Saturday night brought a lot of different kinds of films to the Los Angeles Film Festival. There was everything from documentaries about elephants, circus’, zeppelins, to dark comedies from the U.K and dramas from China and Romania. After the jump you can read my thoughts on the comedy short Successful Alcoholics starring Lizzy Caplan and TJ Miller, the dark drama Judge from China, a documentary about a trip around a world in a Zeppelin and the affair that took place on it, and a documentary which tells the story of the wildly inventive and influential band Fishbone. My write-up after the jump:
This short film about a couple played by TJ Miller (Cloverfield) and Lizzy Caplan (Party Down) who happen to be successful alcoholics (hence the title) has been gaining a lot of buzz ever since it premiered at this years Sundance Film Festival and it’s easy to see why. The short, which runs just under 30 minutes, begins on a hilarious note as we are introduced to this couple as they try to pass off not seeming too drunk while at a friends party. After this scene we get to know this couple more as we see that they are very much in love with each other, but also very much a pair of extreme drinkers. We see that even though they spend every minute of their days being drunk that it still doesn’t stop them from being great at their jobs or from really getting into too much trouble.
The premise is funny enough and leads to a couple of great scenes and one-liners but it also begins to become a little bit thin after a few minutes with a couple of jokes just falling flat. Thankfully by the time that we are finding it hard to laugh at people being drunk the film takes on a serious tone and completely sells it. The final half of the film is surprisingly heartbreaking, honest, and manages to end the film on a relatable bittersweet note.
This drama from China tells the story of a strict Judge in 1997 who sentences a man who has been accused of stealing two cars to be executed. The man tries to at least sell off his kidney to a rich businessman who is in desperate need of one so that his poor family can at least get some money after he dies. What follows next is a deliberately slow paced film which focuses on all three men as they begin to come to terms with the morality that they will now have to deal with. Director Jie Liu’s film may paint in some broad strokes when it deals with its moral issues, but the filmmaker has made a quiet and reflective film filled with some great subtle moments and some incredible shots.
This documentary tells the story of female journalist Lady Grace Drummond-Hay, who was invited to take a trip around the world in a zeppelin. However, she did not expect to be on board with the married man that she had previously had an affair with who would be serving as her supervisor and boss on the flight. What makes this documentary a pretty fascinating watch is that director Ditteke Mensink chose to tell the story by only using archival footage, a musical score, and a voice over narration. By just using these simple elements Mensink makes a pretty epic romantic tale that fills its viewers with wonder. The audience I saw it with seemed to absolutely love it and it’s easy to see why since the film makes it so easy to be swept up by both its beautiful old black and white archival footage and its sweeping tale of romance and adventure. At the Q&A for the film an audience member described the film as being something that felt like a Merchant-Ivory film and I think that really is the best way to describe it.
Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone
Fishbone was a band that came out of the southern California punk scene during the 80s. However, their sound wasn’t really “punk”. It was instead a mix of punk, reggae, funk, ska, and basically everything else. They have been cited as being huge influences on such bands as No Doubt, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Primus. Sadly, though, they never really became as famous as any of those bands despite always almost being at the point of being huge.
Everyday Sunshine tells the story of the band, their roots, their rise to fame, the fights between its members, and their downfall. The thing that I always feel towards documentaries about bands or musicians is that they tend to come off as fan service to me. Almost all of these documentaries tend to tell you through talking head interviews that the band or musician could have and should have been “the biggest band in the world” but that “the music industry wasn’t ready for them” Sadly, Everyday Sunshine falls into this trap too often and too much. I felt that a good 20 minutes of this documentary was spent proclaiming how Fishbone was just “too different” for the music industry during the time. Even if it was true, and it probably is, you kind of start to roll your eyes by the 5th or 6th time that they come back to stress this point.
Having said that, Everyday Sunshine excels when it’s telling the story of the band while cutting to interviews with the members in the present day. The members come off as insightful while being hilarious and charismatic. The documentary is also excellent and a lot of fun when it decides to explore the bands weirder moments such as one members fascination with theremins and one members descent into madness. The film may not be one of the best musical documentaries out there, but it’s a lot of fun and you’re bound to laugh a lot if you’re already a fan of the band and if you’re not then you’ll be finding yourself wanting to be one by the time it’s over.