Los Angeles Film Festival Diaries: Day Nine

Can you believe I only have one day left at the Los Angeles Film Festival™? Time flies when you’re at the movies! So yesterday, Terence and I had a lot going on. The good news is that we had different events and screenings, so you’ll get more coverage of the day’s happenings as a result. After having my mind blown by Bryce Dallas Howard’s short film “When You Find Me” (which was a showcase for the new Canon Cinema EOS C300 camera), I headed off to the final screening of Jared Moshé’s Dead Man’s Burden, an indie-western that’s currently in competition for best festival narrative feature. Find out what I had to say about Dead Man’s Burden and my other three screenings of the day after the jump:

1pm – 2:45pm:

Dead Man’s Burden is a slow moving yet incredibly rewarding addition to the Western genre. There’s not the kind of continuous violence that you’d normally associate a Western with — The Wild Bunch and Tombstone come to mind — but when things do get bloody, they get messier than normal, especially considering the circumstances of our characters. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but Dead Man’s Burden is primarily a Western that deals with the feelings of isolation many American families felt during that time period, where to be stuck in the uncharted Wild West was akin to being trapped forever in purgatory. In Dead Man’s Burden, those feelings reach a boiling point, wreaking great havoc upon our central protagonist family in the process. The acting in Dead Man’s Burden is unquestionably why the story is so believable, why the narrative’s twists and turns are so easy to digest. Clare Bowen, who plays the troubled daughter of the family, is so effective in this role, so complex that she astounds with her decisions yet never makes us truly revile her. Barlow Jacobs and David Call also shine in Dead Man’s Burden, but neither hold as much of our captivation as Bowen’s misguided and fascinating Martha does. Jared Moshé makes a great directorial debut with Dead Man’s Burden, and he might’ve just paved the way for indie-westerns to flourish at a time when Westerns don’t seem to be financially dependable in major markets (see: Cowboys & Aliens). This is definitely a recommendable film for those who maybe aren’t sure about the Western genre, but want to test the waters to see if there’s a spark.

4pm 6:30pm:

Since my next two films ran back-to-back, I thought I’d include them together in this timed entry. Big Easy Express was the first of of the two films I saw, and there were only technical complaints on my end. I can understand the low-budget cinematography of this film, especially since a lot of it seems derived from home-videos that capture three groups of musicians on a tour train, but there is no excusing the noticeably bad pixelation. Having my glasses on made it worse, and I wonder why director Emmett Malloy would showcase a film of his without first properly fixing any technical glitches. Aside from that glaring issue, Big Easy Express is a modern reminder of how, even in today’s download heavy world, there are enough fans out there who still appreciate the concert-experience. The black and white filtering in several shots made the bands seem more legendary than they are known to be, but I have to say the music is pretty terrific. I wasn’t very knowledgeable about Mumford and Sons beforehand, but now that I’ve heard an extensive track list of their songs, courtesy of this film, I can genuinely say I dig their indie-folk sound. The second film was a hyper-real documentary, Bestiaire. Denis Côté shows animals in a more intimate way than we’ve probably ever seen them. The documentary is simply a series of long takes that focus on various animals at zoos and on farms. The “up-close-and-personal” climate of the film is especially effective; nature seems even grander than before, especially when the documentary uses persuasive two-shot takes of animal and mankind, where the former is suggested to be the most omnipresent life force on Earth. The film never captivates your attention all the way through, but individual scenes do stand out as fragments of animal-captured beauty.

9:50pm – 12:00am:

Don’t you love it when they save the best of the day for last at a festival? This is unquestionably true in the case of It’s a Disaster, an apocalyptic comedy directed by the talented Todd Berger. Had I seen this film before reviewing Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, I may have bumped down the score of the latter “end-of-the-world” dramedy. Unlike Lorene Scarafria’s film, It’s a Disaster knows its a comedy through and through. It never takes itself seriously, and that unabashed recognition of its own brand is what makes it such an indie classic. Featuring one of the stronger comedy ensembles in years, It’s a Disaster is easily my favorite comedy of 2012 (that is if it’s actually released this year). Julia Stiles, Rachel Boston, and David Cross are the standouts amongst the cast, but that’s by no means an insult to the rest of the ensemble — they are all magnificent with their characters, deriving humor in hilarious and clever ways. Julia Stiles has been a favorite of mine over the years because she can play such various roles. In this one, her stoicism and serious nature elicited so many laughs, especially in one scene where she’s lecturing one of her friends for being late to the couples’ brunch. You have to know the context of the scene to understand the humor, but without spoiling, I’ll just say it’ll have you in fits of laughter. Cross and Boston also do incredible work in the film — Cross’s comedic restraint is funnier as a result, and Boston delivers the films best one-liners, guppy expression and puppy eyes always at the ready. The most salient aspect of It’s a Disaster is its screenplay. Berger’s knowledge of pop culture references is astounding but never comes off pretentiously. He came very well prepared before shooting this film, as each scene is incredibly detailed and specific, and there isn’t a single frame wasted in It’s a Disaster. Berger quite possibly gives us one of the best endings for a comedy — hell, any film in general — in a very, very long time. You’ll bow in reverence towards this genius by the film’s end. It’s a Disaster is everything you’d want a comedy focusing on “the end of the world” to be, yet delivers so much complexity with each of its superbly cast set of characters.

That’s a wrap for Day Nine, so I hope you enjoyed, and keep a lookout for my final diary entry tomorrow. Don’t forget: I’ll be announcing the “Best Of” winners of the Los Angeles Film Festival™ tomorrow as well, so stay tuned!