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DID YOU READ

L.A. Film Festival ’08: Tragedy and Comedy, “Spaced” and the Reitmans

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06302008_wingedcreatures.jpgBy Stephen Saito

It’s hard to say whether it’s been the stifling heat or former Warner Independent chief Mark Gill’s much-talked about “the sky really is falling” speech (published in full at indieWire here) that gave attendees of this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival a sense of their own mortality. Then again, it could just be the way in which the effects of life-altering events have been examined in several of the festival’s films, particularly in the narrative section.

When Gill, now heading up the indie shingle The Film Department, spoke at the adjoining film financing conference on the first Saturday of the festival, he decried the indie film marketplace as standing on the brink of oblivion, saying, “if you decide to make a movie budgeted under $10 million on your own tomorrow, you have a 99.9% chance of failure.” On that basis, it’s possible that “Winged Creatures,” an ensemble drama that made its world premiere at a secret screening, might have a chance. With a cast that reads like the list of 2007 Oscar nominees — Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Jackie Earle Haley, not to mention Guy Pearce, Dakota Fanning and Kate Beckinsale — it’s the type of high-profile and high-minded indie production that audiences have been seeing a lot of lately, whether it was Whitaker’s own recent ensemble drama “The Air I Breathe” or the film “Creatures” clearly aspires to be, “Crash.”

The film follows the aftermath of a shooting in a Los Angeles diner through the people who were there to witness it. Director Rowan Woods, who last helmed the underrated Cate Blanchett drama “Little Fish,” and writer Roy Freirich, who based the screenplay on his own novel, resist the urge to oversentimentalize the characters’ grief, which manifests itself in a variety of ways. Whitaker’s driver instructor discovers a lucky streak and heads to the Morongo Casino after being treated for being shot; Pearce’s doctor tests his mettle by poisoning his wife in small doses; Beckinsale’s waitress starts to lose track of her young son; and Dakota Fanning’s character suddenly finds religion after her father dies in the massacre. None of them talk about what happen that day, even though the film not-so-subtly positions a nosy psychologist (Troy Garity) to visit each of them, but while “Winged Creatures” aims for something more complex than rehashing a guide to grieving, it falls short when its disparate storylines don’t actually come together in a meaningful way and the characters’ quirks become more of a distraction than an insight into who they are. (Fanning’s proselytizing teen is a particular frustration, as evidenced by some giggles in the audience at her deadly serious calls for prayer, despite a payoff for her character that’s rewarding against all odds.)

06302008_illcomerunning.jpgYet if “Winged Creatures” might be part of the future of indie films that Gill is suggesting, it’s still worth reveling in the present for films like Spencer Parsons’s equally frustrating but nonetheless intriguing drama “I’ll Come Running,” which also made its world premiere at the festival. Although the film is incredibly difficult to discuss without spoilers, it’s perhaps fitting that “I’ll Come Running”‘s best attribute is actually what isn’t said by the characters as they deal with a tragedy on two sides of the world. Melonie Diaz stars as Veronica, a Texas waitress who meets Pelle, a Dane (Jon Lange) passing through Austin on vacation. Within hours of meeting each other, nicknames are given and clothes are discarded, but when the unexpected occurs, Veronica finds herself headed to Denmark with unresolved emotions towards Pelle when she meets his family and his friend Søren (Christian Tafdrup).

The geographical shift sees Parsons’ first feature not only changing continents, but tones — the romantic romp of American half (complete with one quite effective and quite literal dick joke) is supplanted by the ennui of the Danish half, filled with the fears and uncertainties that accompany any brief romance, but are unusually pronounced in Veronica’s case. Ultimately, the film bridges the gap once Parsons finds his footing in Denmark and Diaz, who is quickly becoming a film festival queen of Parker Posey-stature (she could be found in three films at this year’s Sundance), emerges as “Running”‘s anchor, conveying both the film’s rough edges and its warmth.

And the festival hasn’t been short on warmth, whether one’s speaking about the weather or some of the events at the week in Westwood. “Hot Fuzz” director Edgar Wright enjoyed a virtual lovefest when he came out to talk about his beloved British cult TV hit “Spaced,” finally making its American DVD debut in July. Before screening three of his favorite episodes of the series that paired Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson Hynes as flatmates who pretended to be married, Wright schooled the L.A. crowd on some of the things that might not translate, such as “Twiglets,” the British snack that the director said “looked like a twig” and tasted like one, covered in Vegemite. (Despite the conversation that followed the episodes between Wright and “South Park”‘s Matt Stone, one of the more amusing moments of the evening was that in the packed Regent Theatre, “Death Proof” star and stuntwoman Zoë Bell appeared to be the one fending off all comers for Wright’s reserved seat, though no one was hurt.)

06302008_spaced.jpgThere also wasn’t a seat empty for a conversation between “Juno” director Jason Reitman and his father Ivan, who dominated the evening by talking about everything from being arrested for his first production, “Columbus of Sex,” in 1969 (for which he and his partner Dan Goldberg were the first Canadians convicted on obscenity charges) to having to pass on directing “Rain Man” when the late Sydney Pollack had the script and stalled long enough for Ivan to decide to move onto another brother movie, “Twins.” (The punchline was that Pollack told a frustrated Reitman about his decision not to make “Rain Man” when both were sitting in their cars at an intersection waiting for the stop light to change.) It wasn’t the older Reitman’s fault that the night focused on him, since the younger Reitman initially demurred when questions came his way, but with a little prodding, the “Juno” director talked about how “Slacker” inspired him to become a filmmaker with its lack of pretense, and how he raised the funds to direct his first short by creating desk calendars to sell advertisements in while he was at USC Film School. As the two closed out the night by recalling “Juno”‘s eight-minute standing ovation at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, it was a touching and appropriate moment for a festival that is so often an odd mix of Hollywood and Indiewood and a reminder that the future may not be so bleak. (After all, “Juno” only cost $6.5 million.)

[Photos: “Winged Creatures,” Columbia Pictures, 2008; “I’ll Come Running,” Film Science, 2008; “Spaced,” BBC Warner, 2008]

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.