The American Film Institute [AFI] film festival hit Los Angeles this past week and they have something that is about as populist as it comes for a film festival: free tickets! Yes, all screenings are absolutely free. I couldn't believe it when I found out about that fact. I just wish I'd have known about it earlier, as I waited too long to reserve some screenings and couldn't get into to a bunch of films I wanted to see due to other people already snatching up available tickets. Here's some short reviews of the films I did get to see--two out of the mainstream, visually extravagant science-fiction films and Rampart, a dirty cop in Los Angeles film starring Woody Harrelson that I didn't like so much.
Beyond the Black Rainbow. I read about this mind-bending, dark, science-fiction film from Canada and director Panos Cosmatos a few months ago. The trailer is an indecipherable series of outlandish visuals and that pretty much sums up the entire film. There's not much of a plot to Beyond the Black Rainbow. It's set in 1983, in what feels like an alternate and futuristic world at the same time. There's a mad doctor type of guy who is keeping a young woman in an empty, start room and interegating her repeatedly. The woman can't talk, but can transfer her thoughts via telepathy. That's as much plot as you are going to get from this puzzling, uber-art film exorcise. I actually enjoyed the movie as a pure form of science-fiction in design, style, photography and all-out weirdness. I also really loved the score from Sinoia Caves [Jeremy Schmidt from Black Mountain], a collection of washes, pulses and throbs using analogue synthesizers circa the late 1970s and early 1980s. Incredibly out of the mainstream, Beyond the Black Rainbow is one of the most gloriously weirded-out movies I've seen in a long while. The programmer who introduced the film described it accurately as "an injection of cinema into your eyeballs." Then, Cosmatos gave a brief, cryptic hint at the mindset it takes to get into the movie by saying, "I hope you are as screwed up in the head as you watch this as I was when I made it." Check out the amazing poster and the trailer below for evidence of that. I'm going to try and book this for a midnight screening at the Circle in March or April when the film makes it to theatres. Rating ***1/2
Carre Blanc. After watching Beyond the Black Rainbow the previous night at midnight, I thought I was done with the edgy, not-so-commercial filmmaking. I was wrong. Carre Blanc, a French film from director Jean-Babtiste Leonetti, is an intense, uncompromising vision of an urban, dystopian future society, where the population is controlled by authorities and all facets of society is regulated. Work, leisure, socializing and even who can and when to have children for the state [the earlier the better!] is all tightly monitored by the unseen level in power. Thankfully, there's more of a plot to Carre Blanc than in Beyond the Black Rainbow [not a knock against Beyond the Black Rainbow, it's just nice to have a little bit of plot some of the time], but it is still a quagmire to mentally wade through as it unfolds. This is not an easy film to watch, with its overt brutality punishing the characters [and the audience as well], but there is a surprising layer of dark humor running through the film. Uneasy laughter could be softly heard from the crowd, unsure of they should be laughing at such material. I happen to really love dystopian set literature or cinema, so Carre Blanc is right in my sweet-spot. I loved the unrelenting shades of grey in the film's photography, the empty, artificially lit concrete buildings and streets and the never-explained series of "games" that selected citizens might be forced to endure that could literally kill them. Carre Blanc is relentlessly bleak, stylish and directed with a raw intensity by Leonetti and it's not for everyone, but this is my kind of hopeless, Orwellian style film that I love. Trailer below if your interest is piqued. Rating ****
Rampart. Oren Moverman's first directorial effort was 2009's much lauded drama The Messenger. I liked that film as it looked into the emotional destruction endured by a pair of Army officers tasked with notifying a soldier's families that someone has been killed in action. It was a simple, direct, spare, no-frills production that rightfully concentrated on the power in the story and the quality of the acting [Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster]. In the short span between The Messenger and Rampart, it seems someone has been whispering in Moverman's ear telling him he needs to be a "real director" and drastically change the style he employed. Maybe I'm completely remembering The Messenger wrong? Well, if you want to watch a movie that is unbelievably over-directed, is Rampart ever the movie for you. Moverman takes every opportunity to use unnessecary camera movement, distracting lengthy shots of reflections and even obscuring the actor's faces during scenes. I couldn't believe what I was watching as Moverman's horrible choices were invading scene after scene after scene. It's too bad as Harrelson gives an epic performance of self-loathing as a rogue Los Angeles cop whose life is spinning out-of-control in a downward spiral. The rest of the cast [Robin Wright, Ned Beatty, Steve Buscemi, Sigourney Weaver and others] are all people I want to see act, not keep getting distracted by flashy direction by Moverman. The script, penned by crime writer James Ellroy and Moverman, also feels overly-written all too often. Had Rampart utilized a spare hand, letting the story and actors carry the weight, it would have been light years better. The best thing about watching this film was I got to see it in the amazing Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Wow. Built in 1927 and one of the most famous movie theatres in the world, it's a glorious place to see a film! Even watching Rampart in such a setting couldn't save it from being a near total dud. Rating **