Tuesday, November 25, 2014

AFI FEST 2014: Day Five

AFI FEST 2014 is a wrap, 73 features and 45 shorts screened across eight (8) days. This year I highlighted 24 films I found to be a high priority, of those 24 films I caught 15 of them across five (5) days. In order to give a fair amount of coverage to the 15 films viewed, I've broke my festival coverage down by day(s) including a brief review of each feature.

Day Five:
directed by Kim Seong-hun
Is it weird to find pleasure in someone else's misfortunes? "A Hard Day" is willing to see what you think. Screenwriter and director Kim Seong-hun is hoping you will not only find pleasure in it, he's hoping you'll have blast watching the misfortunes play out. The South Korean thriller strings together a series of unfortunate events following a detective in a bad situation. Each of the events on their own could cause not only a bad day but a bad week, combine them all together and even the strongest willed person is likely to have a nervous breakdown.
A Hard Day uses gallows humor to great effect. The action thriller has its audience eager for things to fall apart. There's stimulation for things to untangle and crumble. The rewards are very titillating. Kim Seong-hun was wise to center the wild tale around a dirty officer. It makes the bad things unravelling around the troubled detective feel less upsetting because, even if he is likable, he is corrupted. Better, Seong-hun pits the main character against another cop who is a massive overachiever when it comes to being crooked and sinister.
A Hard Day is the kind of movie you'll want to see with a primed crowd. It is a provoking thrill ride that triggers a variety of gratifying emotions.

directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka
"Manos Sucias" is a powerful portrait of the inhumanity in drug trafficking. There is no regard for human life, only that drugs are being transported and money is being made. Set in the deprived Colombian city of Buenaventura, the stripped down drama follows two estranged brothers who find themselves looking for a quick payday transporting millions of dollars of cocaine. While both brothers take the risk of drug trafficking for chance of a better life, their overall intentions are different. One brother is steadfast on getting out of Buenaventura, while the other brother seems far more enamored with the status and wealth that pop culture associates with the drug trade.
The Colombian thriller based off real-life accounts uses its title very literally. In order to reach your pay day in the drug trade, you are going to get your hands dirty. There's no escaping it. Watching what these two brothers are forced to do is dismal and brutal. They are thrown into an impossible situation and forced to operate off the most essential instinct, survival. Manos Sucias doesn't play around or waste any time. It doesn't break new ground in terms of what it is covering, however it remains focused, compelling, and well worth a viewing.

directed by Shahram Mokri
Two words immediately come to mind when I think about "Fish & Cat," fascinating and frustrating. A film that initially caught my attention with the single-take gimmick. Something that seems to be growing in popularity, and while I've had issues with each new single-take flick I see, I continue to go to see them because the idea is awesome. On top of the single-take gimmick, the Iranian film is advertised as a "slasher." Even AFI FEST described it as a horror comedy in the vein of "Friday the 13th." To summarize, an Iranian single-take slasher film in the vein of Friday the 13th? Uh, yes please. I'm always looking for new perspectives in horror and there's not a whole lot of Iranian single-take slashers going around these days. Unfortunately, what is advertised is not what ends up on screen. What you get is two hours of going in Möbius strip circles. Tracking between a group of college students camping around a lake preparing for a kite-flying festival and two old men who intersect them en route to their friend's house.
Fish & Cat tries to build the advertised horror in a preface of text. The preamble raises suspicion about restaurants in northern Iran who were allegedly serving human meat. Screenwriter and director Shahram Mokri then drops the audience in front of an old restaurant in northern Iran for the starting point. While the prelude is a nice table setter, it is not able to hold the fear or suspicion across the 134 minute film. A big reason why the fear evaporates is not the fascinating circular time element or the menacing old men lurking behind the trees, but the fact that nothing horrific ever plays out. There is set up, there are potential victims, yet each and every one is passed on or forgotten about. Like I said initially, frustrating. There's reason to believe that the two old men are killing off-screen, but without the preamble Fish & Cat would be nothing more than a single-take about two old men taking a walk through a forest in northern Iran. Glad I saw it being a rare cinematic experience, but wow, was it ever a let down.

That's a wrap on my coverage from AFI FEST 2014. In case you missed it, here's coverage from Day One (here), Day Two (here), Day Three (here), and Day Four (here). Look forward to bringing you continued coverage of AFI FEST next year in 2015 and beyond. As always, stay tuned for more...