Tag Archives: AFI Fest 2011

AFI Festival 2011: Day Two (Saturday)

Getting a little hopelessly behind on these (hopelessly because the fest has now been over for several days), but I’m going to go ahead and do them in order as planned anyway. Saturday was the fullest day of movies, with five features all in a row starting just after noon. Had some close connections to make (including running down the street from the Chinese to the Egyptian in about two minutes flat), but I made it to everything, just barely. And what’s a fest without a few close calls, eh?

Snowtown

[Rating:4/5]

Everything I’ve heard from Australian bloggers and other festival-goers indicated that this film was a) really well-done and b) really hard to watch. That’s not far off, although I didn’t find it as difficult to watch as I thought I might. It’s based on the real-life John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer, but it’s far from a standard biopic. It filters its portrait through the character of Jamie, a teenage boy growing up in a single-parent, low income home. We spend a good bit of time with Jamie and his family before John shows up, suddenly Jamie’s mom’s new love interest. John is charismatic and heroic to Jamie and his younger brothers, someone who protects them from the pedophile next door but slowly brainwashes Jamie into his bigoted and violent worldview – but what at first seems to be just extreme vigilante justice against actual bad people soon turns into more and more self-serving kills. Some of these are very hard to watch, and I admit to closing my eyes a few times, but even more disturbing is how John brings Jamie into his group, and how he treats his “friends” at any provocation. It’s an extremely effective approach to Bunting, but probably not something I’d want to watch again.
2011 Australia. Director: Justin Kurzel. Starring: Lucas Pittaway, Bob Adriaens and Louise Harris.

Le cercle rouge

[Rating:5/5]

My one repertory screening of the festival, thanks to Pedro Almodóvar programming a Jean-Pierre Melville film I’ve wanted to see for quite a while. And it was totally worth giving up a new movie to be able to see this one for the first time in a theatre with a full, appreciative audience. It’s a crime story, like most of Melville’s films, an intricately plotted combination of criminals on the run, police on the chase, the mob on the make, and a well-planned jewelry heist. All these elements get their due, with great characters in every part. It’s not quite fair to give a 40-year-old film my “best of fest” vote, but it was unquestionably my favorite. Full review on Row Three.
1970 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Alain Delon, Bourvil and Gian Maria Volonté.

Pina

[Rating:3.5/5]

After thinking that Werner Herzog’s The Cave of Forgotten Dreams was the best use of 3D I’d seen so far, I figured I’d give Herzog’s countryman Wim Wenders a chance to challenge with his dance documentary/tribute to groundbreaking choreographer Pina Bausch, who died while working a film with Wenders. He abandoned the film upon her death, until her dance company convinced him to complete it as a tribute to her. The film itself is lovely, a collection of dance performances, some on stage, others in various urban and rural laces throughout Germany, intercut with brief interview excerpts from members of the company about Pina and her approach to dance. The 3D, though…something may be wrong with me, but I find it impossible to focus on movement in 3D, and dance is a LOT of movement. The still parts look pretty cool in 3D (including, surprisingly, the interview segments, which are done as a shot of the dancer not talking with their quotes given in voiceover – more effective than you might think), but as soon as the dancers move with any speed, it’s just a blur and trying to focus on it gave me a massive headache. I think I would prefer to watch this in 2D. Full review on Row Three.
2011 Germany. Director: Wim Wenders. Starring: Ensemble of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch.

Bonsái

[Rating:3.5/5]

An opening voiceover tells us that all we need to know about this story is that at the end, Emilia is dead, and Julio is not dead. “All the rest is fiction.” I love when stories play with storytelling itself, and that’s what this film does, giving us a multi-layered look at a relationship that may be real, or may be partly real, and certainly is partly fiction. Julio is a wanna-be writer who tries to get a job typing up the latest work of a famous novelist. When he fails to get the job, he tells his girlfriend about it anyway and starts making up the story based on the brief logline the novelist gave him, tying it back to a relationship he had nine years earlier with a girl in college. At some points he seems to be telling their story exactly, but other times it’s clear that filtered through both memory and fiction, it’s vastly different than what actually happened, if indeed, anything actually happened at all. The story owes a lot to Proust, whose opening lines in Remembrance of Things Past get repeated a few times (Julio and Emilia also met over them both pretending to have read Proust) – I won’t repeat them all here, but they have to do with the main character falling asleep reading and in a half-wakeful state imagining himself to have become part of the book he was reading. That’s very much what’s going on here, and I loved it. The love story (or stories, both the remembered one with Emilia and the current one with his girlfriend) is sweet and genuine, and though the film as a whole is pretty slight, it’s very enjoyable and made me want to read Proust myself. So there’s that.
2011 Chile. Director: Cristián Jiménez. Starring: Gabriela Arancibia, Cristóbal Briceño and Julio Carrasco.

Kill List

[Rating:4/5]

Main character Jay has been out of work for eight months, a situation that he seems okay with, but his wife Shel most certainly is not. At first, it’s not clear what he does for work, but as the film wears on and a former colleague approaches him with a potential job, it becomes clear that he’s a hit man. As they take on the job, which consists of a list of people to be killed, the situations get weirder and weirder until the film takes a turn that switches it from slow burn to high-octane in almost a split second. That turn may not work for everybody, but it worked like gangbusters for me. Even the earlier kills have a bit of the old ultraviolence to them, and the twist at the end is horrible, but not necessarily unearned. At least, not in terms of the emotional and adrenal impact. I’m not sure the whole trajectory of the story makes logical sense in any way whatsoever, but by the time Jay and his cohort are being chased around in a set of dark, dank tunnels, it doesn’t really matter anymore. Terror takes over, and I have to say, this is one of the most terrifying films I’ve seen lately, even with a whole month of horror films just behind me in October. I loved it.
2011 UK. Director: Ben Wheatley. Starring: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Harry Simpson.

AFI Festival: Day One (Friday)

A few capsule reviews from the first day at the AFI Film Festival. Saw a couple of great things, a couple of not-great things, managed to eat dinner in the middle of it all, and made it through the midnight movie no worse for wear. So great to be festivalling again. So great.

Extraterrestrial

I’m a big fan of Nacho Vigalondo’s time travel film Timecrimes, so when I saw his new alien invasion film was coming to AFI Fest, it was an immediate must on my schedule. I’m not as big on alien invasion films as I am on time travel films, but that’s okay, because this is far from your typical alien invasion film, focusing on a quartet of characters left behind the evacuation when an alien ship appears. Their biggest fears, though, are the secrets they’re keeping from each other and the theories they hatch about each other. Great script and performances to match from the young cast make this a hugely fun time from start to finish. Full review on Row Three. Reaction: LOVED

This is Not a Film

This is not a film because Iranian director Jafar Panahi has been placed under house arrest and banned from filmmaking for 20 years by the Iranian government, because his films are seen as subversive and politically dangerous. This is not a film also because what he’s doing instead of making a film is having a friend record him telling his next screenplay, and a description of a screenplay is not a film. But this is a very real, very heartbreaking, very frustrating, and surprisingly very funny documentary about a man denied the ability to do what he does. It’s fantastic, and the knowledge that Panahi’s appeal was denied in the middle of October only makes it more poignant. Full review on Row Three.Reaction: LOVED

Faust

I quite liked Alexander Sukorov’s one-shot odyssey through Russian history in Russian Ark, but this film is nothing like that. It does have the framework of the Faust story, but a whole lot of the film is taken up by angsty philosophy (“where does the soul reside”) that might’ve intrigued me a little more if I knew more German and Russian philosophy, and a bunch of random running around as the devil and Faust hang out, crash parties full of women, wander through a city and the woods, etc. There’s some pretty cool imagery here and there, and after Faust actually signs his soul away, the rest of the film is good. But everything up to that (which is a LONG TIME) is really dull. Really. Reaction: MEH

Beyond the Black Rainbow

I had no expectations at all of this, other than a recommendation from one friend who likes weird genre stuff and random Internet reviews that hated it. The trailer’s pretty trippy, so I was expecting that. Turns out there is a sci-fi story of sorts involving a happiness clinic, a girl held there against her will, a creepy psychologist-type guy, a bunch of androids or something, and…other stuff. The best part is the almost fully abstract flashback that sort of (but not really) explains the girl’s background; the parts that try to be story-led are just kind of off putting. Reaction: MEH

Heading to the AFI Film Festival 2011

One of my three big festivals of the year starts today (for me; the opening night premiere was J. Edgar last night, but I didn’t go to that), and there are a boat-load of fantastic films at AFI Fest 2001 Presented by Audi. Thanks to Audi’s sponsorship (among others), tickets are again free for all screenings this year, and if you’re in the LA area, there’s still time to reserve tickets to various screenings at the AFI Fest website. A lot of things are still available, other things aren’t right now, but they always release more tickets the day before the screening online, or at the box office the day of, or you can wait in the rush line and there’s a good chance you’ll make it in. The fest gathers the best of the other festivals throughout the year, with high-profile films from TIFF, Venice, Cannes, Sundance, SXSW and others showing up. Here’s the list of what I’ll likely be seeing (getting some major things I won’t be out of the way first). My main reviews will be going up on Row Three, but I’ll try to get festival impressions and capsules up over here as well.

All the trailer links open in a lightbox, so you won’t have to leave the site to watch them.

Big-Name Films I Won’t Be Seeing

Some of these are gala screenings I’d hoped to see but ended up not being able to get tickets, a few others are ones that fell to the vagaries of scheduling because as much as I wanted to see them, they were against ones I wanted to see more. The good news is most of these are going to be easily available in regular release within a few weeks, so it’s no great loss.

The Artist

Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Béjo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller
Country: USA/France
Synopsis:Silence is golden in director Michel Hazanavicius’ delightful and dialogue-less black-and-white feature about Hollywood’s bumpy transition from silent films to “talkies.”
My take: Let’s see, a B&W silent film made in 2011 set in Hollywood during the late 1920s? HELL YES. This movie was friggin’ MADE for me, and the fact that it’s gotten raves at every festival so far this year doesn’t hurt, either. Most anticipated not just of the festival, but of the year.

Carnage

Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly
Country: France/Germany/Poland/Spain
Synopsis:Razor-sharp and acidly funny, CARNAGE strips away the thin veneer of civilization to find the savage heart beating just below the surface. Adapting Yasmina Reza’s smash comedy play “God of Carnage” to the screen, Roman Polanski assembles a dream cast to portray two sets of New York City parents locked in a showdown after their children clash on a playground.
My take: Polanski plus these four actors piqued my interest already (as well as hearing very positive feedback from the play), but seeing the trailer sealed the deal. This looks HILARIOUS in the best way.

Shame

Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie
Synopsis: A searing examination of sexual compulsion, the film features two extraordinary performances. Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a seemingly normal New Yorker trapped by his erotic compulsions. Carey Mulligan pivots 180 degrees from her sweet and vulnerable performance in AN EDUCATION as Sissy, Brandon’s needy, neurotic sister.
My take: This sounds both incredible and really hard to watch, at least it would be for me. I want to see it eventually, though, for sure, if only to see what is almost sure to be an Oscar-nominated performance from Fassbender.

My Week With Marilyn

Director: Simon Curtis
Starring: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Julia Ormond, Dougray Scott, Dominic Cooper
Country: United Kingdom
Synopsis: Michelle Williams gives a luminous performance as Marilyn Monroe, ably supported by Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench in this intimate portrait of the tragic Hollywood icon.
My take: Advance reviews from people I trust take the film down a few notches for being pretty much your standard biopic, reinforcing the legend more than looking at the actress, but have had nothing but praise for Williams’ performance. As a huge fan of both Williams and Monroe, that’s enough for me.

A Separation

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Leila Hatami, Peyman Moadi, Shahab Hosseini, Sareh Bayat, Sarina Farhadi, Babak Karimi, Merila Zarei
Country: Iran
Synopsis: Winner of the Golden Bear in Berlin, this drama is a complex portrait of an Iranian family torn apart by a divorce and an escalating feud.
My take: This is Iran’s official Oscar entry, and everything I’ve heard about it has been great. As I said above, I’m into Iranian film lately, but I’ve mostly seen the underground variety; I bet this is not one of those, what with the country choosing it to represent them at the Oscars and all.

My Planned Screenings

I likely won’t make it to quite all of these, because some of my schedule for later days is still a bit in flux. But they’re all at least tentatively on there for now. I’m also planning on hitting two or three of the short programs, but I don’t usually research those in advance, just fit them into my schedule as possible. I will recommend Shorts Program 1 if you’re attending the fest because it has The Eagleman Stag in it, which was easily the best short I saw at LAFF – it won the best short subject award at that fest, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t come up for an animated short nomination at the Oscars.

Melancholia

Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, Brady Corbet, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård, Kiefer Sutherland
Country: Denmark/Sweden/France/Italy
Synopsis: Denmark’s most celebrated and notorious filmmaker returns with a drama about depression, severely dysfunctional families, and the end of the world.
My take: I’m generally a fan of von Trier, provocateur that he is, and if anything, this looks like his most accessible, most lyrical film in…ever, really. It’s getting praise even from people who don’t like him, while not losing the support of those that do. I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time.

The Day He Arrives

Director: Hong Sang-soo
Starring: Yu Jun-sang, Kim Sang-joong, Song Sun-mi, Kim Bok-yung
Country: South Korea
Synopsis: In director Hong Sang-soo’s sublime black-and-white vision of Seoul in winter, a filmmaker’s visit to an old friend reverberates with déjà vu-inducing parallels and repetitions.
My take: Hong Sang-soo’s HaHaHa was one of my favorite films of last year’s AFI Fest, so I was excited about this as soon as I heard about it a few months ago and was really hoping AFI would program it.

This is Not a Film

Director: Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
Starring: Jafar Panahi
Country: Iran
Synopsis: Banned by Iran from filmmaking for 20 years and threatened with imprisonment, Jafar Panahi offers a remarkable portrait of an artist at the crossroads.
My take: I’m slowly gaining a thing for Iranian film, especially underground Iranian film (I’ve seen and enjoyed one at every festival I’ve been to so far), and though I haven’t seen any of Jafar Panahi’s films, I’ve certainly heard of some – The Circle and Offside are both well-known in world cinema circles. Filmmaking is risky in Iran, though, requiring permits and government approval – Panahi’s personal account of running afoul of the government is sure to be amazing.

Pina

Director: Wim Wenders
Country: Germany/France
Synopsis: Wim Wenders captures the world of choreographer Pina Bausch and her dance company in spectacular 3D with thrilling performances of many of her most famous works.
My take: I’m not a huge fan of 3D, but my best experience with it was Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams last year, and I think Wenders’ use of it in a dance performance piece could be amazing as well. Even the 2D clips in the trailer are pretty exhilarating.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Country: United Kingdom
Synopsis: Tilda Swinton gives a remarkable performance as Eva, a reluctant mother whose life is shattered beyond repair by her son’s Columbine-like atrocity.
My take: Personally, I don’t gravitate toward school-shooting movies, but everything I’ve heard about this one says that it’s far from your typical take on the genre, instead focusing on the parents in a way that almost turns the film into psychological horror.

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