AFI Fest 2011: Day Four (Monday)

Hoping to plow through the rest of these recaps so I can get to my month recap post relatively on time. Monday was kind of a disappointing day at the festival for me, as I didn’t really care for either of the features. However, there was enough goodness during the shorts program that it saved the day a bit for me. Still, ending the day with a 158-minute Russian film I nearly hated was pretty much of a downer. That’s what you get with festivals, though, gotta take the bad with the good.

Shorts Program 3

I usually try to make it to one shorts program per festival; this time I made it to three of them! And I’m really glad I did – they don’t get as much press, but short films are often the hidden gems at festivals, and it’s too bad there’s not a more visible/mainstream venue for them. This program had eight live-action shorts running around 10-20 minutes each, pretty much all of them extremely high production quality.

Juan and La Borrega – A crime drama short from Mexico, with a heavy strong-arming his way into a uniform wholesalers before they open and terrorizing the meek clerk. Really good acting, but a touch on the melodramatic side. Reaction: LIKED.
All in All – Not totally sure what to make of this one; set at a Christian summer camp, it was getting laughs from the audience purely through the characters talking about their commitment to God and such. I’m not sure what the filmmakers intended; if it was satire (as the audience was largely taking it), it was a little too straight. If sincere, the actors weren’t quite good enough to pull it off. Reaction: DIDN’T LIKE
Clear Blue – A teen starts his first day lifeguarding the early shift at a nearly deserted pool, except for the older woman who seems to have impossible breathing control and dislikes contact with other people. The two of them form a strange friendship, as the woman reveals she’s not quite what she seems. A bit of a slow burn, but gorgeous cinematography and a very sweet story. Reaction: REALLY LIKED.
Blink – This one had some stylistic over-the-topness that wasn’t really necessary, making the beginning a little offputting, but the underlying story is pretty interesting – a guy experiences weird glitches, then discovers that his girlfriend is literally editing their life in a film editing room hidden off their bedroom, cutting out all the bad parts. But who is she to decide what the bad parts are, or that they should be removed? Interesting ideas, and only a little over-indulgent. Reaction: LIKED.
Pale Flowers in Time – The most overtly experimental of the pieces, a sort of horror riff on the idea that red-eye in photographs is actually a demon in the person. Some of it is downright terrifying, both in the way music and editing juxtaposes things together, and notably in a scene with Chloe Sevigny and a little boy trying to make faces to scare each other, helped out with a little excellent makeup and CGI work. Reaction: LOVED.
Ex-Sex – Very Silver Lake hipster-esque film, all pastel-colors and indie pop music as a former couple gets back together for a one-night stand. Some sweet moments, and really good chemistry between the actors, but not really enough back story to their relationship to make it fully worthwhile. Still, some decent promise here, and I’ll check out the feature the director’s working on (okay, partially because the feature will star Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie). Reaction: LIKED.
Another Bullet Dodged – Another hipster-esque film, but not nearly as sweet. This time, a man picks up a girl who may or may not be his girlfriend, and eventually you find out they’re headed to an abortion clinic. Not a storyline I’m a fan of anyway, but the guy’s such a dick (intentionally, I think – we’re not supposed to like him) that I found it pretty hard to sit through. Reaction: DIDN’T LIKE
The Voyagers – Back to more experimental with this one, as a narrator talks about the Voyager missions, including a capsule of earth things sent into the far reaches of space, and then connects those musings to love, and how risking everything on love is kind of like sending a Voyager capsule into space on the possibility that someone, somewhere, someday will find it. It’s a heady piece, made up of found footage and animation, but it all came together with the narration much better than my description would indicate. Reaction: REALLY LIKED.

Coriolanus

This adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays boasts a strong cast including Ralph Fiennes (who also makes his directing debut), Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, and James Nesbit. But there’s a reason that Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays. It’s frankly not that interesting, even transposing its story of a military hero double-crossed and banished into a modern setting. The acting veers from classical overblown Shakespearean antics to more minimalist approaches, giving the film a very uneven feel – only Redgrave and Cox seem to know how to navigate switching between these two as the material calls for it. Chastain is really underused. There are some great moments, particularly Redgrave’s tour-de-force scenes as Coriolanus’ mother, but the whole thing is unwieldy and uneven. Reaction: MEH. Full review on Row Three.
2011 UK. Director: Ralph Fiennes. Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain.

Target

I so wanted this to be good – a Russian sci-fi film about a group of people who seek out this target-shaped area in Thailand with a well at the center of it that supposedly grants eternal youth. Seems like a good deal, but all is bound to go wrong. That much I figured, but it goes wrong in really offputting, cruel, and pointless ways. By the end of its two and a half hour runtime, I didn’t care about any of the characters and just wanted it to end. There are some great visuals spread throughout, and it’s shot and acted quite well, but it’s just…punishing to watch. Reaction: DISLIKED.
2011 Russia. Director: Alexander Zeldovich. Starring: Vitaly Kishchenko, Danila Kozlovskiy, Nina Loshchinina.