LAFF 2011: HAUNTERS, SENNA, SAWDUST CITY, ONCE I WAS A CHAMPION Reviews

by     Posted 3 years, 31 days ago

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The 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival has been going on for the past couple of days in Downtown Los Angeles and Collider has been there checking out the latest offerings from the indie world along with some buzzed about films from Sundance and SXSW.  We’ve provided some reviews for Drive and The Devil’s Double already and after the jump you can read my thoughts on some of the films that have played the festival so far like Haunters, Senna, Sawdust City, and Once I Was a Champion.

Haunters

HauntersHaunters is a complete mess of a film.  Screenwriter Kim Min-suk’s (The Good, The Bad, and The Weird) directorial debut about a man who can, for no explainable reason, control people’s minds with his eyes has the potential to be something fun especially when a character is introduced who can not be mind controlled and who then decides to hunt this man down with his friends.  Sadly, the film’s tone is everywhere, which undercuts any tension or drama that Min-suk is aiming for.  In a recent interview with Steve, Michael Giacchino talked about how a film’s score can easily derail a film and the score in Haunters is a perfect example of that.  The film’s score feels like someone just selected “generic electronic rock with guitar solos” in GarageBand and it is easily the film’s biggest flaw since it makes everything come off incredibly cheap, cheesy, and goofy.

There are some genuinely interesting moments in the film, though.  Min-suk does try to push the film’s ridiculous premise as far as he can and this leads to some inspired little moments in some of the film’s set pieces.  It is just a major disappoint that everything surrounding these moments is so poor.  I expected something better from the co-writer of The Good, The Bad, and Weird and I regretfully have to say that it is easily the worst film I have seen so far during this year’s festival.  The film is even more of a let down since I fully expected Min-suk to emerge as another interesting and exciting director coming from South Korea.

Senna

SennaAsif Kapadia’s documentary about the life of famed Brazilian Formula One racer Ayrton Senna absolutely blew me away.  I believe that what Kapadia was able to do with this film is nothing short of incredible.  Kapadia purposefully only uses stock footage of Senna, an excellent score, and some bits of voice over to construct a classic film narrative and the final product is amazing. Senna has so many moments that will give you chills and it is all due to the way that Kapadia is able to manipulate all of this stock footage.  I love it when a documentary tries to be as cinematic as a big budget fiction film and Senna does this successfully through out its whole running time.  It is just more mind blowing and impressive when you realize that not one single second of “new footage” was shot for the film.

Senna is such a great achievement and I really have to stress how truly great Kapadia’s filmmaking is in this film.  I also have to say that I really, really hope that Senna does not fly under the radar when it gets released later on this year. Senna really is one of the best documentaries from recent years and I can not wait until more people are able to see it.

Sawdust City

Sawdust CityDavid Nordstrom’s directorial debut about two brothers trying to find their estranged father during the course of one night is a strong debut that makes me very curious about what the future holds for Nordstrom.  Nordstrom, who also wrote/directed/edited/and acts in the film, is trying to sidestep indie film clichés and is instead more focused on creating a film that is heavily inspired by the work of John Cassavetes.  The final film may not reach those kinds of heights, but I can’t help but applaud and admire the ambition.  Nordstrom’s confidence in his writing, directing, and acting shows and it is to his credit that he is able to pull off a film that so heavily relies on the film’s final moments to make it all work.

The film may be repetitive for a big chunk of the running time as we see the film’s two lead characters go to a bar, sit down, talk, and then go to another bar to repeat the process all over again.   However, Nordstrom keeps these scenes light and entertaining as we begin to connect with the characters before the film’s final act adds layers of depth to not only the characters but to the film’s previous first hour. Sawdust City works even though it is obviously constrained by its small budget and limited filming locations.  In the end, it is a film that is a very strong debut of a writer/director that has the potential to do some great work in the future.

Once I Was a Champion

Once I Was a ChampionOnce I Was a Champion is a documentary about former Ultimate Fighting Champion, Evan Tanner, who was found dead in the desert after recently returning to the sport after a hiatus.  Gerard Roxburgh’s documentary introduces us to an enigma of a person as he talks to many of Tanner’s friends and former opponents as they try to make sense of both the man and of the way he mysteriously died.  This is not a documentary about Tanner’s UFC career or a documentary that tries to profile an athlete or sport.  This is a documentary that is profiling and telling the story of a man who just happened to be a former UFC champion before his tragic death.

I find it hard and mean to find flaws in a documentary that has such good intentions and is so sincere.  Roxburgh means well as he continues to portray Tanner as a man that had some flaws and issues, but was still a good person.  I just can’t help but feel that because of Tanner’s own refusal to open up to his friends, and even to his fiancé, that he always remains a mystery through out the film.  I feel like this was Roxburgh’s intentions, but a documentary made up of interview after interview of Tanner’s closest friends crying while they talk about Tanner fails to connect on a really strong personal emotional level for me since Tanner feels so disconnected and distant in the film.  The film does leave a lasting impression though as you do walk out of the film trying to figure out the mystery that was Tanner.

 




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