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AFI Fest 2006! Psychedelic Reviews 18 More Films And Names His Ten Faves Of The Fest!!

Published at: Nov. 20, 2006, 12:42 a.m. CST

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Way to make me feel bad about myself, Psychedelic. I haven’t had a chance to finish my AFI coverage yet, and now here you are with this giant fistful of reviews. Good stuff, so let’s get right to it:

Hey Harry and Inhabiters of Shadow Worlds, My brain unraveled in one long strip to the floor that came from a slot in my skull. Random moviegoers stomped on it. Novocain neuroses were pounded out and I felt better. Refreshed, I plunged back into the 2006 AFI Fest at the ArcLight Theatres in Hollywood. Wristcutters: A Love Story The tone is set immediately. Patrick Fugit compulsively cleans his apartment, and then slices his wrists. As blood pools on the tiles, he sees dustbunnies in the corner and croaks before sweeping them. He enters a desaturated limbo where other suicidees spend eternity. He soon hits the road looking for his old girlfriend. Black humor works and characters are cool to hang with. My favorite character is a sardonic Russian musician (Shea Whigham) who memorably offs himself in concert. Writer-director Goran Dukic has spun a fairly unique movie that has “Cult Following” written all over it. Shannyn Sossamon is sexy and hip as a fellow traveler. Tom Waits fits perfectly in a small role. Random supernatural events nicely pepper this afterworld. The plot is slightly predictable near the end, but this flick goes down smooth. It’s a guaranteed Midnight Movie. Vitus At age 7 (or thereabouts), a prodigy boy practices piano for four hours a day, partially at the behest of his mother who gave up a good career to care for her gifted spawn. His parents view him more as a unique animal than as a beloved son. His reading and math are far above his peers. Finally at about age 12, he can’t stand the pressure and fakes being dumb. It’s a smart move, for his protection, just so he can be a kid. But this movie is not dreary. It’s funny and full of humor. The kid’s smartass attitude is infectious. His comeuppance on everyone is highly enjoyable as he outwits all elders. His only trusted ally is his grandfather (Bruno Ganz). It’s delicious when he makes teachers look stupid. Director Fredi M. Murer’s film doesn’t bog down in melodrama, which could be a real danger with this material. It’s Switzerland’s official Oscar submission this year. Time This girl has some screws loose. At the slightest comment she rants about her boyfriend being bored with her face. She’s ballistic in public with no thought. Then she leaves to have facial plastic surgery. A year later she dates her old boyfriend without disclosing her previous identity. Identity is shaken to its foundations. Things become more surreal and strange. Odd sculptures at a beach make peculiar background. It’s a delicious mindfuck getting high ratings for sheer wacktitude. Yet it doesn’t really rely on supernatural elements, just messed up humans. This is the first film I’ve seen of writer-director Kim Ki-duk’s (3-Iron; Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…And Spring). I was expecting some kind of serious drama. Getting unhinged observance on emotionally unstable people is a treat. He’s another reason why Korean cinema is currently raging with vitality. Special Michael Rapaport gives possibly the best performance of his career as a sweet man who’s tired of his dull existence. Tough guy posturing is no where to be seen. He participates in experimental trials of a new drug. There’s an unexpected side effect when he develops superpowers. He’s delirious at his new found abilities and ventures to rid the world of crime. His friends think he’s gone crazy. Maybe he has. Writer-directors Jeremy Passmore and Hal Haberman pump this story full of heart when it could have easily sunk into superhero clichés. Rapaport is the rock from which laughs and touching humanity spring. Anyone can relate to his desire to do something special and transcend banal reality, even though his wounds suggest otherwise. Some production values are probably rougher than necessary, but the story and characters make up for it. Broken What an apt title. It’s a lame rehash of boring “get on drugs in Hollywood” stories you’ve already seen. Jeremy Sisto does variations of everything he’s played before. He needs to break out of tormented asshole roles. Heather Graham is good but totally miscast. Not for one second did I believe she’s an untalented waitress working the graveyard shift. She’s drop dead gorgeous Heather Graham who lights up the screen. Director Alan White was too enamored to realize this. The first half should be cut in half. It takes forever to get to the main action. There are a zillion shots of Sisto smoking and brooding as he drives to L.A. from Vegas. The ending is supposed to be mysterious, but when it arrived I just didn’t care. This is best for insomniacs on late night cable. Days of Glory This is the rarely told story of Arab soldiers from Africa who fought under the French flag in World War II and received no recognition—monetarily or otherwise— while suffering institutional racism. The last half hour is some of the most impressive filmmaking I’ve seen recently. The battle scenes hold up against any of Hollywood’s. It takes a while to congeal, but the characters grow on you until you really care what happens. They don’t fall into typical pigeonholes. Appreciation is imbued for sacrifices made. Director Rachid Bouchareb achieves a notable accomplishment. It’s refreshing to get a different perspective on World War II. There’s some interesting energetic cinema currently coming from Africa. This is Algeria’s official Oscar submission and perhaps the most deserving for Best Foreign Film. Come Early Morning Who would have expected it? But Joey Lauren Adams (my once and future Alyssa Jones) has blossomed into a gifted writer-director with a talent for rendering multi-layered complex characters. Ashley Judd, in her best role in eons, works for a construction contractor in Arkansas and is in a rut. Professionally, she’s got it together. Personally, she’s had a series of one night stands that end with her running out in the morning before the guy awakes. Then she meets a man she really likes and fights her impulses to destroy the relationship. Adams’ visual style reminds me of John Huston—nothing fancy, just cut to what needs to be there. The acting and the writing do the speaking. Adams avoids sappy clichés and doesn’t take easy answers. It’s a realistic portrait of a small town that condescends to no one. Here’s to more of Adams’ behind-the-camera future. Pan’s Labyrinth Expectations have been blown way out of proportion for this. It’s good, but not the "this-will-blow-your-mind" revelation I was expecting. A young girl’s mother marries a fascist Spanish captain in 1944. At new headquarters, the girl discovers fantastic creatures in a labyrinth. She’s a lost princess and given three tasks. Meanwhile, hill rebels make trouble for the evil captain as he attempts to find traitors. There are only about four creatures; I wish there were more along with a more developed fantasy world. Guillermo del Toro is a brilliant director. The film is marvelously crafted. But, in my opinion, he has yet to make a masterpiece. His native Mexican films are certainly more interesting. The ending is moving but doesn’t pack the punch of The Devil’s Backbone. I hope he continues to tenaciously follow his distinctive muse to produce more unique work. Re-Cycle The Pang Brothers (The Eye, The Eye 2) are gifted visualists. Too bad that doesn’t extend to the story department. It begins as a very typical Japanese “spooky ghosts around the corner” flick until the main character enters a fantasy world. The production design is remarkable. Shots of deteriorated carnival rides and mazes of stairs stick in the mind. But the rest is some murmuring about how she can get out of this screwed up place. Somebody needs to give these guys a solid script and make them stay with it. Family Ties Three disjointed stories of uninteresting Korean families compose this film. It was unclear whether they were supposed to be connected or not. But more to the point, I was uninterested by the end. A young woman in the middle story is sooooo annoying that she almost kills whatever value the movie possesses. A grandmother character is somewhat entertaining in the last story, but it’s too little too late. Overall, director Kim Tae-yong made a snooze. Transylvania There are no vampires. Instead, it’s a Wim Wenders-like road trip across Romania where all emotions hang out unfiltered. Two months pregnant, Asia Argento madly spirals after being rejected by her child’s father—a plot point interestingly reflected in her directorial debut, Scarlet Diva. She abandons her friends and former life, hooks up with a nefarious hustler of goods played by Birol Ünel, and absorbs quirky local culture dressed as a gypsy. This is a film of small pleasures such as when local musicians relentlessly follow the travelers whether they like it or not; Argento’s posture saying “Fuck it” while smoking. French writer-director Tony Gatlif spins an impressive free form that would make John Cassavetes proud. Argento’s lightly twisted magnetic presence pulls the viewer along. It’s impressive how she bares herself onscreen, and I don’t mean by flesh. Dark Corners This is a true mixed bag of a movie. Thora Birch remarkably excels in a double role. A very normal conservative young woman, who wants a baby, dreams of a gothic version of herself. Conversely, this gothic girl, who works for an undertaker in a grimy world, dreams of the conservative one. Questions of which is real arise as realities seemingly overlap. I like the concept but the execution leaves much to be desired. Writer-director Ray Gower hammers the same ideas over and over, both visually and story-wise, especially in the last third. The surprise end only seems confused. Some scenes are just plain sloppy. For instance, Birch and her husband cuddle on a couch and there are ridiculous numbers of cuts between them. A two-shot would do. There are too many close-ups, much as I love staring into Birch’s mesmerizing eyes. Gower needs guidance. Beauty In Trouble This one is all about the characters. The first forth is muddled, but then they grab hold and it takes off. A Czech Republic MILF’s husband gets arrested for stripping stolen cars. She moves in with her mother and mom’s second husband they call uncle. The old bastard of an uncle is hilarious and hideous all at once; He’s so bracingly honest that concentrated acid practically hits everyone to whom he speaks. Jirí Schmitzer delivers one of the best performances of the festival in this supporting role. MILF meets a sweet older man from Italy who is rich. Romance blooms. The Italian offers help to the Mom who’s hesitant about accepting charity. There’s funny business when mother-in-laws butt heads. The children are bewildered at these crazy adults. Director Jan Hrebejk creates a believable family in this funny comedy posing as a drama. The Bothersome Man Scrubbed aseptic dull limbo where everything is grossly perfect and bled of passion. A bus rumbles to a totally desolate depot. A man steps out and is escorted to a city where he’s given a job, apartment, and apparent ideal life. He dates a woman; moves in with her; cheats on her and she’s perfectly cool with it. His boss worries he is overworked and allows him unlimited breaks. Everyone obsesses over perfect couches, living rooms, and surface materials. Then he hears beautiful music coming from a basement. With another man, he seeks to discover the vibrant music’s source that’s penetrated this cool collected world. Director Jens Lien demonstrates remarkable command of all aspects of production design, color, and visual composition to tell the story of this off-kilter world. There is much black humor in this portrait which has a unique disconnected tone. Our Land Call Telemundo. I’ve got their next 3am movie. A brother (or father?) dies and the remaining brothers squabble over the house. The mafia somehow gets involved—it’s in Italy after all— and there’s a murder. Everyone scrambles to find who did it. This is a MELODRAMA with two hours of over-the-top bravura ACTING. It is not my cup of tea. I honestly would have enjoyed it more if there were no subtitles. Filling in the dialogue would have been more fun. If you like soap operas, then be my guest and stick this bar in your mouth. Directed by Sergio Rubini. Alien Autopsy An amiable movie with good performances that’s fairly unengaging. Two British guys come across supposedly real alien autopsy footage in the mid-90s. Problem: the poorly maintained film from the late-40s practically disintegrates after one play through the projector. Solution: “Recreate” the footage in somebody’s basement with careful attention to detail by the one guy who saw the “real” footage. The “true” story follows the fake footage’s sale to television rights around the world. In America, Star Trek: TNG’s Jonathan Frakes hosted a special that premiered the footage. There are some laughs. Declan Donnelly and Ant McPartlin are good in the leads. But director Jonny Cambell’s movie is predictably ho-hum at best, and I feel like I’m being generous at that. Bill Pullman and Harry Dean Stanton play supporting roles. Election Triad Election (aka Election 2) These two movies were made back to back by Hong Kong director Johnnie To. Triads are Hong Kong’s version of the mafia. Every two years in this particular triad an election is held to determine who will be The Chairman—the Chinese version of The Godfather. Both films deal with the machinations and murders in the power struggles. The violent set pieces in the first are more inspired than those in the second. These are not action scenes but violent scenes as would be found in a Scorsese mafia movie. The characters in the first are richer than the second’s. The overall narrative in the first is clunky while the second’s is smoother. However, the second movie feels like a turning of the crank story-wise except for some interesting scenes in the last fourth than can be read allegorically as commentary on the current state of Hong Kong. Taken together on a Sunday afternoon, like I did, they are enjoyable for fans of Hong Kong cinema. They are by no means definitive works, but solid films by a good director. I saw 31 features and one shorts program in 10 days at AFI Fest 2006. Here’s my top ten in somewhat particular order. The Host Inland Empire Frozen Days Time Wristcutters: A Love Story The Bothersome Man Transylvania Come Early Morning Vitus Beauty In Trouble Honorable Mentions: Back Home Days of Glory I’m living in chaos. I must drop out now. -Psychedelic

Readers Talkback

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  • Nov. 20, 2006, 12:50 a.m. CST

    first

    by glamdrings glow

    first!

  • Nov. 20, 2006, 1:37 a.m. CST

    Hot Goth Thora Birch

    by DOGSOUP

    As Jayne from Firefly would say, "I'll uh..be in my bunk...."

  • Nov. 20, 2006, 2:31 a.m. CST

    Thank you so much Psychedelic...

    by Drworm2002

    for not having a "The Host" review.

  • Nov. 20, 2006, 7:43 a.m. CST

    "Damn you Michael Bay" is the new black!

    by Lance Rock

    way to go, MCMLXXVI! you sure are a clever one.

  • Nov. 20, 2006, 10:11 a.m. CST

    Wristcutters!!!!

    by hairyproductions

    why has this movie not gotten released yet, I saw it in April or May (i can not remember) but the movie was amazing, it blew me away, funny and dark, the director said it should be released by the fall, and now the fall is almost gone, I want to see it again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Go see it if you can!!

  • Nov. 20, 2006, 12:03 p.m. CST

    welcome back, thora

    by duanejones

    been a long time since we saw the back of your head in the back of the bus, driving over the hill -- the clowes-est moment of both zwigoff films based on daniel clowes work -- in _ghost world_. wondered what became of you. i know, some fanboy or twelve will tell me she's been in endless marginalia since then. point is, she's talented and oh-so-stacked -- in fact, she's still very much the oh-so-anti-scarlett-j. please claim your mantle as one of the finest young actresses of the your generation. then take your shirt off. thanks in advance.

  • Nov. 20, 2006, 12:53 p.m. CST

    Wristcutters fucking sucked... and you missed Grbavica?

    by s00p3rm4n

    Dude, there's a reason Grbavica won the Audience Award. It was pretty much awesome - first time writer-director, and first time teenage actress. AMAZING writing and performing. Catch it when it comes out here. On the other hand - I did not like a single second of Wristcutters. I found the first 10 minutes to be a bad student film, and then it went on ad nauseum. I found it as obvious as it could be - even the story elements that would be "novel" were practically telegraphed and shouted out. Shannon Saucewoman canNOT act, and I don't know why people confuse "pretty" for "talented." I'll grant it's a good "midnight movie" in the on-Comedy-Central sense. But the hipster audience at the Arclight were shitting their pants over it, doing backflips in the aisles, and sacrificing kittens in cold blood out of their sheer dedication to sucking Wristcutters' collective schlong. And scene.