AFI Fest kicks off in Los Angeles tonight, arguably the biggest film festival in a town that's film central. The philosophy of it has simplified over the years - basically, the idea is to gather the best of the best from other festivals, throw in some strong Oscar hopefuls, then give away every ticket for free.
Yes, free. And this can result in your sitting next to schizophrenic homeless people who just want a dark place to sleep in for a couple of hours. Assuming they were persistent enough to stand in line for the ticket handout.
Like so many other big festivals nowadays, AFI has learned that even free movies need to crowd-please sometimes, and as such you're as likely to end up watching horror or animation as you are a coming-of-age story in a small European town surrounded by mountains. Other writers will give you a comprehensive guide, but I'm here to single out thirteen and a half (you'll understand the fraction when we get to it) that match our interests here at TR: fantasy, animation, horror, sci-fi and terrible things that make us hate ourselves. I've included trailers where possible.
Let us jump in...
1. Jodorowsky's Dune
David Lynch wasn't the first surrealist director to try to adapt Frank Herbert's epic sci-fi universe - as many of you know, back in the '70s El Topo helmer Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to make it, bringing H.R. Giger and Moebius on board for production design, and writing a script that would have been 14 hours long if filmed exactly. Alongside Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, it's one of the great near-misses of geekdom.
It's fun to imagine how mind-blowingly cool it could have been. Salvador Dali and Orson Welles were approached to act in it, and Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel were possibilities to do the soundtrack! This is the next best thing: a documentary about the movie that never was, and probably never could have been. But don't worry - Dune will be rebooted one day, and they'll find ways to screw it up in totally different ways.
2. The Congress
Robin Wright plays herself - sort of - as an actress aging out of all the desirable roles. Desperate for money, she actually sells the rights of ownership over her entire being to a studio, which turns her into an ageless cartoon. And then the cartoon develops its own personality, and maybe it turns out the animated world is in fact the real one...or...I don't quite know. And I'm glad I don't quite know, because this looks like the movie Ralph Bakshi's Cool World should have been.
Director Ari Folman's last feature, Waltz With Bashir, was a fully animated feature about his repressed memories of serving in the Israeli military, and it was brilliant - a foreign-language documentary for people who normally won't watch such things. Wherever he takes the animated form next, I'm willing to follow. Oh, and it's also loosely inspired by a Stanislaw Lem novel, The Futurological Congress.
Solaris with a touch of Bakshi? As you wish, Ari. As you wish.
3. Saibi (The Fake)
The Congress might not even be the oddest cartoon in the festival. Saibi, from Korea, deals with a town that's about to be flooded to make way for a new dam. A town run by criminals who are also religious frauds, and convince the populace that anyone who disbelieves them is possessed by the devil.
Director Yeun Sang-ho's previous feature, The King of Pigs, was a nightmarishly surreal animated feature about bullying, which worked right up until a rather thudding bit of moralizing at the very end. (It was, however, totally subtle compared to the way Harvey Weinstein pushed Bully on the world.
In Spike Jonze's new movie, Joaquin Phoenix basically falls in love with Siri. Well, wouldn't you, if Siri had the voice of Scarlett Johansson? Something that probably will happen someday, by the way, since they can make GPS machines with Mr. T's voice.
Somebody should totally make a movie now where a dude falls in love with a Mr. T GPS unit. Just so every critic will try to be the first to say, "I pity the fool" in a review.
5. The Green Inferno
Considering all the grindhouse revival stuff and zombie saturation we've gotten lately, you might think someone would have tried to bring back the cannibal movie as an exploitation genre ripe for re-pillaging. Granted, there's the potential for controversy as you could look really racist if you get it wrong. But in the best of the bunch, it's the stupid, spoiled interlopers to the jungle who are the real villains - the natives are usually innocuous right up until one of the main characters does something really stupid and/or provocative. Then it's game on.
Now Eli Roth is going to give it a go. And since this is getting a mainstream release in this day and age, it is thankfully likely to lack the most unpleasant hallmark of the original Italian flicks - gratuitous documentary footage of animals being killed by locals, and each other. Keep that out of sight, please, as you pass me that all-beef hot dog from the concession stand.
Remember in the Pink Panther movies, how Kato would always surprise Clouseau by attacking him at random times and places? Now imagine Kato's a female dominatrix, and Clouseau is a single Japanese father who has rather stupidly signed up to be part of an extreme bondage club that pulls this shit on you and won't let you out of the deal for a year.
Oh, and then intersperse it with scenes of a 100 year-old man making the movie we are seeing. Director Hitoshi Mitsumoto, of the Japnese comedy duo Dauntaun, isn't actually that old, but the title refers to movie ratings - a warning that what you are about to see is really only able to be understood by ages 100 and up. Way to limit your audience, dude.