A blog about movies and filmmaking.

AFI Fest 2010

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2010 at 6:03 pm

In my time in Los Angeles (nine months as of this writing), I’ve been a part of two film festivals – in one way or another. First was my invite to the “Ben Affleck Q&A”, and the “An Evening with John Lithgow” events at this year’s LA Film Festival. A momentous occasion, and I enjoyed the small part I got to experience. Secondly was the 3D Film Festival, that took place at the Los Angeles Film School. There I saw movies – not surprisingly, all in 3D – ranging from the good and fun (PIRANHA 3D and DESPICABLE ME) to the bad but still fun (HYBRID and IRON DOOR).

Now comes the third fest, AFI Fest, which was sponsored by Audi and enabled the entire series of movies to be shown for free (it’s second year doing such a thing), and ranging in it’s selections from small-scale dramas to large-gala’s for Oscar hopefuls. I attended nearly every day of the festivities (how could I not with the whole thing taking place no more than four blocks from my apartment?), and saw some very impressive movies.

But, before I get to those, let’s do a rundown on the festival in general.

I outlined already my experience with festivals in LA; ie. not a whole lot. But, I have to say for an event that took place in the heart of Hollywood (with screenings confined to the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian theater, Grauman’s Chinese theater, and the Mann 6 Theater’s – located beside the Chinese.) and every event being for free, it was pretty well organized. The website was pretty useless for obtaining tickets – unless you were happy to settle for what might have been second-slot choices, or you managed to login at just the right second – but the box office that was setup, to get tickets for that day’s shows or for the following day; was very useful, never too long of a line and for the most part I was able to get tickets to just about everything I wanted to see.

Also, most of the volunteers were pleasant, helpful, and did their best to maintain some semblance of order. There were particular moments – especially at the gala screening of RABBIT HOLE at the Egyptian – where there were six different lines of VIP’s, ticket holders, pass holders, the RUSH line, and American Cinematheque members. (Yeah, that’s only five, but there was bound to be another line too.) Summing it up to say, that the experience, even while not seeing a movie was overall one that was pleasant and full of many different people. Though I did manage to repeatedly get placed in line next to the same people. Which also helped to develop a rapport on what else I might be missing.

First I want to mention the fun intro bumper that played before every movie. Each festival, for those that don’t know, creates it’s own little intro. For the LAFF, they have a fancy slideshow of the LA Times with movie stars and what not’s. For the 3DFF, there was a CGI submarine that bumped into a giant octopus that extended it’s tentacles out toward the audience. And for the AFI Fest, they had David Lynch. His intro, which was him talking about AFI – the film school, which he also attended – ended with the forever memorable quote of “I love AFI” and then went into the song by Lynch (with him singing), Sparklehorse and Danger Mouse. For whatever reason – because it was funny, and strange – it always drew laughs and by the end of the festival, everyone that knew was saying “I love AFI” together with the man on the screen. But, it was also heart-felt and despite my not being the biggest fan of Lynch’s movies; it was his influence on the fest that brought me to it in the first place.

Which finally brings me to the first movies I want to mention. This year, the festival chose Lynch to be their first-ever guest Artistic Director. This meant using a piece of his artwork as their promotional poster (seen above); the aforementioned bumper; and a number of movies selected by Lynch himself, to be shown with special introductions recorded specifically for those movies. And in one case, a live-appearance by the man to answer some questions. It was when I heard of the first of these showings – a double feature of Lynch’s own movie, ERASERHEAD and Billy Wilder’s SUNSET BOULEVARD – I knew I was going to attend this event.

Naturally I’d seen both of these movies before – but neither on the big screen, and in the case of the former; never really cared if I saw it again. But, seeing Sunset Blvd, in the Egyptian theater was unmissable. The other movies that Lynch chose, which I also saw – with the exception of one – were Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW; Stanley Kubrick’s LOLITA; Ingmar Bergman’s THE HOUR OF THE WOLF; and Jacque Tati’s MON ONCLE. I hadn’t ever seen the last three on the list – and in the case of Bergman’s movie, I still haven’t. (Which is why I’m regretfully leaving the poster for that movie off this post.)

It was amazing seeing each of these movies on the big screen. The iconic moments from each, projected in front of me were majestic and especially in Sunset Blvd – nearly brought me to tears once or twice. Of the movies I hadn’t seen; Lolita was witty and playful and absolutely deranged in some aspects. Which along with BARRY LYNDON, now place as my favorite of Kubrick’s movies. Something I either hadn’t known, or hadn’t stuck with me, was Peter Sellers in the movie as the antagonist. He’s just as amazing here as in Kubrick’s DR. STRANGELOVE – and plays, in a way, just as many roles. James Mason is pitiful, slimy, and powerful as the leacherous Humbert. And though it lacks the explicitness of the Adrian Lyne adaptation from the 90’s (which sadly, I have seen), the subtext here plays much stronger.

Mon Oncle (or as Lynch called it, and correctly translated, “My Uncle”) was quite an experience in itself. Played with only a modicum of dialogue, and with a strong musical backdrop – nearly making it a silent movie, what with it also being subtitled, really made the dialogue disappear – it was a great, silly movie to close out the movies that Lynch had selected.(And actually, my last movie of the fest.) I think maybe I was expecting a little more insight into his own mind from each of these selections – and in their own way, I guess they do contain that information. As he stated in his Q&A – which he only offered to answer 3 questions (he answered 5) – it’s dream-logic that has captured his imagination and film-making habits. Which, when looking at all of these movies through that lense, does in-fact make sense.

And now, for the sake of brevity, I’m only going to really go into the top three movies of the fest that I really loved. The movies that I would highly recommend everyone seek out and watch. Which in some cases might wind up being not too simple, and in others; well, I’ll wish you luck.

First is the newest producing endeavor from Guillermo Del Toro, who has created a nice, side career as producer of excellent horror-oriented movies. Earlier this year we had SPLICE; a while back was THE ORPHANAGE – which ties in nicely with JULIA’S EYES. Belen Rueda, starred in The Orphanage, as a woman tormented by evil, little ghost kids. And now she’s back, only this time tormented by someone actually there – but that she just can’t see.

The movie is about twin sisters (both played by Rueda), who have a degenerative eye disease that causes them to go blind. In the one sister’s case, she’s already lost her vision and in the opening of the movie is being tormented by someone we can’t see (assumingly because she can’t either). Suffice to say, she winds up dead and at the same moment her sister – who is still able to see, but gradually loses her sight more every moment – feels that something has happened to her twin. And off we go.

Julia (the still alive sister) and her husband, head toward the sister’s place, find out what’s happening and try to deal with it. But, then there’s the never-ending itch, that just keeps nagging Julia about her sister’s death, and she sets out to solve the mystery. Belen is amazing in the role – and even moreso in the character choices of a blind/nearly blind woman to wear the revealing outfits and high-heel shoes that she does. Seriously, though; the movie is fantastic. There’s a scene in a Center for the Blind – more specifically, in a ladies’ locker room, where half naked (or fully naked) blind women – with scary white eyes, cuz that’s what happens when you go blind – sense the presense of Julia and possibly someone else.

The great thing about the movie, is that it plays as a supernatural thriller – and sorry if this is a spoiler – but is actually not. Though, there’s just the slightest twist on reality, in how our evil-perpetrator is able to escape and evade capture. But at the same time, it’s a poignant point to make about some people. But, yes, full of great jump-scares, and down-right chilling moments with amazing use of POV shots, to illustrate Julia’s loss of sight; JULIA’S EYES is a don’t miss.

Secondly, is another Spanish-language movie (by the way, none of the movies I’m recommending are in English) by way of Argentina. CARANCHO, is the story of a paramedic in a city where car crashes are taking the lives of numerous people a day. And like any profit-seeking person might expect, there are certain corners of society that thrive on exploiting those who are injured in order to cash in. Which is what we learn the main character of Sosa (played by Ricardo Darin), does. He sets up insurance schemes, where he’ll forward a certain amount of cash, in order to obtain the rights to be the victim’s lawyer; then when the settlement comes in, his company takes most of the cash and gives the actual beneficiary barely a percentage of what they’re owed.

What starts out as a journey through misery and miserable people, turns into a love story – and ultimately a tragic, noirish tale of betrayal as Sosa and Lujan (the paramedic, played by Martina Gusman) – try to escape. What’s great about the movie, is how flawed all of the characters are, and yet feel realistic when they’re taking the moral high ground over people they’re not really much better than. It helps that the two leads are so appealing, in the way that Lujan seems to come alive when Sosa’s around; and that we see pretty much from the beginning that this isn’t necessarily the line of work that he’d like to be in. (Though it hardly stops him from planning insurance fraud schemes on his own; only difference being, he’s not trying to rip the people off.)

The world that the movie creates – whether the statistic of car crashes killing that many people in Argentina is true, or just one of those made-up movie facts (like when every-thing’s based off a true story) – is very realistic and captivating. There’s a fun moment where the two leads even make a bet on how many cars will run a red light they’re looking at. Despite waiting for the worst, it’s a touching and funny scene. In the translation machine I used, Carancho seems to mean “Owl”; not sure, exactly how that pertains to the movie – there aren’t any owls that I remember – but there are a number of car crashes. And there’s some gruesome ones. And not that that’s a reason to see the movie, but you should definitely keep an eye out for it.

Finally, in what was probably my favorite movie of the festival; comes a Russian language, thriller called The Weather Station. The movie, appropriately enough, is set in a weather station in the mountains of Russia. Living there are three men, Ivanov (Vladimir Gusev) who enjoys making toothpick models; Drosdov (Sergey Garmash) a gun-crazy coot, who conspires about finding the Yeti in the surrounding hills; and Romash (Pyotr Logachev), a 19-year old cook, who has only recently come to the station, after a troubling childhood. Everything kind of goes to hell when they find out that the station is being deactivated and then some mysterious guests show up. The movie then jumps forward a few weeks, as some police detectives show up to discover that everyone has disappeared from the station – with no sign of a struggle or clue as to where they could have gone.

The movie which combines the solitude and mystery of exactly what’s going on like in John Carpenter’s THE THING, and the mystery and suspense of THE SIXTH SENSE, are enough to give you clues as to what the movie’s like, without in any way helping you guess what’s going to happen. There’s a great build-up, and in some ways misdirection, as to what happened. I fully expected the movie to take the twist into a certain sub-genre, which when it didn’t made the movie even better.

I absolutely love the movie and even more-so, because it was a last-minute decision to go see because I wasn’t able to get into another movie at the festival. The performances and characters are all great. The twists and turns; the mysteries and subplots; and even better, the resolution play out beautifully. The biggest compliment I could give the movie, is that there should be an American producer that would want to remake it, for larger audiences (a la THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN); my biggest hope is that they don’t. THIS is the movie that should be seen.

But I can’t get too much further into discussing the movie, without spoiling the fun. But, the way it jumps back and forth between timelines; sets up a question in the later only to answer it in the earlier period. It works perfectly. I don’t know how you can do it, but you should absolutely find a way of seeing this movie!

So, that’s only a taste of what AFI Fest brought to the table. There are a bevy of other great and fun movies I saw (RUBBER, NORWEGIAN NINJA); previews of soon-to-be-released Oscar bait (RABBIT HOLE and THE FIGHTER – which I might actually just write separate reviews for); and just a great experience of getting to sit in the majestic old Hollywood theaters and watching movies for a week straight.

I highly recommend checking out the festival next year if you can. And with that, David Lynch:

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Arleen Strauss, John Muth. John Muth said: My massive rundown on @AFIFEST, with specific comments on David Lynch's picks & my 3 favorite films: http://wp.me/ps9nC-d5 […]

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