AFI DOCS 2014 (Days 3&4)

Snowpiercer

I really wanted to like this movie. It has a top notch cast with Chris “Captain America” Evans, Tilda “Chameleon” Swinton, Octavia “Oscar” Spencer, John “Gravitas” Hurt and Ed “Reliable” Harris, and I LOVED director Bong Joon Ho’s last film, Mother. But dystopian future movies need to have an internal logic and this one just doesn’t. It is a two hour battle from one end of a train to the other without anyone I could give a damn about.

Me and You (Io e te)

There are a handful of directors whose names lead me to expect greatness. Bertolucci is definitely one of them. He has written and directed some of the most successful and critically acclaimed films of the last 50 years. From The Conformist to 1900 to The Last Emperor and The Sheltering Sky, his movies have frequently been political and sweeping in scope. His latest by contrast is a small film adaptation of a popular young adult novel with no big name actors and it takes place mostly in a very dingy basement. But it just goes to show how good a director he really is. It is a slight piece, but entertaining and assured filmmaking.

Begin Again

Begin Again is all about the transformative power of music. In it a down on his luck, alcoholic ex-record company executive discovers a down on her luck songwriter and the two of them help one another come back into the world of the living. That the two are played by Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley helps this pretty simple story become more than the sums of its parts. It is a thoroughly entertaining little film, especially for music lovers.

Land Ho

Land Ho is a road movie, in which a couple of 60ish ex-brothers-in-law named Colin and Mitch head to Iceland to, as Mitch puts it, “Get their groove back.” That includes getting stoned and watching the young crowd in Reykjavík dance, driving their Hummer through the wilderness to take a plunge in the hot springs, and lots of buddy repartee about aging and loss replete with Mitch’s constant teeneage boy style sexual joking. The film ultimately feels more like a bunch of scenes than a full fledged story, so it works mostly as a travelogue that makes you wish you could go to Iceland and, groove or no groove, just see the place.

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars is incredibly faithful to the stellar book, and that’s both good and bad. At times, the stars (the human, not celestial ones) feel like they’re doing a straight re-enactment of the best-selling novel by John Green. The book, and movie tell the story of two teenagers, Hazel and Gus, who share an acerbic wit, a healthy dose of sarcasm, and a battle against cancer. They meet in a support group that they both disdain, and quickly fall in love. They are soul mates on borrowed time.

Tammy

Tammy is just okay, which translates into disappointing. I generally like Melissa McCarthy, but her shtick is getting old. I felt like I was watching the same (disappointing) character she played in Identify Thief, only this time she shares a car ride with Susan Sarandon instead of Jason Bateman. Or the same character she played in the more solid comedy The Heat with Sandra Bullock.

AFI DOCS 2014 (Days 3&4)

The last two days of the festival I spent in AFI’s Silver Spring theaters. All the films were shown in both the downtown DC venues and at the AFI home base. It was easier in Silver Spring with everything in one building, but seeing films at the National Portrait Gallery or the Naval Heritage Museum or the Goethe Institute’s theaters and being in town was a lot more interesting between screenings. Next year, I hope to be a bit more organized so I can see everything! Trailers for all the films are at the end of this post.

Ida

Ida is one of those extremely beautiful but ultimately depressing films. It is the story of an 18-year-old Polish orphan who was brought up by nuns and is about to take her vows, but first she has to visit an Aunt she knew nothing about, because her Mother Superior insists they meet before deciding on her future. The film is mostly her road trip with this aunt named Wanda to discover who she is and what happened to her family during World War II. It is also her first taste of the outside world, with the sad, alcoholic aunt as her tour guide.

AFI DOCS 2014 (Days 1&2)

As Arty Chick, I am a great lover of the documentary genre and this year’s AFI DOCS in Washington, DC sated my docu-hunger quite well. As with any festival, there were standouts and there were films that raised interesting topics, but did not meet my expectations in terms of filmmaking/storytelling. And an even larger problem was that the festival was spread between Silver Spring, MD and downtown DC, making the logistics a bit of a conundrum for an out-of-towner like me. The sheer number of films I wanted to see was simply impossible, but I can honestly say, I gave it my all.

Here’s what I thought of the first two days.

Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey

The AFI Documentary Festival opened in Washington, DC on June 18th with a selection that proved both informative and entertaining: Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey.

I’ve been living under a rock, so I wasn’t all that aware that actor Hal Holbrook has been playing Mark Twain on stage for 60 years. SIXTY YEARS!!!! At 89, the guy is a scholar and a stud.