Sunday, March 30, 2008

AFI Dallas excursion

I spent the last two days enjoying the AFI Dallas Film Festival (with a group of about 42 freshmen who we took with us so they could get the experience of an international film festival).

Saw some good films (and one or two not-so-good ones). Saw fellow blogger and filmmaker David Lowery (whose A Catalog of Anticipations is playing at the fest) -- but I only saw him from a distance and I was busy organizing students, so I didn't have time to break away and say hello (or would I be "introducing myself"? We've never met in person, but have of course corresponded by blog and email).

And the films.

Noise -- an enjoyable film from Henry Bean, writer/director of the controversial The Believer. I went to it partly because it stars Tim Robbins, and I always enjoy the films in which he chooses to act, and partly because it just sounded interesting. It's about a New Yorker who becomes obsessed with blaring car alarms and starts a one-man campaign to silence them and in the process risks losing his family and his freedom as he satisfies his obsession. It's billed as a comedy, and it is quite funny in places, but also a little uneven as it drifts off the course it established in the opening act. I would've enjoyed it more if I hadn't had a headache going into the film. The title is quite accurate -- the sound designer of this film must've had a field day with all the layers of noise. The director mentioned in the Q&A afterwards that this is the second film in a planned trilogy about obsessive characters. The first, The Believer, was about religious obsession. This one was about political obsession, and the final one will be about artistic obsession.

Gonzo -- a great documentary about the life of "gonzo journalist" Hunter S. Thompson, who committed suicide in 2005. This is from Alex Gibney, director of the Academy Award winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side (he spoke briefly at the start of the film but had to leave before the end -- hence no Q&A -- because he was shooting footage for a new film the next morning). Gonzo was very well done, even if it does spend a little more time than I think it should on Thompson's involvement in George McGovern's 1972 campaign for the presidency. This was perhaps one of Thompson's shining moments, when he was at the height of his influence and his creative powers, so the focus on that makes sense. But the rest of his life -- from 1973 - 2005 -- is then covered in a brisk 15-20 minutes before the film ends. I would've liked to have seen more about his life in those years in part because I know so little about what he's been doing since then. I feel like I knew a lot about what he did in the late 60s and early 70s because that's what he was writing about, but he was comparatively very quiet in his later years, almost in seclusion. Still, a very good film, and it revived my own desire to get to work on a new documentary I've been wanting to tackle (after I finish with ENDINGS, of course).

The Guitar -- Hmmm, where to start? Shallow, immature, and derivative. It's the story of a mousy New Yorker (played by Saffron Burrow who is, uh, not mousy) who learns, in one day, that she will die of throat cancer in one month (maybe two), that she has been fired, and that her boyfriend wants to "take a break to find his inner child." And as she walks away from her life, she practices a form of retail therapy, using her extensive credit card collection to buy all the things she could ever want (and live in the loft apartment she could never afford) because she knows she won't be around long enough to worry about the consequences. Lessons about living life to the fullest ensue. This film might have seemed original and edgy back in the early 90s, but now it just seems like every other indie film I've ever seen. And somehow, the message that came across seems to have something to do with how buying lots of stuff can change your life. I know that wasn't the intention, but it is the unfortunate result. It's really just not a very good film, and I found myself angry throughout a lot of it because it felt like such a waste. I was even more angry at all the people in the theatre who gushed about how profound it was during the Q&A with director Amy Redford.

The Assassination of a High School President -- I'm still on the fence about this one. It's a high school comedy that's half Heathers and half Chinatown, with an intrepid school paper reporter tracking down a story on stolen SAT tests -- and in the tradition of Chinatown, there is of course a lot more to it than meets the eye. The style works -- it's one of those vaguely absurd films in which there are virtually no adults in supervision over these high school kids (one of the few adults in the film, however, is Bruce Willis as a militaristic principal). And the allusions to Chinatown are more numerous than I realized while I was watching the film. So in some ways, just like the plot, there's more to High School President than you might initially think. On the other hand, it's little more than an enjoyable trifle, and it's not trying to be weighty in the way a film like Chinatown is. It avoids that by being relentlessly jokey, so it's hard to take it as more than an exercise in style and adaptation. A good flick, to be sure, but not one I cared much about once I left the theatre.

Overall, AFI Dallas has been great. I wish I could spend the whole week up there watching as many films as possible, but I have much work to do, not to mention a family to spend time with before I head to Vegas for a week for NAB. The venues are great (I spent all day Saturday at The Magnolia), the people are great, and the films are great (okay, so I saw one that I didn't like and one that I didn't love -- but overall, they're still a good selection).


Blogger Jonathan said...

I'm glad you had such a great time at AFI; and thanks for sharing your reactions to the films you saw. I've heard of "Noise" and have been looking forward to seeing it. I too love Tim Robbins.

By an interesting coincidence, I was at a big film festival myself this weekend -- the New Directors New Films festival in New York. I had a great time, took my girlfriend, and saw two fantastic films: the French feature "Waterlillies" and the documentary "Moving Midway." I saw that before at the VFF; I met the director again and he remembered me.

3/31/2008 8:27 PM  
Blogger Chris Hansen said...

ND/NF is very cool -- glad you got to take it in!

4/01/2008 8:01 AM  

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