I love getting to watch a zillion movies in a week. But I decided not to go out and write a ton of reviews during AFF, because (a) everyone else is doing that, (b) I didn’t really want to spend my time on it, and (c) I like to write spoiler-heavy reviews that look at the plot/structure, and most of the movies playing at AFF haven’t been released yet. So instead I’m just going to do a summary of the movies I went to see at AFF this year and my thoughts on each.
- Exporting Raymond – This year’s opening night film was a documentary about Phil Rosenthal’s attempt to take Everybody Loves Raymond to Russia. The sitcom is a very new genre over there, and one of Rosenthal’s biggest challenges was convincing the Russians — who like their theatre, film, and television to be very dramatic and over-the-top — that this show — which is about exploiting the realities of life — would be funny. This movie was HILARIOUS. Phil Rosenthal is one of the funniest people on the planet, and watching him through this process was just a stitch.
- 127 Hours – Danny Boyle’s new film about a canyoneer who gets his hand crushed under a boulder, and is stuck there for — yep, you guessed it — 127 hours before he finally saws off his own arm. A true story, based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, I was very curious as to how Danny Boyle would manage to make this interesting. But he did an amazing job, giving the hero someone to talk to (his video camera), and plenty of flashback and dream sequences to keep it moving. Very intense, and very well done.
- Black Swan – Darren Aronofsky, who created such films as Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and most recently The Wrestler, brings us another grim tale about the descent into madness, every bit as poignant as everything of his I’ve seen so far. On the surface, the movie is about a girl who gets cast as the Swan Queen in a production of Swan Lake, but to describe it like that is like saying Natural Born Killers is about a husband-wife serial killer team. It goes way, way deeper than that, to the point where every moment was an edge-of-your-seat type of moment. There were some things about the script I didn’t like, particularly at the beginning, but by the end I had long forgotten them and was so wrapped up in what was one of the most awesome movie experiences of my life.
- Brother’s Justice -Dax Shepard mockumentary about his fake attempt to leave the realm of comedy and become a martial arts action hero. Very funny, although during the talkback at the end, when they said that the moments they tried to make funny weren’t, and it was the organic ones that ended up being the funniest, I very much agreed. A lot of comedy is getting too scripted, I think, and this film is no exception. But good, overall. Just what you would expect from Dax.
- Echotone – The only film I walked out of during the festival. I might have stayed if the volume wasn’t painfully loud, or if the featured musicians weren’t complete crap. If you’re looking for a masturbatory woe-is-me documentary about how hard it is to be a bad artist in a growing city, go right ahead. Good luck getting through it.
- I Love You, Phillip Morris – A film that was made years ago, but for whatever reason has been having trouble getting released. Jim Carrey is a con man, compulsive liar, and escape artist who falls in love with Ewan McGregor in prison and continues to be a con man, compulsive liar, and escape artist. Fun movie, beats a dead horse a little longer than necessary, but overall very well done. Of course, outstanding performances by our leads, and plenty of twists to keep us rolling.
- Company Men - Longtime TV writer/director/producer John Wells makes the jump into film with this story about the executives at a ship manufacturing company that are getting laid off in a tough economy. Great cast, but even though I asked the question afterward, I’m still feel unsatisfied with his choice of heroes. The lowest earner of the three main characters was a six-figure earner, and I personally would have liked to have seen it taken down a notch to get someone in the $60K-$80K range; make it a little more relatable to the masses, maybe.
- Re-Cut – Horror flick, kind of Blair Witch meets 8mm. About what you would expect. Not terribly imaginative, and the female lead — The Bachelor/Bachelorette‘s Meredith Phillips — was not a very good actress, even though she was playing herself. Decent, though.
- Rabbit Hole - Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart in a film about a family almost torn apart over the loss of their 4.5-year-old son. Probably the best script of any film in the festival, never telling us anything until it comes out completely naturally in the dialogue. There was one scene in particular where I thought, “ScreenwritingU would be proud.” Very moving, and one I’ll be rooting for come February.