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AFI Fest 2011 presented by Audi
Reviews


The Color Wheel poster The Color Wheel ** 1/2
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Sharp, snappy, stinging verbiage drives Alex Ross Perry's dark comedy about a road trip taken by incessantly bickering siblings Colin (Perry) and JR (Perry's co-writer Carlen Altman) to collect the latter's belongings from her professor-turned-ex-lover's apartment. This pair makes hardly the most traditionally pleasant of company--her ambition to be a TV news reporter is more of an impossible delusion; he's an aimless layabout; and the decidedly unveiled contempt which they have for each other and everyone else is just as rashly reciprocated by the world at large--but their biting byplay is often hilarious and delivered with gusto. While dialogue is clearly the lifeblood of the film, the narrative and characters still should come to some sort of sensible resolution, and the film's out-of-nowhere shock value conclusion suggests that Perry and Altman were really at a loss as to how to tie everything up, apparently hoping that its admittedly rather artful execution (in an impressive long, single take) would disguise how the climax, without any organic build-up whatsoever, is disappointingly desperate in its cheap and completely arbitrary sensationalism.


Haywire poster Haywire (R) ***
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In the Q&A after the film's "surprise" screening at the festival, Steven Soderbergh said, "If someone decided to put Steven Seagal in a movie when he hadn't done anything before, why not [Gina Carano]?" Why not her indeed, for the Oscar-winning director's decision to build a feature starring vehicle around the mixed martial arts fighter proves what a fresh and effortlessly commanding screen presence she has, and not necessarily only when engaged in physical confrontation; as a black ops contractor on the hunt for those responsible for a deadly double cross, she more than holds her own against the seasoned likes of Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Douglas. But that's just gravy for the real reason why this film exists, and that's to see Carano to do her ass-whooping thing in a big screen context, and Soderbergh and his The Limey screenwriter have crafted a reasonably complex and smart framework for the big brawls, which deliver all the brutal, bone-cracking action would expect and hope for--made all the more impactful by Soderbergh's incredibly wise decision to have every single one play out without any musical score. That's just one of the nifty and unusual stylistic touches Soderbergh gives the pulpy material, such as having the only audio heard during a major gunfight sequence be David Holmes's funky, cool jazz score, and he and Dobbs tell their story in a non-linear fashion like their previous collaboration (though not nearly as fragmented). Such idiosyncracies befit such an unusually appealing leading lady, who strikes the right balance of steely, intimidating toughness while maintaining an equally believable feminine allure and relatability. While it remains to be seen where Carano goes from here in her film career, she certainly makes a memorable and quality first impression.


Kinyarwanda poster Kinyarwanda ****
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The uniqueness of Alrick Brown's film compared to most war movies (and not necessarily specifically those about the 1994 Rwandan genocide) can be summed up in its disarming first sequence, a youth house party capped by a charming singalong to... Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton's enduring Bee Gees-penned classic "Islands in the Stream." While Brown does cover expected the front-line violence and atrocities during the ordeal, he's more concerned with how the situation affected the entirety of the populace--and his rather ingenious and dramatically efficient way of doing so is through the use of a Robert Altman-esque multi-character/storyline structure that jumps back and forth in time as nimbly as it does between its plot threads: among them, a teen who, amid it all, admits to boredom--which is shaken when the camp literally comes home; a pair of buddy soldiers on the effort to end the violence; a camp where those who fought and killed on both sides of the conflict work toward post-war reconciliation and unification; and, perhaps most importantly, how Muslim mosques were opened to provide safe haven to literally everyone during the unrest. "Thread" is indeed an apt term to use with this film, as every last plot strand is a crucial element in weaving this tapestry's intricate depth and scope; as the varied characters' various stories and emotions organically intersect and intertwine, both the diversity of perspectives and shared oneness of this horrible experience are clearly seen and intimately felt. For all the harping on perceived differences that caused the senseless slaughter in the first place, Brown and co-writer Ishmail Ntihabose vividly, powerfully illustrate on a wide-spanning canvas how such seemingly disparate lives and lifestyles share that one common, undeniable human essence--with that not only the primal impulses of anger and pain, but also higher capacities, for resilience and, perhaps highest of all, forgiveness.


Restless City poster Restless City ***
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If boiled down to a traditional plot line, Andrew Dosunmu's film is about an aspiring musician (Sy Alassane) from Senegal whose sometimes shady dealings to survive in New York City leads him to meet a prostitute (Sky Grey), with whom he falls in love. While that's the story followed by Eugene M. Gussenhoven's screenplay, it is not necessarily what the film is "about"; the film is less concerned story mechanics than with painting a more general portrait of the experience of those, in particular immigrants, who anonymously exist and toil along and within the fringes of any bustling American metro. The key word there is "experience," for whatever the film lacks in a certain conventional narrative urgency it more than compensates in its sensual sensory immersion through its sounds, music, and particularly image. Dosunmu hails from the fashion world, but to say his and cinematographer Bradford Young's striking visuals make for a motion picture portfolio is not to dismiss: not a "spread" as in a commerce-driven showcase of a lifeless product but rather "portfolio" as in a unified work of art that draws in the eye with its beauty but then invites the mind and soul with its tactile texture, tension, and mystery beneath the surface. So follows the immigrant experience in the restless city: inviting and intriguing in its beauty, grit, and danger, familiar yet foreign, a world one must at once surrender to yet be careful to not completely lose oneself in.





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AFI Fest presented by Audi 2011 Reviews/© Michael Dequina


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