LAFF Review: Celeste and Jesse Forever

They say that breaking up is hard to do, and that certainly seems to be the case for Celeste and Jesse (Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg), who are getting divorced despite the fact that they still hang out together all the time, still love each other, and still have a great time goofing off together. Their friends don’t understand it, and indeed, it’s tough at first to see why these two would be even considering breaking it off – but it soon comes down to the fact that Celeste is moving onward and upward in her career, and she really wants someone more upwardly mobile than unemployed artist Jesse at her side, preferring to relegate Jesse to “best friend” status instead.

It may be unromantic of me to say it, but I understand where she’s coming from – thinking of a potential life partner as one navigates the dating pool involves not just mutual attraction, but serious consideration of whether this person would make a good parent, or a good co-provider. It’s a testament to Jones’ and McCormack’s script that these issues, which are almost never seriously discussed in romantic comedies (especially in a post-marriage situation) are explored here without making either Celeste or Jesse the villain, or even unlikable. In fact, just the opposite. In fact, the chemistry between Jones and Samberg is almost TOO good. Celeste at one point mentions that they’re better friends now that they’re separated and not fighting all the time, but we never see any of those fights, so it’s a little hard to believe that she’s not exaggerating their apparent friction.

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LAFF Review: It’s a Disaster

Generally, the term “disaster film” conjures up images of big-budget destruction, monuments falling into oceans, traffic jams trying to escape burning and exploding cities – your basic Roland Emmerich scenario. Of course, indie films like It’s a Disaster can’t really afford the kind of effects that characterize vapid blockbusters, but it makes up for it with something much better: a witty rapid-fire script and an ensemble of well-drawn (if recognizable) characters. It’s a disaster film in semantics only, really, as the disaster takes place off-screen, leaving us to watch the characters’ reactions to the knowledge of the disaster rather than the disaster itself. Frankly, it’s a good choice.

It’s Couples Brunch at Pete and Emma’s, a tradition that everyone comes to without really enjoying. Tracy (Julia Stiles) brings her new beau Glenn (David Cross) to meet the rest of the crew, who we get introduced to with along with him. Pete and Emma (Blaise Miller and Erinn Hayes) seem to have the perfect life and marriage, including the lovely little home they own, Buck and Lexi (Kevin Brennan and Rachel Boston) are unconventional and kind of manic but wildly happy with each other, and Hedy and Shane (America Ferrera and Jeff Grace) are a long-time couple who haven’t quite gotten around to getting married yet, a sore subject in some ways. For her part, Tracy is known for a long string of guys she’s dated, all of which have turned out to be crazy, and she’s hoping the seemingly grounded Glenn will be different. Behind the typical small talk and gossip, though, an undercurrent of suppressed relationship drama broils beneath the surface.

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LAFF Review: The History of Future Folk

Brooklyn-based folk singer Bill plies his trade in seedy bars, performing in a red jumpsuit and helmet and explaining that he is a visitor from the planet Hondo. The backstory is his daughter’s favorite bedtime story as well, and he faithfully recounts to her the journey of General Trius and his search for a new homeworld for the Hondonians, as a comet slowly but surely makes its way toward a collision course with Hondo. Upon reaching Earth, the story goes, General Trius planned to release a virus that would clear out humanity in preparation for Hondonian take-over. Instead, he heard music for the first time and decided not only to spare Earth, but to live among them and become a musician.

With such an unlikely premise begins one of the most charming and heartwarming films I’ve seen in quite a while – exactly the kind of experience you always hope for when you go into a relatively unknown quantity like the films the LA Film Fest shows in their “Beyond” sidebar. Future Folk is a real band, a duo that’s been performing in New York City for years using this backstory (even more elaborate in real life than in the movie), and the film takes their imaginative approach to music performance and makes it real. Nils d’Audlaire is not an actor, but plays Bill/Trius with a sweet naturalism, while bandmate Jay Klaitz (who has Broadway, film, TV, and video game credits) carries the more overtly comedic side of the film as the Almighty Kevin, come from Hondo to try to get the mission back on track.

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Top Seven LA Film Fest Picks

The LA Film Festival is kind of sneaking up on me this year, and it starts this Thursday! I’ll probably be taking it a little easier than I have in the past, leaving a bit more time for review-writing and sleeping, but here are seven films I’d definitely like to catch. I’ve left off most of the Gala-type presentations largely because those films are coming out in a few weeks anyway. Visit the LA Film Fest for the full film guide, schedule, and to buy passes or tickets to any individual screening.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

This film was the toast of Sundance and made a big splash at Cannes as well (here’s David’s 4.5 star review). It wouldn’t otherwise have caught my eye, but it’s getting such rave reviews that the film itself is starting to take on the mythic qualities its story promises. The buzz is so hot, in fact, that it’s playing LA Film Fest as a Gala Presentation, alongside Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love, Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, and Pixar’s Brave – all of which I’ll hope to see before too long in regular release. Here’s the synopsis from the media kit:

In a forgotten but defiant bayou community cut off from the rest of the world by a sprawling levee, six year-old Hushpuppy exists on the brink of orphanhood. Her mother long gone, and her beloved father Wink a wildman on a perpetual spree, Hushpuppy is left to her own devices on an isolated compound filled with semi-feral animals. She perceives the natural world to be a fragile web of living, breathing, squirting things, in which the entire universe depends on everything fitting together just right. So when a hundred year storm raises the waters around her town, her daddy is suddenly stricken with illness, and fierce pre-historic creatures awaken from their frozen graves to come charging across the planet, Hushpuppy sees the natural order of everything she holds dear collapsing around her. Desperate to repair the structure of her world in order to save her ailing father and sinking home, this tiny hero must learn to survive an unstoppable catastrophe of epic proportions.

USA. Director: Benh Zeitlin. Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry.

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