AFI Reviews: Days 2-5

Our AFI coverage continues with reviews of potential Oscar contenders like Carnage, Melancholia, The Lady and more!

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

After the opening night screening of J. Edgar, I spent the weekend catching more films at AFI Fest.


BUTTER1 out of 10 – This is supposed to be Jennifer Garner’s edgy character, but it doesn’t want to let her be totally unlikeable. I find it unlikeable for not going there. This is quirky smalltown crap about a butter carving contest, and it’s just every comedy cliché. Garner plays the high maintenance power woman. Ty Burrell plays the pushover husband. Olivia Wilde plays the bad girl who’s never really dangerous. She’s one of those movie strippers who keeps her underwear on and doesn’t do drugs or have split personalities or anything. To be clear, my issue is not a lack of nudity, but a lack of honesty. Kristin Schaal plays her awkward type again. Hey, it’s a job, people gotta work. Only Hugh Jackman plays a real character, as in it’s against type and unexpected in the story, not that it’s a believable human being. There’s even a precocious little girl. There are a few laughs because you throw enough at the screen and eventually something will land, but the whole movie is such a white person fantasy. A power woman gets what she wants and never has to address her psychological issues of being a manipulative control freak.


CARNAGE7 out of 10 – From Roman Polanski, I assume this film’s opening shot of a New York park was done by second unit. Based on a play, four A-listers spend 80 minutes in a single apartment bantering. It is like a lighter, less scathing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with two sets of parents arguing about a fight their sons had. Christoph Waltz has the funniest stuff and he nails it, but it’s also juicy for Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly. It’s a bit self-consciously clever like theater often is, but it makes a valid point about suburbanites over-explaining situations because they’re too insecure to just be themselves without validation. Winslet delivers a puerile joke that looks so committed, I believe she went method and did it for real.


THE COLOR WHEEL6 out of 10 – This is definitely the kind of raw independent voice I expect to see at a film festival. In grainy 16mm black and white, two characters talk about their thoughts, memories and feelings in badly framed angles. It’s not deep, only slightly clever, but I want to hear what these kids say next. They really don’t know they’re weird and that’s what’s endearing. Carlen Altman is a cute girl who’s so weird she stops being cute. That’s a compliment I think. I don’t think there’s much of a future in this type of movie but it was a ride I was willing to go on.


THE DISH AND THE SPOON – 5 out of 10 –  This was a SXSW movie so I was excited to get a chance to see it at AFI. It is a typical festival movie where a raw artist expresses their feelings, and not as interesting as The Color Wheel but it’s okay. Greta Gerwig babbles and screams at her cheating husband like a real person under stress, but she’s adorable at it. She makes it funny and we know what she’s expressing, even though she’s not clear. She meets a guy on the road and it’s two characters talking and dealing with their problems, and enough improvised dialogue that Gerwig gets a writing credit. There’s a lot of non sequitur, incorporating subjects like Thanksgiving and Hitler, but never clever enough to distinguish itself. So you get a chance to see what other artists are out there. It’s an easy 90 minutes and then you move on.


THE LADY8 out of 10 – If Michelle Yeoh were really fighting for Burmese rights, she would just kick the corrupt dictator in the head. Playing the real life leader who solved it diplomatically is acting. Yeoh plays Aung Sun Suu Kyi in the Luc Besson film and it’s a good historical drama, illuminating a serious issue but never heavy. It’s like Gandhi to demonstrate how to fight this manipulative enemy with peace. Her calm procedure while the army surrounds her house is inspiring, and little details like intentional power outages during an important radio broadcast are suspenseful.


MELANCHOLIA7 out of 10 – This is like a clinically depressed person’s Another Earth. Two people made a movie about another planet discovered close to earth. Both incorporated human tragedy but one was ultimately hopeful. This one is very proud of itself for justifying its characters’ moping. It seems to say if you understand life and the world, you’d have to be depressed. I disagree with its worldview, and believe me I’ve dated those girls too, but it’s still a compelling film to watch, largely due to the actors. The shaky camera is awful but there are some beautiful shots peppered in there, including a gorgeous shot of Kirsten Dunst in the moonlight. If planet Melancholia crashed into the earth, I’d celebrate my last days but I can appreciate this movie and move on.


RESTLESS CITY0 out of 10 – I was really excited to catch this Sundance film when it came to AFI but it turned out to be exactly the kind of indie movie I dread. Some aspiring artists got a camera and shot their aimless, wandering feelings. Yeah, it’s hard to be an immigrant in New York. It doesn’t have to be boring though. A hopeful musician sells bootlegs to get by, goes to a recording studio, meets a girl and it’s awkward when he goes home with her, she gets beaten by the studio owner. It’s also pretentious photography, always blurring so that light flares into the camera. The framing reeks of amateurs, as if implying something happening off camera but really it’s just not framed right.