Monday, April 30, 2012

Tribeca Film Festival Unseen Photos

Robert De Niro at the Premiere of THE ZEN OF BENNETT
Rodriguez and Malik Bendjelloul (director) of SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
THE FREAKY DEAKY Crew: Andy Dick, Breanne Racano, Michael Jai White, Director and Writer Charles Matthau with Ashley Matthau, Crispin Glover, Leonard Robinson,  and Sabina Gadecki
Julie Delpy of 2 DAYS IN NEW YORK

Chris Rock (2 DAYS IN NEW YORK)

Alexia Landeau (2DAYS IN NEW YORK)
Davey Havok (AFI) of KNIFE FIGHT
Jamie Chung of KNIFE FIGHT
Freida Pinto (TRISHNA) at Apple Store Event
Lucy Mulloy (director) and her film crew answer some questions after a screening of UNA NOCHE

Here are some photos I took during last week's Tribeca Film Festival.  Seeing Robert De Niro and Tony Bennett at the Premiere of THE ZEN OF BENNETT was definitely a highlight.  De Niro was walking at a brisk pace and nearly got past me, but I quickly took a pic.  Seeing Mr. Bennett was a straight up thrill....he's one classy, smooth dude. 

Tribeca Film Festival Red Carpet Events are no joke.  A big thanks to the folks behind the scenes who made it happen and a shout out to the crew who accommodated all the photographers and media.  TFF was a fun and wild ride.  I hope to do it all again next year.

As Luck Would Have it (2011) Tribeca 2012

Crappy title for a strange film from director Alex de la Iglesia who did the Oxford Murders and Last Circus. Its a weird melding of deadly serious drama and incredibly black comedy which, sadly, the director never manages to balance.

The plot has Jose Moto playing an out of work PR guy having a shitty day. His wife, Selma Hayek, is talking about their anniversary but all he wants to do is find a job. When he fails to get a job with an old firm, he drives off to make reservations at the hotel he spent his honeymoon. Sadly, the hotel has been bulldozed for part of a museum's new wing. Wandering where he shouldn't he takes a fall and ends up with an iron bar in his head. As he awaits rescue the situation spirals out of control; becoming a media circus which our hero tries to turn to his advantage.

If you melded Ace in the Hole with Death of a Salesman and added an extra dollop of sarcastic humor, you have As Luck Would Have It. This is an ultimately painfully sad film with a tonal imbalance that never makes you feel the way you should. Don't blame the actors, they sell it, blame the script which bounces back and forth between broad comedy and drama, realism and hyper reality. There are a few twists and turns (such as some of the efforts to free Mota) that are not what anyone I know would do. I mean who would let anyone use a jackhammer on a piece of rebar in someones head?

Also blame the score. It’s a dirge like affair that sets a sour mood from the start. The film has barely started and we’re already depressed. How can we feel anything but gloom with music like that? I was down on the film from the get go simply because of it. It outright kills many of the laughs the script has put in place. It wrecks any chance for the film to work on any real level.

And yet the movie affected me on some level. It made me feel something. Yes it takes easy shots at things and yes it covers some well worn territory, but once things get going, once the accident happens, the characters and some sharp writing made me care. Certainly I cared enough to be angry that the film wasn’t much better.

Walking out of the screening I was certain the film was going to be written up as a misfire and as one of the more mediocre films of Tribeca. However, once I was on the train and once I got home I found that as much as the film is deeply flawed, there is still something about it that hangs with you and on some level kicks your ass.

Its not a great film. It’s probably, maybe, possibly, perhaps just barely a good one(or not I'm still not sure)

If you’re a fan of the director it’s worth a shot… at some point. Perhaps going in without expectations (which is how I saw The Oxford Murders) will help.

I should explain why I really don’t like the English title of the film. As Luck Would Have It really has nothing to do with the film. It’s a title that kind of infers more of a comedy, or a film with more irony than this film has. The Spanish title La Chispa de la vida is the slogan for Coca Cola in Spanish speaking countries, which is translated as The Spark of Life, that the Jose Mota character is supposed to have come up with. It’s a term that is mentioned through out the film as an explanation of what he had accomplished. When I asked a Spanish speaking friend about the original title she told me that the actual meaning of the term, and the way she originally translated it, was the joke of life, which she said is what it originally meant. She said that Coca Cola co-opted the term into a happier slogan for their product. I don’t know if it’s true but I do think The Joke of Life is a better title, since it is more ironic.

Tomorrow is the next Korean Cultural Service free screening in Tribeca

Tribeca ate my brain and I never posted that tomorrow is the start of the next series of FREE Korean films in Tribeca. In order to get you pumped up I present the Press release with details of the next four films.

I should point out that all of these films have great reputations, so do go.

Series Three: Epic Romance

Romance is in the air, but this time, it’s getting EPIC.

Love that spans the ages has been a longtime favorite of Chinese and Japanese cinema, but it wasn’t until the last decade that epic, awe-inspiring romantic blockbusters made their way into Korean film – but when they hit, they hit with a vengeance! The floodgates opened and nobility clashed with peasants, royalty fell for servants, and everyone somehow stumbled across their soulmates amidst the wildest, most untamed eras of Korean history. So prepare yourself for a healthy dose of action, plenty of gut-busting comedy, and all the swoon-inducing, star-crossed lovers you can possibly take as we present New York City with a bouquet of Korea’s most epic romances!

Tuesday, May 1 @ 7pm
THE SERVANT (2010)Opening at number one at the Korean box office, this retelling of Chunhyang-jeon (Korea’s version of Romeo & Juliet which has been remade hundreds of times) is told from the point-of-view of Bang-Ja (Kim Ju-Hyuk), a servant of the young scholar Lee Mong-lyong. Bang-Ja is normally an incidental character in Chunhyang-jeon who does little more than act as a go-between for the star-crossed lovers, but here he’s elevated to center stage and the result is a funny, touching, unexpected twist on a classic tale. Writer/director Kim Dae-Woo, who crafts pure cinematic magic here, also wrote the script for 2003’s Untold Scandal, the hit Korean riff on Dangerous Liasions.

Tuesday, May 15 @ 7pm
KING AND THE CLOWN (2005)During the reign of the infamous King Yeon-san, two clowns (Gam Woo-Sung and Lee Joon-Ki, both mesmerizing here) star in a satirical play about the powerful monarch, which becomes popular among the commoners. Immediately arrested for treason, they bet their lives on making the king laugh at their routine, and their surprising success allows them to stay in the palace as royal performers. When the king (Hi, Dharma’s Jeong Jin-Young) starts displaying an irresistible attraction toward one of the clowns, the performers quickly realize that they may be in over their heads. A pop culture phenomenon, this mid-budget romance about man love ended up selling more tickets than any other film in Korean history – cementing itself deeply in the public consciousness and becoming a culture-defining romantic hit.

Tuesday, June 5 @ 7pm
FORBIDDEN QUEST (2006)A modest hit in Korea that deserves far more attention than it received, this sharp dramedy from The Servant director Kim Dae-Woo has the endearing Yun-Seo ( the legendary Han Suk-Kyu) randomly coming across an ‘indecent novel.’ Hesitant to read it at first, he’s soon inspired to write one of his own, even asking his family rival and infamous captain of guards, Gwang-Heon (Lee Beom-Su, City of Violence), to illustrate it for him. Their book is soon the most talked-about in town and it’s eventually picked up by Jeong-Bin, the king’s favorite concubine. But when she becomes a little too involved, the two men are soon drawn in a tricky web of palace intrigue that will leave no one safe.

Tuesday, June 19 @ 7pm
Holy blockbusters! A big hit at the Korean box office, Sword is the epitome of posh, luscious, decadent period filmmaking. Based on the real life Empress Myeongseong, it tells her story through the eyes of a bounty hunter who becomes her bodyguard (Cho Seung-Woo, now doing his mandatory military service). She tries to stand up to Russian and Japanese intervention in 19th Century Korea and the results are a series of luxurious, CGI-enhanced action scenes alternating with carefully calibrated and eye-meltingly colorful scenes of court life, making this movie feel like an unholy mix of Merchant-Ivory and The Matrix

Town of Runners (2012) Tribeca 2012

From last years excellent Donor Unknown comes the merely okay Town of Runners.

This is the story of Bekoji in Ethiopia which has bred a large number of world class runner. Focusing on two girls who show promise, their coach and a young man in the town, this film shows what it takes to be on the road toward a career as a world class runner.

Its also not a particularly good film. The problem is that the film just seems to ramble on over the course of four years. The girls are good enough to go off for special training. One ends up in a good club, one ends up in a shit hole and declines in ability. The coach falls by the wayside as does the young man who narrates some of the film.

While not terrible I was nodding off. I can't see seeing this in a theater and suggest waiting for a cable run, probably on one of the ESPN channels.

Politics of Anger: High Tech, Low Life at Tribeca 2012

Following up on writing about Let Fury Have the Hour, I felt I should write about another documentary that looks at revolutionary activity in the face of oppression directed by Stephen Maing (pictured below) called High Tech, Low Life.  It is a less spectacular affair, as its subjects come strictly from the realm of everyday citizens, but the stakes for those documented are much higher; they engage in activities that run in direct opposition to the longstanding government regime whose control they live under.

                High Tech… looks at China at a time when blogging forums had risen as a prominent means of communication.  As major social networks like Facebook were already being blocked by vast firewalls (referred to during the film as the other Great Wall), these blogging domains became a way for ordinary citizens to create their own media, one that paints a less than ideal picture.   This is significant, as major media outlets in China are shown at the outset of the film as being essentially under the control of the government. 

                The film focuses on two activists in particular.  They share the same pursuit of truth, but besides that there are some striking differences beginning with their age.  Zhou Shuguang aka Zola is quite young.  He equates his actions to those espoused by individualism.  While he claims to be selfish and just having a fun time, his highly risky actions suggests more caring than his mischevious persona lets on.  His reports show a certain level of attention seeking, and the provocation it stirs often draws negative reactions from those that would be supporters of his actions.  The film and Zola himself make no bones about showing this to be the case.

                Tiger Temple, on the other hand, comes across as a weathered veteran.  He has a similar goal of uncovering truths apparently hidden from the public, but his age and perhaps details of a difficult past make him a more sympathetic figure.  In fact, he spends a lot of time with the victims of society he tries to help.  In a very touching scene, a few of those that he helped after exposing the truth about mass evictions of people in low income housing projects try to protect him from police attempts to disrupt his activity.  While Zola claims his  motivation to be youthful rebellion, Tiger Temple’s stance is one of having been through so many years of hardship already, he has no reason to do anything but keep on telling the truth.

                In the process of detailing their exploits, we see the impressive array of gear involved in their ventures, showing that what the two are up to is very serious business.  Lest you think they hurl their attacks, immobile, from behind the flicker of a computer screen, you will become aware of how much motion these two undertake.    By bicycle, Tiger Temple travels across China’s great landscape, at times evading tails, presumably sent out by a government agency.  When Zola sets out to report, he essentially becomes homeless for long stretches at a time, leaving his countryside family home behind.  In one scene, we see him camping out in a warehouse space, which receives a strange visit suggesting a covert form of intimidation.

                The range of oppressive activity that the two, each on their own separate paths, work to uncover is impressive in scope.  They investigate likely cover-ups of rape and murder by a political figure, pollution being dumped on the grounds of struggling farmers who are not being paid adequately by the government that is supposed to subsidize their work, and homelessness epidemics being caused by big companies destroying low income housing to make way for profitable developments. 

                Tiger Temple describes a sociological phenomena so well versed, it would fit in perfectly with the scholarly analysis delivered in Let Fury Have the Hour…so much so that I had to double check my notes to check that I wasn’t quoting one when I meant to reference the other.  He speaks of a present day situation where economic growth has lead to a distracted, complacent population where there is a greater inner sense of being oppressed throughout the population than any other time in recent history.

                There is not much in the way of dramatizing or stylizing what we see.  With a soundtrack of some moody instrumental indie rock (a song by The Books can be heard at one point), it is a fresh and for the most part very straightforward account of two activists seeking to make a difference against overwhelming odds.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

DB looks back at Tribeca (Includes my most and least favorite films)

The festival is now over.

I’ve seen about( too many) of the feature films and about a third of the short ones. I  reviewed them all, some fuller than others (reviews will continue to Friday). My fellow members of Unseen Films have seen almost as many, plus they did talks, red carpets and concert.

It’s been exhausting.

It’s an experience unlike any other. Its been a month solid of movies and madness.

This year was even crazier than last year simply because I knew what I was getting into and I could do more. I also had fellow crazies Mondocurry, Chocko and MrC dragging me along, not to mention John and Bully watching my back and helping keep the blog on course

And what are my thoughts?

Tribeca is Tribeca. It is it's own unique animal. There is nothing quite like it. Part film festival, part film market its huge beast that is impossible to quantify or explain until you experience it yourself. When I was talking to Chocko at the Rodriguez concert I asked him if it was what he thought it was going to be. He said that until he was at Tribeca he never really understood what it was.

One thing it is, is big. No it isn't big It's Huge. It's too huge to be taken in by any one person or even a small group of people. There were 89 features this year, 60 shorts, community events, private events, talks…its just too damn big. The only reason we could see and do as much as we did was that we did so as members of the press. I am thankful to the people at Tribeca and I hope they will have us back next year.

While the good heavily out weighs the bad, there is a few negative aspects I’d like to talk about before I talk about the joys.

First off it’s too big. Its so big that movies get lost. The reason I try to see as much as I can is simply so that there is some record of what was shown. Yes, I know that there were other people in the screenings with me, but at the same time they didn’t write about them all. Many reviewers saw a lot but only wrote about a few, their deadlines and editors preventing as comprehensive review of films. I hate that so many of the films may never get seen because the people who should have seen it couldn’t.(And I hate that by the end I was reducing many films to paragraphs- on the other hand some of the later films just weren't all that exciting)

I suppose that I should be glad that the films simply were shown, but things like;Planet of Snail or War Witch really need to find an audience beyond three screenings at Tribeca.(Although War Witch's multiple awards should help)

Secondly the tone of the festival is jarring. One part film festival, one part film market and one part hype machine, there is a sense at times that the festival is about something other than the films. At times its about the glitz and glamour. There is almost a sense that the films could have been anything and Tribeca would still go on. I know talking to various people, reviewers, festival people and PR people for the films I was frequently at a loss as to why anyone was really there. I think most people were there because its Tribeca, as if that were enough. Do the films mean anything? It seemed like many people were there for the party aspects.

Sorry it’s the film Lorax in me coming out- I want to shout the films the films, who will speak for the films?

It's certainly not the people who describe the films for the public. I want to meet the people who write up the films. Who ever it is has, in some cases, come up with some of the most bizarre descriptions for the films they were promoting, descriptions that had nothing to do with the films themselves. If any of these films fail to find an audience, blame it on the expectations not being met. More than once the film I saw did not match the film that I thought I was going to see. (Last Winter anyone? How about All In?)

Speaking of PR people, I’ve met some nice ones and some bad ones. For the good ones I can’t say enough good. As for the bad ones, I can’t say much nice. Yes Unseen Films isn’t a mega outlet like some of the others. Yes we concentrate more on the films then the festivities but would it really kill you to actually send me the material you promised? Would it really kill you to treat us with some respect?

As for the good…

The People. Let me start with the people at Tribeca…I love you all. You are all wonderful. I need to thank you for treating me and my fellow reporters with respect.

Thank you to the volunteers who are so nice and fun to talk to that I keep going back I may never know if a film is going to be good, but I know the people greeting me at the door and sending me in are going to be.

If there is a reason to go,even above and beyond the films, it's the people.

I want to thank the programmers who really picked a great bunch of films this year. For the most part the films this year were pretty good. There are a nice number of keepers. Granted there are a few stinkers, but there were some great films. Its always nice when the number of good films far exceeds the number of truly bad ones.

My favorites this year in the order that I saw them:
Sleepless Night
Eddie the Sleep Walking Cannibal
The Flat
Journey to Planet X
El Gusto
Any Day Now
Searching for Sugar Man
Foxes (A truly creepy short film- a review is coming)

there are others that may end up on this list down the road but right now these are the films that I can say were the best without the slightest hesitation.

The Worst of the Festival:
Wavumba (How the hell did this win awards?)
Room 514
Rat King
First Winter
Take This Waltz
Off Label

The other 8 million films fell somewhere in between.

Tribeca is Tribeca.
Its one of the most unique experiences you can have...and if the Tribeca people are listening please, please let me and my Unseen Films friends come back next year. We had a blast. We made friends. And we all can't wait to do it again next year.

If you're all smart you'll all make plans to be there as well.

(And remember reviews from Tribeca run a couple of times a day hrough Friday)

World Before Her (2012) Tribeca 2012

Amazing documentary about how women perceive themselves and are perceived in India. Focusing on two groups of women, those in the Miss India Beauty Pageant and those attending a nationalistic Hindu camp the film paints a portrait of a culture in flux, clinging to the old, reaching for the new with all of the country's young women caught in the middle.

I was floored.

The first half of the film more or less shows two ways women are being empowered, however at about the half way point things begin to turn and all is not right with the world. To be certain there were hints. Through out the first half we see Hindu extremist violence that injured and killed women across the country. As the film moves into the is second half we understand why some women are choosing to be in a beauty pageant, while others are being trained to take up arms.

I dare you not to be moved as two of the women's stories of being allowed to live are recounted. One is recounted by the mother of one the pageant contestants. She left her husband when he insisted that his second daughter be killed right after birth. She insisted that it was a mistake and that the girl would make her proud (and she was right). The other is the story of one of the girls from the camp. She speaks of how her father has a right to beat her, and burn her with hot iron, because she had been bad, and because he had allowed her to live after birth.

If you're not Indian, or brought up with similar ideas, you'll probably be staring at the screen in disbelief. I know I was.

I know I was hesitant to see the film but it was recommended by Peter Gutierrez who's opinion I trust highly. Ultimately I went more because I had an open slot, rather than because of a great desire. I'm glad I did. This is a real head trip film. Its a film that makes you sit up and ponder gender roles not only in India but elsewhere.

You'll forgive me if I break off at this point and simply tell you to go, this is simply a case of a film being better to see than to read about. Go see the film and draw your own conclusions.

One of the better films at Tribeca

Portrait of Wally (2012)

Film chronicling the theft and return of Egon Schiele's portrait Portrait of Wally.

Portrait of Wally is a painting of Schiele’s mistress. It is part of a pair of painting, the other being a matching self portrait of Schiele. The painting belonged to Lea Bondi, a Jewish art dealer in Vienna who was an early champion of Schiele. When the Nazi’s came to power they seized her gallery and the painting from her home as well. After the war she tried desperately to get the painting back which ended up in an Austrian museum and later in the hands of a collector Bondi had contacted in the hopes of having him reclaim the painting for her.

When in 1997 the painting ended up in the Museum of Modern Art, the Manhattan DA’s office and later the US government stepped in to determine who actually owned the painting. It was a move that set off 13 years of legal battles and rude words.(David D’Arcy, one of the directors, is a former reporter at NPR who was fired for doing a factual report because the money men behind NPR and the museums caught up in the case didn’t like that he didn’t tow the BS party line)

I’m not a fan of the film. To me it’s an hour long TV special doubled in length so it can be released as a feature film. The problem here is that they simply don’t tell us enough to fully connect to the story. There is an assumption that we already know who Schiele was, that we know about the Nazi’s, that we know how the big museums operate and that we know about the efforts to repatriate looted art, all of which are points the film only kind of sort of fleetingly addresses. I know about all of them on a larger degree than the film goes into but I still felt like an outsider listening to a conversation I’m not part of.

There is an exciting story here, but it only comes alive infrequently when we have all of the information to fully grasp what is going on. As I said, the amount of information is equal what you would get from a short Discovery Channel special. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t warrant being 90 plus minutes long.

Ultimately it has the aire of being a self important, self absorbed puff piece saying how wonderful some of the people were and how bad others are. Its more concerned with pointing fingers and puffing people up rather than informing or saying why we should care.

Wait for a PBS airing.

Let Fury Have the Hour: World Premiere Screening and Tribeca Talk, 2012

The revolution will not be televised. it will be screened in independent movie houses if Antonino D’Ambrosio and Shepard Fairey (director and collaborater/co-producer of Let Fury Have the Hour) have anything to say about it.  The movie, taking its title a lyric to the song ‘Clampdown’ by The Clash, had its world premiere this past week at the Tribeca Film Festival.  It is an absorbing, enraging, and often times inspiring documentary comprised of numerous talking heads discussing the covert tyranny of governments adhering to an agenda of greed, and their responses to it, primarily through (but not limited to) artistic expression.  The term ‘creative response’ is used as shorthand for ways of answering the oppressive mood of the times rather than giving in to despair.  In between the personal accounts and politico-social analysis of a good 50 interview subjects are actual propaganda clips and rousing performances by both artists featured in the film and those that inspired them to action.

After briefly introducing the idea of creative response, the film takes a sharp look at the rise to power of Reagan and Thatcher in the 80’s, presenting it as the beginning of a dramatic downturn of national morale in either of those leader’s countries.  Responsibility for others was discouraged while tacit approval of greed, selfishness, and disregard for those less fortunate than oneself thrived under the guise of ‘individualism.’  In essence a covert war was being established between the haves and have nots, with government pulling strings in favor of the former.  It is a densely packed section, fitting a great amount of detail into a relatively short chunk of time.

Antonino D'Ambrosio and Shepard Fairey have a posse
As the film moves on, we hear more about the formative experiences that lead many of the subjects into politically charged artistic activity.  Here is really the highlight, as the inspiration of music, particularly punk rock, is the veritable soul of the project.  A theme runs through the accounts of the musicians interviewed, showing disconnected suburban upbringings in which music seemed inaccessible until along would come each one’s discovery of punk bands like The Clash.  It is thrilling hearing about the sudden call to action this would inspire, with some artists forming or jumping into bands the next day.  Shepard Fairey had a similar experience, applying the punk rock aesthetic to visual arts with his mass produced propaganda style images being used to spread his creative response.  Parallel to punk’s influence is the impact made by the political hip hop of Public Enemy, who are referenced not only as an inspiration to musicians, but also on activism and protest within disadvantaged communities.

The most impressive achievement of the film is the weaving together of so many powerful voices.  The interview subjects range from musicians, poets, playwrights, visual artists, comedians and film directors to those from less celebrated professions like professors, lawyers, and essayists.  It would be hard to say whose voices are most significant as this is bound to be subjective to people’s familiarity or fanship of certain individuals.  Music figuring in as prominently as it does, I felt the words of Ian McKaye (Fugazi, founder of indie label Dischord Records), Chuck D. (Public Enemy), and Tom Morello (formerly Rage Against the Machine, currently Night Watchmen among others) had a particularly strong impact.  Sometimes those with less screen time, like comedian Lewis Black, offered up Fury’s most prophetic and memorable sound bites, while older figures like director John Sayles provided great historical insight.  Unfamiliar figures also provide some of the most poignant observations and moving personal stories.

From here, the film shifts back and forth between political discussion and somewhat celebratory personal reactions to taking part in creative activity, perhaps lingering a bit too long on the latter.  Its closing moments fittingly bring up the need for creative response to translate into mass organization and action, posing more questions about this next crucial step than definite answers.  

furious 5un
Furious 5:(left to right) Laura Flanders, D'Ambrosio, Staceyann Chin, Wayne Kramer, Fairey

When the film ended, a discussion was held by moderator Laura Flanders and individuals with varying associations with the film: Antonino D’Ambrosio and Shepard Fairey, both mentioned above, were joined by poet Staceyann Chin (whose intense spoken performance of one of her poems during the film caused an outbreak of applause), and Wayne Kramer, guitarist for the MC5, who spoke in the film and was also cited by many as another influential force in punk rock. While congratulations and compliments were bestowed, it did not take long before questions took on a demanding edge.  When asked why the film focused primarily on the politics of the 80s and not so much the era that would follow, director D’Ambrosio responded that the project is his own personal response to his experiences from the place in time that was most formative for him.  Fairey, in response to questions about the criticism of individualism spoke eloquently about the dangers of any political philosophy taken to a dangerous extreme (this was a handy reference point as the militantly anti-individualist stance of China’s government is rallied against in another documentary featured at Tribeca this year, “High Tech, Low Life.” He also discussed some connections to his recent work with the growing Occupy movement.

Kramer and Fairey (holding up some of his highly distributable art)

The question remains if it will be possible for the film to be both congratulatory the film subjects' collective achievements and at the same time enough of a provocation to make a difference.  The team on hand suggested plans to tour the movie around when it gets a release, with public appearances (and perhaps some uplifting performances) from those connected to the film.

Let’s do more than just hope that the project gets the attention and support that it deserves.  

“Let fury have the hour, anger can be power. Do you know that you can use it?” - The Clash. “The Clampdown.”

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey(2012)

Story of Filipino singer Arnel Pineda, who was discovered on You Tube and brought into front classic rock band Journey after Steve Perry left the band. We watch as the story of the discovery is recounted and Pineda goes on tour with the band.

This is a very good, uplifting story about a guy from "nowhere" who manages to rise over night (he had been singing for 25 years). Pineda is a man of extraordinary vocal talent, sounding very much like the man he replaced, but also having as greater vocal range. Watching his dream come true is a great deal of fun.

...and that's about all I can say because there isn't much to the story that you haven't heard before. Don't get me wrong, its a good film, but there isn't anything exciting other than watching the band play, which is a good enough to see the film.

And that is the films flaw, there simply isn't a great deal here. I can tell you everything in a sentenced and you'll know as much about the subject as you will after watching this documentary. Perhaps had they trimmed this down by a half an hour (this runs almost 2 hours) this might have been a great film instead of just a good one.

Una Noche (2012) Tribeca 2012

The movie is about Cuban teens Raul and Elio with dreams of a new life and freedom in Miami, away from the misery and hopelessness of their homeland.  The teenage boys slave away at a local Cuban restaurant that caters to wealthy tourists. They develop a strong bond and  have been dreaming about their escape to America for quite some time. When Raul assaults a foreigner and is chased by the police, the plans are set into motion and there is no turning back.  Elio has no other choice than to leave his family including his twin sister, Lila who complicates matters when she eventually includes herself in the plans to escape and attempt the ninety mile journey to freedom.   

Shot entirely in Cuba documentary style, Lucy Mulloy's film UNA NOCHE is a movie that pulsates and instantly grabs you by the arm, leading viewers down unfamiliar poverty-stricken streets and unknown destinations.  The acting is fantastic and the movie breathes with a relentless, youthful energy that brims with sexuality and music.  Mulloy is a passionate risk taker whose directorial debut is a must-see! 

In a strange case of  life imitating art, two actors from the movie defected after their airplane landed in Miami.  Their next stop was supposed to be the 11th Annual Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.  We wish them all the best and hope for their safety.  

Top awards at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival Awards went to UNA NOCHE  including Best New Narrative Director, Best Cinematography in a Narrative Feature and Best Actor in a Narrative Feature.  If you live in the NYC area, go see the movie before the festival ends.  There are two more screenings of UNA NOCHE on Sunday at 11:30 AM and 5:30 PM.  Highly recommended! 

All In (2012) Tribeca 2012

A clear case that you should often take what is written in the promo material about a film with a grain of salt. This is not a film about a professional poker player who is a hit with the ladies until he meets an old flame again. The film is actually about a financial guy who likes to play poker, who is trying to split time with his kids with his ex. While at a poker tournament he reconnects with his old flame and tells her that he is really a music promoter trying to get an old favorite band back together.

Well that is what the film is about over all...if you take all of the bits and pieces and put them together. The problem is that you have to take all of these bits and pieces and put them together because the film kind of lurches from piece to piece. Things don't full hang together and there is a sense that there are whole scenes on the cutting room floor. The bits here are really good, the rock band the Rabbi-ing Stones is clever, but things don't hang together, like why does our hero continue to lie about his job? Worse everything is so nice and wonderful there is no tension, things are going to be okay, despite it all.

I'm not a fan of the film. yes I laughed, but in all honesty had I not wanted to walk out past the PR ladies in the hallway I would have walked out 20 minutes in. Its not that its bad- it's not- the pieces are good, rather it's simply that the film is never compelling.

Wait for netflix.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A review of Searching for Sugar Man (2012) and a report on a mini concert by Rodriguez Tribeca 2012

I love this film.

The film had me drinking the Rodriguez Koolaid almost from the get go. I was so much a fan by the end that I went out and bought both Rodriguez CDs not long after seeing the film.

The film tells the story of Sixto Rodriguez and his relationship with his fans in South Africa. I say specifically South Africa this because the story of Rodriguez is a bit more complicated than it is portrayed in the film (per the liner notes for the first album- Cold Fact).

The short version of the story is that in 1970 Rodriguez was discovered playing dive bars on Detroit and given a record contract. His first album, Cold Fact was a critical success but a popular failure. His second album, Coming From Reality, was also a failure, selling less than the first. As work was being started on a third album, the plug was pulled and Rodriguez went back to his regular job doing manual labor and demolition.

Unbeknownst to him, his records had found an audience in South Africa, where over time he grew to being bigger than Elvis and the Beatles. Since in those days there was no Internet rumors spread, and it was largely thought that Rodriguez was dead (depending on the version, dying spectacularly). However, some people never stopped looking and the lost superstar was eventually found.

Great music mixes with one hell of a tale with the result is one of my favorite films of Tribeca and of the year. If the song I Wonder doesn't get stuck in your head you're obviously immune to ear worms.

This is a story that will warm the cockles of your heart, and make you believe that we all have a chance to eventually be found out as being the superstar we all know we are.

Wow, wow and wow.

I didn't see Chocko at the press screening, however when I saw him at the very next film he was like "did you see Sugar Man? Were you there? Tell me you just saw that."

I was there and I saw that, and it was clear he too had drunk the Koolaid

It was one of those "oh shit" moments when you suddenly realize that you're seeing something mind boggling special that you're going to have to go out and share with people. It's one of those moments when you realize that you've just gotten in on the ground floor of something that is going to be huge...and if it doesn't end up huge you're going to have to go out and break heads to find out why.

The story of Rodriguez is an amazing one. It's the story that is, in it's way, the great rags to riches (after a fashion) tale. Its one of the most hopeful and soul affirming stories out there.

I loved this film almost more than words.

Actually the words that came to mind when the film ended was "That was so cool" followed by " how the hell do I get the CDs?"


Going into the screening we were given a notice saying that on Friday the 27th a special concert was going to be given at The City Winery. They asked us to RSVP so as soon as I got home I RSVP'd as did. Chocko RSVP'd too.

Having been made fans of the man, both Chocko and I went scrambling through the record stores of NYC in the hopes of getting the CDs intime for the concert. We both hoped that if we got into the concert we'd be able to get the CDs signed.

Armed with the CDs we made our way to The City Winery and found that our names had indeed been included on the list to get in.

We took up seats at the end of of one of the tables most center to the stage and sat and talked while the place filled in a bit. I told my friend that I did the blog because every now and again I found something that made be become a crazy fan boy again. Every now and again I found something that reawakened the passion. When the passion was gone I was going to hang up Unseen. Searching for Sugar Man was something that resparked some of the passion.

There was a brief introduction and three short clips from the film then Rodruiguez was introduced and he strode out.

Beginning with Cole Porter's Just One of Those Things and continuing on for 8 songs that was half his own material and half covers Rodriguez rocked the house, truly hitting his stride in the third song,Rich Folks Hoax . In between songs he joked and made a few political references. He closed the much too short set with a cover of Midnight Oil's Redneck Wonderland, which, had he not said anything could easily have fit on to one of his albums.

After the set we sat and waited for Rodriguez to come out. It took a little bit but he finally came out and I followed Chocko over to where one of Rodriguez's handlers was talking to some other press people. Chocko asked if it would be okay if we got some CDs signed and he said that would be fine. We were then told we should go downstairs with Rodriguez and some press people where they were going to do some interviews.

Chocko was called over and after a handshake and a hug Rodriguez had Chocko sit down so they could chat while he signed. The conversation went on for a couple of minutes before the handler said it was time. Chocko then asked Rodriguez if I could come over and get a signature as well. He then called me over. He shook my hand, gave me a hug and then had me sat down and we started to talk briefly as his handler got a bit anxious.

I told him I loved the movie and I loved his music. I explained I went out to get the CDs after the movie. He asked where I saw the movie, and I told him at the press screening, I added that while I saw the movie for the purpose of reviewing it, I and Chocko were here at the concert and getting the signatures because I was now a fan. He shook my hand and I left.

As Chocko and I left we debated staying and doing a full interview, you wouldn't believe how easy it is to fall into a conversation with him, however while Chocko had his time with Rodriguez I had heard the handler say that there was a long line for interviews.

It was a blast.

It was fun.

I want to see him backed with a band.

The set list for those interested was:

Just One of Those Things
La Vie En Rose (This was incredibly beautiful)
Rich Folks Hoax
Sugar Man
Crucify Your Mind
Inner City Blues
Redneck Wonderland

Thank you Rodriguez. Day 9 at Tribeca

This is just a brief thank you to the extremely wonderful Rodriguez. He's the subject of the film Searching for Sugar Man. Earlier today, Chocko and myself, along with a good number of the press covering the Tribeca Film Festival attended a special mini-concert of Rodriguez by the City Winery. When it was done Chocko and myself hung around and waited to see if we could get our CDs signed by the man. Taking time out from his interview schedule he spent a couple minutes with both of us. While I'll talk more on it in my review of the film, I just had to say thank you to the Rodriguez and his people. Seeing and meeting him was probably the high point of the festival. What away to end things.

And with that, I'm pretty much done with Tribeca. I may attend the family festival tomorrow, but for now I'm done...

...and while I maybe done with screenings reports continue for the next week so keep reading.

Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr Movie (2012)

A great look at Morton Downey Jr and his place in social history. Its a place that is either one of honor or hatred depending on how you look at things.

Morton Downey Jr was the son of a well respected singer. Despite trying his best to get his own singing career off the ground, Downey bounced from job to job until he ended up with a "talk" show on channel 9 in New York. His confrontational style and right wing leanings hit a cord and forever changed TV as we know it.

A mix of archival footage, new interviews and animation, Evocateur drops us into the world and life of Downey. We get to know the man who was a friend of the Kennedy's, who had father issues, who loved woman, and in many ways just wanted to sing. Its the story of a man who was good at pushing buttons and who managed make, and lose a fortune in a short period of time. Despite what you may think Downey's hey day was only about 2 years before the freak show got out of hand and everyone abandoned him.

One of the better films that is screening at this years Tribeca this is a film that tells you more about the world than its subject. You understand how program like Downey's could end up on TV. You also understand how it created a world that we are still living with. As for it's subject here is a film that makes Downey more than just a loud mouth, it shows him to be a complex individual, who had more going on than any of us suspected.

I really like this film a great deal and I hope that it gets some sort of wide release since I'm looking forward to seeing it again and sharing it with friends, both Downey fans and haters.

Worth tracking down.

Rat King (2012) Tribeca 2012

This Finnish thriller concerns a hardcore on line gamer who has his life disrupted when an on-line friend shows up telling him that he's being stalked as the result of playing a certain game. I'll leave it there because either I'm going to give you the BS story that is in the offical description or I'm going to give it all away... which isn't a bad a idea.

This mess of a film starts out intriguingly and then, as soon as it sets the table, goes right off the cliff with illogical twist upon illogical twist (One of which involves our heroes mother and girlfriend not realizing that some one is imperonating him). Despite laying out that there are two people, the film occasionally tries to imply its only in our hero's mind. I won't even get into the mind of the villain who's ultimate plot makes no sense even on its own twisted terms. This is a film that wants to have it every which way but only manages to annoy and bore the audience. Never have I seen a press screening clear out as fast as this one did. I saw this with other Unseen Film writers and we were kind of taken aback that we were the only ones still in the theater half way through the end credits.

It's a well made film that has a script that is so deficent in logic it's easily one of the worst films of the festival.

We Need to Talk About Eddie: an interview with Boris Rodriguez, director of Eddie The Sleepwalking Cannibal, Tribeca 2012

When Eddie came into our lives, he threatened to be an amusing trifle.  Visions of blood by the bucketful splattering every which way, the results of  of a fantastical yet inconsequential cartoonish creation danced in our heads.  
Yet after the lights dimmed, as our time together passed, we were pleasantly surprised to find a much more engrossing substance behind the promise of so much gore.  Things proceeded with an unexpected subtlety.  As occasions of carnage added up, I was struck by a theme of unchecked selfishness as Eddie’s appetite for flesh went unacknowledged and even encouraged by the inhabitants of the sleepy, art loving, Canadian woodland where the story takes place.  Meanwhile, the art world appears to be savaged as horribly as the secluded haven’s innocent and not so innocent citizens.  It is forced out of the new art teacher in town, Lars, as a meal ticket. It causes jealousy and spiteful criticism, and is pursued obsessively at the cost of human life.

Were we meant to think on the implications of communities turning a blind eye to the misguided destructiveness of its young?  Is there something to the notion of art being lost in the vicious scene surrounding it?

Or are these matters all in the perception of the beholder?

I wanted insight into the mind behind this deceptively thought provoking genre bender. To look at the ideas and craft of this film that is equal parts societal satire and hilarious genre exercise, with laughter inducing elements that start in the opening dialogue and are well crafted right up to and through the end credits. I wanted to talk about Eddie.

What follows are some of the things discussed in a talk I had with Eddie The Cannibal’s gracious director, Boris Rodriguez, hours after he  presented the film's North American premiere to a ravenous for cinema Tribeca Film Festival audience.        

Q: The movie mixes the comedy and horror genres so well.  Did one of them come first, the comedy or the horror? How did they come to be meshed together?

A: I think the comedy came first: the outlandish, wacky premise. But I started looking at films that were wacky and outlandish and they often do that one note really well but I find after an hour and a half that one note can get to be tiresome and (you) lose the impact of that one note. But if you balance it out you’re bringing the audience back and forth between two different mindsets and two different emotional spaces, then it keeps either one of those tones fresh.  So I said OK I’ve got to do a balance.  I saw examples of it being balanced and when I saw films that did it well, I loved it.  This being my first feature where started trying to do that, I thought whoah this is not easy on so many different unexpected levels.  The genre dictates what everybody needs to do on set and when you’re trying to do two things at the same time, it really puts a lot of pressure on people.  Like, ‘does this have to be comedic wardrobe or serious wardrobe?’  Both.  The actors are like ‘are we doing a drama scene or a comedy scene?’  Both. We’re riding that edge.  

Q: There are such great performances in the movie. Do you tend to direct all of the action to the actors or do you prefer to keep the cast more involved?

A: Involved.  I don’t know what my style of directing was before the movie but it’s certainly become different after this movie.  I worked with people who were way more experienced than I was and have done more features.  As a result I thought there’s no way I’m gonna dictate or micromanage.  Luckily I realized what I need to do is tell them what I want, give them the vision of the film that I had, and let them bring to the process their experience and their wisdom and I actually learned so much in doing that.  There were even lots of rewrites on the set given to the fact that they were like “We don’t need to say this. Watch, watch.” and they would do what was in the story without having to be too expository in the dialogue. So it was a collaborative process that made it possible.

Q: Was there one key figure that the rest of the characters were built around?

A: It’s a given Lars is the main character so I had to build him first.  I had to build the rest of the cast around him.  I think I scored an amazing lead (Thure Lindhardt). I think he set the standard for the rest of the movie with that caliber of performance.

Q:  What was the casting like for the actors that played some of the more comedic roles like Eddie (Dylan Smith) and Verner (Paul Braunstein)?

A:  I’m from Montreal, we shot in Ottowa and we cast it in Toronto.  So we had 3 of the 4 major Canadian cities involved.  Plus, we had casting in London and Denmark. It was a very international process.  So I went to Toronto.  Dylan walked into the room.  I didn’t tell him right away but I knew this guy met the criteria we needed to meet.  I needed a big muscular guy who could do physical comedy, but also convey softness and tenderness and subtlety.  When I told the casting director that’s what I want, she was like ‘could you make the order even taller?’ But the second guy that walked into the room was Dylan and that’s who I knew I wanted.

Q: The character of Verner almost seems like this genre anchor– the guy that delivers all the badass lines….

A:  Most of the dialogue was written before.  A writer wrote a treatment.  That was John Reynolds.  There was so much rewritten but the one thing that did stay was Officer Verner’s dialogue.  That remained virtually unchanged.  Most of it was John Reynold’s dialogue.  We’ve collaborated on different projects but never brought them to fruition.  He collaborated on this project extensively early on.  He went on to L.A.  Then we rewrote it but the humor was his from the beginning.  I just kept it going as I turned it into something else.

Q:  There seems to be a notion of social irresponsibility. Lars has his art. The town wants the school to be successful. They all pass the buck when it comes to Eddie. Is it important for you that audiences perceive this idea?  

A:  They all have hidden agendas.  I don’t know if it was conscious but it definitely helped to underscore the innocence of Eddie who really has no agenda except ‘please love me.’  Everybody else either wanted greatness or money or success or just to be an asshole like Verner.  Eddie didn’t want any of that.  He just wanted to be loved.  That’s why we love him even though he’s eating people.

Q:  Are they any particular gore or splatter horror films that influenced the movie's visuals?

A:  Certainly any film that could do gore humorously was an influence.  Whether it’s Shaun of the Dead or Hobo with a Shotgun, anything that could be gross and disgusting yet funny at the same time was definitely an influence.  I didn’t want to go to that extreme mostly because we were going with the less is more approach to the horror and gore.  But mostly because we didn’t have the budget to deliver fully on those effects.  Those kinds of effects can add up quickly.

Q:  The film could be seen as having a very cynical view of art?  Do you have experience in any different mediums besides art that has had an influence?

A:  It’s always been film but I come from a fine art school.  My films have played at very prestigious art festivals and had a retrospective at MOMA  so I have a huge respect for art.  But I’m also very conscious of how much BS is involved in that process.  So i wanted to distill the dark side of creativity from all the empty rhetoric, if you will, that surrounds the art world.  It’s satirical but a loving satire.  I’m hoping that comes through as someone that champions and respects art.  If anything I ridicule the world around it.  I also celebrate that art has a definite dark side to it. I celebrate the dark side of art humorously.

Q:  I love how you never see the art pieces.  Is this just a logistical choice? Do you have an Idea in your mind of the artworks created in the film?

A:  I Did have an idea of it.  But there’s two things.  First is art is so subjective.  The problem with showing the art is that half the audience will see it and go ‘really? that’s supposed to be the freakin’ masterpiece?’ And the other half of the audience maybe doesn’t feel well versed in art or feels condescended to having been told that this is something they’re supposed to like.  It’s easier if it’s left up to the audience to imagine the piece.  The second problem is…Tor is a fantastic actor…But I saw the stuff he was painting.  He was actually painting it, and I was like it’s better if nobody sees this.

Q: Can you tell us about the setting? It seems strange that there’s this art school...

A: In the middle of nowhere?  It’s not a common Canadian thing. It’s not common at all. I tried to play with that, as somebody who believes that just because your from a small town, it  doesn’t mean you can’t have culture and education.  We shot it near Ottowa and there’s a community called Wakefield and Wakefield has an art school and an artist community. So, they do exist.

Q:  Have their been any surprises as the film makes the rounds on the festival circuit? Either positive or negative?

A:  No negatives. All positives.  I’m overwhelmed with the positive responses the film has gotten.  Honestly, I’m just extremely happy.  Just to be at Tribeca was already a huge accomplishment.  More than I expected for this film.  I love the film but I thought it’s a light little movie and I never thought it would have the legs this film is getting.  To get so many good articles and so much good press, that’s even more fantastic.  So, I’m on top of the world right now.

Q:  Has the success of the movie affected your outlook as to what you’d like to do next? 

A:  Yes, I’ve had different projects lined up.  I thought the more wise choice, having just done the mixing genres, would be something very genre and straightforward.  Something on a more controlled budget, a little bigger but still more controlled and let the bigger budgets and more risky films come later.  But now I’m feeling quite emboldened to go right into that bigger budget riskier film.  I think there’s clearly a want and a need for films that take risks and are entertaining and light and unusual.  Hopefully that demand will translate into not just the press and the festival, but to the wider market.  And that will make it easier to get the next one done. 

Q: Are there any areas or subjects you are currently interested in exploring?

A: Top secret but Bollywood.  I think that’s a launching pad to do anything insane and make it work and fun.  

Q: What are your thoughts on the horror genre and how much do you want to be a part of it?

A: I want to be more a part of it now than I ever have before because the fanbase of the horror genre has a very open mind and a very big heart.  They want to see people trying stuff out and see risks being taken as long as there’s a certain level of energy put into the film.  And people consume a lot of it.  I’m definitely going to do more for sure.  I’m don’t know what incarnation, what kind of horror.  I know it’s not gonna be gore porn.  I love creepy, scary ghost stories.  Like Del Toro Devil’s Backbone or The Orphanage or the Others or even Sixth Sense is considered a horror in that sense...The Myst, even though it’s a monster movie...  Things that get under your skin psychologically make you scared of people. Nothing’s scarier than the monsters we can be.
"Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal" screens once more at midnight on April 28. Go to the Tribeca Film Festival site for more details.

Day 8 at Tribeca was disappointing ( Trishna, Knife FIght, Broke, Lola Versus)

This may have been my last day at the press screenings for Tribeca. This means that I will not be in theater four bright and early with the great crew headed by Carly, Neal (who left Tuesday) and the other wonderful people who helped me wake up six of the past 8 mornings. You guys and girls made it worth getting out of bed in the morning. Seriously, knowing I could kibitz for a couple minutes with you got my days off to a great start. If I do get in tomorrow I'll see you all bright and early.

I'm completely understanding how people carry and use their bible every day since my Tribeca Press book has been my life line these past 8 days. Everything I needed to know was there. How ill I survive without its answers?

While the day ended in theater four, it did not begin there which meant it was an off day. I saw four films and wasn't thrilled with any of them.

TRISHNA is Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Its about a young woman who gets involved with the son of a rich tycoon. It kind of looks good but that's about it. I never connected with anyone, and very little of it felt real. Worse the films style of constant motion wither in the rapid editing or camera movement made me think this was a new film in the Bourne series. I need not see it ever again.

LOLA VERSUS is a cutesy smart ass film about a young New Yorker who in the wake of being dumped by her fiance looks into other options. I love the NYC locations. I think the script is frequently witty. The trouble is not only are the characters overly vapid and of a cliche New York type, the film moves along covering territory that we've seen any number of times, especially in its cliche inde style. Its not bad, but at the same time, why couldn't this cast and this director ad writers have done something truly worthy of their talents?

KNIFE FIGHT well acted story of a political trouble shooter and his clients. Things get complicated as a doctor tries to convince him to help her run for Governor of California. The film trades gripping drama for long speeches about the way things really are. I wanted a movie to be entertained not a polemic where the characters spout off position points. Give it points for an attempt at being more than just mass entertainment, but take them away because it's neither entertaining nor all that informative.

Truly uninformative, especially if you know anything about the subject, is BROKE, an ESPN work in progress film about how athletes go broke after they quit the game. A series of rapid fire talking heads shot against fancy backgrounds, this film is a simple relating of things we already know. Why is this film is 80 minutes long? There is a germ of a good idea here, but it need to be completely re-edited. The rapid fire cutting means that no one builds up steam and no one puts anything in perspective. It's a five minute puff piece blown all to hell. Its not bad, but completely unnecessary, especially if you know anything about the subject. Its absolutely the weakest documentary I've seen connected to ESPN by a good measure.

And with that I headed home.

Pwrhaps I'll be back tomorrow, perhaps not...

I'll keep you posted. However I should point out that reviews from Tribeca continue until next Friday.