Halfway through Film Independent's LA Film Fest, we've sampled a spectrum of films, among them a gala premiere ("Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"), an indie debut ("Pincus"), already-discovered indie gems ("Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Gimme the Loot"), foreign stunner ("Sister") and powerful documentaries ("The Invisible War," "Birth Story"). Below are reviews for seven films plus exclusive clips and interviews.
Ursula Meier's "Sister"
Original content is a novelty these days; when it works it's exhilarating. Ursula Meier's Swiss "Sister" (which won the Silver Bear at Berlin) is a knockout, skillfully crafted and moving. It features Lea Seydoux's best-yet performance and a star-making turn from Kacey Mottey Klein as a professional 12-year old ski-resort thief. The story is best discovered in the theater as it unfolds. Fans of the Dardenne brothers' work, especially last year's "The Kid with the Bike," will likely fall for this one as well.
At the LA Swiss Consulate reception for the film on Saturday before the film's Monday bow at LAFF, I interviewed Meier and Klein (watch the video below, aided by a French translator), who has the talent and smile to become a movie star. Adopt Films' Jeff Lipsky plans to release the film in October, complete with an Oscar campaign for supporting actor, screenplay, director and cinematography (Agnes Godard; a female DP has never been nominated). They'd be justified to push Seydoux for supporting actress as well.
"Sister" is Meier's second feature. Her first, "Home," was nominated for three Cesars and participated in Cannes' L'Atelier du Festival (works in progress program) in 2006. Watch an exclusive clip of "Sister" and our interview below, in which she addresses the no-women-directors-in-competition-at-Cannes controversy:
Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore's "Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives"
Everyone who's ever been born, plans to have a baby or to impregnate a woman should watch this film. Through telling Gaskin's story, it looks at childbirth in a way traditional medicine never will. And it could help restore womens' confidence in doing what their bodies are designed to do rather than perpetuate a disconnected fear-based approach to the miracle of life. "Birth Story" is funny, provocative and inspiring. Check out the trailer here and our exclusive clip below:
Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
At an early "Beasts" screening before LAFF, there wasn't a dry eye in the theater for the third act, which is a testament to Zeitlin's fresh collaborative approach to moviemaking. The film is stunning and sincere, introducing the world to force-of-nature Quvenzhané Wallis. Here's our interview with Zeitlin at Sundance. Here's a clip.
Kirby Dick's "The Invisible War"
This movie will make you mad. The importance of the film's subject matter — rape in the military — can't be overstated, given that the suicide rate in the military is at nearly one per day. It's an engrossing and upsetting trip alongside the women and men who are fighting against our behemoth military and its institutionalization of sexual assault. Rape (of women and men) is expected and accepted, and those suffering the consequences are often left without aid (beyond exhorbitant amounts of prescription drugs) to find a way to survive the consequences. This is must-see blood-boiling documentary filmmaking. It opens in select theaters June 22.
Adam Leon's "Gimme the Loot"
This SXSW winner features more strong performances from young unknown actors and an auspicious debut for Leon. I caught it during the Seattle festival. It's scrappy, hilarious and surprisingly sweet given the frequency of the word fuck. Check out our exclusive clip.
David Fenster's "Pincus"
This surprisingly moving drama reads like a documentary because of its gritty video quality and use of found-footage. Director Fenster uses his own father (living with Parkinson's disease) and late pal Dietmar, an alcoholic German builder, philosopher and avid reader, to infuse the story with undeniable authenticity as it follows its titular lead character through an often hilarious personal journey. "21 Jump Street" director Phil Lord executive produced and joined Fenster and leading man David Nordstrom at the LAFF premiere. He admitted he's not used to his work being judged on its artistic merit, but is clearly proud to be getting some indie cred. ThePlaylist has an exclusive clip; and here's the trailer.
Lorene Scafaria's "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"
The high point of this odd film is when someone shouts that they want to do heroin to Radiohead, because why not? The world is ending. The apocalyptic romantic comedy is a tonal misfire, with tired pacing and redundant close-ups. Keira Knightley continues her over-acting streak, while Steve Carell plays his pathetic insurance salesman with the same likeability that infuses all his work. The actual apocalypse is secondary and mostly unseen, while the relationship between their Penny and Dodge characters casually develops as they accept the end as nigh. Its premise sets the movie up to go in a countless number of directions, and sadly it chooses the dullest, and most cliched.
Here's a deeper analysis and trailers for "People Like Us" and "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World."