Friday, November 11, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Best of AFI Fest 2011

Though my time at this year's AFI Fest presented by Audi (which ran November 3-10 in Los Angeles) was cut short by the untimely death of a close friend that required me to travel, I was able to see what are shaping up to be several of this year's major awards contenders. I missed screenings of a few other ballyhooed upcoming releases including Shame, My Week with Marilyn and Luc Besson's The Lady, but the following gems I was able to catch at their LA premieres were more than satisfying.

Carnage: I despised the Broadway/LA production of the award-winning play, God of Carnage, upon which Roman Polanski's star-studded movie is based and approached it with trepidation. Imagine my surprise, then, to find the film a vast improvement over its source material. The movie is tighter (it runs a lean 80 minutes), less literal/pretentious in its staging, and -- most importantly for a comedy -- funnier. Polanski wisely adds an opening depiction of the playground violence that instigates the initially-civilized meeting of two sets of parents played by Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz (a particular standout) and Kate Winslet, as well as a delightful denouement featuring a much-discussed hamster. Carnage is scheduled for release in LA and New York on December 16 and will expand nationally in January.

Melancholia: From controversial writer-director Lars Von Trier (Dancer in the Dark, Antichrist) comes what is probably his most hopeful film to date, despite the fact it culminates in the apocalypse. Kirsten Dunst, who was honored as Best Actress at this year's Cannes Film Festival for her performance here, stars as a woman suffering from clinical depression so inconsolably that not even her lavish wedding to True Blood's Alexander Skarsgaard brings relief. She does however find an unusually comforting emotional (and possibly even sexual) connection to a recently discovered planet, Melancholia, that may be on a collision course with Earth. Von Trier employs an all-star cast (including Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt and a chilling Charlotte Rampling), evocative imagery and Wagner's prelude to his opera Tristan und Isolde to spectacular, haunting effect. The movie is now playing in Los Angeles and is available through Video on Demand, although it should be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated.

We Need to Talk About Kevin: The fearless Tilda Swinton plays grieving, persecuted mother to a teenaged son who slaughtered several schoolmates in Lynne Ramsay's superbly crafted, deeply unsettling adaptation of Lionel Shriver's novel. A Bad Seed for the 21st century, it raises provocative questions about nature vs. nurture when it comes to the development of sociopathic children. As Swinton said at a post-screening Q&A session, We Need to Talk About Kevin is "the play Euripides didn't have the balls to write." I consider Swinton a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination as the searching Eva, with her fellow nominees likely to include Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs, Viola Davis in The Help, and either Kiera Knightley in A Dangerous Method or Dunst. Swinton's co-star Ezra Miller is also a potential nominee for his frightening performance as Kevin. The film will open theatrically in December.

The final day of AFI Fest 2011 featured the North American premiere of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson's motion-capture epic, The Adventures of Tintin, as well as award presentations. The Audience Award for best film in the festival's Breakthrough section went to the lesbian-themed With Every Heartbeat, which I reviewed here last week. It is encouraging to see many mainstream film festivals this year honoring GLBT films, with Weekend serving as another example. Our congratulations go out to Alexandra-Therese Keining, writer-director of With Every Heartbeat, and all the filmmakers spotlighted at this year's AFI Fest.

Reverend's Ratings:
Carnage: A-
Melancholia: B+
We Need to Talk About Kevin: A-

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

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