AFI Fest: Not Over Till We Say So


CRITIC’S PICK  AFTERSCHOOL (USA) Set at an elite boarding school in some unspecified corner of the leafy Eastern Seaboard, this spellbinding, scarily assured debut feature by 25-year-old writer-director Antonio Campos (who was all of 23 when he made it) traces the events leading up to and following the death of two students — a pair of überpopular, Hilton-esque socialite sisters — from an accidental drug overdose. The incident happens to be caught on video by Rob (Ezra Miller), a shy, small-for-his-age A/V club member who relates to the world more easily through a camera’s lens (or an Internet portal) than face-to-face contact. And Campos’ film is about the ways in which Rob, his classmates and the clueless, Peanuts-like adults who surround them cope — or fail to — in the aftermath of tragedy. Every parent’s worst nightmare about their teenage children, writ large in brilliantly composed wide-screen frames, Afterschool traffics in some unmistakably Haneke-like observations of disaffected youth and our culture of downloadable violence. But if Campos’ characters undeniably are what they watch, they (and, by extension, we) also feel the rage, agony and self-loathing of adolescence that gets conveniently airbrushed out of most American movies and TV shows about teenagers. Recommended most highly for those delusional enough to think that their kids are good/happy/well-adjusted kids. (Mann Chinese 6, Fri., Nov. 7, 9:20 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 9, 3 p.m.) (Scott Foundas)

GO  DIVIZIONZ (Uganda) This work by Ugandan collective Yes! That’s Us focuses on Kapo (Kyagulanyi Ssentamu), who ditches his job as a meat cutter in order to concentrate on his singing career. Though somewhat formulaic in its depiction of artistic triumph over circumstantial adversity, this lively and colorful piece of guerilla filmmaking affords an interesting window into a seldom-seen culture: the dusty outlying slums of Kampala and the lives of its struggling denizens, as the friendships of Kapo and his fellow musicians are tested first by the rigors of ghetto life and later by the strain of success. (Mann Chinese 6, Fri., Nov. 7, 7 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 9, noon) (John Tottenham)

GACHI BOY WRESTLING WITH A MEMORY (Japan) Set at a Japanese university where one of the on-campus clubs is a pro-wrestling group that competes against those of other colleges, Gachi Boy is the story of Igarashi (Osamu Mukai), a nebbishy law student who suddenly decides to don spandex and enter the ring. He proves to be a natural but one with a secret: he has no short-term memory, and every morning forgets the previous day, which gets him in trouble when he keeps forgetting that pro wrestling is staged. The world the movie presents is colorful and interesting, but the goofy amnesia gimmick proves a needless distraction. (Mann Chinese 6, Sat., Nov. 8, 9:40 p.m.; ArcLight Hollywood, Sun., Nov. 9, 3:30 p.m.) (Luke Y. Thompson)

CRITIC’S PICK I’M GONNA EXPLODE (Mexico) A great artistic leap forward for the talented writer-director Gerardo Naranjo (Drama/Mex), shot in dazzling, color-soaked widescreen by cinematographer Tobias Datum, the aptly titled I’m Gonna Explode channels its exuberantly impish energy into an iconographic tale of restless youth set in the down-and-out suburbs of Guanajuato, Mexico. The Holden Caulfield-ish son of a right-wing politician, 15-year-old Roman (newcomer Juan Pablo de Santiago) daydreams about staging a violent uprising at his Catholic high school and, in one inimitable bit of acting out, hangs himself from a noose during a student talent show. That stunt catches the eye of the equally dejected Maru (fellow first-timer Maria Deschamps), who longs for love — or something — to take her away from Guanajuato’s doldrums. So these two causeless rebels plot their escape — a road trip that’s equal parts Pierrot le Fou (complete with Georges Delerue underscore), They Live By Night and Milos Forman’s Taking Off. Reality freely, sometimes violently, intermingles with diaristic flights of fancy, as if Roman had somehow willed Maru into being (and vice versa). As in life, their freedom comes with a price — and an expiration date. (Mann Chinese 6, Sat., Nov. 8, 9:40 p.m.; ArcLight Hollywood, Sun., Nov. 9, 3:15 p.m.) (SF)

KASSIM THE DREAM (Uganda/USA) Kassim “The Dream” Ouma’s real life is the stuff of overheated fiction: abducted as a 6-year-old by the Ugandan rebel army, for whom he tortured and murdered, he fled Uganda as a teen boxer, landing in America and eventually becoming a Junior Middleweight World Champion. Director Kief Davidson’s camera tracks the haunted Ouma as he returns home to request a presidential pardon for his crimes. Davidson (The Devil’s Miner) skillfully alternates between raw, unadorned imagery and artsy compositions to tell Ouma’s tale — a fittingly bifurcated approach for a subject whose swirl of emotions, while obviously real, is also turned up a notch or two as the practiced showman plays to the camera. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 8, 7 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 9, 12:30 p.m.) (Ernest Hardy)

GO  KISSES (Ireland/Sweden) The blend of bleak realism and escape fantasy in Lance Daly’s whimsical tale of two children on the run from their respective family hells on a blighted Dublin housing estate recalls early Neil Jordan at his wistfully romantic best. Beautifully played by Kelly O’Neill and Shane Curry, the kids flee with stolen money and find their way to an inner city full of magic (featuring Stephen Rea as Bob Dylan) that turns black with the approach of night. Daly’s portrait of the disastrous post–World War II government-enforced suburbanization that destroyed working-class community throughout Britain and Ireland is dead-on, but he is gratuitously pitiless in his condemnation of tuned-out or dead-drunk parents who seem more unwilling than unable to care for their children. (ArcLight Hollywood, Sat., Nov. 8, 9:50 p.m.; Mann Chinese 6, Sun., Nov. 9, 12:15 p.m.) (Ella Taylor)

A NECESSARY DEATH (USA) Through a Craigslist ad, an obsessive L.A. film student finds a suicidal subject who will allow him to document the final preparations leading up to his mortal-coil shuffle. Writer-director Daniel Stamm’s making-of chronicle engenders a fair amount of legal, ethical and moral discourse on filmmaker responsibilities, but Blair Witch be damned, all gimmicky faux-docs have a tell: Here, it’s the hammy actors playing the original online applicants. Once the possibilities of truth are off the table, the story meanders into stale euthanasia arguments and a far-fetched love triangle between filmmaker, subject and sound recordist. (Mann Chinese 6, Sat., Nov. 8, 7 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 9, 3:30 p.m.) (Aaron Hillis)

PLAYING COLUMBINE (USA) When a young man named Danny Ledonne created a video game titled Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, it predictably unleashed a firestorm of controversy. Yet his intent wasn’t what most people suspected; the game wasn’t designed to be fun but rather to take the video-game format in a new direction, one that would help the player understand the real-world tragedy it was based on. Whether you agree with that or not, Ledonne makes his case in this self-directed documentary. Compelling when it focuses on his personal story, Playing Columbine too often bogs down in overly familiar First Amendment arguments. (ArcLight Hollywood, Fri., Nov. 7, 7:10 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 8, 3:15 p.m.) (LYT)

GO A QUIET LITTLE MARRIAGE (USA) Despite a wobbly third act, A Quiet Little Marriage is that rare indie drama that has something meaningful to say about matrimony — specifically, how a marriage’s early years can be pivotal in determining its future. Olive (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) and Dax (Cy Carter) seem to be a contented young couple until Olive suggests having a baby, which Dax was pretty sure they had already decided against. With a lovely understated style, writer-director Mo Perkins interweaves the pair’s building tension with the agony of ailing parents and shiftless siblings, highlighting the unforeseen family factors that impose their will on any long-term relationship’s hopes for a happy ending. (Mann Chinese 6, Fri., Nov. 7, 7 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 8, 3:45 p.m.) (Tim Grierson)

GO  WELLNESS (USA) Pyramid-scheme dupe Thomas Lindsey (authentic nonpro Jeff Clark) is a Willy Loman for our potential next Great Depression, a lethargic schlub with little more than an odd penchant for collecting wasps nests and a crushing faith in a pharmaceutical that doesn’t exist. As Thomas treks through small-town Pennsylvania to find investors for the world’s most uncomfortable seminar, his low-rent folly becomes at once a miserabilist comedy and an underdog melodrama. Originally conceived as an exercise in naturalistic dialogue, Jake Mahaffy’s improv-heavy, no-budget narrative merits a visceral reaction, its counterintuitive compositions, awkward zooms and beige prosaicness seeking the affecting soul within man’s desperation. (Mann Chinese 6, Fri., Nov. 7, 9:30 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 8, 12:45 p.m.) (AH)

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