AFI Fest kicks off in Los Angeles tonight, arguably the biggest film festival in a town that’s film central. The philosophy of it has simplified over the years – basically, the idea is to gather the best of the best from other festivals, throw in some strong Oscar hopefuls, then give away every ticket for free.
Yes, free. And this can result in your sitting next to schizophrenic homeless people who just want a dark place to sleep in for a couple of hours. Assuming they were persistent enough to stand in line for the ticket handout.
Like so many other big festivals nowadays, AFI has learned that even free movies need to crowd-please sometimes, and as such you’re as likely to end up watching horror or animation as you are a coming-of-age story in a small European town surrounded by mountains. Other writers will give you a comprehensive guide, but I’m here to single out thirteen and a half (you’ll understand the fraction when we get to it) that match our interests here at TR: fantasy, animation, horror, sci-fi and terrible things that make us hate ourselves. I’ve included trailers where possible.
Let us jump in…
1. Jodorowsky’s Dune
David Lynch wasn’t the first surrealist director to try to adapt Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi universe – as many of you know, back in the ’70s El Topo helmer Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to make it, bringing H.R. Giger and Moebius on board for production design, and writing a script that would have been 14 hours long if filmed exactly. Alongside Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, it’s one of the great near-misses of geekdom.
It’s fun to imagine how mind-blowingly cool it could have been. Salvador Dali and Orson Welles were approached to act in it, and Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel were possibilities to do the soundtrack! This is the next best thing: a documentary about the movie that never was, and probably never could have been. But don’t worry – Dune will be rebooted one day, and they’ll find ways to screw it up in totally different ways.
2. The Congress
Robin Wright plays herself – sort of – as an actress aging out of all the desirable roles. Desperate for money, she actually sells the rights of ownership over her entire being to a studio, which turns her into an ageless cartoon. And then the cartoon develops its own personality, and maybe it turns out the animated world is in fact the real one…or…I don’t quite know. And I’m glad I don’t quite know, because this looks like the movie Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World should have been.
Director Ari Folman’s last feature, Waltz With Bashir, was a fully animated feature about his repressed memories of serving in the Israeli military, and it was brilliant – a foreign-language documentary for people who normally won’t watch such things. Wherever he takes the animated form next, I’m willing to follow. Oh, and it’s also loosely inspired by a Stanislaw Lem novel, The Futurological Congress.
Solaris with a touch of Bakshi? As you wish, Ari. As you wish.
3. Saibi (The Fake)
The Congress might not even be the oddest cartoon in the festival. Saibi, from Korea, deals with a town that’s about to be flooded to make way for a new dam. A town run by criminals who are also religious frauds, and convince the populace that anyone who disbelieves them is possessed by the devil.
Director Yeun Sang-ho’s previous feature, The King of Pigs, was a nightmarishly surreal animated feature about bullying, which worked right up until a rather thudding bit of moralizing at the very end. (It was, however, totally subtle compared to the way Harvey Weinstein pushed Bully on the world.
In Spike Jonze’s new movie, Joaquin Phoenix basically falls in love with Siri. Well, wouldn’t you, if Siri had the voice of Scarlett Johansson? Something that probably will happen someday, by the way, since they can make GPS machines with Mr. T’s voice.
Somebody should totally make a movie now where a dude falls in love with a Mr. T GPS unit. Just so every critic will try to be the first to say, “I pity the fool” in a review.
5. The Green Inferno
Considering all the grindhouse revival stuff and zombie saturation we’ve gotten lately, you might think someone would have tried to bring back the cannibal movie as an exploitation genre ripe for re-pillaging. Granted, there’s the potential for controversy as you could look really racist if you get it wrong. But in the best of the bunch, it’s the stupid, spoiled interlopers to the jungle who are the real villains – the natives are usually innocuous right up until one of the main characters does something really stupid and/or provocative. Then it’s game on.
Now Eli Roth is going to give it a go. And since this is getting a mainstream release in this day and age, it is thankfully likely to lack the most unpleasant hallmark of the original Italian flicks – gratuitous documentary footage of animals being killed by locals, and each other. Keep that out of sight, please, as you pass me that all-beef hot dog from the concession stand.
Remember in the Pink Panther movies, how Kato would always surprise Clouseau by attacking him at random times and places? Now imagine Kato’s a female dominatrix, and Clouseau is a single Japanese father who has rather stupidly signed up to be part of an extreme bondage club that pulls this shit on you and won’t let you out of the deal for a year.
Oh, and then intersperse it with scenes of a 100 year-old man making the movie we are seeing. Director Hitoshi Mitsumoto, of the Japnese comedy duo Dauntaun, isn’t actually that old, but the title refers to movie ratings – a warning that what you are about to see is really only able to be understood by ages 100 and up. Way to limit your audience, dude.
7. The Sacrament
Ti West’s horror movies usually tend to be really slow burns that only reveal the true danger very late in the game, but this time, the threat is upfront – a Mississippi cult leader who’s like a modern-day Jim Jones. When the cult leaves the country to start again in a remote jungle, the brother of one of its converts decides to try and make a documentary about what happened to them.
Total tangent, but if there were any justice in the world, the Kool-Aid man would come busting through a wall and kick the crap out of Jim Jones. If there is a hell, that should be what happens there on a continuous loop. Oh yeah.
And yes, I know it was actually Flavor-Aid. But the Kool-Aid man got smeared by association, so he still has a valid grudge.
8. The Wind Rises
In what will apparently be his final film, Hayao Miyazaki continues his obsession with flying, but with less fantasy elements this time out, controversially telling the sympathetic tale of Jiro Horikoshi, a man who designed planes used by the Japanese military during World War II.
Controversial? Well, yeah, you’d expect a mixed reaction to any film that doesn’t automatically demonize a guy who made weapons for the wrong side. But what’s equally bad, apparently, is that he smokes.
Maybe next the naysayers would like a historical war movie without guns, too.
9. When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism
A Romanian movie shot entirely in long takes, all about the conversations that ensue when a director tries to convince his actress to do nudity onscreen. I’ve always wondered what such talks entail, but I just figured bribery happens at some point. Maybe not in this one.
One wonders, perhaps, how many people impressed by the Jodorowsky documentary are anxious to see more from artist Moebius, and end up mistakenly walking into this film, about a woman who tries to cut her husband’s penis off, but ends up doing it to her son instead. Then, as per the official festival synopsis, “So begins an odyssey that elevates horrifying acts of gang rape, mutilation and other taboo-busting atrocities into the level of high art.”
Well, if you say so. Directed by Kim Ki-duk, who can do totally zen films suitable for all ages, but then makes other movies like The Isle, in which fishhooks boldly go where none should ever have gone before.
11. The Last Emperor 3D
I get why there are post-conversion Star Wars movies. I understand the impulse to make Predator pop out at you on Blu-ray. But The Last Emperor? Really? The never-ending biopic of China’s child emperor who grows up through war and ends up as an old man on a bike in the communist age? We need glasses now for that?
Show me one person – who didn’t work on the film – who both loves The Last Emperor and does not periodically go on rants about how 3-D is a stupid, overpriced gimmick ruining movies. It’s like finding a Topless Robot commenter who thinks Michael Bay movies are great. Doable, but worth it?
So naturally, I’m slightly curious. This is a thing that should not be.
I have seen Nebraska and I kinda love it. Would you believe that Will Forte, MacGruber himself, gives an award-worthy semi-dramatic performance here?
Well, it is an Alexander Payne movie (The Descendants, About Schmidt, Sideways), so it’s pretty damn funny too. Bruce Dern plays a crazy old man who gets a Publisher’s Clearinghouse letter in the mail, is convinced he won a million dollars, and plans to walk all the way into the next state to claim it. Forte is his poor kid, a speaker salesman who decides it’s better to drive the old man there than try to talk him out of it. Along the way, everyone they meet believes the father’s claim of being a millionaire, and angles to get a piece of it.
Anyone with a stubborn, crazy dad should relate. And that’s pretty much everyone, right?
13. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Ben Stiller plays a sad-sack, delusional type who believes himself to be much greater and more talented than he is.
But enough about real life. He also made a movie called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
13.5 “An Evening With David O. Russell”
David O. Russell’s new movie about con men, American Hustle, wasn’t ready for the festival in time – so instead, he’s going to show up in person to introduce a few clips of this and his other movies. If everyone in the movie brought their superhero alter egos, this would be one amazing crossover: Batman, Lois Lane, Katniss, Hawkeye and Rocket Raccoon all scamming people together. Instead, they brought ’70s wigs and incredibly fake beards.
I bet it’ll still be pretty good though.
AFI Fest runs through Nov. 14th; be sure to check the official AFI site for more details, including showtimes.