AFI DOCS 2014 (Days 3&4)

Magic in the Moonlight

I adore both Colin Firth and Emma Stone. Just not together – in this particular movie. Perhaps writer/director Woody Allen didn’t see anything wrong with the obvious age difference (he’s 53; she’s 25) and lack of chemistry between the two stars. But for me, it took the magic out of Magic in the Moonlight, a romantic comedy period piece that drags where it could and should have soared.

A Most Wanted Man

There is really just one reason to go see A Most Wanted Man — Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film, while good on its own terms, mainly serves as a reminder of what an immense talent we lost. Hoffman plays a German spy in this John le Carré adaptation from director Anton Corbijn who brought us the equally thoughtful The American. And like his previous film, this one depends on the audience getting inside the protagonist’s skin. I’m not sure it would have worked without Hoffman.

And So It Goes

And So It Goes… without saying… that this movie is about as memorable as its title, which I couldn’t remember five minutes after leaving the theater. Sure, it’s interesting – in a nostalgic sort of way – to watch two veteran actors share the screen, playing age-appropriate characters. But in this case, it needn’t be the BIG screen. And So It Goes belongs on the SMALL screen – as a ‘second chance at love’ special on Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel.

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.