Saturday, November 14, 2015

AFI Fest, Part I: Reviews of Field N*ggas, Baskin, and the Lady in the Van

AFI Fest doesn't just offer a great selection of films - all the tickets are free! That doesn't mean getting them is easy. I spent about two hours online when they were made available, dealing with website glitches, things disappearing from my shopping cart, etc. Many films seemed to be immediately sold out.  The "voucher" system for galas led to people having to camp out to get a chance for the big films. But for the smaller films or the daytime screenings, I found it was no problem to get in, although showing up 45 minutes early was sometimes necessary to get a good seat. If you didn't get tickets online, you could also show up early and wait in a rush line and probably get into most screenings. This will be the first of two posts offering short reviews of the six films I saw.

Friday, November 6 - Field Niggas

The theater was full for Field Niggas. We saw a videotaped introduction by the director, Khalik Allah, as he was not able to attend in person. The film presents late-night life on the busy Harlem corner of 125th and Lexington. The audio and filmed footage don't sync up, so you will hear a person talking but it isn't always the person you see on screen, or at least you can't be sure. Many of the people are high on K2, and although I have not tried it, I felt like I too was high on K2 while watching the film due to its woozy, dreamlike cinematography and the asynchronous audio. The film is only 60 minutes long, but since there is no narrative, it tends to drag. I found myself wanting to know more about the people that we only saw in brief snippets. It was a bit like Slacker in that way - we just see glimpses of people.  I left the film feeling a little nauseous. I feel it is artistic, and the cinematography is beautiful and colorful, but it lacked character development that could have made it a truly moving documentary.

Monday, November 9 - Baskin

The trailer made me very excited for Baskin, but the film didn't deliver. It's a Turkish horror film that tells the story of five cops who respond to a distress call from another cop and end up at a creepy dilapidated building in the woods, where of course a cult is performing violent rituals and in need of humans to sacrifice.  None of the cops are particularly likable, so we don't care too much about their fate. The middle sequence of the film, where the cops arrive and start exploring the building in the dark, is very suspenseful but the final act doesn't really go anywhere. It does provide some gross-out moments, and the high priest (Mehmet Cerrahoglu, a parking attendant making his acting debut) is quite mesmerizing. Argento was cited as an influence, and the film does have a supernatural bent. It mixes the supernatural with low-grade torture porn in the Eli Roth vein, but never quite has the squirm factor that Roth's films do. The director Can Evrenol revealed during the Q&A that the script was written very hastily, after Roth saw his short film and asked if there was a feature-length script. The director fibbed and said he had a script and then had to write it quickly.  Hopefully, he will spend more time developing his next script.  The title also makes no sense. When asked about it, Evrenol admitted only that it was kind of an in joke and that he had some regrets, since it gets lost in search results on twitter for Baskin Robbins. The theater was only about 1/3 full, but it was a 1:00 PM weekday screening.

Monday, November 9 - The Lady in the Van

It's always a treat to watch Maggie Smith, and this role is totally in her wheelhouse. Based on a true story, The Lady in the Van tells the story of a homeless lady in the van who creates a stir on a nice upper middle class block of Camden Town by daring to park her van there. The playwright Alan Bennett is the neighbor who treats her with the most compassion. When overnight street parking becomes restricted, he agrees to let her park the van in his driveway. As the years go by, they trade quips and Bennett learns more about her true identity and what brought her to this lowly state.  Smith is really just a smelly version of her Downton Abbey character, so it doesn't require her to stretch much. Still, it's a pleasure to watch, even if it's not groundbreaking cinema. It's kind of a like a story you might have read in "The Most Unforgettable Character I Ever Met" section of Reader's Digest and enjoyed but quickly forgot. There was no Q&A at this screening, and it was a full house.

Stay tuned for Part II - Reviews of Chronic, The Lobster, and Sworn Virgin.

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