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Ton o' reviews!

07.10.2007

JoBlo note: Brian from "The Ramblings of an Encino Man" blog was nice enough to send us his reviews from the L.A. FILM FESTIVAL (June 21-July 1) for JoBlo.com readers. Check out his thoughts below and...thanks, dude!

This year I attended the LA Film Festival in Westwood and had an absolute blast! I attended the festival seven days in all and saw a whopping 16 feature films! The following are mini-reviews of everything I saw, in alphabetical order...

2 Days in Paris

Julie Delpy's feature directorial debut is a dazzling one, hilarious and true. In a format not too dissimilar from Before Sunset, the film tells of Jack (Adam Goldberg) and Marion (Delpy), a couple who struggle to stay together over a tumultuous two days in Paris. Delpy wrote, directed, edited, acted, scored the music. This could've been a complete miss from the actor turned director, but it's instead one of the best movies of the festival and a pure joy to watch. Goldberg, finally, after so many small roles in various movies, gets to shine front and center here, as a pessimistic, wise-cracking hypochondriac. The movie succeeds based on his casting, and he is fantastic here. The movie itself is just really, honestly funny, without pandering to formula or "jokes," and it's one that I look forward to seeing again. -- 8/10

The Beautiful Ordinary

This film starts as a complete dead zone, with apparently nowhere to go in terms of story, but after awhile, you realize that’s kind of the point. Featuring a strong ensemble of younger actors, this film takes place over the course of 24 hours on the last day of school, summer 1999. The film features fairly stereotypical characters, rather typical storylines, but the unique point of the film is that 24-year-old director Jess Manafort doesn’t have any tricks up her sleeve to throw at us in the climax. The whole movie sort of feels like the last scene of the Sopranos, as we constantly are asking ourselves if something drastic is going to happen. The movie, apparently for Manafort, is a nostalgic, autobiographical journey back to her high school years, leaving not one single cliché un-turned. What makes work at all is the clear joy Manafort has for writing these characters, and the actors make it way better than it has any right to be. -- 6/10

Billy the Kid

My favorite film of the festival, Billy the Kid is an absolute joy. It’s not the best-made film—not by a long shot—and it doesn’t deal with big issues like most of the other documentaries I’ve seen. It merely focuses on a 15-year-old outcast named Billy, who lives with his mother and younger brother in a small little place in Maine. He attends high school and has very few friends. There is nothing truly dramatic to his situation, and there’s very little arc in the story from beginning to end. It’s my favorite, basically, because of Billy. He’s one of the greatest characters I’ve encountered in a movie in a long time, and the whole experience of watching Billy the Kid is made all the better knowing that he’s a real person living out his life exactly how we see it on-screen. He has opinions on everything, tries his best to fit in, loves his mother, and is starting to get interested in girls. He is one-hundred-percent open to the camera with his feelings about all these issues, and he is deliriously lovable. This is a special movie about a unique individual that I won’t be able to get out of my head for a long time. -- 9/10

The Great World of Sound

This well-acted but rather mundane and visually blasé movie doesn’t really leave much of impression. Pat Healy plays Martin, who answers an ad about training to become a record producer and sign musicians who come off the street to audition for him and his partner. Even though he does fairly well at the job, it starts to become a little too much, and he soon realizes that the enterprise for the most part is a complete scam. Great World of Sound would’ve worked better as a short film or in written form, because as a full-length movie, the whole thing just gets monotonous after awhile. Healy does a pretty solid job, and Kene Holliday, who plays his partner Clarence, is by far the best thing about the movie. When the movie ends, however, you’re left with next to nothing, and overall, the journey is not worth taking. -- 4/10

The Hottest State

Ethan Hawke’s new film The Hottest State is a terrific movie. It doesn’t hurt that he got Catalina Sandino Moreno, one of the most beautiful and talented up-and-coming actress, to play the lead female of the role. The film is about an actor named William (Mark Webber) who meets a local singer (Moreno), and the two begin a tumultuous relationship that will put them both through a variety of emotions. She goes to him with Mexico on a film shoot and has an amazing time, but she starts to pull away after she gets back, fearing his ultra-fast and intense commitment to her. The beauty of the film is in its rich dialogue and attention to detail. The film is clearly semi-autobiographical to director Hawke, and he allows the story to unravel slowly and take its time. The performances are all solid, with Webber and Moreno believable romance that becomes more and more tortured as the film goes along. The Hottest State is being released by ThinkFilm later this summer, and it’s definitely worth checking out. -- 7/10

How to Rob a Bank

Fast-moving but instantly forgettable, How to Rob a Bank nonetheless offers two solid performances from stars Nick Stahl and Erika Christenson. Almost the entire movie takes place inside a bank vault, in which Jinx (Stahl) and Jessica (Christenson) have been thrown into a situation out of their control and locked themselves in the vault. A bank heist has commenced, and they have to talk it out between each other what they need to do to get out. There’s nothing in this movie we haven’t seen before, and there is nothing to really stick around for. The pay-off isn’t all that satisfying, and the characters outside of the vault are fairly one-dimensional. The joy of the movie, which isn’t quite enough to recommend it but enough to not come down too hard on it, is watching Stahl and Christenson chew the scenery, and each other. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Christenson this good or this sexy, and Stahl, who looks happy to take a break from more action-oriented films like Sin City and Terminator 3, is immensely watchable. Together they make a pedestrian movie far more entertaining than it would’ve been with lesser actors not up to the challenge. -- 5/10

Interview

Steve Buscemi directed this fine film that stars himself as a political journalist named Pierre who is forced to interview a B-grade movie actress Katya (Sienna Miller). The movie is worth seeing for the two electrifiying performances by the lead. It’s especially rare to see Buscemi in such a commanding leading role, and he never falters for a moment, always keeping us guessing if he truly is a caring guy or a sleezy journalist. Sienna Miller is just as good and keeps up with the main man as a Lindsey Lohan-type who is clearly lonely and unhappy. This could’ve been a clichéd role from beginning to end—a spoiled brat of a movie star who actually has a heart of gold and is just looking for a friend—but Miller keeps us guessing and never allows the character to get one-dimensional. Visually the movie is very simplistic, with the camera usually just hovering around the characters like a voyeur. Buscemi smartly doesn’t make the movie too cinematic and instead just allows the performances to unravel on-screen. Interview is well-worth seeing, particularly for the solid acting and both funny and poignant writing. -- 7/10

Join Us

This creepy little documentary, in the same vein as last year’s masterpiece Deliver Us From Evil, takes us to an evil place where parents are brainwashed into thinking the only way their children are going to get into Heaven is if they do horrible things deemed right by their minister. Filmmaker Ondi Timoner is given instant access to the parents after the fact, as well as the minister himself, who doubts that he’s ever done anything wrong. He took advantage of these innocent people and their children out of his own bizarre satisfaction, but in every capacity he tries to make himself look like the good guy. It seems bizarre from the get-go when specialists refer to the minister’s practice as a cult, since the parents all seem to be reasonably sane and look perfectly normal. However, that’s exactly what it is, because the man took these people and slowly morphed them into his children, so to speak, to let him do whatever he wanted with them. The only thing the film lacks is a focus on just how these people managed to be manipulated in such a drastic way, but other than that, this is an interesting, eerie film. -- 6/10

Jump!

Jump! is a surprisingly exciting look into the sport of jump roping. Coming from a first-time director, this was clearly a film made mostly in the editing room. It never stops to take a breath—we move fast from team to team around the country as they prepare for national competition, and we get swept up in the stakes for each participant. We’re taken through nationals, all the way to the world championship, where even more is up for grabs. Especially moving is the story behind a little girl who suffers from a mild form of asthma, who nonetheless dedicates herself every day to jump roping. The arc of her story is really special and the heart of the movie. I see Jump having a pretty bright future with audiences down the line. -- 7/10

Kabluey

Here is one of the strangest, funniest surprises of the festival. Salmon, played by the film’s writer-director Scott Prendergast, has it rough—he’s homeless and broke. To make ends’ meet he has to stay with his brother’s sister Leslie (Lisa Kudrow) and baby-sit her kids, which sounds far easier than what occurs on-screen. They are the biggest brats on the planet, and they’re bound and determined to kill him any chance they get. To make matters worked, he finds and takes a part-time job that is just about the most ridiculous, pointless position on the planet. I had trouble at first trying to accept a movie that had serious undertones about the Iraq war but also tried to make us laugh from beginning to end with other subject matter, but the combination works surprisingly well. The comedic aspect of the movie definitely works better than the serious aspect, because the tone of the movie is just so absurd. There is a fairly powerful moment when Leslie takes a long walk and starts breaking down crying over her current stressful situation. This moment, while fairly powerful in this movie, would’ve worked a lot better in a more serious movie. However, it’s commendable for Prendergast to even attempt the kind of comedy-drama dance he does here, for the most part, effectively. -- 7/10

The Last Winter

Never before have I seen such a great movie falter so much in the final ten minutes that everything that came before seems almost not worth congratulating. Directed by Larry Fessenden, the film has a lot of tension and atmosphere throughout its running time, and the majority doesn’t rely on any sort of computer-generated effects. Set in the Arctic region of Alaska, the film tells of an oil company’s advance team who are sent to a small camp to establish a drilling base. The group of six or seven begin to hear strange noises from outside, and, when one of the team ends up frozen to death outside, they all begin to become suspicious of each other and dread the possibility of what may lie outside their camp. Fessenden does a terrific job racketing up the tension. What begins as a glorified Sci-Fi Channel movie becomes better and better as it progresses, with a handful of brilliant scary moments. In the final few minutes, however, we finally see the creature that lurks outside, and the outcome of the two main characters is finally determined, and it’s about as effective and scary as an episode from the fourth season of the Goosebumps television show. -- 5/10

Prison Town, USA

This quiet and affecting documentary is set in Susanville, California. The town used to be filled with possibilities, with jobs in the lumber mills and dairy farms, but now, people have just one major job prospect---employment at one of the four prison facilities in the nearby area. Prison Town, USA, not only explores the problematic economic issues but also gives us glimpses into the lives of various families who are faced with the town’s limited possibilities. The most moving story involves a family of five, whose father stole twenty-eight dollars worth of groceries and was sent to prison for 16 months. His wife barely manages to feed her kids while he’s gone, and when he is released, he struggles to find work in Susanville outside of the prison system. The filmmakers also got access to the prisons themselves, where we see up close the relationship between the prisoners and prison guards. It’s obvious not many of the guards want to be there—they simply have no choice but to work at this job and be able to feed their families. It’s an eye-opening, heart-breaking film. -- 8/10

Resolved

An exhausting but fascinating look at high school debate, Resolved moves faster than most action-adventure movies. The film looks at different groups of debaters, starting with prominently white schools, but the film changes focus and becomes all the better for it when Richard and Louis, two African-American debaters, become the forefront in the material. Knowledgeable and intelligent, but also filled with far more experience than any of the other debaters, they come to the stand with courage and passion, outlining their points not based off of a piece of paper but from memory and heart. It’s no wonder they keep winning debate after debate and ultimately become the #1 debaters of their state—they’re about more than just the strategy. Director Greg Whiteley, who directed the similarly excellent New York Doll, doesn’t fall into the clichés of making one of those competitive documentary films, a la Spellbound and Wordplay, but instead focuses on the characters and issues at hand. the actual debates themselves get a little tiring after awhile, this film has a lot to offer and is well-worth checking out. -- 7/10

Trigger Man

The big giant turd of the festival, Trigger Man gives horror a bad name. The film tells of a group of three friends who go out to the woods to hunt for deer, when, suddenly, they become the hunted, with a sniper taking shots at them. Okay, I know what director Ti West is trying to do with the movie, trying to capture the reality of the situation through long takes and moments where people don’t talk and nothing seems to be happening. And I’ll even give West a little credit for succeeding as much as he does with the limited resources. But this is a bad film. It’s a 10-minute movie stretched to 80 minutes. You don’t care about any of the three main characters, so it’s hard to get worked up when they started getting whacked. West seems more interested in having the audience member put himself in the position of the characters’ struggle for survival, but that noble idea can only go so far. -- 3/10

What We Do is Secret

This loud, annoying biopic thinks it’s far more important than it actually is. The film tells the story of Darby Crash, lead singer of the punk bad The Germs in the late 70’s, who lives his life fast and dangerous, never looking back. The majority of the movie is comprised of concert footage that doesn’t really add a lot to the proceedings, and, for those who don’t really care for the music on display, the film becomes a hard sit after awhile. There are solid moments here and there filled with energy and spark, but they never amount to much. The supporting cast, including Bijou Phillips and Tina Majorino, is mostly forgettable, and the faux-documentary format, which has become tiresome as of late, just makes the movie feel extra pretentious. The only real redeemable quality to the movie is the electrifying performance by Shane West, who sheds everything we knew about him from previous movies like Whatever It Takes and A Walk to Remember and delivers a raw, tortured portrayal. He deserved a better movie. -- 4/10

Wizard of Gore

Wizard of Gore is one of the most unpleasant movies… scratch that… experiences I’ve had in a long time. This is an ugly, repulsive movie with absolutely no redeemable value. How director Jeremy Kasten attracted such actors as Kip Pardue, Bijou Phillips, and Crispin Glover is beyond me, and whoever thought this would be any good? There is nothing to keep you interested on a story level, and there isn’t one interesting thing about any character. Glover is entertaining for about thirty seconds, and then his schtick gets old real fast. I still can’t discern Phillips from other actresses. And Pardue, more bland here than ever, tries to make his character three-dimensional by dressing up as Clark Kent the entire movie. The plot of the movie, involving a gory magic show that seems to culminate in the “fake” victims actually getting killed later on, could’ve lent itself to a fun guilty late-night pleasure. Instead, we get a disgusting, sexist, boring movie that pushes Trigger Man out of the way to become the bad seed of the LA Film Festival. Wizard of Gore is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and you can be so lucky to never see it in a theatre near you. -- 2/10

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