Focused Progression & Independent Thinking: The 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival – Feature

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The Los Angeles Film Festival continues to be a focused progression of independent thinking though a good part of the structure contains already distributed product. “Europa Report” (wonderfully realized) had been previously picked up by Magnet and central gala “Fruitvale Station” (very much an independent) had been scooped up by The Weinstein Company from Sundance on a well-deserved pitch for an Oscar base.

The blend however between independent and mainstream sensibilities continue to percolate as filmmakers and their influences continue to shift.

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“I.D.” which takes place between the well-to-do section of Mumbai as well as its slums shows a young woman trying to unravel a mystery of a male painter who dropped dead in her kitchen. The use of extreme paradox works well here as it tries to shift the reasoning of poverty and the jarring progression of something as simple as an iPhone in a world different than ours. Ultimately the resolution is expected but the organic quality with which this reluctant woman makes her journey reflects well.

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“Drug War”, from international favorite Johnnie To, is a complicated mass of work but really gets into the mind of a cop vs. drug lord in terms of thinking and loyalty. It reflects very solidly with something like Michael Mann’s “Heat” because there is the necessity of becoming something you don’t want to be when coming to an end game. The specific idea of a captain having to do cocaine in order to convince other dealers of his possibilities and then having to utterly destroy his body with ice water in order to bring it back from the high is distinctly visceral. The tension builds up which explains how most of the movie is every bit as energetic as the final shootout which is one of the better gunfights in recent memory.

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Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”, even though picked up by IFC Films, definitely retains its independent flavor with a story of love separated, not unlike Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” in many respects. Casey Affleck takes on a more mature grizzled function than we have seen from him before while still resonating his stark turn in “The Assassination Of Jesse James”. Rooney Mara, best known as the title character in “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” gives an understated performance as a woman drawn into the violence of her husband’s world and who still pines for him when he goes off to prison. Rooney’s portrayal is interesting since it reflects her both as a person before her titular role but also shows the impact it had on her. Ben Foster plays a local policeman she once shot by accident and his relaxation into the role is unprecedented as he is much more known for jittery characters waiting to explode. The film is a study in stillness where life goes on despite tragedy inherent.

While the LAFF/Inside Reel interaction was brief this year with a couple other indies including “The House That Jack Built” and “Boxing Day” being reserved for TV interviews, the essence of the character base continues to shine on the streets of Downtown Los Angeles.

Three Is The Sunny Charm: The 3rd Annual Aruba International Film Festival – Feature

When landing in the country of Aruba, you know you have reached the promised land for the virgin beauty of its sand beaches and its warm and welcoming people. Another sign of paradise on Earth is the Aruba International Film Festival. For its third consecutive year, co-founder Jonathan Vieira and his great team of programmers (Margherita Di Paola, Rebecca Roos & Aaron Hosé) headed by maestro Claudio Masenza put together one more time a first-class event which needs to become your number one destination at the beginning of Summer.

One thing to notice this year was the over whelming enthusiasm for movies from the Caribbean with people’s favorites such as “América” (directed by Sonia Fritz) whose portrait of a young protagonist in the shadow of abuse and poverty is sure to touch everyone’s heart. It received a Special Mention from the Festival’s Jury. Another heart breaker but also a very uplifting and inspiring movie was the documentary “Children of the Wind” (directed by Daphne Schmon) following the rise to success of the windsurfing world champion team from Bonaire, an island near to Aruba. “Children Of The Wind” was this year’s recipient of the Audience Award and well deserved. Finally, let’s salute the maverick work of director Rebecca Roos and her touching “By Her Hand” which intertwines the portraits of several visionary women of Aruba. Needless to say this is “The Year Of Women” with these three notable motion pictures; a sure sign that the feminine voice of movie making is more vibrant and rocking than ever.

Other favorites fares from this year’s international programming includes the French “Godfather”-like picture “A Gang Story” (directed by Oliver Marchal) which features a thundering clash between two brilliant actors: Gerard Lanvin and Tcheky Karyo. Finally I have to be biased and salute the producing and directing success of my good friend Ryan Oduber who had two movies this year at the Festival: “Kima Momo 58”, an edgy and experimental short (with the ever sulfurous presence of actress and dancer Alydia Wever!) as well as “Awa Brak” (co-directed with Francisco Pardo) which was the happy winner of the Aruba Short Film Audience Award! Bravo Ryan, and I am humbled to be your friend.

Since this was the third year of the Aruba Film Festival, the organizers had decided to invite some charms to grace the celebration. With a radiant Virginia Madsen presenting the sweet movie “The Magic of Belle Isle” (side to side with the iconic Morgan Freeman) and the ever-charismatic Ray Liotta giving an in-depth conversation about ups and down of film making, we had a mesmerizing and inspiring ride into the magic of Hollywood. It felt as if suddenly Aruba had opened its own studio and was welcoming legions of filmmakers to produce future blockbuster hits. Is it a sign that it might be a good idea to indeed further develop a local industry since Aruba is located in such a key area of the Caribbean but is also just across from Latin America. Maybe it is an avenue worth exploring by the festival organizers and the local government.

Finally an explosive and fantastic innovation this year by the Festival was to put together some sensational musical nights! For our tremendous joy we were lucky to witness concerts by Latin superstars Juanes and Marc Anthony. Both suave men really set the night on fire and possessed our dancing souls. This was a strike of genius to mix music and movies in this way. Next year, let’s recommend the festival also program a movie directly in relation to the musical talent invited (one would have loved to watch again Marc Anthony in the legendary “El Cantante” for example).

After three solid years in a row, the Aruba International Film Festival has confirmed and affirmed a place among the many worldwide film festivals. It has become the number one film festival in the region and a highly recommended destination not only to delight oneself with films and music but also with the offerings of so many high0class hotels, restaurants and bars to sing and rock all night long! And, as it’s never too early to prepare for next year, we encourage you to look into booking your accommodation and trip right now. Also, on a final note, and, if you can’t wait (like myself!) until next Summer 2013, why don’t you join us in Aruba for the upcoming Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival on October 5-6. Come on, put on your bathing suit, your dancing shoes and let’s dance the blues!

By Emmanuel Itier

Special Thanks to the publicity team of Rogers and Cowan (Nikki Parker, Dennis Dembia & Erica Rand) and to the Aruba Film Festival sponsors: Hyatt Resort, BMW and the Aeropuerto International Reina Beatrix.

Independent Texture & Genre Structure: Los Angeles Film Festival 2012 – Feature

Finding different textures of independent cinema has always been the balance of the Los Angeles Film Festival equating this in equilibrium with its studio galas that permeate the middle of summer. While genre structures do play constructive, the influx of real impact documentaries continues to intersperse notions of social consciousness within the confab.

Late night always begets horror. “Saturday Morning Massacre” takes into account the notions of those friends and a dog who find themselves in trouble that might not work out. Using the “Scooby” satire mode without truly saying the inspiration seems to suggest an idea of over-the-top comedy and some good scares moving into a more “Evil Dead” arena. Instead the inflection plays at times more psychological with “Blair Witch” and the more recent “Citadel” [SxSW 2012] considered which includes the overdone texture of feral children. While the stoner mentality (especially with the happenstance structure of ectasy thrown into the mix) has a bit of fun, the eventual dismemberment sends the tone into a slightly different realm that is in-between at best.

Doing a movie on the notion of promoting a movie (and the ego that goes along with it) plays a tad lazy. From there, the idea of making a film about a film tends to become self fulfilling if one works in the business. The resulting genre tends to know itself a little too well because one simply takes experiences from real life and applies it. Here, in the example of “Red Flag”, the director (played by the director in question) experiences a breakup right before a tour. While on tour, he is approached by a seemingly obsessed fan who he quickly has sex with. His friend, a children’s book writer (in real life as well) falls in love with said girl as the director in question shirks her. While the film does express some of the interesting verite elements possible with the 5D, it still doesn’t offset that some movies just shouldn’t be made simply because they can. While some of the psychology can ring true, the dialogue itself was improvised from an outline which points to a lack of structure hoping for lightning in a bottle.

In contrast, taking a documentary where life simply reflects the drama that comes with it can seem almost as effortless. “Drought” however wills it to be and, by contrast, wants it to be (though it is by no means the absolute truth). This examination here of families in Northeastern Mexico points to the beauty of a cowboy existence when electricity, internet and such luxuries are not givens in life. The ideas of morality and survival interplayed by myths (at many times spoken by children on their own accord) give the progression a weight, especially when the entire clans have to pack up everything on their trucks and move away from barely completed shacks when the water dries up. The animals who interplay with their lives feed into this completely. While the brutality against the horses and cows can be unrelenting at certain points, it functions as a fact of life which paints the humans simply as functional animals continuing on their way to protect their young and fight another day.

The advent of the zombie movie may have run its course but the aspect of using Cuba from the inside out as a springboard creates a slightly different dynamic. While missed at the Miami International Film Festival, the buzz “Juan Of The Dead” created points to an interesting play on politics within the movie. While the comedy functions with inherent charm and the team that Juan, a father who doesn’t want to leave his country, puts together rocks, there is a thread of dread just hanging below the surface. Whether it treads on the basis of a juicehead that is afraid of blood, a transvestite with more cahones than half the guys in the bunch or a Romeo & Juliet coupling involving Juan’s daughter that he definitely doesn’t want happening, the movie knows it balance. While the storyline itself is wobbly at best, this haphazard crew figures itself out time and again creating a strong backbone. While the ending of the film points to a more cinematic finale than eventually plays out, it is still by all means entertaining. Like “Black Lightning” [Fantasia 2010], it takes mainstream US movie tropes and does its best with their abilities to fulfill them (though the CG is comparatively primitive) but this is without a studio involved and flying under the radar (though it is uncertain whether local or government help was offered with this production). In doing the Q&A, the director, whose wife and co-producer couldn’t get her visa to come to the US from Cuba in time, expressed interesting sentiments (albeit after a couple drinks) of what specifically the film can represent.

Using this aspect of politically charged motivation, the arena progresses from Cuba to the US/Mexico border with “Reportero”, a documentary backed by PBS’ POV program series. This specific inlay focuses on the history of the newspaper “Zuma”, a below-the-border periodical which, in attacking the notions of corruption and narco trafficking through the vista of Tijuana, pulls no punches. Like “Page One”, which examined the less life-threatening but still engaging plight of The New York Times, “Reportero” understands, even in making the film, that the battle continues on. The assassination of different journalists, who exposed traffickers and their organizations lived and died by their principles, definitely shows the stakes involved. Using older news footage and interviews of journalists since killed (sometimes on VHS quality), the intensity shows an issue, especially with the recent increase in violent killings on the border, that the problem is yet without balance or solution.

Intently, this notion of identity continues with the intersection of “P-047”. Unlike a film like “Mystery” [Cannes 2012] or even some of the documentaries showcased at LAFF 2012, this narrative, built in Thailand, points to a story of ambitious people who have no idea what they want to be or where they want to go. Following the notion of a locksmith who becomes a home invader who takes nothing, the idea explores the idea of ignoring the world while still wanting to be part of it. While the disjointed structure (probably interrelating to different parts of the lead character’s mind) plays with a certain kind of focus, the only true element of the film that works is within a hospital sequence. Here, the character in question meets up with a girl committed who under lock and key, simply likes to engage in the scents of the world wherever they may be, whether from a trashcan or a dilapidated building) providing a portal of senses. The resolution points to lives changing right around the corner but one that requires an action of some sort.

Moving simply to a more promotional structure, “The History Of Future Folk” as a basis of origin story for the NY based folk duo uses some interesting ideas of sci-fi while not needing to really push the boundaries as far as effects too far. What supremely helps along the entire process (which I would think is their doing) is the great aspect of scoring which gives the progression a needed sense of pacing. What is undeniably strong is using this as an inter-cutting mechanism between a fight on a roof and a tango with the two main characters. While distinctly a homage to “True Lies” in a way, the intention of what the film shows and the way it is presented makes it stick in your mind. Not to be discounted is the marketing hook of the red bucketheads of “Future Folk” which repeat with dexterous frequency through the entire film make sure that the point is not missed.

LAFF decided also with more frequency this year to include shorts as precursors to films, especially when the subject matter proved very continuous. Four specific shorts stood out for various reasons. The best in terms of overall function because of its grand chemistry both dramatically and with bouts of humor was “92 Skybox Alonzo Mourning Rookie Card” which follows the incessant story of two brothers trying to outdo each and ruining a family gathering. Its balance works in figuring out the humor and physical timing with genuine moments of heart which is not the easiest angle to accomplish.


Both “3113” and “Thumbsnatchers From The Moon Cocoon” show a dexterity of creativity from both the CG and stop motion textures respective simply because of the ambition of what was attempted. While “Cocoon” was more done in jest closer to a music video perception of say Alice In Chains’ “I Stay Away“, “3113” was purveyed more as a teaser, hinting at a larger meaning.


“Once It’s Started, It Could Not End Otherwise” as a short, by comparison is all about mood and mixed media. While the texture of its overall tendency for narrative is unexplained, its paradoxical placement of images was intense visually and, overall, affecting.

Examining different ideas of life and politics through less than conventional methods always sparks interesting conversation. Whether through the bleak but aspirational “Drought”, the political bloodletting of “Juan Of The Dead” or the real life war of words of “Reportero”, the Los Angeles Film Festival continues to program with a texture of thought and creation.

Truth Understanding & Vision Necessity: The 2012 Hollywood Brazilian Film Festival – Feature

Extracting a necessity of vision from a different country sometimes requires a perception of economic, social and political aspirations and troubles since all countries’ morality and customs are not one and the same, Lives are structure by the power in control and those who live it. The Hollywood Brazilian Film Festival, even within this ideal, shows a understanding of truth, despite at times being a little skewed.

The intentions of “I Will Raffle Off My Heart” resound in the ideas of the psyche that permeates old school culture. In an age of puritanical instigation on the part of Americanism, many forget that the oldest profession in the world has been around long before this country was ever formed. What this documentary, taking place below the equator, mixes in relishes the thought of “Brega” music as a feeling that encourages all in this matter. While the focus seems to rely more on the music, the light of the male versus female psyche in terms of disconnection with sex lurks just below the surface. The body language and notions related here are quite interesting if not accidental (though not quite). Specifically, the film portrays a couple different couples and families where an actual connection grew out of the act of prostitution which is, by definition, an interesting construct. The men within this portrait become the quiet ones with the women of the household doing all the talking which points to a psychiatric predisposition to domination. This, of course, remains buried in different musicians and singers talking about the impact of “brega” and how its rhythms move the heart. While this is intrinsic and parallel to what the film purports to be, the intonations floating below the surface are the more interesting texture.

The idea of “making it” or finding a way to rise above it all has been a stalwart of movies since the early days because the story of an underdog always appeals to the masses who are looking to “get away” from their lives. “Rania” tells the story of a girl with dreams but with notions that are firmly planted on the ground. The lead character wants to be a dancer with all the emotions and technique to make her dream work. The in-between rests within the reality of what is around her. Though she is capable, she relies on a broken family, a stripper friend and undependable boys in her life. As she spends more and more time at her friend’s club where she eventually starts dancing to make some money, the quid pro quo looks to swallow her up even as her hopes to leave both rise and fade, not because of  her talent but because of restrictions that family and duty put against her. The effective aspect of the movie is that it doesn’t hit the viewer over the head with notions of morality or intention in terms of the character. It just allows you to see her life both blossom and spiral out of control without exactly telling you where she is going.

Moving in a slightly different direction but relegating more to thoughts of nationalism, “Rat Fever” plays in a vibrant but different world of life captured luminously in black and white. There is something undeniably visceral about the picture yet when it tries too hard to make its point (specifically initiating thoughts of metaphor in the character’s actions) is when it becomes unbalanced. The moments of idealism and just being with friends whether it be at a backyard barbecue or in a flat where all manner of sexual desire is consumated, the world feels true buoyed by both the cinematography but also by an enigmatic use of music as score within the scene played by one of the on-screen characters. This intention, which provides undeniably connection to the characters’ listlessness, hopefulness or sheer grief, creates a tone that is not necessarily seen in most films. One shot of 4 people awaking in bed using an overhead tracking shot shows a clarity of vision and understanding reminiscent of Antonioni in terms of metaphors. The only problem is that the film cannot maintain this feeling within the scene or with the actors for any extended length of time. While certain actions, like that on a boat during a party, is supposed to reflect an aura of intimacy in an increasing bold world, they instead feel flat despite an exceptional performance of restraint, secrets and deference between mind and body by lead actress Nanda Costa who undeniably creates the effort of muse in a violent world wracked by misdirection.

Continuing with an even stronger structure than the year prior, the 2012 Hollywood Brazilian Film Festival continues to show the diverse voices below the Equator that attacks and discuss a variety of issues with an increasing distinct and stylistic eye.

Close Access & Bigger Impact: The 2012 Produced By Conference – Feature

The Produced By Conference offers an interesting perception for the up-and-coming producers in play to have close access to the producers who are getting the big films done. While different elements, especially the medium of TV, seemingly have a bigger impact on the progression, the rules of what works always change and yet story functionality stays the same which is further emphasized with both exec discussions and notions of narrative connection.

A Conversation With Michael Burns The Vice Chairman of Lionsgate has enjoyed a very interesting couple years with the smaller studio making leaps and bounds to interact with the big players in a series of interesting power moves beginning first with the acquisition of Artisan Entertainment a couple years ago and recently with Summit and the immense success of “The Hunger Games”. The ideas of what this studio truly wants to be comes into question which through an informal discussion with producer (and Produced By co-chair) Gary Lucchesi of Lakeshore Entertainment (whom Lionsgate made the recent “Lincoln Lawyer” with) allows certain details to more come to light.

Burns started off in the financial sector in NY in the 80s with places such as Lehmann and eventually Prudential which gave him access into the media/entertainment sector. From the very beginning, the film “The Exorcist” was very influential to Burns which definitely created an irony when Sherry Lansing and her husband William Friedkin (who directed that film) later became his neighbors. In an ode out of “Mad Men”, Burns’ dad (ironically named Pete like one of the central protagonists on the show) was “very much like the Don Draper character”. One of the lessons his father taught had him at the end of his primary schooling given a $5000 check that said “The End”.

Moving through business school on his own, the key for Burns was “vary to entry and first mover advantage” which he learned in the financial sector. This ideal applies, at times, to new platforms which he suggests not trying on the inset calling the action “a fool’s errand”. For him, the movie that turned Lionsgate around is not the one you would think: “Monster’s Ball”. That began to fuel his motto: know who is showing up opening weekend. Turning to the perception of franchises like “The Hunger Games” and the acquired “Twilight” series, he knew (specifically in relation to “Hunger Games”), that they could take up to 25 million dollars of risk. The Summit acquisition, he continues, he saw as a “risky deal” because he was worried people were possibly burned out on the “Twilight” franchise (they were not). Continuing on that course, in terms of looking forward, Lionsgate just finished shooting “Ender’s Game” which Burns believes could be a franchise as well. The biggest challenge he sees is the comparative size of P&A budgets and how to make the product “rise above” others which also keys into finding the right opening weekend. Overseas, of course, is very important. Sergei Yershov, one of his execs at Lionsgate, helped set up everything for distribution in Russia and that country has now become a Top 5 territory for them.

Moving into formats, Burns says that “3D is great for the right movie” but says that “I am not the right guy”. Television is now becoming though the go-to spot. He uses the example of all the material at Sundance but ultimately each year that festival only produces one film people will hear of widely. This creates the motivation for those kind of indie writer/directors to go to TV because that is where their voices can be heard. Burns explains that as he looks at their library, he thinks that “Red” or “The Expendables” can be television series but the question becomes: can it be serialized? And can you get the talent to agree to be in it?

Attacking notions of perception, Burns says that “we don’t want to be the new major” but “we want to be a studio with the biggest library”. In terms of accessing a new and increasingly diverse audience, the possibilities become more analytic. He examples that Netflix, despite its entry into the workspace, is an MSO whereas Showtime, as a comparison, is not in 22 million homes. This thereby creates the notion of content becoming ubiquitous. Through these kind of elements, Lionsgate is able to test certain aspects. Burns concedes this fact saying that they have equity in Roadside Attractions. This allows them, especially in the VOD space, to test releases (like with “Margin Call” last year) or give an early jump to a film like “Abduction”. This propels Burns’ thought from a studio perspective: “Don’t rush it. Wait”. It also plays into his idea on development. Lionsgate is more likely (in all points) to buy a finished script (or for that fact, a film) and not a pitch or outline. He uses the example of “Crash” which won best picture saying that “we were the only bidder). Some films do disappoint. He really liked “Warrior” but it couldn’t find its audience. Lionsgate put 30 in but it only made 13.

Franchise Building Finding the right angles in order to make something popular over and over again holds a lot of its power to the instinct of mass appeal and anticipating certain elements of all demographics. Lorenzo di Bonaventura, like fellow panelist Nina Jacobson, has seen the aspect from both a studio exec side (The Matrix, Harry Potter) as well as from the producer side (Transformers, GI Joe). Di Bonaventura starts off with a joke about when Warner made “The Perfect Storm” with George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. he had a discussion with then-studio head Alan Horn that “maybe one guy should live”. In terms of finding that perfect “alchemy”, he textures that “tone is the divining rod”. That said, he says that you also have to have someone with the right vision at the inset. He mentions that he had lunch with Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) a week or so prior to the conference and they discussed that Chris Columbus (who directed the first two “Potter” films) “doesn’t get enough credit” for the work he did in establishing the world. In the past couple years though, from di Bonaventura’s perspective, the scrutiny on the industry has changed because there is “a different value system”. He chuckled remembering when he was on a whitewater rafting trip in Idaho that people were talking there about box office receipts which was never the case before. But, he quips, not everything is a sure bet. Di Bonaventura says that “Transformers” was passed on by his home studio 5 times. The key remains though in terms of these types of films is “don’t forget to kill somebody” because “you need to have stakes”. People discussed this when he was asked if Morgan Freeman was coming back for “Red 2”. His point is do not mess with the alchemy because the longer a franchise goes, the more it has to evolve and “if you are going to change, you have to be bold with what you are going to do”.

Nina Jacobson, who is one of the main producers responsible for the hit”Hunger Games” says that “at the heart of any franchise are characters that people want to see again”. In terms of “Games” coming together, she says that director [Gary] “Ross understood tonal bandwidth”. Getting into the larger story definitely, she says, makes the syndrome more acute. When the idea of “Games” in 3D is brought up, her response about kids killing kids in 3D: “distasteful”.

Todd Phillips, one of the other panelists, slightly watching from the outside because his “Hangover” franchise is not based on some pre-ordained property, says that he is “interested by this whole conversation”. He recalls a meeting he had with di Bonaventura, when the previous was still an exec at Warner Brothers, regarding the aspects of a writer saying “with 120 pages of writing, you have your say” continuing that the execs tend to speak at writers and not to them at that point. In terms of why his current franchise works, he replies that “people have hangovers all over the world” though he specifies that “The Hangover 3” which they are starting work on currently “turns into an entirely different movie” because “it is not a forgotten night” but “still takes place in the real world”.

The elements of producing and making the ideas stick and flourish in real world big-budget situations is the cornerstone of what Produced By as a conference celebrates but it also allows those execs in power to pass on needed advice to those who might follow.

Showcasing Penchant & Supporting Beacon: Dances With Films 2012 – Feature

The continuing element of Dances With Films relates to show a diversity of independent films both intrinsically on their own but also with an interesting penchant for showcasing new talent vetted for entry into bigger world movie-making. By restricting the amount of films shown and heavily supporting filmmaker attendance, the registry of this film festival continues to grow and hopefully will become a beacon for buyers, despite a slightly lower quality in this year’s films.

Interestingly, the most anticipated film also was the most divisive in terms of requisite personality. “The Ghastly Love Of Johnny X” pulls hard from everything from Ed Wood to the greaser odes of the 50s to cheesy science fiction to Rock Hudson musicals. The beauty of the film overall rests in its photography using some of the last Plus X film stock (which was slightly overhyped at the premiere screening). The music progression recalls last year’s festival musical “The Dead Inside” [deadCenter 2011] but with less musical expansion. The relatability here in terms of the music is less 50s cool then Broadway sweet in terms of the songs while the score is undeniably rich and vivid. Will Keenan as Johnny X anchors the film for the first half skewing between camp and vicious cool but as soon as the long lost father-undead subplot ventures forth, the movie retreats to pure B territory. Now granted this is the angle from which the homage is based but there was a possibility for more.

3 Days Of Normal” functions from a similar capacity on the romantic comedy front with great performances, especially from the lead actress, but with a story that closes itself in, in regards to its end progression. The narrative follows a police officer, clumsy by nature but loyal and good-hearted, who doesn’t seem to be interested in the girls in town throwing themselves at him. Enter a gossip-clung celebrity debutante who happens to pass out in her car in rural New Hampshire. What follows is a comedy of situations (including paparazzi pursuit) that plays worn but because of the grounded element of said actress resounds with distinctive charm.

Fray” works in a similar capacity with an applicable construct in terms of its progression but with a relatable angle that makes it all the more heartbreaking as its progresses. It follows a well meaning Marine back from Afghanistan after an injury leaves him with a gimp leg. This impairs the possibility of him getting work in an already squeezed economy. Slowly but surely, despite his continued perseverance, he can’t seem to get ahead. He is helped along by his teacher-turned-lover (Marisa Costa), who slowly falls in love with him. Costa undeniably anchors the film with such a luminescence which balances the brooding but powerful functionality of Bryan Kaplan’s performance as Justin. The key within here is structure and making sure these relationships pay off in the end without conceding the need to spoon-feed. “Fray” does this beautifully contrasting the dark but brilliantly forest backdrop with a sense of foreboding.

Into The Wake” tries to approach the scenario “Fray” succeeds in with a bit more of a thriller scenario which is not untoward but plays with a little more ploy that others. A quiet-living biker type with a tattoo-covered exotic girlfriend seems to have everything in play except for some unexplained rage issues which becomes obvious in an abandoned steel mill location that was used more for its cool beauty against the Chicago skyline than anything else. A mysterious phone call draws this would be man away from an idealic (in some circles) life. After sleeping on forest canopies after driving his bike to the middle of nowhere, the progression seems a little lost, like he is looking for trouble without knowing where it is.

Liars, Fire & Bears” tries to interact within notions of coincidence and morality depending which way the house crumbles. Built as a Las Vegas production, the degradation of sub-urban reality reflects in the functionality of the lead character who is just trying to make ends meet (a continuing subject base this year) but ends up in a compromising position involving kidnapping, home robbery and extortion, among other things. The eventual breakdown of communication functions well in some instances with most situations eventually extending beyond belief to a more well-toned ending.

Disorientation” takes on the Midnight slot in good order while moving away from the more “bad cinema” horror integrations which, while creative, were the stalwart of last year’s intentions. This entry combines the wantonness of “Van Wilder” with a “Waiting” progression: two early entries into the Ryan Reynolds universe. The movie tries warily with varying results but distinctly knows what it is despite a tongue-in-cheek overplay which is more dexterously capture by the resident geek in the picture who ultimately wins over in the “academics win out” category. Eventually, heavy drinking notwithstanding, the lead character finds his true energy (and girl) though, for a movie which bills itself on its extremeness, comes out with a distinct amount of sugar coating.

The key within shorts as opposed to features is provide a texture of broad film-making in a short time blending style and acting with a sense of story. Some of these are meant as simple reels while others are built as a primer to a feature depending on the people involved.

Within Competition Shorts #2, “Crescendo“, follows to reveal the early life of Beethoven and what built him as a person, functioning with a degree of overwrought deniability, especially in the abuse of his mother to rightfully create stakes but the necessary end result feels a little empty. “Ten Dollar Cover” uses a ludicrous premise (with an interesting narrator) to identify the moment of a young person in existential crisis. While funny, ultimately it is a tad dark against the actual reality it justifies. “Breadcrumbs”, which was shot over a weekend up in Monterey, is probably the most functional entry in this block using a backwards “Memento” progression to show the life of a man in reverse but delivers acutely on its premise.

Fusion Shorts #1, by comparison, plays in many ways more conventional in its structure but with better results. “Empty” approaches the minimalist, almost stage approach with little fanfare while “Elegy For A Revolutionary” approaches high production values with an element of social consciousness but, oddly enough, not much tension. “The Lift” using a gangster construct masked as a social comedy, wins in many respects because its characters are right on cue yet struck in a paradox backed by great production design standards. However, in terms of simple performance, “Interview Date” works the best because of its wit and personification of double standards while using very simple innuendo that is both innocent and dirty at the same time.

Continuing on, Fusion Shorts #2, moves between incomplete vision and simple but specifically crafted odes on oddity. “Crows” tries to be a metaphorical angle on the notion of protecting one’s own but becomes more of a tribulation on personal structure while “Perceptio“, while beautiful to look at, lacks the structure of a soul despite some interesting skin. “Far” begins the beguine with exceptional directorial strength. While fashioned as a romantic comedy mixed with some science fiction, it takes a little bit to get going but when it materializes towards the end of the dinner scene, its cheesy demeanor takes on an endearing charm that just seems to grow. “Losing Ferguson“, in a similar sort of way, owing much to “Being John Malkovich” understands the oddity of its world while giving it also some grounded reality. With “Ferguson”, it paints the way to a more vivid conclusion with a penchant for thought while still creating a lighthearted, playful and ultimately touching romp.

Dances With Films continues to find interesting and intrinsic films to populate its annual confab. With a new move to the Mann Chinese 6, the action and interaction with the filmmakers is more instantaneous than the previous venue: the closed Sunset 5. While the films were not as intensive as the previous year, the diversity, as compared to other film festivals of its like, is still way above the standard and deserving of praise.

Exciting Technology & Direct Connection: CinemaCon 2012 – Feature

CinemaCon, like its namesake Showest before it, has always been about exciting the theater owners with new technology and product meant to get them pumped for their direct connection to the customer. While the textures of this year from “Life Of Pi” to “Skyfall” provided some interesting visions, none was more discussed or contested like the footage that Peter Jackson showed of “The Hobbit”, shot at 48fps, which only a year or so after the acceptance of 3D and the near conversion to full digital, takes the string up one more notch. It is all about what you show.

Paramount Heading into summer, Paramount opened the con by honoring Dwayne Johnson with the “Action Star Of The Decade Award” with studio head Rob Moore calling him “franchise viagra”. Johnson, with his textbook charm along with director John Chu, best known for the”Step Up” films, introduced a dexterous element of scenes from the film which both showed humor and drama. Next, Tom Cruise, in a taped greeting from the set of “Oblivion” [directed by Joe Kosinski] in Baton Rouge, spoke before showing scenes from “Jack Reacher” directed by Christopher McQuarrie whose last helming outing was “Way Of The Gun”. Two scenes adapted from the graphic novel distinctified “tone” which Cruise mentioned in his opening remarks. Rob Moore then turned the stage over to Jeffrey Katzenberg who, after a great year with “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Puss In Boots”, brought “Madagascar 3” and “The Guardians”. The third entry into the “Madagascar” franchise showed almost 15 minutes of the opening optimizing new animation techniques since the last one in the series with Chris Rock coming on stage saying that it was the best so far adding that some parts were “trippy” which reflected in a circus montage. “The Guardians” based on a children’s book is a completely different animal using “myth” and “belief” to approach its subject matter with an edge and texture. Chris Pine who leads the cast as the voice of “Jack Frost” spoke about the key in the character to finding “the center”. Interestingly, the whole time he was speaking, all of his remarks also applies everything he sees in this character to James Kirk for which he is currently shooting the sequel to “Star Trek” as. The ending of the presentation did not disappoint with Sascha Baron Cohen making his second public appearance as “The Dictator” complete with girls and soldiers in tow and walking through the crowd. After throwing some zingers on stage as is his MO, Cohen as the character angled out Katzenberg as the other “dictator” in the room before announcing (which most thought as a joke) that the film would be screening at 11pm up the Strip and that it was not a threat before he exited with great fanfare as Katzenberg kissed his ring.

Warner Brothers The texture of Warner Brothers relies in being able to follow up the powerhouse of Harry Potter. While the arrival of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp to introduce an extended trailer of “Dark Shadows”, it was Christopher Nolan talking about shooting almost a 1/3 of his “Dark Knight Rises” in IMAX that offered a stemming view of a brooding dark conclusion so much so that Adam Shankman who showed an extended trailer of “Rock Of Ages” including the first bit of Tom Cruise singing threw a “you fucker” line at Nolan because of how unbelievable bad ass it was. Director Jay Roach then talked about the balance of political “broo-haha” in regards to  his new film:”The Campaign” starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. However it was moving into fall that offered the most interesting view with the first glimpse of footage from Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” in 3D which Luhrmann explained in a taped message from Australia allows you to see the actors shine without any visual effects. Lastly, Peter Jackson introduced in 3D from New Zealand, the first footage of 48 frames per second from “The Hobbit”. Like seeing “Avatar” for the first time, it takes some getting used to because it is a completely different movie experience in terms of perception with Jackson showing distribs around 10 minutes of footage. One piece in particular showing Gollum’s face very close to camera shows the distinctiveness of this frame rate as do flying shots (like those seen in the original trilogy). Another one very specific to the changing viewpoint of the immersion of the technology is when Gandalf is alone in the catacombs. The depth of the shot makes you think you are actually there though the process does retain an almost HD camera quality in terms of perspective which is rather hard to describe.

Disney Balancing out with the texture of brand specifications from Warner, the Mouse House used the cross structure promotion with Marvel, Pixar and Dreamworks to fuel the fire. Marvel presented a short clip from “The Avengers” intermixing Iron Man, Thor and Captain America with bone-crunching sound followed directly with the announcement of Thor II and Captain America II before Marvel President Kevin Feige showed a small clip leading to the production of Iron Man III which begins production in North Carolina later in the month. Progressing into Dreamworks, the aspect of “People Like Us” starring Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks (and directed by Alex Kurtzman of “Star Trek” and “Fringe” frame) capitalizes on the studio’s penchant for more novel based forms. “Lincoln” which makes its distribution stateside through Fox, was also mentioned, without texture of a trailer likely to be seen at Fox’s Presentation two days later. Disney Pictures itself started quietly with sleeper quality textures of the stop motion film “Frankenweenie” directed by Tim Burton which does contain odes to Brad Bird’s “Family Dog” episode of “Amazing Stories” and definitely suburban angles of “Edward Scissorhands”. “The Odd Life Of Timothy Green” starring Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton seems more reminiscent of Disney fantasy/morality films of the 70s like “Pete’s Dragon” depending on the tone of the eventual picture. “The Wonderful World Of Oz”, which just completed filming just a couple weeks ago, boasts a great pedigree in director Sam Raimi re-teaming with his “Spiderman” villain James Franco as the titular character here. The story details unearthed by the director speak to an interesting betrayal in the story of sorts centering around Mila Kunis’ character which fuels the intentions of what happens in the world. The footage shown dictates a mixture of sets, which producer Joe Roth identified as Detroit, as well as some interestingly created background CG mattes which might or might not be the final textures. Conversely, Jerry Bruckheimer was brought out by current live action film prexy Sean Bailey after a short live stage bit about Kermit wanting to be the Lone Ranger and Miss Piggy wanting to be the Good Witch in Oz. Entertaining for sure. Bruckheimer spoke of them shooting in Arizona with Johnny Depp coming out and speaking as well. Depp made reference to that fact that “I just saw a frog and pig out here. Did anybody else see that?” When asked about Tonto, Depp deferred in a show of modesty saying, kindly, that he wants the theater owners to see it when it is done. With no footage to speak of for the title with the exception of a photo, details are still scarce. John Lasseter, head of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, came out next to discuss his slate. “Wreck It Ralph” is a non-Pixar film which is interesting in its own right following a bad guy in an 8-bit video game stuck in an arcade. Lasseter spent a good ten minutes setting up the premise and characters before showing the first ten minutes of the film. John C. Reilly, who spoke about trying to improvise during the recordings with sometimes co-star Sarah Silverman, gives a definite heart to the character. A specific “bad guys anonymous” scene represents this with a dexterity and tongue-in-cheek element replete with visual gag cues. Representing beyond and speaking into the Pixar mode, the announcements in terms of new structures (beyond “Monster University”) border on more esoteric which might be undeniably groundbreaking with one being “The Last Dinosaur” with only a silhouette of a brachiosaurus present and another one that can be encapsulated as “Journey Into The Mind” but probably not in the “Fantastic Voyage” way. Finally, as a perspective of a film which has been interestingly placed without any real knowledge of it, Lasseter unspooled nearly a half-hour of “Brave” which follows the exploits of a tomboyish princess in the highlands of Scotland. While interesting echoes of Robin Hood play through especially when the heroes take disguise, what does seem to ring through. which was not prevalent before as much in the other Pixar movies (because this is inherently a human world), is the reactions of the animals and others in a more realistic way which was a hallmark of say “Beauty & The Beast”. It shows how the feature animation side of Disney is being impacted by Lasseter. While not at the full potential of Disney because of responsibility to the shareholders, he is pushing the bar in subtle ways as he can.

Filmmaker Forum: Martin Scorsese & Ang Lee Whenever you get Martin Scorsese in the room, the perspective becomes one of a film class which is interesting when he is speaking to a roomful of theater owners. The impact of “The Hobbit” footage at 48fps had been ringing for about 24 hours and everybody had an opinion on it, both good and bad. This forum was more about 3D with Scorsese’s “Hugo” pushing the barrier last year in terms of serious filmmakers from a dramatic point of view. Ang Lee, mostly known for his more direct non-genre dramas (but Oscar-winning fare) recently immersed himself in 3D for his Christmas release “Life Of Pi” which many said to be “unfilmable” (and for good perspective reason). While it is interesting to see these men discuss the virtues of this medium, it almost feels like they are behind the ball because the technology is moving so fast. Before the discussion began, a sample of 120fps technology was shown. The eye cannot see, for what is being said, beyond 60fps. The footage here was more smooth gliding elements but the separation dictates the depth. This is one thing that did interact in terms of the Scorsese/Lee discussion because lighting becomes even more of an important structure which Lee said drove him mad in certain respects on “Pi”. Scorsese reflects that the I/O, which determines depth in 3D, was something he and his cinematographer Robert Richardson constantly toiled with on “Hugo”. He however said it was one shot when Sascha Baron Cohen is staring down into the camera with his dog in forced perspective that gave him chills because it showed what the technology was capable of doing. Lee, still in the midst of figuring everything out on his movie, spoke on the essence of using water since a lot of his movie takes place in the ocean. The Taiwanese government ended up building him a massive tank but the camera was the first to use a housing to shoot 3D actually underwater. Neither had seen “The Hobbit” footage so they could not comment though Scorsese seemed visibly intrigued at everyone’s reaction. He compared it to a movie he showed to his daughter, her school friends and some of their mothers at his home in New York recently. It was from back in the 30s where the aspect ratio and the color changes during the film (much like “Wizard Of Oz” in some respects). People, he said, spoke the same way about color. It is just something that will eventually, after growth spurts, become a mainstay. 3D took a little longer but eventually is having its day.

Sony While franchises seem to pile on with respect to the Sony brand, the intention seems to reflect that bigger is better quality. While “MIB 3” and “Total Recall” showed extended structures in 2D, it is interesting to perceive their eventual release.The time travel perspective of Men In Black does not quite have its plot direction set in the footage shown but the humor, as always, plays dry and loose with Josh Brolin doing a spot on impression that you would almost think that Tommy Lee Jones is doing the voice over. “Total Recall” oddly enough recreates an almost deja-vu situation because the set ups in terms of plot device to the original are eerily similar with a swig of “The Fifth Element” thrown into the mix. The world is intense and Kate Beckinsale, melding a character that mixes Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside from the original, is bad-ass especially in an extended foot chase sequence that just screamed with adrenalin yet felt wholly original. The intention of what Douglas Quaid is being accused of here is played a little more than conjecture. “That’s My Boy” looks to bring Adam Sandler back to full resolution after the misfire that was “Jack & Jill” but the man experiments with comedy (albeit more low brow) much like Will Ferrell but with more success on an ongoing basis. This is an R-rated romp that has textures of “Little Nicky” but with more curse words and breasts. Sort of like Billy Madison grown up. It looks hilarious because Sandler’s character can go nuts because Andy Sandberg takes on Adam’s usual role with aplomb. It should kill for sure. And as the announcements proved, “Grown Ups 2” is around the corner a summer from now. “The Amazing Spiderman” also seems to be trying to find its footing. The hardest thing in rebooting the franchise is selecting the right tone and space within which to set it. The humor and action shown here is seeking a balance for sure and the scale surely feels much bigger than the last franchise. Andrew Garfield’s approach is more aloof at times though Emma Stone stabilizes the structure. Denis Leary as the police captain who sees Spiderman as a threat will bring some added tension and the more comprehensive view of Lizard Man promises interesting feelings but it all contains relevance in heart depending on the end product. “Resident Evil: Retribution” shows Paul W.S. Anderson pushing the 3D ideals but the mythology is getting extremely deep. However as long as Milla Jovovich can wield a sword and guns with fire blazing behind her (with extended I/O mind you) people will flock. The final perception allowed was a first look at the Bond film “Skyfall” directed by Sam Mendes. The teaser is dark with overcast skies and dark rooms. It seems almost built like a brainwash sequence. The music is rumbling and has tendencies of foreboding much like “Road To Perdition” which gave chills. Granted it gives no perspective of overall story but the tone indicated feels much like “The Dark Knight Rises”: a dark humor that mixes with tragedy.

20th Century Fox With two summer films that hang on the precipice with different elements at stake, the ideas are humming. With “Prometheus” and a bang up viral campaign, director Ridley Scott seems to know what he is doing. The extended trailer showing the landing sequence onto the planet in its full glory has a dexterity and industrial feeling that only Scott can do. “Alien” DNA plays heavily into the trailer from the ship to the Space Jockey. The blood letting definitely paints it well. It looks phenomenal on the big screen. “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” I have been interacting with over the past couple months. It is a near idea that is perched between real life and genre which is always a hard sell. Director Timor Bekmambetov has the chops to make it happen and the new footage plays to more the historical basis and less of the acrobatics which may be a conscious decision. “Neighborhood Watch” is another interesting amalgamation with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill moving into an alien invasion hybrid comedy where they become defenders of their community, swilling beer and taking no bullshit. It is interesting but the line being walked is a tightrope. The final perception to be mentioned on Fox’s upcoming slate is “Life Of Pi”, Ang Lee’s 3D epic to be released at Christmas. Lee showed one sequence and one scene from the film to show what he is trying to do. What comes across for sure is a necessity to use 3D as a storytelling mechanism of immersion. The sequence involves the marooning of the lead character on the ocean and the sinking of the freighter he is traveling on. At first it seems almost simple but the single long takes show a deeper thought at work. Like “Titanic” in a way but more intimate, Lee’s camera follows the actor (picked from a worldwide casting search) underwater trying to save his family who is trapped in the water below deck. The 3D camera picks up the bubbles which gives a much more real feel. Pi, the lead character, ends up on a life raft which a zebra (there are a lot of animals on the ship) jumps onto. The perspective of that and then a Bengal tiger (an integral part of the story) jumping on as well while rain is pouring down, makes on realize that there is a lot of stuff going on technically here. One of the most beautiful shots comes around this point where you can see the sinking ship lingering below Pi in an overhead shot with its lights still on. He disappears below the surface and you get a sense of scale. When 3D starts to be used for this kind of thing (which Cameron embraces as well) is when you will get some killer stuff. The other scene Lee showed is very reminiscent of “Old Man & The Sea”. You can tell at a point it is in a studio stage while Pi and The Tiger fight over their food of flying fish along with tuna that sail into the boat. It has that aspect of Anthony Quinn and the primal fight. The tiger (which is probably CG but it is so seamless as not to be believed) blows Aslan from “Narnia” out of the water with its reality.

CinemaCon, showing new advances, continues to challenge theater owners and, by extension, audiences by trying to keep up with changing technology and rights conversion which, while exciting, always seems to come with a bit of apprehension but ultimately interest.