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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.