AFI Fest 2013

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What: AFI FEST

Where: Hollywood, CA

The heart of Hollywood has been pulsating even louder than usual lately. The American Film Institute (AFI) took over the TCL Chinese 6, TCL Chinese, and the Egyptian Theaters to showcase the best in 2013 cinema from around the world. What is already one of the most eclectic and congested parts of town, an 8 day film festival added to the Hollywood & Highland mix makes for an exciting, though admittedly, exhausting experience. One can’t help but sit and people watch – overstimulated by everything from the most obvious of tourists, to street performers and impersonators alike, to cliché “industry” types and other cinephiles waiting in festival lines hours at a time. The bright lights and crowds move about on Hollywood Boulevard just beyond, a frenetic nature in the air.

Within the chaotic atmosphere, you find the quiet. For me, the quiet came as the theater darkened, comfortably seated, my favorite person next to me, the first frame – at once dark – illuminates the big screen. It’s still pretty mesmerizing to me given the number of films I’ve seen in my life; in particular, over the last 10 years or so; how given the right circumstances I’m instantly transported into another world, temporarily leaving my own.

This year, a conscious decision was made to see the smaller foreign and independent american films over fighting for tickets and seats to the large galas and world premieres. This found me taking in films from all over the world from established directors to newer emerging filmmakers.

And yet, among the frenzy, the quiet, the excitement, the exhaustion; something felt different about this particular festival season.

Last year and in years past at AFI, there were films I knew while watching them unfold would be among my favorites of the year because I was already so lost in their mystic.

The Hunt, in 2012, comes to mind. The moment Mads Mikkelsen walks into the town church and sits in a pew among his peers who have ostracized him so deeply in the wake of false child molestation accusations, his eyes so rich in emotion, I can still feel that experience a year later. That scene remains one of the finest acting performances I’ve ever seen. I recall seeing Central Park Five that same year, unbelievably upset by such a story; infuriated with our legal system. A system that is still failing these young men wrongfully accused of a crime with no retribution, not even so much as a simple “I’m sorry.”

In 2011, Snowtown was so well-crafted and got under my skin so deeply, I remember physically hating the movie. I was in such a conflict as I cast my ballot at the end of the film. I wanted to say the film was awful. And it was. But only in sharing a visually graphic recreation of unfathomable acts that happened in real life. It was at that exact moment, I learned you can equally hate and like a film. I loathed what this film represented and how it made me feel, but it was so accomplished that I had to put my judgement aside about the narrative, and focus on the storytelling.

In 2010, my first official full AFI fest experience – I found myself taking in the galas and premieres to some of the best films of that year. Blue Valentine not only painted an unflinching portrait of a deteriorating relationship, but it introduced me to Ryan Gosling himself (*swooning*) during the Q&A afterward. The Fighter, I recall was two hours of pure unadulterated fun. The audience so engrossed, we cheered all the way through…and did so out loud. This is where Melissa Leo officially became my hero.

I can’t say I walked away from AFI FEST 2013 feeling this way, as if I’ll look back with the same fondness at key moments so vivid, it’s almost as if it just happened. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all of the films that I saw this year when I think about them individually. They each had a captivating narrative and a visual style that aptly told their story. However, collectively, when I look back over the 6 films that I took in this year, the overall power of a cinematic experience didn’t hit me as profoundly as in previous years. Perhaps I should have taken in more of the galas and premieres to create those larger than life moments, mixed in with the quiet ones to create a more memorable time. Perhaps I should have simply chosen a different selection of films to see altogether.

Nonetheless, I always applaud the art of making a film – knowing how much time, passion, and effort goes into crafting words onto a page, cultivating a motion picture for audience consumption. That alone is no small feat.

Here are the 6 films I saw at AFI Fest this year, ranked from my favorite to my least favorite.

#1 | Like Father, Like Son

 #2 | Gloria

#3 | Blue Ruin

#4 | Stranger by the Lake

#5 | Breathe In

#6 | The Unknown Known

As we near the end of the year, Like Father, Like Son and perhaps even, Gloria, have a shot at making my top 10 of 2013. We’ll have to see how the next 7 weeks play out at the movies.

Until next year…

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{Venues.}

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{How to kill time while waiting: snapping random pictures of your feet, your kindle, and your food.}

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{AFI FEST 2013.}

Sweet!

Location: 6801 Hollywood Boulevard, Suite 201, Hollywood

Talk about competition. There’s a new sugar shop in town that gives Dylan’s Candy Bar a run for their money. Move over, Hollywood has the new candy shop hot spot!

Enter Sweet.

I can’t think of a better name for the latest addition to Hollywood and Highland. The store is massive. The decor unbelievable: colorful, inviting, well designed, themed by station, and decked out to make it the complete interactive and overtly visual experience.

Visit “Lollywood” the section of the store containing lollipops in every shape, flavor and size. Make your way to the “Chocolate Lab” and custom design your own candy bar. Stop over to “Sticky” and get a glimpse at how the most sugar-infused candies are made. Head to “Yucky” and indulge your nasty, yet delicious side. Don’t miss Willy Wonka’s section and have your fill of fine chocolates and meet him yourself.

Bulk options galore. Sugar everywhere. Who knew that there was so much candy in the world? You don’t need to be a kid to feel right at home.

In this case, a picture really is a thousand words and it’s pretty “Sweet!”

LOLLYWOOD

CHOCOLATE LAB

YUCKY!

STICKY

BULK CANDY

WILLY WONKA

STORE RANDOMS

Bad Turns 25!

Location: 6801 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood

I am the first to admit that I get bored easily and I can be pretty fickle. One of the few things this logic doesn’t apply to is my eternal love for Michael Jackson’s unmatched legacy of music!

I was beyond stoked when I heard through the grapevine, that a new MJ documentary exploring the cultivation of and stories behind the production of the Bad album and its iconic music videos was making its way to Los Angeles for a one week limited theatrical release at the Chinese 6 Theater at Hollywood and Highland. The theater’s Chinese inspired decor has a modern flair and was designed as a newer counterpart to the historic Grauman’s Chinese Theater downstairs. I don’t make the rounds to this theater very often. I’ve seen a handful of films here this year – usually in the morning or afternoon – so I was surprised at the $16.00 per ticket peak weekend price tag! Really? That’s more than the Arclight!

Boy, was I glad we overlooked the ticket prices (thanks Darlin’ :)). Director Spike Lee uses his accomplished narrative skills and industry connections to examine track by track the enigma and timelessness of MJ’s “Bad” LP as it turns 25 years old. I spent an awesome Friday night in Theater 1 reliving my childhood anthems, reinforcing my love affair with his music, smiling, laughing, and mini dancing in my seat. I had 2 hours of the most consecutive fun in the movie theater that I’ve had in quite awhile.

While the 400 seat theater was not at all crowded for a weekend screening, it was packed with some of his die hard fans. You could tell from the audience’s loud cheering, clapping, singing, and later sobbing as we learned more about MJ’s world circa 1987.

What a treat to see archival behind the scenes footage of the late November film shoot for the “Bad video with current commentary from director Martin Scorsese himself; to catch up with Tatiana, the extension wearing beauty every girl wanted to be in “The Way You Make Me Feel” video; and to learn how “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” was written as a possible duet with Whitney Houston that was eventually recorded with Siedah Garrett. Garrett, who is drenched throughout the film, shares her accounts of working alongside MJ intimately and how “Man in The Mirror” came from writing pad to recording studio. Even better, the film is chocked full of interviews from MJ’s sound engineers, producing team, instrumentalists, and fellow musical peers singing his praises from Mariah Carey to Kanye West.

This is the most entertaining documentary I think I’ve ever seen! If you can’t make it out to the Chinese 6 by the end of the week, there will be a special presentation airing on network television on Thanksgiving night. Get together with your loved ones, have some turkey, some laughs, share what you’re thankful for, and crowd in front of the TV. You won’t be sorry.