AFI DOCS 2014 (Days 3&4)

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.

Jersey Boys

If you like the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, then treat yourself to Jersey Boys, the award-winning broadway musical-turned-movie directed by Clint Eastwood. The movie isn’t as good as the stage version, but it’s certainly cheaper and the music is the same, as are a few of the lead actors. Unfortunately, stage acting doesn’t always translate onto the big screen, and while these guys are all solid singers, the acting comes off a bit forced and inconsistent. Fortunately, the familiar musical numbers help keep the audience engaged, even when the story starts to falter. From ‘Sherry,’ ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’ and ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ to ‘Rag Doll,’ ‘Oh What a Night,’ ‘My Eyes Adore You,’ etc. That’s a lotta hits.

22 Jump Street

There’s a running joke in 22 Jump Street that unabashedly acknowledges that the sequel is basically the exact same movie as 21 Jump Street, except with a bigger budget. No joke. It’s basically the exact same movie, except it takes place on a local college campus instead of a local high school and employs the kinds of special effects and car chases employed by bigger-budget films. The plot is basically the same. The jokes are basically the same. The entertainment value is basically the same. And if you recall (or choose to read) my original review of 21 Jump Street, then you’ll understand why 22 Jump Street works quite well – for what it is.

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow takes bits and pieces from a bunch of sci-fi fantasy, superhero, apocalyptic war movies and mashes them up into one solidly entertaining flick. In a nutshell, it’s Groundhog Day meets Independence Day. The plot is somewhat straightforward: An Army officer named Cage (Tom Cruise) who’s made a career as a PR flak (to avoid combat) gets thrown into battle. A close encounter with some alien thing results in Cage having to relive the same day over and over again until he can gather all the mental and physical ammunition he needs to save the world from an alien invasion. He enlists the help of a super soldier named Rita (Emily Blunt) who is the only other person who can sort of understand what he’s going through.

Citizen Koch

If you’ve never heard of the Koch Brothers, Charles and David, then this film could give you a bit of an introduction to the enormous power they currently wield in American politics. The documentary Citizen Koch reaches back a few years to the moment when the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations can give without limit to political candidates, and uses the example of what happened in Wisconsin as a result of that decision as a cautionary tale. It is a textbook look at the political disenfranchisement that occurs when the people with the most money are allowed to buy an election. And in this case it is also the story of how what seemed from the outside to be a grassroots movement, The Tea Party, was in fact created and bankrolled by a couple of the wealthiest brothers in the country.

Chef

Written, directed and starring Jon Favreau, Chef is the feel good foodie flick du jour. Favreau stars as Carl Casper, a formerly hot young chef who’s lost his mojo, but finds his way back by starting from scratch. It’s a fun movie with a lot of heart and a fabulous cast. Besides Favreau, it boasts Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, and a host of other top shelf talent. For audiences hungering for a change of pace from the special effects driven films out there, this is the ticket!

X-men: Days of Future Past

I will admit up front, I haven’t seen any of the other X-men flicks. But the good news is that this one stands alone and begs me to watch the others to see what I was missing. In Days of Future Past, Wolverine is sent back in time to 1973, so the characters that populate this series are youngsters and their relationships with one another are not yet certain, which makes for a great introduction to the mutant clan. And it is a LOT of fun with a fabulously yummy cast too boot. Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy — what could be wrong with that? And Jennifer Lawrence proves once again that she is a force to be reckoned with.

Blended

Adam Sandler movies tend to be hit or miss for me – with the misses far outweighing the hits in recent years. But he’s definitely found a winning formula with Drew Barrymore. Blended isn’t as good as their previous joint offerings (50 First Dates, The Wedding Singer) but it’s still an amusing flick that the whole family can watch together without being terribly mortified, embarrassed or disgusted.