Loading...

AFI Fest A to Z: Hey Man, Yeah 

Our critics' picks for what to see and skip at this year's festival

Thursday, Nov 4 2010
Comments

Reviews are by Phil Coldiron, Mike D'Angelo, David Ehrenstein, Ernest Hardy, Aaron Hillis, Karina Longworth, Nicolas Rapold and Vadim Rizov. More information onthese and other AFI films can be found at afi.com/afifest.

CRITIC'S PICK  13 ASSASSINS Takashi Miike, the most prolifically gonzo filmmaker in Japan (and quite possibly the world), finally decides to sell out in high style — and turns in his most impressive effort since 1999's Audition. With the exception of one memorably nightmarish moment involving a nude, limbless woman writhing in permanent agony, 13 Assassins is just a straightforward, expertly choreographed samurai action flick, albeit with an atypical emphasis on the physical demands of the profession and a healthy disregard for its fabled code of honor. Setup's a bit pokey, as is often the case with Miike, but the entire second half of the movie is one long, kickass battle sequence, at once kinetically thrilling in the Kurosawa/Kobayashi tradition and as goofily absurdist — flaming oxen! booby-trapped buildings! — as something out of Jeunet & Caro. Makes you wonder what Miike might accomplish if he settled down and made just one film a year, rather than his usual half-assed three or four. (MD) (Nov. 7, 9:30 p.m., Chinese)

AARDVARK A blind guy walks out of an AA meeting and into a martial arts studio. Cinematographer Kitao Sakurai's debut as a writer-director stars nonactors Darren Branch and Larry Lewis, whose real-life relationship as a blind recovering alcoholic and his jiujitsu instructor is the basis for Aardvark's first half, an exploration of sensation and physicality, rich with character detail and boldly loose on plot. Then Darren's secret life of crime catches up with him, and Aardvark turns into a full-on noir of all-too-literal blind justice. Narratively, it's one joke (blind guys gets a lap dance; blind guy requests verbal confirmation that he's holding the right person at gunpoint), but stylistically, it's a knockout, with a final quasi-action sequence that bridges the film's opposing tonal tendencies: Euro-art slowness and low-budg, high-gimmick revenge flick. (KL) (Nov. 5, 7 p.m., Chinese)

click to flip through (6) Certified Copy
  • Certified Copy
 

Related Stories

AMIGO For a brief period in the 1990s, John Sayles achieved a truly miraculous amalgam of lefty political activism and thorny, impassioned human drama. Since peaking with Lone Star (1996), however, he's become increasingly bogged down in dreary righteousness. Set during the U.S. occupation of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century, Amigo means to use this forgotten chapter of history to make pointed statements about our current adventures in the Middle East. Trouble is, it does so entirely via earnest platitudes and schematic irony. Somebody needs to stand over Sayles' shoulder at the keyboard and just slap him hard in the face every time he types the word "American." Seriously. Even Chris Cooper, who made his name in Sayles' early pictures, is unable to offer a morsel of genuine behavior. (MD) (Nov. 6, 9:45 p.m., Chinese)

BLACK SWAN Both self-conscious homage to epic backstage soaps and visceral body-dysmorphia horror, Black Swan stars Natalie Portman as Nina, a ballerina torn between fear and ambition. Nina bests both the ballet's aging star (Winona Ryder) and its new sexpot diva (Mila Kunis) to land the lead in her company's reimagining of Swan Lake, but the casting is contingent on Nina learning to embrace her own "evil twin." Vivid hallucinations — or are they?!? — ensue, involving bi-curiosity, hysteric violence, self-harm and self-preservation. A riff on diva cinema's greatest hits, Black Swan is Suspiria with less style, All About Eve but all about orgasm panic, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? with Ryder and Barbara Hershey (as Nina's infantilizing mom) splitting the Bette Davis role. Call it balletsploitation: It's a work of art only in that it's pitch-perfect trash. (KL) (Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m., Chinese)

BLUE VALENTINE Derek Cianfrance's Sundance hit crosscuts the first and last days of the relationship between Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), young class-crossed lovers turned unhappily harried marrieds. A naturalistic (and fatalist) antiromance that acknowledges the evanescence of mutual adoration, performed by vanity-free actors and presented in grainy, deeply saturated imagery that always goes for the painterly over the descriptive, Blue Valentine is surface-oriented to a fault. Williams translates Cindy's coldness into blankness, and Cianfrance's camera keeps getting closer to her, as if her pores were windows to her soul. But the final scene crescendos superlatively. Inexplicably rated NC-17 by the MPAA, Valentine is adult in theme, but what's on-screen is relatively chaste. (KL) (Nov. 6, 6:30 p.m., Chinese)

BARNEY'S VERSION Paul Giamatti stars in this adaptation of Mordecai Richler's sprawling 1997 novel, about the life and loves of the titular schlub, a narcissistic romantic who drinks his way from bohemian decadence to bourgeois autopilot to angry, foggy old age. Highlights of the 40 years sped through in two-plus hours include the mysterious death of his best friend Boogie (Scott Speedman), two unhappy marriages and one great romance, with Rosamund Pike's Miriam. The performances are uneven (Minnie Driver's Canadian Jew accent is the worst, and Speedman often seems to be lost looking for the rhythm of his lines, even before Boogie turns into a junkie), but the central relationship drama is super compelling. Slip it in the A Man and His Mortality genre above the soggy pabulum of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but Barney's Version never approaches the transcendence of the narratively similar Synecdoche, New York. (KL) (Nov. 6, 8 p.m., Egyptian)

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Tue 15
  2. Wed 16
  3. Thu 17
  4. Fri 18
  5. Sat 19
  6. Sun 20
  7. Mon 21

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Around The Web

Slideshows

  • Nicolas Cage's 10 Best Movie Roles
    As video-on-demand continues to become the preferred route of distribution for a certain kind of independent film, much is being made of Nicolas Cage's willingness to slum for a paycheck, with recent examples including already-forgotten, small-screen-friendly items like Seeking Justice, Trespass, Stolen, and The Frozen Ground. (His character names in these projects -- Will Gerard, Kyle Miller, Will Montgomery, and Jack Halcombe -- are as interchangeable as the titles of the films.) Aside from citing the obvious appeal of doing work for money (a defense Cage himself brought up in a recent interview with The Guardian), it's also possible to back Cage by acknowledging the consistency with which he's taken on "serious" roles over the years.

    David Gordon Green's Joe, which hits limited release this weekend (more details on that here), marks the latest instance of this trend, with Cage giving a reportedly subdued performance as an ex-con named Joe Ransom. In that spirit, we've put together a rundown of some of the actor's finest performances, all of which serve as proof that, though his over-the-top inclinations may make for a side-splitting YouTube compilation, Cage has amassed a career that few contemporary actors can equal. This list is hardly airtight in its exclusivity, so a few honorable mentions ought to go out to a pair of Cage's deliriously uneven auteur collaborations (David Lynch's Wild at Heart, Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes), 1983's Valley Girl, 1987's Moonstruck, and Alex Proyas's Knowing (a favorite of the late Roger Ebert).

    --Danny King
  • Ten Enduring Conspiracy Thrillers
    With the approaching release this week of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, many critics, including L.A. Weekly’s own Amy Nicholson, have noted the film’s similarities (starting with the obvious: Robert Redford) to the string of conspiracy thrillers that dominated American cinema during the 1970s. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of ten of the most enduring entries in the genre -- most of them coming from the ‘70s, but with a few early-‘80s holdouts added in for good measure. This is by no means an exclusive list, and more recent films like Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out (1987), Jacques Rivette’s Secret Defense (1998), Tony Scott’s Enemy of the State (1998), Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana (2005), and Redford’s own The Company You Keep (2012) speak to how well the genre has sustained itself over time. Words by Danny King.
  • Behind the Scenes of Muppets Most Wanted
    "The endurance of the Muppets isn't just the result of the creative skills of Henson and collaborators like Frank Oz, or of smart business decisions, or of sheer dumb luck," writes this paper's film critic Stephanie Zacharek in her review of Muppets Most Wanted. "It's simply that the Muppets are just ever so slightly, or maybe even totally, mad. Man, woman, child: Who can resist them? Even TV-watching cats are drawn to their frisky hippety-hopping and flutey, gravely, squeaky, squawky voices." Go behind the scenes with the hippety-hopping Muppets with these images.

    Read our full Muppets Most Wanted movie review.

Movie Trailers

View all movie trailers >>

Now Trending