AFI FEST

Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln

Editor’s note: Lincoln gets its full theatrical release tomorrow, so please enjoy a re-run of our AFI FEST review of the film, originally published way back on November 9. It opens with a battle. Not the sort of battle we’ve come to expect from movies these days, not one punctuated by booms and blasts and bullets, but one that feels almost eerily and unnaturally quiet. There are hordes of soldiers attacking each other left and right, to be sure, and as they grunt and grasp in hand-to-hand (face-to-face, really) combat, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln immediately lets its audience in on what sort of film it is going to be – a personal one, a deeply felt one, and one startlingly free of what we’ve come to expect from big, bustling films about horrific wars and the beloved men who carry them out. No, Lincoln is not exactly what you’re expecting it to be – and it’s all the better for it. The plot of Lincoln can be briefly explained in few words – it centers on the last gasps of the American Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) attempts to end it and get the Thirteenth Amendment (the one that outlaws slavery and serves as a a much stricter take on the Emancipation Proclamation) pushed through the divided House of Representatives. Adapted from Doris Kearns Goodwin‘s meticulously researched (and nearly 1,000-page long) “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” screenwriter Tony Kushner and Spielberg have distilled down […]

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Hitchcock AFI FEST

Alfred Hitchcock is, as the kids say, “having a moment” right now. On the heels of a HBO’s made-for-television film, The Girl, and a year before he’ll pop up in Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco, ol’ Hitch is the subject of yet another feature. This one is simply named Hitchcock, and despite the promise such an eponymous title might deliver (“Hitchcock! That sounds like it will cover quite a bit of ground!”), Sacha Gervasi‘s film sticks to a slim (though important) period of the director’s life, focusing on the production of Psycho, a truly warts-and-all experience. And yet, despite working from intriguing material (the script, by John J. McLaughlin, has been adapted from Stephen Rebello‘s book, “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho”) and with a tremendously talented cast (led by Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren), the final product is a disparate and shapeless film that never finds its footing or its focus. A Hitchcock film this is not. Hitchcock attempts to immediately introduce us to both “Hitch” (Hopkins) and his obsessions, opening with a mildly amusing vignette that features mass murderer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the inspiration behind the book that inspired Hitchcock’s Psycho, offing his first victim while Hitchcock himself wryly observes, coming into frame like some sort of grand master of ceremonies (Gein will reappear throughout the film, each appearance becoming more laughable and ineffective than the last). Hitchcock, it turns out, has just come off the tremendous success of his North By Northwest and is now […]

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Kicking off this week with its Opening Night Gala for Hitchcock, Hollywood’s own AFI FEST effectively wraps up the year’s film festival-going season (a season that lasts approximately eleven months). Such calendar placement means that AFI FEST comes late enough in the year to serve as a last hurrah for titles that have been playing the festival circuit as far back as January (at Sundance) or as far away as France, Berlin, and Venice, and is the perfect opportunity for Southern California-based film geeks (or those willing to put some miles on their passport) to catch up on films they’ve been anticipating for months. Of course, of the 136 films playing at this year’s festival, we’ve managed to catch nearly a fifth of them at other fests, and we’re quite pleased to use this opportunity to remind you as such. Confused over what to see at the festival? Be confused no more! After the break, jog your memories of our always-extensive festival coverage with reviews for twenty-eight films set to play at this week’s AFI FEST that we’ve already seen (and, you know, reviewed). It’s like getting your festival coverage whole days early!

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As has become par for the course over the past few years, Hollywood’s own AFI FEST has brought out the big guns for its star-studded Galas screenings, with the festival set to open with Hitchcock and close with Lincoln – and yet, as exciting as both of those titles are (seriously, Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock? Steven Spielberg directing Daniel Day-Lewis as ol’ Honest Abe? it’s all a bit too good), the five films I am most anticipating will arrive smack in the middle of the festival. Some of these titles come with significantly less fanfare than either of the fest’s big guns, and some are just as primed for awards season domination, but all five of them are at the top of my movie-going list. After the break, take a look inside my AFI FEST-addled brain to get a sense on five films I think (hope?) are the true winners of this year’s festival.

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This year’s AFI FEST is certainly bringing festival-goers some of the year’s biggest titles, with world premieres of Hitchcock and Lincoln, not to mention favorites from this year’s festivals like Silver Linings Playbook and Amour, and yet, when I finally sat down to begin putting together my festival schedule, it seemed to be the smaller films that caught my eye and ended up on my personal must-see list. Certainly, films I have heard about from colleagues who have caught screenings of them at other festivals are accounted for here, but my tendency to gravitate toward lesser-known titles has led me to discover some amazing little gems such as films from director Ava DuVernay (I caught her film I Will Follow at AFI FEST back in 2010 and enjoyed her latest Middle of Nowhere during the LA Film Festival this year) and, of course, my love for music-focused stories always cause those films to get top billing from me. Check out the five films I am most looking forward to seeing during this year’s AFI FEST and let me know if you are also looking forward to any these films or if hearing about them here has piqued your interest enough to add them to your own most anticipated lists!

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As 2012 begins to wind down, your trusty LA Rejects, Kate Erbland and myself, plan to take on one final film festival – Los Angeles’ AFI FEST. AFI FEST differs from June’s Los Angeles Film Festival as the cooler temperatures (cool, not cold, I know it’s LA) of November seem to bring out slightly heavier fare. Plus, AFI FEST is located in the heart of Hollywood with many screenings taking place at the historic Grauman’s Chinese and Egyptian Theaters, giving further weight and importance to the selections shown during the festival. This year, AFI FEST brings us some of the year’s most talked-about films while also getting in a few last world premieres. The festival boasts an impressive list of titles on its roster, but we have rounded up the six must-see films that should be on the radar (and schedules) of all festival attendees. And for those who cannot attend, make note to track these films down when they come to you. AFI FEST runs from November 1st until November 8th.

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After weeks of anticipation, next month’s AFI FEST has today released the final listing of titles that will appear at Los Angeles’ own festival. This time around, we’re treated to World Cinema, Breakthrough, Midnight, and Shorts picks, and they’re just as wonderful as the last few rounds of announcements we’ve gotten from the fest. Seriously, if you live in LA and you’ve missed some of the year’s other great festivals, AFI FEST is crammed with best-of titles from the like of Cannes, Venice, and Toronto. And while the festival has already filled their schedule with a number of solid picks that have made their mark on the year’s festival circuit, and this final listing of titles only continues AFI FEST’s trend of being scarily on point when it comes to their picks. Notable titles announced today include Michael Haneke‘s Amour, Ken Loach‘s The Angels’ Share, Thomas Vinterberg‘s The Hunt, Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways, Wayne Blair‘s The Sapphires, and The ABCs of Death. After the break, check out all of the newly-announced selections, along with info on how to get your very own tickets for the festival.

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Silver Linings Playbook

It’s almost as if the programmers of this year’s AFI FEST cracked open my brain, poked around for a bit, and then pulled out a number of different film titles to use as part of their Centerpiece Galas and Special Screenings schedule because, hot damn, what follows is a list of every single film I’m still aching to see this year. Man alive! The festival has just announced key additions to their lineup as part of both Centerpiece Galas and Special Screenings, and the list reads like a who’s-who of some of the year’s most buzzed-about titles. Films like Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, Walter Salles‘ On the Road, Jacques Audiard‘s Rust and Bone, Ken Burns‘ The Central Park Five, Leos Carax‘s Holy Motors, Juan Antonio Bayonas‘ The Impossible, Rodney Ascher‘s Room 237, David O. Russell‘s Silver Linings Playbook, and almost impossibly, still more. Okay, it can be November now. After the break, check out full plotlines for all of the newly-announced selections, along with info on how to get your very own tickets for the festival.

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Jennifer Garner in Butter

Editor’s note: With Butter finally hitting theaters tomorrow, here’s a re-run of our AFI FEST review, originally published on November 8, 2011, to spread all over your movie theater popcorn. Jim Field Smith’s Butter has been packaged and sold as its own consumable commodity – as some sort of smart, politically-minded satire. Butter is certainly funny in spats, but smart satire it is not, as there are no hard lessons taught or learned within the film. It may be too easy to say that Butter goes soft by its end – but the wording works here, both in terms of a mildly clever food pun and as an actual critique of how the film flip-flops with its tone and message before settling on an easy conclusion. The world of competitive butter-carving is hilarious and bizarre, a fine setting for a straight comedy that culminates with a character incredulously summing up its ridiculousness – “you put it on toast!” – but everything in Smith’s film is just too obvious to transcend basic laughs.

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That crispness to the air that you’re probably feeling right now (unless, of course, you live in the western United States, and good luck to you) doesn’t just signal the coming of autumn, it also signals the swiftly approaching fall film festival season. We’ve already plowed through Venice, Telluride, and Toronto, just wrapped Fantastic Fest, and are currently in the middle of New York’s own NYFF, but there are plenty of other festivals on the horizon. Like, oh, how about Los Angeles’ own AFI FEST? Dear to my heart (because, unlike all those other previously-listed festivals, I can actually attend this one), AFI FEST continues to make great strides in its programming with every passing year. The festival has now announced their selections for two of their most exciting and forward-thinking sections: Young Americans (which features works by emerging U.S. filmmakers) and New Auteurs (which highlights first and second-time feature film directors from around the world). As ever, both programs are packed with films (and talent) that we’ll be talking about for years to come. Some of the Young Americans selections include Joe Swanberg‘s All the Light in the Sky (Swanberg is a consistent AFI FEST favorite), Rebecca Thomas‘ Electrick Children, David Zellner‘s Kid-Thing, Robert Byington‘s Somebody Up There Likes Me, Sean Baker‘s Starlet, and Amy Seimetz‘s Sun Don’t Shine. Stand-outs in the New Auteurs section include Brandon Cronenberg‘s Antiviral, Tobiaas Lindholm‘s A Highjacking, and Antonio Campos‘ Simon Killer (which caused quite a stir at Sundance this year). After the […]

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Hitchcock

As we draw ever closer to Hollywood’s own AFI FEST, the film festival’s little elves are hard at work issuing tantalizing press releases that clue us into some of the treats that await fest-goers this November. On the heels of announcing the festival’s Closing Night Film, Lincoln, last week, the fest has now announced which film will open the festivities, and it’s one hell of an appropriate pick. The world premiere of Sacha Gervasi‘s Anthony Hopkins-starring Hitchcock will open the festival on Thursday, November 1. The film centers on the making of Psycho and draws from Stephen Rebello‘s book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” with a script by John J. McLaughlin. It also stars Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy, Toni Collette, Danny Huston, and Michael Stuhlbarg. Star-studded? You bet. Awards season fodder? You are two for two. Hitchcock himself was the recipient of the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1979, and four of his movies rank on AFI’s “100 Years…100 Movies” list: Vertigo (#9), Psycho (#14), Rear Window (#48), and North by Northwest (#55).

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Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln

While much of the FSR family is busy in our hometown of Austin, Texas, gorging themselves on equal parts barbeque and genre films at dear old Fantastic Fest, the rest of us must attempt to extract some joy from future festivals that we’ll be able to attend – like Los Angeles’ own AFI FEST. To that end, the Hollywood-based festival has just announced their Closing Night Film: the world premiere (swank!) of Steven Spielberg‘s Daniel Day-Lewis-starring Lincoln. The film will close out the festival on the evening of November 8 at the “historic” (and historically beautiful) Chinese Theatre. “Steven Spielberg epitomizes American filmmaking,” said Jacqueline Lyanga, Director, AFI FEST, “and who better to tell the story of one of the most significant figures in our country’s history. In this important presidential election year, Spielberg’s Lincoln reminds us that the challenges of the past remain as relevant today.” Spielberg has previously been the recipient of the AFI Life Achievement Award (in 1995) and, just last year, his The Adventures of Tintin closed that year’s festival.

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Based on the comics by Belgian artist Hergé, The Adventures of Tintin follows a young reporter as he (along with his trusty dog Snowy) end up on a series of adventures in pursuit of his next story. Brought to the screen by director Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson, this may be the first time many audiences in America will be seeing and experiencing the world of Tintin (as the comic was first made famous overseas), but the series should have little trouble finding new fans this holiday season. Jackson’s skill with motion capture technology (as seen in his films like The Lord of the Rings and King Kong) is well-translated in Spielberg’s first animated project, creating an immersive world you can easily escape into, while the director’s love of telling an adventure story (and the series itself) bursts through each frame. The film begins with a series of animated scenes which work as a nice recall to the comics from which the story originated – even including a slight reference to newspapers as a nod to Tintin’s (Jamie Bell) job as a journalist and the format through which the comic first ran. The transition from to this the more standard style of animation into the full scope of the film’s 3D motion capture sublty helps audience realize just how impressive and vibrant this new technology truly is. Tintin may not look exactly as he does in the comics, but a clever wink at that iconic image is given early on, making it […]

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As this year’s AFI FEST presented by Audi winds to a close with this evening’s Closing Night Gala of The Adventures of Tintin, it’s time to start celebrating the films and talents that made this year’s festival such a massive success. The festival announced their full listing of award winners and prize recipients at their annual awards brunch, held this morning. There are a number of winners here that have already racked up some wins and notice throughout the festival season, including Michael R. Roskam‘s Bullhead, Athina Rachel Tsangari‘s Attenberg, and Clay Liford‘s Wuss, but the festival also paid special notice to Bullhead star Matthias Schoenaerts, along with their selections of shorts. The festival ends this evening with that very special Tintin screening, which both Ms. Loring and I will be attending, with animated bells on. Look for Allison’s review of the film tomorrow, one she is excited to write because “this film is about pirates – my people!” Nothing but professionalism here, folks. Check out the full listing of AFI FEST’s award winners after the break.

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The title of Jay and Mark Duplass’ latest film, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, may imply that the film will center primarily on leading loser Jeff, well, living at home. When we first meet Jeff (Jason Segel), he’s smoking weed in his mother’s basement, but though that setting (and that particular action) would, at first puff, seem to lay the stage for what the rest of the film portrays, Jeff gets out of the house and out in the world pretty swiftly. Jeff, Who Lives at Home may ostensibly focus on Jeff’s journey to a greater understanding of himself and the world he lives in (and, yes, that journey comes with much less weed-smoking than one would expect), the Duplass brothers have actually crafted a charming film that is, at its heart, about the influence of everyday magic in the lives of an off-kilter family. The Duplass men have long been concerned with issues of family and disaffection, and finding humor in the tragedy that is inherent (and sometimes inherited) in both. The Puffy Chair and Cyrus both have plots that center on daddy issues, to some extent, and Jeff, Who Lives at Home is no different. Segel’s Jeff is a thirtyish slacker who is unable to complete even the most mundane of tasks (early on in the film, his mother asks him to simply procure some wood glue and fix a broken shutter). He lives at home with said mother Sharon (played amusingly by Susan Sarandon, complete with her […]

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R.E.M. may have sang about the end of the world as we know it, but Lars von Trier brings that idea to the big screen in his film Melancholia, which deals with the heavy issue of depression (played with palpable despair and frustration by Kristen Dunst) in the face of a looming planet that threatens to end all life on earth. The film begins with a near ten-minute-long, slow-motion sequence focusing on foreboding images (which look almost like paintings) that are overtaken by darkness. The heavy (and at times jarring) soundtrack of the film, featuring deep violins and strings, is established during this sequence, and it strikes up throughout the film when things begin to take a more menacing turn. The film is split into two parts, the first focusing on Justine (Dunst) and her grand wedding to Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), while the second focuses on Justine’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourgh), and how she tries to hold her family together in the face of something that would cause depression (and utter fear) in almost anyone – the sudden and unstoppable end of life. Although the first part may seem a bit confusing, as von Trier brings us right into the story and does little to fill in the gaps, it becomes clear quickly that Justine is only trying to play the part of the happy bride, but does not fully have it in her. Despite pressure from her family and even her employer, Justine cannot seem to connect with what is going […]

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What happens when four grown men get together for a weekend away from their families and jobs? They turn into drugged-up, sexed-up frat guys! (Naturally?) College buddies Richard (Thomas Jane), Jonathan (Rob Lowe), Ron (Jeremy Piven), and Tim (Christian McKay) come together for a weekend not just away from their lives, but apparently also away from their own minds. As soon as Doctor Jon shows up with his medical bag full of enough pills, powders, and injections to make you the most popular person at an NA meeting, the boys jump down the rabbit hole of excess and never look back. Mark Pellington‘s I Melt With You will make you thankful that most frats (or guys that age) do not have access to expensive toys like cars, boats, cliffside vacation homes, and more drugs than Michael Jackson would even know what to do with (sorry, MJ). I understand escapism and wanting to indulge every so often, but I Melt With You crosses the line from self-destruction into just plain destruction so quickly that it will leave you feeling as if you are reeling from your own all-night bender.

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There’s dirty cops and there’s bad cops, and there’s a difference between the two. In Oren Moverman’s Rampart, a large-scale scandal threatens to ruin an entire police division, but the possibly-orchestrated (and conveniently televised) fall from grace of a single, uninvolved officer forms the plot of the filmmaker’s sluggish and sloppy second feature. Writer and director Moverman again teams with his The Messenger star, Woody Harrelson, as maybe-fall guy Dave Brown, a renegade cop unhinged by the possibility that he’s been bad all along, he just didn’t know it. Though Rampart makes copious mention of the complicated real-life scandal that shook up Los Angeles and the LAPD in the 90s, the film itself instead focuses on the fictional tale of Harrelson’s Dave Brown. An old school cop, a former solider who spends a touch too much time harkening back to his Vietnam years, Harrelson fills out Dave with enough of that classic Woody charm to keep him endlessly watchable, but frequently hard to care about (Harrelson will likely get some Oscar buzz, and if anything in this film is awards-worthy, it’s Harrelson’s work). A cigarette-chomping, skirt-chasing alcoholic, Dave doesn’t have much to recommend him besides swagger and a smirk, but even that can’t save him when he’s caught on tape positively kicking the crap out of a citizen who (at least on the video) appears to be doing nothing wrong. Sent to the media and popping up on newscasts across the city, Dave’s bad behavior may be ruining his life, […]

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The life of a celebrity (regardless of what they are famous for or what era we may be in) is a confounding and, at times, seemingly crazy circus of people, cameras, and lights. We have seen it with the young starlets rising (and falling) today to those featured in films like Country Strong, which try and show what it is like to live in the eye of that storm. Surrounded by yes-men and an unquestioned supply of pills, you begin to wonder what is fantasy and what is reality. In the trailer for My Week With Marilyn we see Marilyn (Michelle Williams) ask Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) if she “should be her,” meaning what the public thinks of when they think of Marilyn Monroe – the eyes, the lips, and the hips – hinting at the idea that there is more to Marilyn when she lets you behind that closed dressing room door. Based on the real-life memoirs of Clark, My Week With Marilyn follows Colin as he falls in love for the first time – with both filmmaking and a beautiful woman. Growing up in a successful and pressure-filled family, Colin found solace at the theater and decided he wanted to pursue a career in the film business. After refusing to take no for an answer (and thanks to his puppy dog eyes that charmed any woman in his path), Colin landed a job as the third Assistant Director on Laurence Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) film, The Prince and the Showgirl, starring none other than Marilyn Monroe.

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Moving away from the feature-length hand sanitizer commercial that was this year’s Contagion, director Steven Soderbergh returns to the screen with another one of his trademark all-star cast outings, but one with significantly more ass-kicking delivered at the hands (and feet) of a particularly-picked leading lady. In Haywire, Soderbergh lets loose cinematic newcomer Gina Carano, a real-life MMA fighter who can more than hold her own with the boys club that rounds out the film’s cast (including Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, and Bill Paxton). Packaged as a double-crossing spy thriller, Haywire is big on impressive and crowd-pleasing fight scenes, but the film fizzles when it comes to delivering a particularly clever story for all those flying fists to play out against. The meat of Haywire’s plot is just a standard double-cross story that’s pumped up with the sort of stylistic flash and flair that Soderbergh can deliver handily. Carano plays a highly skilled ex-Marine who now works in the “private sector” on black ops jobs that involves messy endeavors like extraction and assassination. Carano’s Mallory Kane is very good at her job, good enough that she’s often a special request (an “essential element”) for a number of her company’s various contracts, a fact that irks her boss and ex-flame Kenneth (McGregor). Mallory is dispatched for an extraction job in Barcelona that goes well enough, but her performance there directly leads into her next job, a gig that’s ostensibly presented as glorified babysitting, done in […]

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