Sunday, November 17, 2013

AFI FEST 2013: Day One

Another year of AFI FEST is over, 83 features and 36 shorts screened across eight days. This year I highlighted 33 films as high priority, set out to see 25 and ended up seeing 17. In order to give a fair amount of coverage to all 17 films viewed, I've decided to break the festival down by day(s) including short reviews for each film. Below you'll find my coverage for the first full day of AFI FEST 2013.

Day One:
directed by Kim Mordaun
"The Rocket" was an endearing start to the festival. Set in Laos, the drama follows a family forced to move from their home after a energy corporation decides to dam up the valley their village has resided in for generations. Now misplaced in a makeshift village with false hope, the family who soon become a band of misfits, must find common ground in their new surroundings.
At the forefront of the story is Ahlo, a child who is born into a impossible situation based on tribe superstitions. Determined to overcome these superstitions, Ahlo learns about a cash prize awarded to the best rocket built for the annual rocket festival and takes it upon himself to build a giant rocket that could turn his family's situation in the right direction.
This family drama is designed to be an emotional road trip that will leave audiences delighted by its finish. The cast of characters are engaging through and through. Director and writer Kim Mordaunt put together a well rounded cast with four stand out performances by Sitthiphon Disamoe as Ahlo, Bunsri Yindi as Ahlo's mouthy grandmother, Thep Phongam as a man named Purple obsessed with James Brown who befriends Ahlo, and Loungnam Kaosainam as Kia, a little girl that becomes Ahlo closest friend.
"The Rocket" treads through some dark territory that isn't the easiest to sit through despite being such a crowd-pleaser. Set in a third world country that lives well below the international poverty line, it is alarming to watch as a corporation who claims to be doing good for the country, removes hundreds if not thousands of people from their homes, only to relocate them in shoddy locations offering none of the utilities promised. We get disturbed by horror movies and supernatural stuff, but these kinds of atrocities that are going on around the world on regular basis are what get under my skin, this is the real horror.
"The Rocket" is Australia's official submission for Best Foreign Language Film in the 86th Academy Awards so there is a very good chance that general audiences here in the United States will get a chance to see this endearing family adventure that I wholeheartedly recommend sooner rather than later.

directed by Jeremy Saulnier
"Blue Ruin" is a riveting revenge thriller that proves family ties can be a real bitch. Not just that, this is one of those films that reminds its audience, despite having seen numerous murders on screen, doing it yourself may prove to be more than you bargained for.
At the heart of this revenge thriller is Dwight, a man who learns that his father's killer has been released from prison and takes it upon himself to seek vengeance for his death. Macon Blair does an outstanding job in the lead role of Dwight. Blair has a raw and bewildered energy emitting throughout giving the thriller a genuine feel. Blair furthermore carries the story on his back keeping the audience glued to his plight and later dilemmas as they play out on screen.
Back to family ties for a minute, writer and director Jeremy Saulnier deserves applause for exploring some unused territory in a more than over-used genre. Vengeance or revenge stories come a dime a dozen on a annual basis, however not very many of them use original or unique settings. Here, "Blue Ruin" is set in the South and focuses on how deep family loyalties can run. The underbelly of what is playing out in "Blue Ruin" is exceptional and part of what really made this film more than just another average revenge story.

directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
"Big Bad Wolves" is a cat and mouse thriller that plays up tension along with situational humor to big laughs. The story follows a police officer and a father who both believe one man to be the killer linked in a series of heinous child murders in the area. Billed as an answer to scary fairy tales our parents read to us as children, "Big Bad Wolves" has an impeccable blend of thrills and laughs yet leaves its audience with a grim outlook on the results of revenge.
What really makes "Big Bad Wolves" such an enjoyable thriller is the comical interactions among the entire cast of characters. It is clear after two feature films that Aharon Keshaes and Navot Papushado have a handle on how to write meaningful dialogue for their characters. More importantly it is dialogue that makes their characters come across genuine. It helps that the writer and director duo have an exceptional cast to help elevate the dark script into mounds of hilarity. It takes talent to make a joke out of torture like pulling finger nails and burning flesh, yet the team behind "Big Bad Wolves" delivers.

Stay tuned for more breakdown of each day at AFI FEST 2013.