone I'm thinking, 'Will we use this take?' Or I get distracted. And it can take me out of it as an actor. But I try."

In the film, Sealey plays one half of a couple trying to conceive while also grappling with the lingering emotional baggage of a miscarriage. Her husband, played by Kent Osborne, searches for something in his life to claim only for himself and decides to have an affair. Going on a series of dates, he brazenly admits his intentions until he finds a woman (beguiling newcomer Amanda Street) intrigued and amused enough to get involved with him.

While it would be incorrect to say the film puts a positive spin on marital infidelity, for its trio of characters the affair does become the catalyst they all need to get out of the respective ruts they have found themselves in. Even the film's title, with its hint of instructional aid, points to helpfulness rather than condemnation.

"I was just trying to approach the subject of cheating with the least amount of judgement possible," said Sealey. "Does Amber think cheating is wrong? Yes. But for the sake of the story I wanted to look at it with no judgement on any of them. Essentially they're all good people, they're not setting out to hurt other people, they're just struggling for some sense of satisfaction.

"So I wanted to look at them all equally and the reasons for doing what they are doing. They all have valid reasons for the choices they are making. I'm not trying to say cheating is right in any way but you make the best out of what happens. They may not be the best choices, but they're making them."

Though the film has a few racy moments -- including an encounter between Osborne and Street involving some rope and a cellphone that is equal parts sexy and scary -- it remains behavioral and grounded, never tipping over into situational raunch. Which is to say that despite having a female writer/director/star and taking a rather startling shift toward the perspective of its female characters in the final stretch, the film might not quite fit into any emerging trend of potty-mouthed lady-centered comedies. (You can catch its final screening Saturday at 7 p.m.)

"I see this as a comedy in some ways, but I don't see it in the same realm as 'Bridesmaids,' " added Sealey. "But I love the idea of more women's comedies and women's stories. And by that I don't mean stories about women, but where women are in charge of where the story goes."

RELATED

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

Los Angeles Film Festival: 'Mamitas' continues a coming-of-age tradition

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

-- Mark Olsen

twitter.com/indiefocus

Credit: Amber Sealey and Kent Osborne in "How to Cheat." Photo by Gabriel Diamond.


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

June 23, 2011 | 10:28 am

Natural-selection

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.”

RELATED:

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


Los Angeles Film Festival: 'Mamitas' continues a coming-of-age tradition

June 22, 2011 | 10:18 pm

  Mamit
From "Hoop Dreams" to "Half Nelson," movies about kids growing up under difficult big-city conditions are a staple of pretty much every major movie gathering. At the Los Angeles Film Festival, a young writer-director named Nicholas Ozeki is adding a new name to the list.

Ozeki's "Mamitas," which premiered Tuesday night and plays again Thursday and Saturday at LAFF, tells a story of several complex family relationships in a predominantly Latino eastside Los Angeles neighborhood.

Based on a short that Ozeki wrote and directed, "Mamitas" begins by focusing on Jordin (EJ Bonilla), a wisecracking high school senior. The product of a male-centric home -- his mother died in childbirth, so he lives with his father and older brother and takes care of his grandfather nearby -- Jordin is an outgoing charmer whose mouth sometimes moves faster than his mind. 

But what looks like a story about a young man struggling to find himself soon becomes something more ambitious, as Jordin strikes up an unlikely friendship with Felipa (Veronica Diaz-Carranza). A bookwormish teen bound for college, Felipa is newly relocated from the East Coast after her mother couldn't take care of her for mysterious reasons. She lives with her aunt and uncle, as well as a cousin, a popular girl with whom she has little in common.

The movie teases out Jordin's and Felipa's relationship slowly, while also examining dynamics within each family (Jordin and his father, for instance, and their long suppressed resentments).

While the movie is rooted in Los Angeles' Mexican American community,  Ozeki says he wanted to use ethnicity as a backdrop more than a theme. "I didn't want to tell a story that was just about immigrants or their children," Ozeki told an LAFF audience. "It could have been any family."

"Mamitas" is notable for its  performances (some from first-time or nonprofessional actors) and a casual slice-of-life vibe that evokes other Latino coming-of-age films, especially the well-regarded 2006 Sundance winner "Quinceanera."

Ozeki says he's next working on a thriller that could be bigger and more commercial -- and hopefully provide an opportunity for a wider audience to sample his work.

RELATED:

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

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

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

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: "Mamitas." Credit: Los Angeles 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.)

RELATED:

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

June 21, 2011 |  1:01 pm

Broken_Tower_1

James Franco -- who seems to bounce between highbrow fare (“Howl”) and cheap, lowbrow antics (“Pineapple Express,” “Your Highness”) -- is back to the esoterica. Monday night at the L.A. Film Festival, the prolific actor, author and artiste premiered his latest project, “The Broken Tower,” a biopic about a notoriously obtuse poet.

Franco wrote, directed, produced and starred in the black-and-white film about Hart Crane, a tortured gay artist and son of a wealthy Cleveland businessman, who committed suicide in 1932 at the age of 32. Crane’s poetry was so difficult that even such renowned writers as Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams said they couldn’t understand it.

Crane’s verse, which was largely influenced by Romantics such as Whitman and Poe, was heavy on metaphors, blank verses and homosexual innuendo. Both the greatest criticism and praise of his poetry concerns the “logic” of Crane’s metaphors; his poetry is so loaded with them that many readers (including Franco) could only appreciate and understand Crane’s poetry in bites.

“His poetry is difficult for me too,” Franco admitted during a discussion after the premier with Francisco Ricardo, a critic of new media and contemporary art and literature at the Rhode Island School of Design. “I couldn’t even tell you what half his stuff means. But what inspired me is his spirit and drive. He cared so much about his work, even when nobody else understood it.”

“You just stated your own repertoire,” Ricardo teased Franco.

Indeed, Franco’s decision to feature Crane isn’t so surprising if you’re familiar with Franco’s academic interests in literature (he studied English and creative writing at UCLA, graduated from Columbia’s MFA writing program, has taken classes at Brooklyn College and Warren Wilson College and is pursuing a doctorate at Yale) and his more cerebral film work.

This is the third time Franco has played a gay character (after his roles in “Milk” and “Howl”), which seems likely to add to the frequent speculation about his sexual identity.

The 99-minute film captures Crane’s life in an unsettling stream of scenes of explicit sex, drunken rages, depressive lows and literary genius. The film’s title comes from Crane’s last publication, “The Broken Tower” (which he penned during his affair with a friend’s wife, his only heterosexual lover), and Paul Mariani’s biography of Crane.

Continue reading »

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

June 20, 2011 |  1:00 pm

 
Paraiso_For_Sale_8
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

Floor

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.

RELATED:

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-01

 “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

   Happe

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.

RELATED:

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

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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


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