AFI FEST: Final Day (Wedesday)

I woke up on the last day of the AFI Fest a little sad. Sure, it wasn’t technically the last day, but for me it was. Didn’t really have plans to go to Black Swan, nor did I have any way of getting into the awards at the end. At least, I didn’t quite look up anything about how to be a part of that. Sometimes willful ignorance is bliss.

Anyway, I got to the event early per usual and waited in line for some Werner Hertzog 3D action. Since I had tickets for the rest of the films that night, I would never see the Rush Line again. Funny that they saved these films for last.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Directed By: Werner Herzog
Starring: Werner Herzog and Charles Fathy
Rating: ★★★★☆

In generally, I’m not impressed by the whole 3D movement. It’s one of those gimmicks that got popular awhile back, disappeared and has now returned with a vengeance. Seems like every film these days boasts a 3D version, with a nice and hefty ticket price to go along with it. Cave of Forgotten Dreams was the first time I felt that 3D had been used properly, or that the medium had been utilized to meet an end. The cave drawings almost came to life. Each slow pan along the cave wall brought the images to life in a new way and I felt challenged by what I saw.

The handheld shaky-cam stuff, however, was disgusting and made my eyes bleed. Still shots in 3D already give me a headache, but shaking the camera like this was Cloverfield 2? Yeah…DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!

Mr. Herzog was there to talk about the film and offered that 3D will do well in the porn industry. He also referred to Avatar as “new age bullshit.”

Film Socialisme
Directed By: Jean-Luc Godard
Starring: Catherine Tanvier, Christian Sinniger and Jean-Marc Stehlé
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Film Socialisme marks my second outing with Jean-Luc Godard. The first thing I saw of his, Band Of Outsiders, was an absolute treat and offered some great narrative devices that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. This film was also unforgettable, but for different reasons. The copy we saw lacked any subtitles, so I was pretty much left in the dark as to what people were saying at any given moment. However, based on what I heard from people who knew the language, I didn’t miss much.

Given it’s seeming lack of coherency, there’s still a definite structure at play here and the oscillating use of digital film quality was an interesting way to go about visually describing an ocean liner.

And then there were a bunch of images, a gas station and a Llama set to somber monks chanting.



(And that wraps up perhaps the most exciting week or so I’ve had in awhile. It’s not every day I get to go to festivals or conventions, so I take advantage of these whenever I can. Hope to hit up C2E2 next year, provided awesome things happen there. HINT HINT!!)

AFI FEST: Day 5 (Tuesday)

Once again I found myself in the Rush Line and once again I was super early. Thankfully, there were a few other people in line with me so I didn’t feel all too weird. The guy next to me turned to me and started conversing and at first I thought, “oh crap, not another weirdo.” He quickly revealed that he was a sane and level-headed person and was into film, things which tend to put me at ease and make me more willing to converse. I told him about all the films I saw and he whistled in a way that said, “you are a badass, sir.” He also said that aloud.

Myth of the American Sleepover
Directed By: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Nikita Ramsey, Jade Ramsey and Brett Jacobsen
Rating: ★★★★☆

[Hipster Bullshit] It’s jarring to hear music that you like in a film about an age group you have a difficult time relating with. Don’t these kids still listen to Miley Cyrus or spend their days thinking about the hot young bands to emanate from Disney/Nickelodeon like a vile stench? They seem way too young to have meaningful experiences set to Beirut or Magnetic Fields! Ugh, it seems like anyone can just say HEY I LISTEN TO THIS BAND THEREFORE I’M COOL BLAH BLAH. Well, I liked those bands WAY before they were in diapers! [/Hipster Bullshit]


What just happened? I think I was overcome by some weirdness. Anyway, I much enjoyed Myth of the American Sleepover. Coming-of-age films tend toward hit or miss for me, but this one offered the right amount of nostalgia without getting too ridiculous or sentimental. I found myself “d’aww”ing more than once during this film and thinking back to simpler times when I was much more innocent. Perhaps the strongest story in this bunch, and the one I could relate to the most, was the arc for the older brother (seen in the pic above). I am quite familiar with his regretful nostalgia and it was played subtly, which worked well for me.

Man, I wish my time in high school had been like this. :)

Some Days Are Better Than Others
Directed By: Matt McCormick
Starring: Carrie Brownstein, James Mercer and Renee Roman Nose
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I much preferred Myth to this film, but I appreciate that this film exists. James Mercer and Carrie Brownstein do well here, and the look into these characters’ lives was interesting to watch. I wonder if perhaps this film could have gone without tying everyone’s stories together in the end and let the theme do all the heavy-lifting. That could be why I felt a little underwhelmed with the ending and didn’t quite get the theme of “discarded things” from what I saw.

I want a Shins version of Total Eclipse of the Heart, by the way. Mercer, if you could get on that, you’d make a super-fan super-happy!


AFI FEST: Day 4 (Monday)

I arrived at the theater early, even though I had tickets for Littlerock. Not sure what I hoped to accomplish by waiting around for two hours, especially since I’d have to wait in the Rush Line anyway for Outrage later. I asked the friendly Box Office Lady if she had any extra tickets for the Yakuza film and she said no in a way that suggested I should know better, given how many days I’ve attended so far. I ended up wandering around the area for the remainder of my time, eventually grabbing a black tea at Starbucks. Not entirely certain that black teas are for me anymore.

I took a lot of pictures of my shoes for some unknown reason. You may have noticed. Oh! Looks like someone got in line!

Directed By: Mike Ott
Starring: Atsuko Okatsuka, Cory Zacharia and Rintaro Sawamoto
Rating: ★★★★☆

I’m not sure I could ever spend a day in a foreign country without some kind of person around to help translate. Sure, I could probably draw “where is the bathroom” or “can I have another beer,” but I would feel way too out of place and kind of go into panic mode. For Atsuko, it didn’t really matter. This is where Littlerock really drew me in. I have an affinity for fish out of water tales and this one came with an extra helping of heart, as cheesy as that sounds. We got a glimpse into these people’s lives in this rather strange town and were able to identify with the main characters. I kind of want to see this again as soon as I can.

Directed By: Takeshi Kitano
Starring: Beat Takeshi, Ryo Kase and Eihi Shiina
Rating: ★★★★☆

Like 13 Assassins, Outrage is the type of film that I’d like even if it weren’t good. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Outrage was a little hard to follow, but each character got a chance to develop a little before he was offed in some gruesome manner. Like with 13 Assassins, this film is about the resolution of an era. The old Yakuza get wiped out and replaced with a much younger set with “new” values. It’s quite a fascinating watch and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. Well, except for the various parts involving finger-chopping. Beat Takeshi was marvelous in this film and a delight to watch. I hadn’t really seen him in much since Battle Royale, so it was nice to be graced by his presence once more. Seriously, that guy could make Dr. Seuss sound threatening.

See this.

(Stay tuned for Day 5 in which I prove how much of a hipster I can be – I’m not, really…)

AFI FEST: Day 3 (Sunday)

Confession time! I had never had crepes until today (Sunday). Yep, it’s true. To those of you who just gasped, I know. How could someone such as myself not have had crepes before? Well, I did and they were marvelous. Probably ate too much in the way of crepes, but that’s to be expected with something so wonderful. It’s with this sustenance that I was able to endure the harsh conditions of waiting in the evil Rush Line.

See, I’m not huge on awkward small talk. If I don’t really have anything to say, I’m not going to say it. I’m also probably not going to initiate small talk either. When I get into a line by myself, I zone out and go into my own little world. It’s a safe place where the outside world becomes a blur and I can reflect. Sometimes, I’ll pull out my phone and just get back to that wonderful internet. Well, this doesn’t seem to mesh well with a lot of the more friendly people in line who I had the fortunes of conversing with. Almost every situation involved the person standing or sitting next to me and making random observations in the hopes that I would acknowledge them and respond. Since none of them had the decency to talk above a mumble, I could only nod casually and go back to my phone.

I’m kind of a prick like that. I should clarify that if I’m with friends in line I’m quite chatty. That make things better? No. Okay. Jerks.

Did have one experience while in line for Heartbeats that was particularly interesting and didn’t involve me talking to anyone. It involved someone trying to give away his tickets to some screening I wasn’t going to. He waved them around and played the scalper game, laughing and saying he’d give these away for a measly fifteen dollars. This was the type of guy who wore faded baseball caps and button-up shirts a little too large for his frame. His jeans had painter’s splotches on them and were faded to light blue. Being a fan of darker colored jeans, I was quietly disgusted.

Someone in the line in front of mine got quite irate with this “fake scalper” and attempted to tell him off before leaving in a huff. In response, this guy went on a twenty minute rant against the person in line, claiming the guy was a real asshole and that he didn’t understand that it was all a joke. The rant bounced between accusatory and defensive in a potpourri of sentences that amused and irritated me. At one point I may or may not have used the twitters to express that the “joking” wasn’t all that funny to begin with and that perhaps the “joke” was infuriatingly unfunny to the person in line.

The guy next to me mumbled something about killing his mother, which I didn’t realize until later was him stating the title of Xavier Dolan’s previous film. Someone else in line awkwardly walked away.

Onto the day’s films!

Shorts Program 1

Successful Alcoholics
Directed By: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring: Nick Thune and Lizzy Caplan
Rating: ★★★★☆

A very strong short film starring Lizzy Caplan. I thought it was rather funny and had a solid turn at the end. It was distracting hearing music from Little Miss Sunshine, however, during some of the more cutesy moments. Still, I liked it. You can see the trailer HERE or by clicking on the title.

I Love Luci
Directed By: Colin Kennedy
Starring: Camilla Rutherford, Colin Harris, Wilson the Dog
Rating: ★★★☆☆

A voyeurish look into the lives of two recovering drug addicts and a case of missing teeth. Cute until the end. :)

On Leave
Directed By: Asaf Saban
Starring: Daniel Bruk, Dalik Volinitz, Irit Gidron, Dana Keila
Rating: ★★★☆☆

A rather dark piece about a soldier on leave. It didn’t really fit with anything else in this set, but it was still a solid film. Just not my cup of tea.

Time Freak
Directed By: Andrew Bowler
Starring: Michael Nathanson, John Conor Brooke
Rating: ★★★★☆

A fun little short about time travel with two likable leads and a funny concept.

Photograph of Jesus
Directed By: Laurie Hill
Starring: Voiceover by Matthew Butson, Neil Armstrong voice by: David L. Hayles
Rating: ★★★★★

The only animated short film in this section. I thought it was the best short film of the bunch. You can find the short film HERE or by clicking on the title of the film.

The Savage Canvas
Directed By: Tim Hope
Starring: Julian Barratt, Bethmi Tikiribandra, Monsterrat Lombard, David Ashton
Rating: ★★★★☆

A very cute short film that pits a young writer versus a stubborn director. I thought it was rather cute and that the characters were really well-developed.

Heartbeats (Les Amours Imaginaires)
Directed By: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Monia Chokri, Niels Schneider and Xavier Dolan
Rating: ★★★★☆

Style and substance. The two met and you get this film. I don’t like to gush too much, but this film definitely deserves it. The story is simple, and gets fleshed out by excellent music taste and great camera work. Now I just need to go and see this fellow’s previous work so I can get a better look into his stylings and sensibilities. (Postscript: I would say this is the winner for the day and among my favorite for the entire festival) Did I mention that the music was really good? Yeah, that.

13 Assassins
Directed By: Takashi Miike
Starring: Kôji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada and Yûsuke Iseya
Rating: ★★★★☆

I left the previous screening, well aware that I didn’t have a whole lot of time to reach the Rush Line for 13 Assassins. Sure enough, when I got there, the line extended rather far back and people were grumbling that “they might not make it.” Considering I had gotten in to the other things I rushed, I wasn’t 100% worried, but I was still kind of nervous. Thankfully, I got in and was able to sit where I wanted. The film started and what ensued was pretty much what I expected, except for the flaming bulls perhaps.

13 Assassins is a rather typical Samurai film, which takes it’s time getting us involved with the characters as they prepare to seek vengeance on a Shogun leader. Without this buildup, the ending could have been gratuitous and boring (not one to enjoy violence for violence’s sake). If you go to see this, there’s a specific scene that wowed me. You’ll know when you see it because it features a bunch of swords and one really swell swordplay.

Norwegian Ninja
Directed By: Thomas Cappelen Malling
Starring: Mads Ousdal, Jon Øigarden and Trond-Viggo Torgersen
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I’ve grown to be more open-minded about films, something my younger self would be very surprised by. That said, this film is strange. The premise is simple, sort of. Imagine if Ninjas from Norway filmed a propaganda film about their way of life. Since Ninjas from Norway tend to do ninja’y things primarily, their filmmaking draws heavily from films they watch. So, what we end up with is a incoherent piece of fun that will no doubt share shelf space with Black Dynamite.

That’s about the best I can do as far as a review goes.

(Stay tuned for Day 4 where I have trouble understanding the words that are coming out of this young girl’s mouth and where I experience OUTRAGE over a Yakuza film)

AFI FEST: Day 2 (Saturday)

Getting to the Box Office was much easier on the second day. It helped to know where it was and that I could actually go in when I got there. As with the day before, I attempted to get the next day’s tickets but failed due to excessive site fail. Pity. Might have to wait in the Rush Line for Heartbeats and 13 Assassins.

After a much needed lunch, I got in line for the first film of the day to start. A few thoughts crossed my mind as I stood there, such as what to expect from a full day’s worth of films and if I’d be able to handle the marathoning.

Directed By: Sang-Soo Hong
Starring: So-ri Moon, Sang-kyung Kim and Ju-bong Gi
Rating: ★★★★☆

I can count the number of Korean films I’ve seen on one hand, and each one has been quite awesome. Of course, both films featured violence, mayhem and some moments of WTF. I went into Hahaha with an open mind, especially considering this was a straight relationship drama and not a super violent romp in the wild west or a WTF-inducing revenge flick. This film didn’t disappoint. The first thing that stood out to me was the structure of the film. Everything is told in flashback, with the present depicted in still photography. Each character gets a turn to tell their point of view and we’re never on one person’s story for too long.

The character work is strong too, and each actor gives a great performance. They manage to keep the film from feeling too melodramatic, and they each have their own little quirks that really paint the world they’re in.

I’d love to see this again when I get the chance, especially considering I had to duck out before the ending to get in line for another film. If you get a chance to see it, I suggest you do. Good stuff.

Directed By: Alex Stockman
Starring: Sien Eggers, Vincent Lecuyer and Matthias Schoenaerts
Rating: ★★★☆☆

This film is conflicting for me. The acting was superb and the ominous mood was masterfully handled. But since it was a slow burn with a rather ambiguous ending, I had a tough time getting into it. Not to mention I was quite tired from the other day’s screening, which combined with the slow burn equals the rating you see here. Would like to see this again at some point to see if my thoughts on this film change. Maybe a clearer head will appreciate the meandering near the end of the film.

Directed By: Taika Waititi
Starring: Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, Ei Kura Albert and Taika Waititi
Rating: ★★★★☆

Out of all the trailers I saw before coming out to the fest, this one stood out the most. The film seemed like it would be a fun coming-of-age tale with quirky characters and some interesting locations. I remember even saying to myself that “this is going to be fun.” How right I was. The film started with the main character, Boy, stepping into frame and reciting his school report on both his dad and his love of Michael Jackson. Just this sequence alone was enough to hook me in.

The rest of the film kept in step with the opening and was a fun ride overall. I really enjoyed the performances and never felt them to be unbelievable. The father, played by director Taika Waititi, was a pure delight. It’s a role that would oftentimes be played very one-dimensional and here Waititi managed it well. Even in the some of the more ridiculous moments there was a tragedy to the character. I liked that.

The Weather Station
Directed By: Johnny O’Reilly
Starring: Pyotr Logachev, Vladimir Gusev and Sergey Garmash
Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Weather Station was a solid thriller with an interesting structure and good performances overall. There wasn’t really anything new brought to the table with this film, especially since we’ve seen thrillers like this before. But it was entertaining and I had fun seeing how the story resolved itself. The way the main character grew in the film from being a young brat to a strong protagonist was interesting and quite enjoy that he was rather unlikable at the start. A few things could have been handled better in the structure, but for what it was I had fun.

Julia’s Eyes
Directed By: Guillem Morales
Starring: Belén Rueda, Lluís Homar and Pablo Derqui
Rating: ★★★★★

Guillermo Del Toro came out before the screening to introduce the film. He mentioned that it had influences from Mario Bava (The Girl Who Knew Too Much) and various Dario Argento films (Deep Red, Opera, etc.). Not knowing that beforehand, I suddenly became super-stoked for this film. What followed was a really strong and creepy thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end. I don’t think I’ve been that stressed while watching a movie in awhile. Every moment the main character found herself alone and in the dark, I was in agony. Just goes to show that you don’t have to see ANYTHING to still feel scared.

Props to the cinematography, which is a homage to the aforementioned Argento films. Pretty much every cinematic trick that I loved from those films is in play here and there’s a particular scene in the end that’s tough to forget. There’s no question. You need to see this film!

(Stay tuned for Day 3, which has me delighted by crepes and short films and worried that I might not get into a movie about Shogun assassins!)

AFI FEST: Day 1 (Friday)

I arrived at the Will Call line excessively early, which is to say that I arrived almost two hours before the screenings were supposed to start. Not entirely sure what to do or where to go, I milled around what looked like the Will Call booth. A few people had taken their seats behind the tables and the whole affair looked really fancy. I thought to myself more than once that this AFI Fest was in fact “really fancy.” A security guard walked over and I asked if this was the Will Call line. They said yes, and that I should stay in this area. When a regular pedestrian decided to pass through, the guard’s demeanor changed immediately and they told off the hapless wanderer. Heh.

After a few minutes of waiting, another security guard showed up. This one seemed more knowledgeable. He told those of us in the line that we needed to back up to the Will Call sign which was stationed boldly ten feet behind us. Line chaos ensued and we all reformed back at the new line. Somehow, I maintained the same spot.

Not too long after that I got bored and decided to check in to Foursquare. Noticed that a friend of mine had checked in and was in the nearby area. I texted to say I was waiting in line and they informed me that I was in the wrong one.


We met up at the correct box office and I grabbed my myriad of tickets. The guy behind the desk was nice and made sure to hand me an envelope with my tickets so I could have a safe place to store them all. I’m not a very coordinated individual, so I spent a good chunk of my time between the box office and my first screening trying to get those suckers tucked away.

Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film
Directed By: Pip Chodorov
Rating: ★★★★☆

I’m a little inconsistent and finicky when it comes to documentaries in general. I like being introduced into worlds I’m not familiar with and educated on their histories, but I have little to no patience for being preached at. It’s why I consider This Film Is Not Yet Rated a terrible film, even though it’s subject matter is fascinating. I’d rather get information that I can later tack an opinion onto than have opinions thrown at me about something I know little about.

Free Radicals is a history lesson, and I’m quite okay with that. Knowing nothing of experimental film, this was a fascinating journey through various artists

Saw 2/3 of the film before having to duck out for the rush line for Rubber. Very fascinating documentary on experimental film. Then again, I like documentaries that tend toward history lesson versus having a strict agenda. Perhaps the best parts out of what I saw were the shorts that we got to see in their entirety. When I get a chance, I want to try and see this again.

Directed By: Quentin Dupieux
Starring: Stephen Spinella, Roxane Mesquida, Jack Plotnick
Rating: ★★★★★

Waiting in the Rush Line for this film was an interesting experience, and I think one that helped inform the film I was about to watch. Ahead of me were a large group of people that weren’t speaking English and laughing REALLY loudly, and behind me was a fellow and his father keeping strict count of the lines and trying to analyse their chances of making it in. The guy behind me mentioned once or twice that we should riot if we didn’t get in. His method of lighting garbage cans on fire and throwing them into the theater seemed like a terrible idea.

Why did I tell you that anecdote? It’s simple. No reason.

Rubber is a film whose main premise is that things happen for no reason. If you keep that in mind, you’ll enjoy the hell out of this film. The story is about people watching a movie about a rubber tire that can explode things with it’s mind. And that’s just the first twenty minutes. I wish I could formulate better what makes this film so great. It manages to poke fun at audience sensibilities and deconstruct B-movies all the while being a B-movie itself. The layers to this film pile on for a really fun and engaging experience. If you get a chance to see this film, don’t pass up the opportunity.

Directed By: Ivan Engler
Starring: Anna-Katharina Schwabroh, Martin Rapold, Regula Grauwiller
Rating: ★★★☆☆

It’s tough to be harsh on this film, considering it’s troubled production history. At the same time, I can’t give this film that glowing of a review. Cargo is an ambitious film that gets lost in it’s pacing and inability to focus on one plot thread for too long. The visuals, which stand out the most here, are a treat and give you a real sense of scope. I don’t think I’ve seen a sci fi film recently that gives me quite the menace of space that this film did. And the sound work was exquisite at minimum. Every piece of metal groaned and wailed under the cold and the overall ambience really helped to sell the more terrifying parts of this film. The acting was top notch and I bought that these people lived within this world.

Given how long it took to make the film, it’s understandable that the focus of the film would get mired. Still, you have to marvel at the end result with a meager $2 Million budget. This is an impressive film, and I REALLY hope I can see the next Ivan Engler film soon…provided it’s not a Western Musical.

(Stay tuned for Day 2, in which I see the most films I’ve ever seen in a day and I discover just how influential Michael Jackson really is!)