2007 AFI FEST
SOUTHLAND TALES (2006, Richard Kelly) 14
Much worse than I expected it to be. I don't even see the moments of genius that the defenders are clinging on to for dear life. Richard Kelly has delivered an ugly movie that has nothing to say and it goes off madly trying to find something that works. It's like he wrote a 500 page first draft and then stubbornly refused to abort a stillborn baby. It shows that Domino was probably a better indication of Kelly's talents than (the now over-rated) Donnie Darko. Also, it couldn't have had a worst cast if Kelly was deliberately trying to make a terrible film, of this cast only Mandy Moore and John Larroquette casually brush off this mess without looking totally foolish.
THE MUGGER (2007, Pablo Fendrik) 47
Pablo Fendrik has seen some Dardenne films and has been inspired by them and now he has made a film about it. He shows promise at imitating their style and getting interesting performances from his actors but this story is not worth telling and I can't say that of a single Dardenne film (even the ones I don't like). Now that he has a promising feature debut under his arm, I hope he opens up more next time and allows his minimalism to be supporting a more interesting character behaving in a way that is less conventionally exciting (robbery).
POP SKULL (2007, Adam Wingard) Walk Out
Not terrible. I was merely trying to get full value out of my Day Pass and kill time between screening. This film would have had to really impress me to get me to skip Searchers 2.0 and despite a distinctive look and impressive sound design, I bailed about 20 minutes in.
SEARCHERS 2.0 (2007, Alex Cox) 44
The first post-80s Cox movie I've seen and I'm beginning to feel like Alex Cox might be to movies what Elvis Costello is to music; an artist that emerged with brilliance and energy and has grown into someone still perhaps capable of making brilliant art but blocked by self-aware cleverness. When this flies off the rails in the last third its not really a refreshing event, it's more like desperation on Cox's part; he wants to go crazy and let shit fly but he can't let himself commit totally to something. It's nice to see characters discussing current events during the road trip; gas is a major theme, we are bluntly told the themes several times ("Justice, Gas, Revenge").
DEFICIT (2007, Gael Garcia Bernal) 55
I was tempted to rate this higher because I was so impressed by the way Garcia Bernal miscast himself as the lead character. Unfortunately, its clumsy over-emphasizing of the message really gets in the way of the observations made in the film about the state of Mexico, classicism and racism. It's basically Garcia Bernal's variation of The Anniversary Party with big themes replacing Hollywood, but it's telling that he never lets them have as much fun as the characters in The Anniversary Party.
THE BAND'S VISIT (2007, Eran Kolirin) 57
This is the kind of movie that ends up winning the Foreign Film Oscar typically (except it was disqualified controversially over the amount of foreign language in it, which is definitely the only controversial thing about this film) and although I openly resisted its schematic characters and cutesy sight gags for much of the first half, I ended up being charmed by this fish out of water comedy. I give most of the credit to the performances by Sasson Gabal and especially Ronit Elkabetz (who was also good in Or), they share a very charming scene in a park where he discusses his love of fishing and their relationship is refreshingly mature.
EXPIRED (2007, Cecillia Miniucchi) 50
Samantha Morton plays an innocent much like her character in Sweet & Lowdown and Jason Patrick plays a prick almost on the level of his character in Your Friends and Neighbors, they do not belong in the same movie with each other and it is hard to watch their characters interact and believe that they would have anything to do with each other. Both actors are fine but I wish Morton could find more roles where she played intelligent and sly because this innocent vulnerability comes too easy for her and it will just encourage more roles just like it.
CHOP SHOP (2007, Ramin Bahrani) 69
Bahrani gets a very effective naturalistic tone here with his characterizations and authentic settings. It skirts cliches whenever they look destined to appear on the horizon (I was counting down the minutes until Ali's money cup disappeared from its hiding spot) and even deflates any serious dramatic beats before they can explode. I need to see Bahrani's previous film Man Push Cart but it seems likely that Bahrani is an important emerging voice in American cinema. He just finished shooting his next film too, so further evidence might be on the way in the next year.
BIG RIG (2007, Doug Pray) 41
I mistakenly assumed that this would be in the same breed of abstract documentaries with Zoo, but instead this is very standard talking heads stuff in support of the big rigging sub-culture. I am not inherently more interested in truck drivers than any other profession in America and I found this film much too shapeless and evenhanded for my taste; making sure to hit one of each type of potential sub-culture member, so we get a wide sampling of gender and race but perhaps not an accurate idea of what makes up this occupation.
THE YEAR OF THE NAIL (2007, Jonás Cuarón) 63
At first this seemed like it was going to use the photo montage device to a completely different thematic end than La Jetée, with Molly's photos showing her tourist travelogue with her friend and travelmate's Ugly American comments towards the Mexican culture showing up their American elitism. Then this shifts its construction and becomes a requiem for the relationship between Molly and Diego as they briefly come together in a non-sexual love affair and then seperate with her warm smile disguising complete detachment she feels for him. Playful and fun, we have not seen the last of this junior Cuarón.
NOISE (2007, Henry Bean) 37
Todd Haynes' Safe is the good version of this movie. It manages to capture the urban dissatisfaction and the dark comedy of Noise and it does so in a more mature and stylish way. This is the version that has a lame courtroom climax before an end credit scroll with Tim Robbins smashing street cars with a hammer.
ALEXANDRA (2007, Alexander Sokurov) 43
SHAME (1968, Ingmar Bergman) 79
Second viewing, first in theater. I would have been in the 90s on previous VHS viewing.
NIGHT TRAIN (2007, Yinan Diao) 48
Confession Number 1: I spent the first half of this movie with the Commodores song "Night Shift" stuck in my head. I remembered the lyrics as "There's gonna be some sweet sound, coming down, on the night train." Maybe I should visit the neighboring Amoeba and check into a Commodores Greatest Hits compilation. (On a side "Night Shift" note: I like how they sing the echoed vocals in the music video.)
Confession Number 2: I had to really fight to keep from falling asleep during this movie. I didn't give myself time to get a coffee or any food before the 12:30 screening and have been tired out by this hell week thats ridiculously full of awesome movies and concerts. This film has a very strong visual design but the plot mechanisms hinge on contrivances that were distracting.
DON'T TOUCH THE AXE (2007, Jacques Rivette) 68