LYT vs. AFI Fest 2010: Nothing's All Downsized

Upon first glance at the AFI Fest program for this year, I was inclined to wonder what the hell had happened.

Didn’t this used to be the crown jewel of  L.A. film festivals? Generally running two weeks, with at least four films playing at any given time? Certainly not now: seven days only, and no repeats, which in some ways makes writing about the whole thing less fruitful (time was, if I liked a movie, I could tell you when it was playing again. This year, only the four audience favorites will show on Thursday, and we won’t know what those are much in advance).


Then there are some organizational things: press pass holders no longer get a special line or priority admission. I admit we sound like over-entitled ninnies when complaining about things like this, but when maximum coverage is the goal, anything that brings down one’s daily efficiency is a deterrent to that. And the Cinema Lounge only serves free drinks 5-7 it turns out, though, this one is a bit of red herring, and basically is in place because all private after-parties now happen in that very same lounge, and they do still have drinks if you’ve scored the right wristband that night. At least they’re telling us this upfront, rather than being arbitrary about it as in year’s past; though they do have two lounges, and one wonders why they can’t let the riffraff have one at all times.

And just so we get all my complaints out of the way upfront, the #2 theater at the Chinese sixplex sucks, especially for sell-out shows. Total bottlenecks...I’d be worried if there were a fire or anything like that, though presumably the place must be in compliance with emergency codes.

With all that said, the movie selection this year is strong, which is why it’s frustrating that there are so few second chances to see things. And the inevitable pre-show promo for the festival itself, rather than being your standard irritating commercial, is David Lynch dryly reading from a cue card, and getting a big laugh every time he says “I love AFI” with no enthusiasm whatsoever.

I didn’t score an invite to opening night, and hear it was sparsely attended, but can’t say I’m that sad to have missed LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS, a.k.a. the movie selling itself with naked pictures of Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal that is actually about early-onset Parkinson’s disease. Way to bait and switch with a poster, folks.

That said, I have seen some of these selections in advance. I suggest skipping HEARTBEATS, a French would-be comedy (I think?) about a decadent dude and chick who see a guy at a party and decide he’s gonna be their new best friend. Main dude is gay, and main chick is not, so they start having fights about who gets to “get” the new guy, only the new guy is interested in attention rather than actual romantic involvement. Meanwhile, the story is interspersed with unrelated talking heads discussing various aspects of love and dating, from the Kinsey scale to cyberstalking. Also, a version of Nancy Sinatra’s “My Baby Shot Me Down” – cinematically already claimed by KILL BILL – gets abused on the soundtrack.

Better is PRECIOUS LIFE (playing tonight at 9:30 p.m.), a documentary in which an Israeli journalist and doctor work together to try to find a donor to help a Palestinian baby born with “Bubble Boy” immune deficiency, going back and forth between Israel and the occupied territories. Things take a decidedly interesting turn when the mother tells the filmmaker that she wants her son to grow up to be a martyr for Islam – though it isn’t clear whether she’s saying that because she actually believes it, or because she fears the consequences of saying anything remotely more conciliatory on camera. A journey towards more understanding is the goal; I won’t spoil whether or not they get there, but will say that it is heartening to see the Palestinian woman’s husband in a WWE Triple H T-shirt. Stand up for WWE, indeed.

I’ve been asked not to write about BLANK CITY in too much detail, but I can tell you that of all the documentaries I’ve seen about how awesome it was to be an artist in New York in the ‘70s, it’s certainly one of them. And seeing early work from fat character actor Mark Boone Jr. when he was thin and starting off in Jarmusch films is interesting. Anyway, it already screened at the fest.

Heartthrob actor Diego Luna turns director with ABEL (pronounced “a bell,” not “able”), executive produced by John Malkovich, in which a young boy comes home after a long time in a psychiatric hospital, and begins to exhibit strange behavior. Not having spoken for years, he starts developing a voice, disciplining his siblings, trying to help with their time, we realize he believes he’s his own father, who left the family a few years back. Mom humors him, even as no-one else wants to, fearing he’s too frail yet to face facts. But then he tries to do certain more “adult” things, and that just ain’t right. Luna could take this story in a scary direction, or a funny one, but instead he hedges his bets, making it unclear precisely what he wants us to take away. The set-up isn’t entirely convincing enough to take seriously, but nor does it use its premise to go as crazy as it could. The performances are strong, but I’d say it lacks major crossover appeal for U.S. audiences. We’ll see. (ABEL screens at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday.)

“Dude, what the eff is wrong with Danish people?” That’s what I said aloud after seeing NOTHING’S ALL BAD, a sort of Danish version of Todd Solondz’ HAPPINESS. One of those indies where the lives of different characters converge occasionally (somebody needs to give this subgenre a one-word name, seriously), it deals mainly with their sexual kinks. A teacher who’s had a mastectomy gets into amputee porn, while her newly widowed mother keeps getting hit on by lonely old men; a creepy, publicly masturbating perv tries to get help, while his son lives a dark life of sex for money...eventually they all end up having a happy Christmas dinner together. It’s penis-tastic, and the publicists can quote me on that. (NOTHING’S ALL BAD screens Tuesday at 9:45 p.m.)

THE HOUSEMAID is a remake of a 1960 Korean thriller that I have not seen, but I’m betting it has way more nudity than the original. The maid in question works for a ridiculously rich family (seriously, their bathtubs are kind of amazing in and of themselves), where the husband is a sexual harasser, his pregnant wife icy and decadent, and mom a total hardass harridan. The housemaid gets caught up in all of this, and basically put through hell, Lars von Trier style; eventually, of course, there is a reckoning...though it isn’t as cathartic as you’d hope. Nor is this remake much of what I’d call a “thriller,” though it’s certainly watchable. It plays as part of a double feature with the original, Sunday starting at 1 p.m.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you more about what I actually saw at the festival, as I mull the movies over in my head; meanwhile, most screenings are taking place at the Mann Chinese on Hollywood Blvd. Most shows are “sold” out of free tickets, but most people in last-minute rush lines get in.

And if you’re making a day of it, don’t forget to eat. I kinda did yesterday, and can only hope I wasn’t heard snoring in one of the theaters. Today, caffeine.

Luke Y. Thompson is an actor, writer, and film critic living in Hollywood.

More on Geekweek


Sign in to comment with your TypePad, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Yahoo or OpenID.