LYT vs. AFI Fest 2010 – The Last Big Blog

Has it really been almost a week since it all ended? I’m in shock. Many are the duties I have, and time passes so quickly...yet never would I neglect you, the reader. So, we have a lot left to discuss from the festival. We should do that now.


HAHAHA, which I think is Korean for “LOL,” is one of those movies that confused me. Others might not be as honest as I in their confusion, though I suspect they may feel it. Directed by Hong Sang-soo, this is apparently a movie about “a potent swirl of nostalgia, heartbreak and grace as two old friends share memories of the trip to the same seaside town.”

That’s what the program says. Ain’t what I got. But let me say that Korean films are often notoriously difficult for outsiders, as characters tend to have very similar names, and if they’re not played by familiar faces, that makes things even tougher. I did understand that the framing device, as seen in still black-and-white photos, is two friends meeting over a meal to talk about times past.

But here’s where we get into trouble: it varies as to whose point of view we’re seeing...but they both interacted with many of the same characters. And one of the friends has the same facial hair scruff as another key character. One is kind enough to distinguish himself with big, chunky glasses – but then there’s one who hits on a local tour guide, though she already has a boyfriend, who has befriended the other main dude separately, and, and...I never got the sense they were just visiting the town, or was clear on who already knew whom.

This was billed as a “double-feature” with Hong’s OKI’S MOVIE, but considering all movies were free, and the second one required a separate ticket and a re-lining up outside, how is that a double-feature in any way? Again I stress that the free tix are silliness, and even a $1 surcharge would improve matters immensely.

On Sunday, it was my intention to come and see the original 1960 version of THE HOUSEMAID, having peeped the remake at advance screenings. After waiting in a ridiculously long line, however, I was told that a print problem was leading to a bait and switch, with the remake being shown first. My only other option was a shorts program, and frankly, I avoid those where possible, because even the best short ever (Don Hertzfeldt’s “Rejected,” let’s say) has a limited ceiling on where it can go (seriously, how many of you reading this have seen “Rejected”? It’s amazing, but that’s not the point).

However, I will say that the SHORTS PROGRAM 1 made me very happy, and I did not regret a moment. Some very talented filmmakers put a lot of work into these.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ “Successful Alcoholics” is some pure, undiluted fun, even though it begins with some nasty fake puke, something I’m not a big fan of (looks more like ambrosia salad than real vomit, though, so not that bad, really). It’s the comedic tale of a couple who are falling-down drunk most of the time, so much so that they say things like, “Do you think I threw up, and if so, where?” and “If I’m gonna get blackout drunk, YOU CAN’T!” Yet they’re also both very good at their jobs, despite being alcoholic screw-ups, and believe me, as a journalist, this rings SUPER-true. I would seriously like to see this expanded into a feature.

Colin Kennedy’s “I Love Luci” also begins with a passed-out drunk in a pile of puke (which looks more like marmalade this time), but sicker jokes are on his mind. The dog swallows some barfed-out dentures, which later make their way out its rear end, and, um, back where they belong without the most thorough of cleanings...all against a gritty backdrop of Scottish drug addicts that make the toilet humor play better than it might if told in a bar. Like so much of Scots cinema, some nasty fun here.

Asaf Saban’s “On Leave” jettisons all humor in favor of pure grit, as an Israeli soldier on leave goes through the motions of life before doing something rather drastic on the way home. Not an entirely unexpected ending, but the cast bare more than you might predict, and in many ways

Andrew Bowler’s “Time Freak” is apparently already on track for a feature adaptation, though I’m not sure it will sustain. Funny joke at the heart of it is an OCD nerd who invents a time machine, then spends years using it to go back to the day before and fix Seinfeldian minutiae in conversations that he feels didn’t go as well as they ought. Perfect for a short, but we’ll see how they go making it bigger.

Laurie Hill’s “Photograph of Jesus” takes a real-life situation and makes it funny – in this case, it’s the requests people get at a photo-archive house, from the general public. Among them: photos of Jesus, aerial images of the Battle of Britain, Hitler at the 1948 London Olympics, Jack the Ripper...all unavailable for what one would think are obvious reasons. Hill enlivens these requests with Terry Gilliamesque animation, and certainly, we are never bored.

Finally, Tim Hope’s “The Savage Canvas” deals with the issues behind putting on a piece of children’s theater, when its thoroughly precocious and obnoxious pre-teen author decides to have her say, even though her instincts are thoroughly impractical. Amusing, but to say why would be to spoil...hard to know where to draw the line on this, but imagine The Office (UK), with vindication, on stage...maybe you’re close.

All told, this shorts program pleased me a lot more than most of the features. So mea culpa.

The animated CHICO AND RITA was shown at the Egyptian, and was notable for being the first and only screening where my press badge got me into a special advance line, much to the disgruntlement of someone in said line holding a Cinepass, who just couldn't BELIEVE he had paid good money to wait in the same line as ten other people.

One thing I learned from watching the movie is that cartoon sex scenes will always make people laugh, no matter how they're played. And CHICO AND RITA plays like a fairly classical Hollywood love story, aside from the fact that it's a cartoon with some explicit nudity. It's a fictionalized biopic (I think Chico is a fictional character, though I don't know enough about the era and music genre to know for sure) of a Cuban jazz musician who teams with and falls for a beautiful singer named Rita, but his volatile temper and weakness for women and booze leads her to head off to America without him, where she becomes a star.

Under the name “Rita Labelle,” which Chico mistakenly pronounces Spanish style as “La Bay-yay,” she becomes a movie star, and they meet again, though he ends up being framed by Rita's ruthless manager, and deported back to Cuba where the new communist regime no longer permits Latin Jazz. Without him, Rita ends up encountering racism and prejudice alone.

Hand drawn with computer enhancement, it's always a visually exciting film, and though the plot is old fashioned and ultimately predictable, it hits its beats well enough. A key scene that relies on a stereotypical mobster offering the stale line “She'll never work in this town again” hits the ear like an off-key note, but otherwise, this gets a strong recommendation from me...a guy who doesn't even especially like jazz.

Mike Ott's LITTLEROCK, which ended up winning one of the audience choice awards (I suspect because the small theater was packed out with cast, crew, friends and family), is a bit like a reverse LOST IN TRANSLATION. Japanese siblings Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto) and Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka), driving across America, have their rental car break down in the California desert town of Littlerock. When they wind up staying at a motel next to some noisy neighbors, Rintaro goes next door and befriends an outgoing local named Cory (Cory Zacharia....yep, as you’re starting to guess, characters in this movie are based on and named after most of the actors), who enrolls himself as their official guide.

Rintaro speaks English; Atsuko, none. But she is the one who wants to stick around as he insists on pressing on to San Francisco.

Much of the movie hammers in one basic joke: Cory keeps speaking to Atsuko expecting her to understand him, and she doesn't. Cory looks and sounds a lot like a character Andy Samberg might create on SNL, and I have the feeling his friends and the filmmakers find him inherently hilarious (much of his dialogue was based on things he really said). I don't – he was funnier at the Q&A afterwards, which I tried to bail from, except I was in the middle of a row and nobody left their seats.

Well, there was this one wacky street person who kept walking to and from the seat two chairs down from me. Did this about three times during the movie, at one point loudly saying “Beep-beep! Beep-beep!” During a sex scene, he went “Whooo!” and he was prone to yelling “Yeah!” a lot. The hazards of free tix, y'all. Anyway, he left about 2/3 of the way through, having apparently taken long bathroom breaks (weed breaks? Or is it that I’m stereotyping based on the guy having blond dreadlocks?) throughout.

Anyway, as far as LITTLEROCK goes, the story eventually ties in to the history of Japanese-Americans in a manner that kind of brings things together, and goes part way towards explaining why exactly Atsuko would want to hang in a crazy small town where she understands nothing. Even so, it seems a stretch.

Takeshi Kitano's OUTRAGE was one of the most purely fun things I had the pleasure of attending...seeing the aging Kitano in mob action is like watching Stallone still doing Rambo.

Remember in the Twilight sequel, how Bella suddenly got all tough and went to see a movie called FACE PUNCH? OUTRAGE is that movie. It's the face-punchiest movie of the year. And the finger-cuttiest. And the chopstick-stabbingest. And yeah, there is kind of a point – it's a parody of Japanese machismo and honor, and how keeping one's manly ego intact often leads to a series of never-ending escalations. Do check it out when Magnet releases it...sometime.

I decided shortly thereafter that I was going to base my moviegoing choices on the theater rather than the title. The crappy 2-5 houses at the Chinese just hurt my legs.

Continuing in a vein I tapped in my very first AFI Fest blog, that being “What the Eff is Wrong With Danish People?”, we have SUBMARINO, directed by Thomas Vinterberg, director of THE CELEBRATION, aka the only good movie to come out of Lars von Trier’s Dogme ’95 gimmick.

A former colleague of mine used to always dislike movies that dwelled on dark themes, feeling that reveling in ugliness was mean-spirited and hideous; I have little doubt that THE SOCIAL NETWORK, directed by David Fincher and scored by Trent Reznor, represents one of his least favorite things this year. Yet after coming out of SUBMARINO, I realized “so that’s what he was talking about!” Because this is a movie that just revels in the nastiest stuff, and I’m not sure there’s much of a point.

It begins with the token image of innocence that’s about to be ruined...under white sheets and light, a baby’s hand grasps those of his bigger brothers, as they prepare to baptize him. Soon this image is replaced, though, with a ridiculously alcoholic mom, falling down drunk on gin, pissing herself. The boys respond by dropping an electrical appliance in her urine puddle to electro-shock her awake.

Later, mom is gone, boys are drinking is dead. We linger on this, then fade to Nick, one of the two boys all grown up (Nick’s living brother, for some reason, is apparently never named)

Let me take an aside to point out a movie cliché I’m really starting to hate. Someone who is estranged from somebody else calls them up on the phone, says nothing while a voice on the other end goes “Hello? Hello? Hello?”, and then the caller hangs up without having said a word. Seen it too much, and even having Nick bust the crap out of his hand by hitting the phone booth afterwards doesn’t make it better.

Nick, covered in tattoos, and a heavy drinker, lives in a “shelter” that feels more like a hostel of some kind, and he occasionally gets his neighbor-lady to give him head. His best friend Ivan is a creepy virgin stalker who’s a date-rapist waiting to happen (it does, of course).

We learn his mom died three weeks ago, and he got out of jail three months ago. He saw his brother at the funeral, and is trying to locate him again now...

At this point, the movie backs up to about four weeks prior, and follows his brother, a widower with a kid named Martin. Bro is a major junkie and becomes a dealer. This structure is a bit annoying, asking us to start all over again identifying with a new protagonist...intertwining the tales throughout might have satisfied me the viewer more, but such is not Vinterberg’s choice.

Anyway, further indignities are piled on, as Nick’s hand gets infected and must be amputated and Bro seems to get AIDS in jail. And at a certain point, one must wonder: to what end are we seeing indignity upon indignity piled upon two not especially nice people?

Yes, there’s a bit of catharsis at the end, but I feel like I could have related to these characters just a bit more if both had not basically been in the role of Job.

THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER is a movie on the other end of the scale, a charming tale of teenagers looking to make out at the end of the school year. Like DAZED AND CONFUSED, there’s not a ton of plot, and there are too many characters to keep total track of. But it’s sweet and compelling, if overly rosy in its memory of what high school was actually like for most of us.

MORGEN, from Romania, retreads many of the same themes as THE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER: cross-cultural confusion, silly bureaucracy, Romania, and bakeries. Like LITTLEROCK, it also repeatedly milks a joke of having two of the main characters never understand each other. Fisherman and grocery-store guard Nelu picks up a Turkish illegal immigrant while fishing along the Romania/Hungary border, and decides to help hide him, not for any particularly noble reason, but just because. They kinda-sorta become friends, and Nelu occasionally cooks up plans to get him across the next border, but they’re usually foiled by minor inconveniences.

One thing MORGEN does well is especially dark night shots, completely unlike Hollywood’s standard moonlit roads. These are some of the blackest big-screen nights, like ones you may have seen on wilderness camping trips.

The movie’s gently whimsical, if you like that sort of thing, but nothing breathtaking.

The final gala I got to attend was THE COMPANY MEN, the third high-profile festival showcase form the Weinstein Company, and the one least likely to garner awards love, despite the presence of Tommy Lee Jones, Craig T. Nelson, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, and Ben Affleck. Though it does have exaggerated Baahstan accents, one of the hallmahks of this season.

It’s a movie about corporate downsizing that really wants to be Of The Moment, despite director John Wells’ pre-show comment that when he made it last year, he didn’t know how topical it would be. Dude, recession’s been going on more than two years now, y’know?

Ultimately, it feels more like a TV pilot for a series that chronicles the further adventures of the downsized guys starting anew...and while the decision to focus on Affleck’s character is understandable from a youth marketing perspective, it’s Chris Cooper’s more peripheral character who’s more interesting.

Easy viewing, and certainly a marketable drama...but ultimately, this is a popcorn treatment of a serious issue. The after-party, with Baskin-Robbins ice cream and a rare trip to the VIP lounge (same food and drinks, nicer location), was by far more exciting.

AFI FEST 2010 closed with BLACK SWAN, at a gala to which I was not invited, but I’ve already seen the movie and I love it. So as not to greatly preempt my forthcoming review for E! Online, I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that it’s much more of a flat-out horror movie than is being promoted. Think the Darren Aronofsky version of Polanski’s REPULSION.

And with that another year of AFI Fest is over. Let us hope there will actually be another one.


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

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