This year's AFI Fest was better than last year, as they seemed to be more selective in their selection process, and they grouped the screenings closer together, so I didn't have any long waits between films like I did last year. On the other hand, I only really liked one movie I saw, just like last year (and, just like last year, the one movie I liked was a Korean film).
Hahaha (Hong Sang-Soo)
This was the one I liked. It was only my second Hong film, though he's made quite a few of them, all of which, reportedly, are essentially the same movie made over and over again. Quite why he's so esteemed remains a mystery to me, as he apparently only makes indie-style romantic comedies about jerks and the girls who love them. This one was funnier than I expected (though, with that title, it would be a bit embarrassing if the movie weren't funny), and had some truly charming performances, which detracted from the utter implausibility of the story. Way too heavy on the zoom lens, though.
I waited in line for this movie behind a geek couple in matching clothes. Both guy and girl were wearing T-shirts, jeans, hoodies, brightly colored Converse high-tops, and hipster geek glasses. Couples who dress the same should be pilloried and publicly humiliated.
Oki's Movie (Hong Sang-Soo)
Yes, he had two movies at the festival, so they formed a double feature of sorts (they called it a double feature, but we still had to leave the theater and then come back in with a separate ticket, so it wasn't a double feature at all). I didn't like this one nearly as much, though. It was half an hour shorter than Hahaha but felt twice as long. And yes, more zoom lens. Anybody who isn't Stanley Kubrick or Sergio Leone would best be served by avoiding the zoom lens altogether. This isn't the fucking '70s.
I made the mistake of staying for the Q&A. When will I learn? The audience asks nothing but painfully inane questions, and the filmmaker never has anything interesting to say. This is especially true of Hong, who answered every question in monosyllabic grunts and "I don't know"s. I'd normally give him a pass considering he is not a native English speaker, but I got the impression he would be responding the same way even if the Q&A had been conducted in Korean. Why do people speak of this man as though he were an auteur on the level of Fellini or Godard? He's clearly not a guy who's even interested in creating Art.
Shit Year (Cam Archer)
I had a 45-minute wait between the last movie and this one, so I was just going to stand in line, but to my astonishment they were already letting people into the theater, so I got a great seat. I was also surprised to see how large the theater was, considering how low-profile this film and director were (AFI seems to dole out the auditorium assignments at random, completely regardless of how many people actually want to see the movie... I learned this last year when the enormous Chinese Theater was used to screen the most obscure and unpopular films).
I should stop and mention here that Mike D'Angelo, the film critic I've been following for over a decade (and who is really the only critic I give a damn about anymore, now that Ebert has become a total douche and most other critics are either clueless or pretentious, or both), was, according to his Twitter, planning to attend the festival that day, and I figured he would be seeing this movie because, of the four films playing in this time slot, two of them were films he'd already seen and reviewed at Cannes, and the third film was about a little boy named Boy who does Michael Jackson impressions (the title of the film? Boy), so he had just had to be seeing Shit Year. So I was kind of watching out for him, just because I was curious what he was like in person after reading his stuff for so long.
Anyway, since the theater was almost empty, I felt it was safe to leave my seat to go buy a hot dog. I walked down the hallway to the lobby, and just as I got to the door, Mike D'Angelo entered. I looked at him, he looked at me, I kept walking to the concessions stand, was told there would be a 5-10 minute wait for the hot dogs, didn't feel like waiting and thus risk losing my seat, and so returned to the theater to dine on the Cliff Bar I'd brought with me.
Amazingly, in the still nearly empty theater, my seat had been taken in the 30 seconds I'd been gone. And by a cute guy, no less, who was already in a deep discussion with the guy sitting in front of him (who of course had previously been sitting in front of me). I sat in the row behind Cute Guy, two rows behind Mike D'Angelo, and couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if I had never left. Would I now be the one talking to the guy in front of Cute Guy, or even to Cute Guy himself? They clearly didn't know each other, and Guy in Front of Cute Guy was the more talkative of the two so I have to assume he was the instigator of the conversation. Did Guy in Front of Cute Guy start talking to Cute Guy because he was a cute guy, or simply because he was close at hand? Actually, it occurs to me only now that they probably met in a previous screening earlier in the day, and that's why they started up a conversation so quickly. I also overheard an exchange between Mike D'Angelo and an older man who asked him to explain the movie they had just seen, and Mike D'Angelo was just as cool and interesting in person as he is in print, so that answered my question. Guy in Front of Cute Guy, meanwhile, had moved back a row to sit next to Cute Guy, but with a heterosexually friendly buffer seat in between them.
Then Cute Guy's friends showed up, and I have to assume that they were either a gay couple or members of the same club or cult, because they looked almost identical. They were both chubby guys with shaved heads, beards, geek glasses, and hoop earrings. One of them had a brown beard and the other had a red one, and one was much taller than the other, but otherwise they were identical, so of course I'm sitting there thinking, "What's the story with these guys, and do they actually think that's a good look for them?" The taller of the two (the one with the brown beard) sat directly in front of me. And by "taller of the two," I mean tall. Which normally wouldn't be a problem in a stadium-seating theater, except I was kind of high up and the screen was kind of low, and, unlike his friend/lover/cult brother, he was by no means a sloucher. Worse, he was the kind of person I dread sitting near in a movie theater: a fidgeter. The guy could not sit still, shifting positions every couple of minutes and at times even leaning forward in his seat, which is a huge no-no for me, because it blocks the view of the person sitting behind, i.e. me. He also had a habit of tilting his head back and forth. After once enduring the entirety of Blade Runner seated behind a woman who did the very same thing, for the film's entire running time, back and forth, back and forth, I swore I would never let it happen again, and yet I was powerless to do anything about it, as the theater was already full. So I spent the whole movie peering over and around this constantly bobbing bald head.
Damn. I never should have left to buy that hot dog.
Anyway, the movie. It sucked.
Although, I have to wonder how much my opinion of the movie was colored by my immediate dislike for the filmmaker as he introduced it, for he was one of those vague, airy, low-talking gay guys you always see presenting their short films about young boys and their experiments with their mother's makeup collection at Outfest. And while the movie had no gay themes, it was definitely a movie that only a gay man could make: pretty, histrionic, self-indulgent. I need to start avoiding movies made by gay men, except for Bryan Singer, who's the only gay male filmmaker who makes movies like a man instead of like how he thinks Madonna would make the movie if she were there.
But no, the main reason I didn't like the movie was that it was about a thoroughly unlikeable woman who said and did nothing but uninteresting things.
Mike D'Angelo loved it. He thought it was hilarious and touching. I didn't laugh once, nor was I ever touched. Maybe if I hadn't been sitting behind Mr. Clean...
Oh, and the main actor in this movie is the hottest guy in the world. Luke Grimes. Remember that name, because he's the Hottest Guy in the World.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weeresethakul)
When I got out of Shit Year (which I had originally picked to see solely because, of the four options in that time slot, it left the most amount of time before Uncle Boonmee...well, except for Boy, but who wants to see fucking Boy? It's about a boy named Boy who worships Michael Jackson!), the line for Uncle Boonmee was literally out the door. Luckily, there were still good seats available when I got in, and in fact I was able to snag the exact same seat I had had for Hahaha. Even more surprisingly, the girl who had been sitting next to me during Hahaha was sitting next to me once again, in the same seat. "Deja vu," she remarked. Indeed.
This was the Palmes d'Or winner at Cannes, which is why I was so eager to see it. It was not because of the director, whose Tropical Malady I graded *1/2 on the old Triple Reviews. Although I liked his next movie, Syndromes and a Century, a bit better (**), and I liked this one even more (**1/2), so eventually he'll make a movie I love. This one was interesting but not entirely successful. Too abstract when it needed to be concrete, too concrete when it needed to be abstract.
That was it for Saturday. I had a ticket to see The Housemaid and The Housemaid (two movies, the 1960 original and the 2010 remake) on Sunday, but I decided to skip them. I'd had enough Asian movies for one weekend. I was going to see Certified Copy Sunday night, but Ebony wanted to see
Heartbeats (Xavier Dolan)
So I went to see that, instead. Ebony and I had seen Dolan's previous film at Outfest, and so I was fully prepared to dislike this one as much as I did that one. But I actually disliked it more. The thing about Dolan that everyone brings up when discussing him is that he's only 21 years old, and he's already made two feature films. Well, whoop dee shit. I would be impressed if he was talented, but he's not. He's competent. He's "talented" in the way film students are talented. In other words, he watched some French New Wave films and said, "I can do that!" Well, no he can't. The French New Wave filmmakers were experimental, they took chances, but they also stuck to traditional elements, like creating great characters and exploring the human condition. In Heartbeats, Dolan does everything in shorthand. There are no characters, there are just archetypes. There is no dialogue, there are just lines. There are no actions, there are just moments. And it was shot almost entirely in close-ups and spastic shaky cam. Form should follow content, which becomes irrelevant when every scene is shot the same way.
Did I mention Xavier Dolan is gay? Of course he's gay. Only a gay boy could make such a self-important piece of fluff. [I know I'm not exactly being the poster boy for GLAAD here, but I think I'm well positioned to be the guy who incites the gay community to make better movies].
One of the main actors was there for the Q&A. Oh, dear god, the Q&A! Actually, the guy rose to the occasion and managed to turn the inane audience questions into something interesting, despite his limited English. But it was still excruciating. We stayed afterwards so Ebony could meet him. Probably because he's hot. I mean, he's no Luke Grimes, so I don't know what he was even doing there.
I almost felt like a heel marking my Audience Award ballots with 2's and 1's (out of five), when everyone else seemed to love all these movies. But they really just weren't very good. It was kind of depressing.