Category: independent

Apartment Troubles, originally released in 2014 as “Trouble Dolls” is an independent film written, directed by and starring Jess Weixler and Jennifer Prediger as Nicole and Olivia respectively. They begin as penniless and financially hopeless subletters in a New York City apartment where their inadvertent landlord – Jeffrey Tambor endeavors to push them out. Turns out the character Nicole, played by Weixler, is the daughter of a very rich (and conservative) billionaire. Such is her family’s wealth that she is able to whisk herself and her roommate away to Los Angeles for a weekend in one of the family’s various private jets. The duo have a clear and present chemistry that comes off like a young Winona Ryder and Brittany Murphy (both with whom I personally worked at some point) from another dimension but feels altogether fresh and, disarmingly, of the present.

Standing on the runway in California, they have not even two pennies to hail a cab, whereupon they encounter a Yuppie with a car who offers them a lift to Nicole’s aunt’s house. This character, played by SNL’s Will Forte eventually has some sort of psychotic episode and the movie never fully returns from this tone. Episode after episode of strange behavior from all characters, deus ex machinas, and non-sequitors lead to a rocky narrative strand but ultimately something that is refreshingly original.

apartment troubles

At times the editing feels far too conspicuous and even like a saving throw, and the cinematography, while often complimentary to the leads, involved more handheld than necessary for the piece. The cumulative effect was to reveal that this wasn’t, as I had initially suspected, some Jennifer Aniston-style RomCom, let alone a Will Forte vehicle. In fact, all the of the marquee names – from Forte to Lance Bass and even Tambor, are more walk on supporting roles, even cameos and over-billed for obvious box office reasons. A particular standout is Will and Grace‘s Megan Mullally as the drunken desperate housewife who takes the ladies in upon their arrival to Los Angeles. Looking for all the world like Tina Fey from the same alternate dimension I registered above, Mullaly is charismatic and in step with the tone of the film. Forte, on the other hand, while clearly a strong actor, feels like he may have been making a different movie, perhaps one starring his alumnus Will Ferrell. This is not such a film.

The two leads – Weixler and Prediger that is – hold on strong and deliver nuanced and at times truly multi-layered performances, both dramatically and intellectually – something more likely due to the fact that they are so cognizant of the material they have written and directed. I even had a few glimpses of something altogether ancient, the rough-shod and earnest acting found in the films 70’s filmmakers like John Cassavettes or Sydney Lumet catching me offguard. Prediger, who spends much of the film mourning the death of a “friend” plays the beautifully restrained, but textured straight man to Weixler’s more over the top tortured artist. Weixler, who may be most famous for her role in the nearly avant-garde dark comedy “Teeth,” is destined to become a far bigger Hollywood star than she is presently, and an indie platform like this is what is going to finally catapult her. This may or may not be the one that does it, but it’s only a matter of time.

In the end, Apartment Troubles is an engaging, twisting, and even alluring festival film wrapped in marketing better suited for a Gary Marshall holiday picture. I recommend it to the indie crowd but would caution suburban parents looking for a fun night out that this may not be what they expect. I myself, was happily surprised to discover a film for an under-addressed generation, that is to say, the one presently walking the streets.

The film premiered at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival and is produced by StarStream Entertainment. Gravitas Ventures will release APARTMENT TROUBLES in select markets and on VOD and across all other digital platforms on March 27, 2015.

Last Train Home (2009)
“Documentarian Lixin Fan follows a couple who, like 130 million other Chinese peasants, left their rural village for work in the city, leaving their children to be raised by grandparents. The husband and wife return only once each year, on an arduous 1,000-mile journey. But their homecoming is not a warm one, as their now teenage daughter, Qin, makes her bitter resentment known and debates pursuing a factory job herself.”

From Zeitgeist films, two things struck me about this epic film – the incredibly personal footage that the filmmaker captured amidst the pandemonium and sheer size of this movement, and the insight it affords into one of the most powerful but least understood countries in the world. In spite of its scope, it focuses on the individuals and tells a powerfully intimate human story.

Last Train Home – official US trailer:

Sweetgrass (2009)
“As much a work of cultural anthropology as it is a documentary, this unique film traces the path of a family of Montana sheepherders as they drive their flock down from the treacherous and beautiful Absaroka Beartooth mountain range. With no guiding narration, filmmakers Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor let the natural images speak for themselves, capturing the danger, pathos and humor in this haunting elegy to a bygone way of life.”

If there is a thing that links the five films I have selected together, it is the ability of the filmmakers to render from seemingly abstract subjects, legitimately engaging stories focused on the people inside of their contexts. On the surface, Sweetgrass may appear a remote subject to city dwellers, and yet it works as an analogy that in spite of the incredible feats of which we are capable, the greatest obstacle is often within our own minds. An awe-inspiring document of a reality leaving the modern world perhaps forever.

The trailer for Sweetgrass:

The Cool School (2007)
“In the late 1950s, when Pollock and de Kooning were being hailed as revolutionary artists in New York, Los Angeles was still dealing with a blacklist that gutted creativity in all media. This is the story of the two men who changed all that. Recording a pledge on a hot dog wrapper to open a cutting-edge gallery, Walter Hopps and Ed Kienholz took the West Coast art world by storm, embracing artists from Marcel Duchamp to Andy Warhol.”

Los Angeles is a city like no other. It is a lens and a megaphone, a magnet to the luminaries of so many small villages scattered around the world that transforms and ignites their minds. And yet it is often looked upon as a vapid cultural cesspool. In The Cool School we explore the transformation of a dustbowl into a hotbed of cultural significance that would be exported and impact perceptions of popular culture irrevocably.

The Cool School trailer:

Superheroes (2011)
“Filmmaker Michael Barnett takes on the ultimate odd job in this eye-opening documentary about real-life “superheroes,” ordinary people who don capes, masks and alter egos in their spare time to right wrongs and make criminals pay for their actions. Among other characters, you’ll meet a tight-knit Brooklyn foursome that tackles tough cases as a squad dubbed the New York Initiative and a San Diego security officer who calls himself Mr. Xtreme.”

We collectively pay a lot of money into the blockbusters centered around the fantastical comic book heroes that raised us. Some take these examples of benevolence, courage, public service and yes, pageantry to heart, and in a quest to emulate them, find ways to substantiate their obsession by attempting to make them real. Beyond the rubber-necking curiosity that these real-life characters may elicit, comes a poignant message about being proactive and taking the risk to make a change in the world as opposed to a passive onlooker, judging their often dangerous lifestyle from the sidelines. A parable about taking responsibility and not simply being an innocuous voice of dissent.

Here is the trailer:

“A nonverbal film described by the makers as a “guided meditation”. The film uses very high quality images, scenes of nature and mankind to stimulate the viewer. The film contains no plot or actors, although there are several performers in the film. Samsara is Ron Fricke’s 2011 follow-up to Baraka.”

In the picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words spirit of Baraka or Koyaanisqatsi, “Samsara” affords us yet another lovingly executed, desperate look at our beautiful planet. At present, Samara, which had its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival is awaiting distribution. You can help coordinate a screening at the official site.

samsara monks