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  • AFI FEST 2012 | Preview

    By | October 30, 2012

    AFI FEST 2012 presented by Audi will take place November 1-8, 2012 in Hollywood, California at the historic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Chinese 6 Theatres at the Hollywood & Highland Center, the Egyptian Theatre of the American Cinematheque and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

    It is worth noting that The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes AFI FEST as a qualifying festival for the Short Films category of the annual Academy Awards and AFI FEST is the only film festival in the United States to hold the prestigious FIAPF accreditation.

    As for tickets… Well, for the fourth consecutive year, AFI FEST will continue its unprecedented offer of free tickets (!!!) to all screenings. (NOTE: Even when screenings are ‘sold out’ online, audiences can show up for the rush line and chances of getting into many screenings is good!) A limited number of Patron Passes, Cinepasses and Special Screenings Passes are available for purchase — these passes give you admission to screenings without needing a ticket and no pre-selection of films is necessary (Galas exempted).

    We know all of the amazing films listed on the AFI FEST 2012 Festival Quick Guide might be too much cinema to choose from, so your ever-faithful friends at Smells Like Screen Spirit have already reviewed several of the films screening at AFI FEST 2012 in order to provide you with a sneak preview of what is to come…


    All the Light in the Sky

    Ever since I first viewed All the Light in the Sky, a recurring thought has been running through my mind: I think the west coast lifestyle has finally rubbed off on writer-director Joe Swanberg. I see All the Light in the Sky as the first real west coast (specifically Los Angelean) film of Swanberg’s career, and not just because it is a film about actors. First of all, I cannot think of another Swanberg that has spent this much time outdoors or focused this much on nature. Swanberg has always seemed much more comfortable shooting indoors, in confined spaces. (It is worth noting, however, that most of the outdoor shots in All the Light in the Sky are still very restricted.) Additionally, the conversations of Swanberg’s films have almost always revolved around his characters’ existential crises; societal and world issues, such as environmentalism or feminism, have never been so front and center. With All the Light in the Sky, Swanberg also opens up the discussion to solar and wind energy, rising sea levels and the healing powers of smoothies.



    As a first film, Antiviral is pretty freaking amazing. It is very rare that a first film is produced with such high production value and accented with quality supporting actors like Malcolm McDowell; but, of course, with Cronenberg’s impeccable pedigree, what else would we expect?


    Family Nightmare

    The last time I remember feeling this shocked and awed by a film was after my first viewing of Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers. The two films do share a certain kinship in their portrayals of absurdly dysfunctional family units, but the fact that Defa’s film is real (the footage is of his own family) really amps up the effectiveness of Family Nightmare.


    Holy Motors

    Holy Motors is not about understanding what is going on, it is about freeing yourself of inhibitions and preconceptions and allowing yourself float in Carax’s sea of surrealism for two hours. Like David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, Holy Motors shuttles us through its narrative in a white limousine (Carax even permits us the opportunity to see where all of the while limousines go to rest), allowing us a tour of the decaying moral fiber of our post modern world.


    The International Sign for Choking

    As a film that is essentially about the disassociation and loneliness of traveling alone to a foreign country, Zach Weintraub’s The International Sign For Choking shows the passing-like-ships-in-the-night relationships that seem to go hand-in-hand with solo international treks. Foreign travel is often romanticized as a opportunity to enjoy love without attachment, but what happens when one is prone to becoming attached? We have no idea what Josh and Martina’s relationship was like, or how long ago it occurred, but it is fairly likely that it was similar to his relationship with Anna. Maybe Josh did not realize he liked Martina until after he left Buenos Aires, and by then it was too late? In which case, will he feel the same way about Anna in a few months (or years)? Will Anna be yet another missed opportunity, another woman whom Josh let slip through his fingers?



    The Zellner’s combination of oddball moments with quirky humor and visually striking aesthetics struck a chord with me but it is Annie’s character and Aguirre’s striking performance that truly carry the film. Her mix of uninhibited childish enthusiasm, youthful angst and occasional slight menace are a joy to behold.



    Umut Dag’s Kuma dramatically focuses on the physical and mental abuse suffered within the household of a Turkish family in Vienna. Dag’s film is no easier to watch than When We Leave; the main difference with Kuma is that the women are often more brutal than the men. In both cases, societal pressures from their conservative Muslim worlds prohibit the female protagonists from experiencing true love or freedom. One might suspect that a Muslim household located in Austria or Germany would be more liberal and open-minded than those portrayed in Kuma or When We Leave, but both films suggest quite the opposite. In both instances, Muslim beliefs and customs seem even more stringent when moved to a predominantly non-Muslim country. It is all about keeping up appearances.


    Laurence Anyways

    With Laurence Anyways, Dolan tells an epic tale of Laurence’s struggle with identity and societal norms over the course of a decade. Laurence’s desire to be a woman is not a passing fad, like it was for so many new wave/punk/alternative scenesters in the early 1990s. The problem is that no matter how much time passes, mainstream society is not willing to accept someone like Laurence. This, I suspect, is precisely why Dolan made such a long and meandering film — to accent the fact that ten years pass and nothing changes.



    A profoundly mind-altering cinematic essay on the commercial fishing industry, Leviathan begins with a passage from the Book of Job. That right there is a clear sign that directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel will be feasting upon the existential struggle of man versus nature and man against god, as the crew of this particular fishing vessel constantly risks life and limb, working in the treacherous waters off the coast of Massachusetts. The kinetic pacing lends Leviathan the air of a sea-faring action flick, while the off-kilter perspective of the low resolution cinematography turns the film into an experimental art piece; regardless, this film is one hell of an experience, hell being the operative word. For some, Leviathan might be sensory overload — there will almost certainly be audience members who experience seasickness while seated in the movie theater — but as far as I am concerned, Leviathan works best in a movie theater in which the audience can become fully immersed in the sights and sounds.


    Only the Young

    Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet’s film is kind of like a punk rock Real World but more gritty and authentic; and like Real World, authenticity is in the eye of the beholder. Some viewers will accept Only the Young as fact, while others will probably believe that it is fiction. My best guess is that Mims and Tippet had a directorial influence on some of the on screen events; some scenes seem a little too perfectly framed and choreographed for there not to have been some direction taking place. Between the words “true” and “false” is an entire spectrum, and Only the Young falls somewhere along that spectrum.


    Pearblossom Hwy

    Like Littlerock, writer-director Mike Ott’s previous film, Pearblossum Hwy focuses on twentysomethings who are unwillingly stuck living in a secluded California desert town. Economic limitations weigh heavily upon their situations because without decent employment opportunities they cannot afford to move elsewhere. Besides, no matter how much they hate it, this is where their only family roots are grounded…


    Room 237

    Room 237‘s strength is in its ability to show how several people can watch the same scenes from The Shining and get drastically different meanings. How meaningful are the presumably purposefully placed props, such as the Calumet Baking Soda cans, German typewriter(s), Playgirl magazine, the Skiing poster, the office window, Danny’s Apollo 11 sweater, the crashed red VW bug, and the patterns on the rugs of the Overlook? Is there any significance to the number 42 or 237? Did Kubrick design a set that was noticeably fake? I had heard a lot of these theories before, but there was one new (to me) one that truly blew my mind: that The Shining works forwards and backwards, like a mirror image of itself.


    The Sapphires

    The Sapphires is a film about love and guilt, tolerance and adaptation. Chris O’Dowd’s Dave doesn’t stray far from his usual, hilarious and charming characters. And the singing in this film is truly phenomenal. There is no doubt that this film is meant to pull heartstrings, but while it’s a bit overly sentimental, I have thought quite a bit about the historical aspects of this film and the women who inspired it.


    Silver Linings Playbook

    Silver Linings Playbook is a great film, combining all the elements that make a stickler like myself smile. It’s a love story that doesn’t play like a love story, and instead of relying on mushy moments that make guys like me gag, Silver Linings Playbook pushes forward with a strong script, exceptional characters/cast, and superb directing. It’s a film that gave me a much needed Jennifer Lawrence fix, made me a fan of Bradley Cooper (and Jacki Weaver), and continued my belief that David O. Russell makes a damn fine movie. Now if he’d just make more.



    Jane (Dree Hemingway) is a beautiful Barbie Doll of a young woman, yet she seems to have no friends…well, except for her new housemates Melissa (Stella Maeve) and Mikey (James Ransone) — but they do not count since they are perpetually zonked out on pot, oxy and god only knows what else. On one fateful day Jane goes to a yard sale where she buys a bunch of crap to decorate her new bedroom. One of the items she buys is a thermos. (I know. Big whoop, right?) And it is this very same thermos that prompts Jane to attempt to befriend Sadie (Besedka Johnson), the curmudgeonly old hag who previously owned the thermos.


    Sun Don’t Shine

    Building upon the already nightmarish elements of the narrative, Sun Don’t Shine unfolds with the oblique stream of consciousness of a dream — such as when Terrence Malick-esque voiceovers follow the characters’ thoughts as they are lulled into daydreams by the ephemeral rhythms and patterns of the roadside imagery and the unbearably balmy Florida air. Sun Don’t Shine plays like a 1970s road movie, utilizing an experimental artfulness that is reminiscent of Two-Lane Blacktop, Badlands and Bonnie and Clyde. Similar to those films, Sun Don’t Shine is not necessarily a traditional narrative; the road movie elements are not used to propel the narrative forward, but to trap Crystal and Leo in a smothering and smoldering incapacious space. Their car is like a prison cell with an ever-changing view of the real/reel world; the car windows function like movie screens, dangling carrots of perceived freedom and success just out of Crystal and Leo’s reach.



    Tchoupitoulas feels like a fairytale as the three boys enjoy absolute freedom without any parental supervision, experiencing firsthand the entrancing New Orleans nightlife — something that is typically limited to adults. Every sequence brings new emotions, ranging from ecstasy and joy to fear and sadness. When the new day rises, the magical cinematic sedation quickly wears off. We are awoken from the meditative dream-state and the story ends; yet the entire cinematic experience is left lingering in our subconscious like a fading childhood memory.

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