AFI FEST 2011

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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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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Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist is not only a throw back to the days before people spoke in films; it almost makes you wonder why we ever added sound in the first place. Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo shine as the film’s two leads able to say more with a look or a soft shoe than most of us can in 140 characters. Filmed in stunning black-and-white, The Artist takes us back to a time when men wore suits, women wore hats and a simple dance could lead to love. The movie tells the story of silent film star George Valentin (Dujardin) and how his world and career are threatened when sound and talking are introduced into art form. At the same time, aspiring actress Peppy Miller (Bejo) finds herself the sudden face of this new style of filmmaking with her star rising as George’s falls. After a chance encounter at one of George’s film premieres, Peppy wins a role as an extra on his next film (much to George’s surprise and delight). It is clear Peppy is a natural star from the start with a contagious personality and bright eyes that play right to the camera. Audiences quickly fall in love with the new starlet, and they are clearly not the only ones.

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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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There is no question that when you are seated inside Grauman’s Chinese Theater it is hard not to take in the grandeur of one of Hollywood’s most famous locals and, regardless of what story is being told, be impressed at how films look on that big screen. Grauman’s and its surrounding theaters are home to AFI FEST, giving the festival a true sense of history from the iconic building to the literal stars making up the sidewalk outside. However one fact about Grauman’s (and this area of Hollywood in general) that people outside of Los Angeles may not be familiar with is the slew of literal characters you have to push through to get there. Those visiting Los Angeles for the first time usually make a trip to the famous theater one of the stops on their hit list, but despite the inside of the theater being all glamour and class, the street outside is practically the polar opposite. To this day I am not fully convinced the people that dress up as any manner of characters from Toy Story’s Buzz and Woody to Captain Jack Sparrow to Bumblebee from Transformers are not just glorified homeless people. Both essentially ask you for money (a photo with Spider-Man is not free), but these characters do so in exchange for you getting a picture with someone “famous” to go home and show your friends. (Even if Captain Jack really did smell like rum when you stood next to him.)

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Filmmaker Jean-Baptiste Leonetti’s feature film debut plucks from the cinematic dystopic visions that have preceded his black-as-night view of the future, but the filmmaker has deftly crafted a bold and tense new take on a world ruined and remade. Carre Blanc is a brooding, moody, and atmospheric exercise – frequently silent and nearly dark, with action playing out across crisp and clean sets that are void of any kind of personal decoration or demarcation. While individuals are essential to the film’s future society, individuality is not prized and has been slowly beaten out of all citizens. Living and working space all appear to be crafted from the same up-scale IKEA mold, functionality as the only aim. It is no surprise that the citizens who populate Carre Blanc’s bleak future society are, at best, shiftless and, at worst, crushingly depressed. It’s never quite clear what happened to the world of Carre Blanc before the film opens, or why its inhabitants are doomed to such a bleak existence, but Leonetti does not shy from making the film play as an unwavering damnation of consumption. While comparisons to something like Soylent Green seem inevitable, Leonetti does not hide the truth of the product that his titular company is turning out, revealing within the film’s first five minutes that Carre Blanc the product is, indeed, people. But whether the majority of the film’s inhabitants know, or even care about, the truth of what they’re blindly using for sustenance forms the central plot (and central […]

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This year’s Young Hollywood panel (presented by the Los Angeles Times) brought together rising stars Anton Yelchin, Evan Rachel Wood, Armie Hammer and Kirsten Dunst to discuss how they got started in acting, what it is like working with impressive (and at times intimidating) directors like Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen and David Fincher and how their success is shaping their careers. Hammer and Dunst are each featured in films screening at the festival (J. Edgar and Melancholia, respectively) with Hammer as Edgar’s right-hand man and Dunst as a depressed bride. Yelchin and Wood have been getting attention for their performances as one half of a long distance relationship in Like Crazy and the tempting intern who may undo an entire presidential campaign in The Ides of March. The four came together Friday night (with Hammer fresh off the premiere of J. Edgar the night before) and there was a palpable energy between them as they would get so excited or intrigued by another person’s answer it would sometimes feel like we were simply overhearing a conversation between new friends. It was interesting to see Hammer surrounded by three actors who have been doing this since they were young (as he is just getting started in his career) and how he was just as engaged in their answers as the audience, asking which project they would be referring to in a story or simply being shocked over hearing about directors who preferred to do scenes in a single take.

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If you’ve been paying as much attention to the lineup for this year’s AFI FEST as the rest of us Rejects (read: quite a bit), you’ve surely noticed that the festival’s programming is packed with a number of films that have played some of the year’s biggest festivals. If you’re in Southern California, the Hollywood-based (and free) film festival will give you a chance to check out the same films that played at Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, Venice, New York, Fantastic Fest, Sundance, London, and more. It’s like traveling without leaving your own area code, or spending the cold, hard cash it would take to fly halfway around the world. Sounds pretty simple now, huh, shut-in? AFI FEST will run from November 3rd through the 10th in Hollywood, with all screenings taking place at The Chinese, the Chinese 6 Theatres, and the Egyptian Theatre. Tickets for all screenings are free (and available right HERE). The complete schedule grid is online for the festival, which you can check out HERE. After the break, check out 22 festival favorites (and a sampling of some of the other festivals they’ve played) that you may have missed throughout the year. Not sure if they’re worthy of clearing your AFI FEST schedule for? I’ve linked to all of our previous coverage, too, so you really have no excuse.

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Earlier this morning, my partner in LA film festival crime, the lovely Ms. Allison Loring, posted her list of Most Anticipated Films from this year’s upcoming AFI FEST presented by Audi. Of course, many of our choices overlap (Shame, Butter, Rampart), but we part ways when it comes to some of the smaller films at the festival. For all the big, Oscar bait flicks (J. Edgar) or the wang- and soul-baring Fass-outings (Shame again, always Shame), there are a few films that I’ve been positively rabid to see (Alps, Michael) that might not yet have the cache value and audience awareness of those other films. From the festival’s incredible list of 110 films, I’ve narrowed down my list to ten films that are my bonafide Most Anticipated Films of the festival. Like any list, I am sure that some of you perusing it will be displeased, weighing in on titles I’m a fool to miss. But hold your wrath for a few days, because many of the best titles of the fest are ones I’ve already seen, and those films might just crop up in an unexpected place (like, oh, another list). AFI FEST will run from November 3rd through the 10th in Hollywood, with all screenings taking place at The Chinese, the Chinese 6 Theatres, and the Egyptian Theatre. Tickets for all screenings are free (and available starting today, October 27, right HERE). The complete schedule grid is now online for the festival, which you can check out HERE. After the break, […]

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With AFI FEST presented by Audi just one week away, fellow FSR-er and AFI FEST attendee Kate Erbland and I went through the impressive list of films on the schedule and selected the ones we are most looking forward to seeing. To the credit of those putting together this year’s AFI FEST, I found myself practically highlighting the entire schedule grid as I saw film after film that had already been on my “to-see” list. From films I have been anticipating for the past few months (Shame) to ones I had not heard of until now (Butter), this year’s AFI FEST looks to be one of its strongest lineups yet. AFI FEST will run from November 3rd through the 10th in Hollywood, with all screenings taking place at The Chinese, the Chinese 6 Theatres, and the Egyptian Theatre. Tickets for all screenings are free (and available starting today, October 27, right HERE). The complete schedule grid is now online for the festival, which you can check out HERE. After the break, check out my list of my top ten most anticipated films of this year’s AFI FEST. Which films are you planning on seeing at this year’s AFI FEST?

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For what’s looking to be the last official programming announcement from this year’s AFI FEST presented by Audi, the fest has revealed their special film retrospective as curated by Guest Artistic Director Pedro Almodóvar. The filmmaker has put together a program of five films (including one of his own) to form an essential cross-section of horror films and thrillers. Almodóvar’s picks include his own Law of Desire, saying that the film is “a fundamental title in my career…I don’t think I’d change a single shot, and not because it’s perfect but because I recognize myself in all of them…It’s true that my palette has darkened and, in the case of the latest film, the humor has almost disappeared. Fortunately I’ve changed sufficiently so that no one can accuse me of repeating myself, but I’m still the same.” The film’s screening will take place on Monday, November 7, and Almodóvar and star Antonio Banderas (also the star of that “latest film” Almodóvar mentions, the magnetic The Skin I Live In) will introduce the film, and it will be followed by a “conversation” about the auteur’s career. AFI FEST will run from November 3rd through the 10th in Hollywood, with all screenings taking place at The Chinese, the Chinese 6 Theatres, and the Egyptian Theatre. The best part? Tickets for all screenings are free (and available starting this Thursday, October 27). Even with parking fees in Hollywood, that’s still cheaper than a movie ticket. The complete schedule grid is now online for […]

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Another day, another lineup announcement from AFI FEST 2011 that sends me positively reeling. Today sees the film festival rolling out their World Cinema, Breakthrough, Midnight, and Short selections. Today also sees me jumping up and down and repeatedly screaming, “ALPS! ALPS! ALPPPPSSSS!” As has been the trend with AFI FEST’s recent lineup announcements, this crop of films guarantees that the festival is a can’t-miss for any film buffs in the Los Angeles area. There’s a number of titles here that festival-obsessed cinephiles will recognize from recent events – films like Ben Wheatley‘s Kill List, Morten Tyldum‘s Headhunters, Jean-Baptiste Léonetti‘s Carre Blanc, Nacho Vigalondo’s Extraterrestrial, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film, and for Dogtooth obsessives like me, Yorgos Lanthimos‘s Alps. AFI FEST will run from November 3rd through the 10th in Hollywood, with all screenings taking place at The Chinese, the Chinese 6 Theatres, and the Egyptian Theatre. The best part? Tickets for all screenings are free (and available starting October 27). Free, guys, free. After the break, check out the full list of the films to be featured as AFI FEST World Cinema, Breakthrough, Midnight, and Short Film selections.

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As it turns out, I’ve been slightly remiss when it comes to praising this year’s 25th edition of AFI FEST 2011 presented by Audi. I’ve tossed off comments about how the festival gets better with every passing year, but in the wake of today’s announcement of the festival’s Centerpiece Galas and Special Screenings, I’ve realized that I have not gone far enough. AFI FEST has not just gotten better this year, the festival has made a dramatic jump to top-tier status, rolling out titles that play like a cinephile’s Christmas list for 2011. Today’s lineup announcement is essentially a “best-of” list of this year’s festival favorites, including Michel Hazanavicius‘s The Artist, Steve McQueen‘s Shame, Oren Moverman‘s Rampart, Lynne Ramsay‘s We Need to Talk About Kevin, Roman Polanski‘s Carnage, Simon Curtis‘s My Week with Marilyn, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, Gerardo Naranjo’s Miss Bala, and Wim Wenders‘s Pina. AFI FEST will run from November 3rd through the 10th in Hollywood, with all screenings taking place at The Chinese, the Chinese 6 Theatres, and the Egyptian Theatre. The best part? Tickets for all screenings are free (and available starting October 27). After the break, check out the full list, including descriptions and showtimes, of the films to be featured as AFI FEST Centerpiece Galas and Special Screenings.

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With AFI FEST 2011 presented by Audi rapidly approaching, the festival has just announced their first slate of film selections, including the full line-up for three of the festival’s most unique and important sections – Young Americans (which features film from up-and-coming American filmmakers), New Auteurs (which gives a platform for first and second features from around the world), and Spotlight (which picks one filmmaker for special recognition and screenings of their work). This year’s AFI FEST is already shaping up to be a fine festival for the fall season (alliteration is so choice), and the announcement of these selections only highlights that. Today’s announced films include a bevy of already buzzed-about titles from the festival circuit, including Sophia Takal’s Green, Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg, Michaël R. Roskam’s Bullhead, Markus Schleinzer’s Michael, Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown, Clay Liford’s Wuss, Alison Bagnall’s The Dish & The Spoon, and many more. This year’s Spotlight will also shine on filmmaker Joe Swanberg, who will show all three films of his Full Moon Trilogy, including the World Premiere of the final chapter, The Zone. AFI FEST will run from November 3rd through the 10th in Hollywood, with all screenings taking place at The Chinese, the Chinese 6 Theatres, and the Egyptian Theatre. The best part? Tickets for all screenings are free (and available starting October 27). After the break, check out the full list and descriptions of the films to be featured in AFI FEST’s New Auteurs, Young Americans, and Spotlight sections.

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