Friday, April 22, 2011

Grey Matter, Like Water, Semper Fi, Detective Dee, Joe May and The Journals of Musan or April 22 at the Tribeca Film Festival

As you know there are a bunch of films which I'm not allowed to speak about until a certain moment. One of them is the first film I want to tell you about today, a must miss film.

Grey Matter is a beautifully made and acted film that is subverted by a script that seems to have cobbled together in order to get the film a release. The write up in the Tribeca Festival guide talks about the film as the story of filmmaker who loses his funding but presses on ward only to find the script coming to life. The reality of the film is that we watch as the filmmaker getting ready to make his film but finds that the funding isn’t there. He then goes to bed and we see the film. It’s about 20 minutes of the filmmaker and an hour and twenty minutes of the film before we get one last shot of the filmmaker shooting a woman playing an instrument and singing.

The filmmaker stuff is okay, even if it seems to be referencing things we don’t know (yet). The trouble happens when we see the film (The Life Cycle of the Cockroach) which deals with people abusing cockroaches and dealing with the terrors of the Rwandan massacres. It’s pretentious twaddle with people having visions, long real time takes and the pain of living with terrible things that happened.(I won’t get into the cockroach nonsense).

It’s really well done, but to what end? I don’t know. It has the feel of the work of an overly clever film student who loved the surrealists and avant garde and threw everything he ever knew into it. The result is a film that means something to the director but confuses everyone else. Worse, it looks like the filmmaker sections that bookend the cockroach part was added because no one would buy his bullshit other wise. I know what he was getting at, but how it’s done it’s mess. One of the absolutely must miss films of the year. (I passed the press screening on the way out to go to lunch and I wanted to stop in and tell them to runaway and not lose an hour and a half of their life, but I left figuring that they could always walk out on on their own)

Speaking of walking out, today was that sort of a day that had me walking out of movies...then again it had me seeing three great films and having a great lunch.

The first film of the day and the first walk out of the Film Festival was Journals of Musan. Its a Korean film about a North Korean defector trying to get along in the South. He is forever the outsider and abused at every turn, especially by his employers. It was a slow, unremarkable first hour that had me checking my watch repeatedly, hoping that something exciting, or at least not cliched as far as this sort of story goes (it's the sort of thing that Korean action films and comedies have made fun of or used to better effect). I finally found I couldn't sit any more so I left. I could be wrong, it might have picked up, one person who stayed to the end liked it, but for me it was a snoozer.

For me the walk out was advantageous since I got to see one of the great finds of the festival Like Water about mixed martial arts (MMA) champion Anderson Silva.(The title refers to a Bruce Lee statement that water is strong and formless taking the shape of whatever it's placed in)

I'm not an MMA fan. I used to love it but the move toward the territory occupied by the World Wrestling Entertainment has turned me off. Seeing this film was refreshing since Silva is a guy who has been in trouble with the UFC for not playing along with the promotional trash talk or needlessly beating up a beaten opponent. The film follows Silva during the three months before his battle with a trash talking opponent. The film that results is a note perfect sports film with a final confrontation that will have you cheering. I loved the film. If you get a chance see it. (A more detailed review will follow after Tribeca ends)

After Like Water I saw a film that kicked me to the curb. Its the heartbreaking documentary, Semper Fi:Always Faithful.

Semper Fi tells the story of Jerry Ensminger, a career Marine who has been battling the Corps to get help for all the people who have been, or might have been hurt by the contaminated ground water at Camp Lejeune. The camp has had a problem for decades, only the Corps never bothered to tell anyone. The result was the deaths of not only Marines, but also the wives and children of the soldiers (Ensminger lost his daughter). Trust me on this, this film will break your heart. Its the story of a few men and women trying to get help for a million or so other people who may be at risk for cancer.

I thought the film was going to be your typical David and Goliath story. I thought the film was going to hit all the cliche notes...and then I realized I was crying. I was crying all through the film. The sadness of the story, of how the men who agreed to fight for this country were betrayed by it, left me broken. I dare you not to be reduced to mush by the story of the mother who her lost children in rapid succession.

This is a great film. It's one of the most important films of the year. You really need to see this film, you need to feel the outrage and do something about it.(A longer review will be coming after the festival)

From there I took a subway down town and went to lunch with Mondocurry and Shigeko. They were going to join me for the fourth film, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. As you no doubt know I reviewed this film back in November. I loved the film and was correct in thinking that seeing this on a big screen only improves the film.(Also seeing it a second time makes it clear how neatly plotted the film is). It's a must see... but you knew that.

I should mention I'm hoping that we'll be getting their take on the film and the festival soon since they have several films scheduled at Tribeca.

After the movie I peeled off from my friends and head back to Chelsea for the World Premiere of The Last Rites of Joe May. This is a sad little film about a down on his luck minor gangster named Joe May, played by Dennis Farina. May has been in the hospital for seven weeks and since no one has seen him, his landlord throws his stuff out and rents out his apartment to a single mom and her daughter. It gets worse from there as May finds his whole world turned upside down. Feeling sorry for the older gentlemen the mother takes him in...

Sadly, despite some good performances, the film doesn't amount to much. While not bad, the film never really gets out the swamp of cliches. You know how its going to go from the opening credits which happen to the sound of opera. Trust me as each character comes on you know what they will be. I wasn't particularly impressed and I got out of there as soon as I could and I missed the Q&A.

For now thats it. It's bed time for me. I have to get up early and see a few more check back tomorrow...


  1. I very much enjoyed your review of "Semper Fi:Always Faithful" it is indeed a "gut punch" type of film and the saddest part is that it is a true story! You might want to check your spelling of my name, it is Ensminger not Ensiminger...thanks,Jerry

  2. Noted and corrected. My appologies.

    A longer review will be going up in the next few days as a stand alone post.