June 25, 2010


Wednesday and Thursday had the Los Angeles Film Festival be the host to a number of events including a conversation with Sylvester Stallone, and a poolside chat about twitter featuring Richard Kelly and Eli Roth. It was also the host for the premiere of the latest Twilight film which ended up making the festival an extremely busy and jam packed place to be.

After the jump you can read my thoughts on the documentaries Life With Murder and Make Believe, the latest film from French filmmaker Claire Denis White Material, and the documentary Seperado! about Super Furry Animal’s lead singer, Gruff Rhys, trying to find out more about his ancestors.  My write up after the jump:

Life With Murder

life with murder movie imageLife With Murder is a documentary by filmmaker John Kastner which tells the story of

Jennifer Jenkins, who was brutally murdered in her home in 1998, and the following police investigation which lead to her brother being found guilty of the crime despite  him telling the police and his parents  that he was innocent.

What Kastner has made is a brutal film about the meaning of family and how a family like the Jenkins struggles to remain one through out the whole ordeal.  He has also made a film that like Capturing The Friedmans before it, starts off as one kind of documentary which then slowly begins to transform and change as things are revealed and mysteries are solved.  It’s an absolutely fascinating and often times heartbreaking film to watch.  I also think that the film has the potential to be talked about a lot come awards time if it gets a solid distribution deal and more people are able to watch it.  It really is an outstanding documentary that deserves a lot of attention.

White Material

white material movie imageWhite Material is the latest film from celebrated French auteur Claire Denis (Beau Travial, 35 Shots of Rum) which tells the story of a coffee plantation owner (Isabelle Huppert) in an unnamed part of Africa who must deal with a political and social uprising which seems intent on driving her and her family out of the country.

White Material is a tough film to write about.  Denis has made a film that is just ambiguous enough to keep you at a frustrating distance but also straight forward enough to have a couple of excellent scenes.  Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher) once again proves that she is one of the most reliable and consistent actresses working today and the film is worth watching just for her and the gorgeous naturalistic cinematography alone.  However, it’s definitely not for everyone and the audience I saw it with didn’t seem to like it at all.

Make Believe

Make Believe movie imageMake Believe is a documentary which follows the route made famous by Spellbound in which we follow a group of teens from different backgrounds and families as they all train for some kind of competition which serves as the films climax.  In Make Believe we follow a group of teenage magicians as they all begin to train so that they can compete for the title of Teen World Champion at the World Magic Seminar which is held in Las Vegas every year.

Director J. Clay Tweel’s documentary is so breezy, fun, and optimistic that it is really hard to say anything bad about it.  It could have been really easy to make the subjects of the documentary come off as people we would laugh at, but Tweel seems to really love and respect these group of teenagers and the art of magic and it’s because of this that we begin to root for all of them when the time comes for them to compete with one another.  The Spellbound documentary formula may be getting old and tiresome, but it works in Make Believe.


separado movie imageStarring and co-directed by Super Furry Animals lead singer, Gruff Rhys, Seperado! is a mix between a documentary, a road trip film , and a concert film which follows Rhys as he tries to track down a Welsh singer named Rene Griffiths who turns out to be a distant relative of his.  While on this journey Rhys also begins to learn more about his family history and also about the history of the various places he visits in South America.

Beginning with a flashback set in the 19th century and followed by Rhys teleporting while wearing a Power Rangers helmet, Seperado! begins with a bang and with a lot of promise as it seems that we are going to watch a weird and trippy rock and roll film.  Instead, the film calms down after its first couple of minutes and what we get instead is a documentary that plays it straight for the most part with a couple of odd little bits thrown in every now and then which come off as seeming completely out of place when they do pop up.

The problem with the film is that it’s just too many ideas in one film.  It feels like Rhys and co-director Dylan Goch weren’t really sure what they were making and the film suffers because of it.  The tone is everywhere and the films narrative of Rhys tracking down this singer is robbed of any emotional power because of it.  The only parts where the film does succeed is when Rhys decides to put on some impromptu concerts with the various musicians he meets and even then there isn’t enough too much of it in the film.

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