Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In Over Their Heads in Passion and DEEP POWDER (Tribeca 2013)

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Mo Ogrodnik’s DEEP POWDER weaves a tale based on real life stories that begins with the intersection of two individuals from vastly different societal poles, their resultant attraction, and a misadventure into international drug smuggling that leaves them both forever changed.

It is the early ‘80’s and Natasha is a student at a prestigious East Coast boarding school. While skiing, she encounters Danny, a lift operator who is working to earn enough money to go to any college of reasonable stature.  Instantly drawn to one another, she rejects the taunts of her wealthy peers as he wards off the misgivings of a coworker. They soon they become a passionate item.

Natasha‘s circle of friends make up a fraternal organization which, right around the time of more stringent enforcement and way before cautionary tales like Locked Up Abroad reached airwaves, take trips to Ecuador to smuggle cocaine back across the border. A lottery ritual results in Natasha being next to take the trip. Custom maintains that the ‘winner’ select one other member to go as well, but Ana spurns tradition and insists on going alone. This positions her to clandestinely bring Danny in on the highly risky undertaking. What follows is a tense look at their whirlwind escapade with a looming cloud of dire consequences hovering just above, and the taxing aftermath of it all.

It is a solid drama that contains quite a bit less details on the pivotal point of the story in Ecuador as suspense-seekers might expect or hope.  The pairs’ transgressions are given a tense but brief amount of attention. Far more time is spent displaying the chemistry of the film’s star-crossed lovers.

The tale is interspersed with taped clips of characters reflecting on the actions of the pair. They show how set apart the two were from their peers, whose thoughts reflect an unwillingness to understand, much less accept, a relationship between those from such different spheres of society. It also reminds us of the story’s ties to real life events, how individuals pulled into rash behavior gone unchecked can lead to a ripple of calamitous effects all those connected: family and friends alike.

Haley Bennet is cast quite effectively in the role of Natasha.  She gives a very apt portrayal of someone unfamiliar with consequences who will plead innocence after an offending act, then turn the situation into one that evokes pity from those she hopes to charm. She has a naturally seductive glint in her eye, but her expression changes from one of charm to brooding chaos in an instant.  Shiloh Fernandez also does a formidable job in the role of an idealistic young adult, torn between the heavy burden of supporting his family and a fast track to greater things.

At its core, DEEP POWDER shows that lives are not all created equal. Even those born into similarly advantageous economical backgrounds can be set on vastly different paths due to the stability and apparent concern of adult figures in their lives. From the film’s beginning, with its contrasting views of privilege and hardship, to its conclusion of varying fates, DEEP POWDER plants an often discounted actuality of imbalance firmly in our consciousness.

DEEP POWDER received its world premiere at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.  
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Tales From The Organ Trade (2013) Hot Docs 2013

Think of it this way- I do something Illegal and I save hundreds of lives. You do something legal and hundreds of people die- Activist in Brooklyn arguing that people should be able to sell their organs

Food for thought and then some...

This is the story of the illegal organ trade. This is the story, or stories of the poor of the world who literally sell part of themselves for some quick cash (perhaps the equivalent of several years salary all for a kidney or some other organ) and the people who buy them or facilitate the transfer.

I honestly have no idea where to begin.The film starts in the Philippines where there is a booming business in Organ sales. Its illegal of course, unless you give the organ away you can't dispose of any of your body parts, but people do it with regularity.  Here the film follows a couple of perspective donors (one of which who just wants to get a home and not a crawl space to live in) and a broker who has helped several people sell their organs including many in her family.

We follow several people in need in the US and Canada, and what they have to go through by playing by the rules.

We also get to see the story of a Canadian man who had a transplant on the black market and is nor embroiled in the middle of legal proceedings against the people who helped him. (We also meet the doctors and prosecutors in the case).

A solid little documentary that for the most part lays out the situation concerning waiting for an organ and the moral stance that prevents people from selling theirs to people in need.  Actually the film spends a great deal of time with the ridiculous double standard of you can give someone an organ but you can't sell one and shows us where that all leads (The death of 118 people during the running time of the film)

For the most part the film is not  a be all and end all documentary on the subject it is arguing in favor of some sort of regulation  by laying out the facts and tells the stories, iincluding one family where a mother and her kids are all on dialysis for years (we see the result of 20 years on the machines) and lets you sort things out...

The minor problem with the film is that it isn't scrupulously fair minded since it's arguing that we should allow sales, with the negative side of organ sales are not really dealt with. We get one story of one donor who's remaining kidney is failing and found out that they have have had kidney disease for years, meaning the person who got their kidney got a bad one. The point being that had the testing  been better this would never have happened (other problems are either glossed over or reduced to hearsay). The film also never deals with what might happen if sales were allowed other than lives would be saved.

One sidedness aside the film is actually extremely thought provoking, so much so that I was almost an hour in before I realized that they weren't really dealing with the negative and it didn't bother me. There is simply too much material to digest just to begin to discuss the subject that it's understandable if things aren't completely covered. Actually there is so much here to take in that I can't wait to see it again when it shows up on HBO (since they financed it).

A must see film about a serious moral issue.

Harmony Lessons (2013) Tribeca 2013

Deliberately constructed film looks at the dangers of growing up in an abusive socciety. In many ways it's  too artfully constructed to work completely.

This is the story of teenager Aslan, a slighty withdrawn young man who has been singled out by one of the school's mafiosos. When Aslan makes a friend from the city, things escalate and the bully dies, Aslan is brought in for questioning and tortured...

Strange film that is takes a dim view of life which it sees as hierarchical levels of abuse. It doesn't matter who you are someone is going to rain shit on you. Its brutal and violent (though strangely much happens off screen despite some graphic nastiness) film that Mondocurry compared, rightly, to the Korean film King of Pigs.

I'm not sure what I think of the film. It doesn't help that Aslan says almost nothing during most of the film. He's simply abused. The long static shots of carefully composed images suggest that the director is trying to say something meaningful, but weird turns such as a water walking sheep keep me from taking the film as anything remotely serious.

One of the most troubling things is that while the press notes indicate that the film is supposed to be how Aslan sees the world there are much too many sequences that he could never have known about.

Some people loved the film, I was annoyed that I was forced to dwell in the darkness of life for no adequetely explained reason.

I'd skip this one.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Gore Vidal:The United States of Amnesia (2013)

Gore Vidal is a hero of mine. Like Lenny Bruce and a few others he spoke his mind and told the truth or what he saw as the truth. He not only spoke the truth but he did so intelligently and wittily which  made me laugh while I was swallowing a bitter pill.

Telling the story of Vidal from birth to death the film pulls no punches dealing with every aspect of his life from his mother problems, to homosexuality, to his runs from congress to his bestsellers and on and on. the film is a perfect primer to learn about the man and his body of work and thought.

As a fan I was in heaven getting to watch things like his legendary battles with William F Buckley and Norman Mailer again. I also got a chance to simply listen to him talk about the world and life in a way that no one else ever did. It was like a greatest hits album of an intellectual.

To be honest there was a point about about half way in when I realized that the film wasn't perfect. While the film is a primer on Vidal there is also a sense that things while we get a great view of the man himself, we don't get very much of his thoughts beyond the big points.  Yes I know its hard to condense much of what the man said to manageable bits (I always enjoyed just listening to him speak and going off on a subject) but at the same time the film only runs 89minutes which means more material could have been inserted and still not had the film get too long.Yes I know I'm arguing about what is probably a trivial matter since the film is excellent as is, it's just there is so much more we could have heard him say.

Minor reservation aside, a must see film.

Run and Jump (2013) Tribeca 2013

Will Forte plays an American doctor who stays with the Casey Family in Ireland. He is there to chart the course of Conor who is recovering from a massive stroke which has radically changed his personality. Over the course of two months Forte's Ted becomes part of the family and changes them.

Brilliant performances and charming moments gets lost in a script that loses it's way in the final third. There is a moment just after` the swim meet that things suddenly stop making sense. Watching the film I felt as if someone had dropped a reel. Something was missing as the film lurched from thing to thing. How did we get here? I didn't know.

Actually that the film doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense in that the film doesn't really treat  most of it's characters as anything other than constructs. The Casey daughter likes to dress up as animals. That's her character. Their son is gay (something Conor is unhappy with). That's all there is to him.  Conor's father wants him to man up and get better and cut his son some slack (that's his character). No one is particularly well drawn and any presence they have comes from the actors abilities.

What is here should have been a kick ass film, lord knows the actors are up to it, but more than once one gets a sense that something was cut out. For example why does Ted leave the hospital when Valentia arrives? There seems to be something missing. Actually from that point on things happen and there is a sense that we missed a scene or two previously. Either Steph Green the writer director was too long making shorts or he was too close to the material and didn't realize how it would play for people not as close to the characters and story (the script has been kicking around since 2009)

Do I recommend the film? kind of if you can see it say on Netflix or cable. The sequences that are here are good even if they aren't adequately joined together. Also the cast is across the board excellent. Outside of that you're on your own.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rambling now that Tribeca 2013 is done- My best and worst of Tribeca lists

I need a week to sleep.

This past month damn near killed me.

As I say every year, I never want to do that again...when do I put in for my press badge for next year?

As with every year this year was unlike every other and could only be called Tribeca.

For me the festival people were great and so were the volunteers. I love the volunteers a great deal since they keep things honest and keep me headed in the right direction.

This year we at Unseen did about 83 features and a bunch of the shorts. A new record I think.

The constant back and forth has taken it's toll on me something fierce. It was for me a month of almost daily trips into the city with almost no days off once the press screenings started. Thank god I have no life or wife because I could never have done this with them.

Right now I don't know what is what or who I am. Somewhere around the 19th I stopped knowing anything other than where I was other than where I was at that minute...

Want to know something crazy- I'm going to work at 9am tomorrow. The day job. Hell the day job will be a vacation when compared to out the door at 7am and to bed at 130 or 2am after writing all night.

I love Tribeca  deeply but I wouldn't wish anyone to cover the festival as I and we do. Its just not human. Honestly I could do the 74 or so films that I saw easily over the course of the festival- the trick was and is having to write them up for your pleasure plus coordinate everyone else's coverage. Its crushing.

While there are things I'm unhappy with in how we covered the festival, the only complaint I have about the festival this year is the lack of extremes. While I can take solace in knowing that there was only  three truly bad films this year, and I can understand that there ten or so great films, I'm disappointed that the vast majority of films this year were, in the words of a fellow reviewer Meh. What is meant by this is they were unremarkable, unimpressive and just sort of there. With many of the films had we come across them on their own out side of Tribeca, they would have been fine, but in the context of the festival andit's history they are just Meh.

For me its understandable since you can't have a year like last year or the year before where there were so many discoveries. Occasionally you have to have a fallow year. For me it only makes looking forward 12 months all that more vital. I want to go back and see wondrous things.

Speaking of which for those who want to know what my best of Tribeca list would be-here it is...

Before Midnight
Big Joy
Red Obsession
Bending Steel
Frankenstein's Army
Elaine Stritch Shoot Me
The Trials of Muhammad Ali
Herblock:The Black and the White

The dancing in Flex is Kings

Too sad to be included- Broken Circle Breakdown

Just Missing the Cut my a millimeter- Before Snowfall and How To Make Money Selling Drugs

A favorite but not the best Haute Cuisine

And as for the worst-

Farah Goes Bang

Now with that out of the way I go into hibernation until the next thing comes along.

Mostly just Tribeca reviews will continue until Friday (Though 3 reviews of films at Hot Docs are in the mix)- after that it's back to the regular mix of films. I have things programmed until mid July, which is good because I'm probably going to sleep until then.

How to Make Money Selling Drugs (2013) Tribeca 2013

Very good, very cynical look at how money is to be made selling drugs and how the war on drugs is counter productive.

Arranged as if it was a how to video in playing a video game the film very simply and very clearly lays out how you can make a fortune making drugs. It of course lays out the dangers. The film also includes about a bonus level about government insanity concerning the so called war on drugs.

A frequently funny film this is a no nonsense relatively bullshit free look at the war on drugs and why there is so much money to be made selling drugs. Talking to both former dealers and cops the film shows why the war on drugs isn't working and why it will never work. The film then grows much darker in the final act as the film looks at addiction and the hypocrisy of allowing tobacco and alcohol (the real gateway drug) while banning other drugs.

As someone who comes into contact with the war on drugs on a daily basis in the day job I was kind of shocked at how clear minded and level headed the film is. I can't argue with anything that the film has to say, which is the situation is not going to get better because there simply is too much money to be made.

One of the best films at Tribeca. A vital and important film that everyone should see.

A few words on Hide Your Smiling Faces (2013) Tribeca 2013

This movie really didn't float my boat. I knew I wasn't going to click with the film five minutes in and while I rode it out it never meant much to me. Peter on the other hand enjoyed it way more with the behavior of the teenage boys resonating  with him.

Told in longish static shots (for the most part) this is the story of two brothers who deal with the angst of being a kid. We watch as they fool around, go swimming, wrestle, deal with feelings and all of the usual kids stuff. We also deal with the ripples that are felt one one of their number dies in a fall  from an old railroad bridge.

Full of carefully composed shots (many of which seemed to echo Stand By Me) and full of silences and people of all ages trying to make sense of life this is a deep  and meaningful film which left me rather cold. Little happens other than we watch people deal with some weighty issues. I kept wanting to ask "and you're telling me this this way because...?"

Part of the problem with the film is that some things don't quite mesh. There is a scene where the brothers and their parents are sitting around talking about the dead boy and we hear someone is crying...but no one in the close ups is. There is also a weird disconnect as to the time frame that the story takes place. How many days pass? It's not clear.

Personally I found the film to be one of the very major misses up to the point I saw it (it was the 19th film I saw ) On the other hand Peter and some others were moved by it. The choice is yours.

Tribeca 2013 Bonus - On Line Features and shorts

As a member of the press I could supplement the theatrical screenings with some on line features. Its a wonderful thing since it boosted my total of films seen by 12.

While I liked a number of these films I wasn't really blown away by most of them so I'm going to lump them all together in a super post of quick reviews.

The features:

ALI BLUE EYES is about an Egyptian teen living in Italy with his family. The film documents his struggles to deal with both his friends who are not Muslim and his family. A very well acted film would have scored higher in my book had I not seen it in the crush of Tribeca films.

GENIUS OF MARIAN shocked me with it's touching nature. I didn't want to see this but ended up really liking it. Director Banker White makes a film about his mother trying to finish a book on her mother who died of Alzheimer's disease..a disease which has started to steal her mind as well. I didn't think we needed another film on Alzheimer's, but when its done like this I'm there.

INSIDE OUT:THE PEOPLE'S ART PROJECT is an HBO documentary about an artist known as JR as he tries to use participatory art to heal communities. It's good, but to be honest I only watched a little figuring I'd pick it up when HBO runs it.

LILY is lost to the weight of the number of films. I have no idea about the film. The Tribeca book says its about a young woman taking stock of her life while dealing with breast cancer. My notes say Okay but Unremarkable. It left no impression on me other than the lead actress is cute.

THE MOTIVATION is about several of the best skateboarders in the world getting ready for  meet. Okay but completely unremarkable. Unlike most sports documentaries at Tribeca (always a highlight and the one series that can be counted on)  this film wore out its welcome after about half it's running time...

SIX ACTS has a teen hooking up with the coolest boy in school and ending up in way over her head and being passed around.  Heartfelt but it echoes several other films (and for some reason I can't shake it seeming to be like the Israeli Lemon Popcicle series from the 1980's which spawned the LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN)

TABOOR hypnotic and off beat film about a man who lives in a foil lined room going through his nightly routine. Its a visual trip. I have no idea what it means or how I feel about it but I'd like to see it on the big screen.

RUNNING FROM CRAZY- Mariel Hemingway examines mental illness and her family. A rambling film that is good but it's much too long at 105 minutes

OUT OF PRINT the debate of real books and digital. Who controls the information? Simple and simplistic look at the subject is made by people who don't wholly grasp the whole magilla. I completely understand why John went nuts watching it. A film for people who know nothing  made by people who don't know much either. It stayed off my worst list because it looks good.

PAT XO A good celebration of women's basketball coach Pat Summitt made by people who love her.

LET THEM WEAR TOWELS Strangely disappointing look at the battles female sports reporters had to endure to cover their sports the way their male counterparts do.Its not bad but I expect greatness from ESPN.

NO LIMITS is the story of free diver Audrey Mestre. Another disappointment from ESPN films. This would kick ass at 30 minutes but it's too long by half.

The Shorts:

FEAR OF FLYING a bird with a fear of flying decides to stay put for the winter. Amusing animated film isn't anything special

RPG OKC is the sort of film that only a gamer would understand...in which case they'll love it.

WHO SHOT ROCK AND ROLL:THE FILM- A look at the photographers who shot some of rock and rolls iconic images is a nice nostalgic look at the images that shaped rock and our lives.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Patience Stone (2012) Tribeca 2013

A woman in 30's tends to her catatonic husband. He has been shot in the neck (during a fight over an insult to his mother) and reduced to a barely living state; As she tries to tend to him her neighborhood finds itself on the front line of sectarian violence. Sitting alone with her husband she begins to tell him all of her life and her secrets as if she were the mythic Patience Stone which will absorb the plight of the person speaking to it and then shatter releasing them.

I suspect that the only reason that Golshifteh Farahani didn't get an Oscar nomination for best actress this year at the Oscars was that no one saw this film (It was the Afghanistan Oscar selection). This is one of those roles that actresses would kill to get since the role allows one to really show ones chops and run the gamut of emotions. Its the sort of powerhouse role from which legends are made.

Essentially a monologue, the film could easily be a theater piece. While little physically happens there is much brewing on the emotional level as our heroine goes from a closed bud to open flower as she reveals her physical and emotional self to a man she barely knows.

You will forgive me for not really going into more detail  but  the film is very difficult to explain if you haven't seen it. If I told you everything that happened you wouldn't think very much of it, on the other hand if you watch the story unfold and be told with a detail that my meager words can not convey, then you will end up moved and enlightened.

To be honest outside of the performance by Golshifteh Farahani I like the film more than I love it.Some of it seems a bit too soapy. On the other hand by the time it ended I was engaged enough to be moved by the conclusion...and wonder where things would go next

Definitely worth trying.

Dancing in Jaffa (2013) — Tribeca Film Festival 2013

Pierre Dulaine (pictured right, with children from the movie) is about as unlikely a facilitator to Mideast peace as you've ever seen: a silver-haired, impeccably besuited man, son of a Palestinian mother and an Irish faith. He's an international award-winning ballroom dancing champion and dancing teacher, famed for introducing ballroom dancing lessons to New York City's public schools (a fictionalized version of Dulaine was played by Antonio Banderas in the movie Take the Lead). He was born in 1944 in Jaffa, the oldest section of Tel Aviv, Israel, and left the city in 1948 with his family. He hasn't been back until the events of this documentary, where he undergoes perhaps his most challenging task: attempting to bring the Palestinian-Israeli and Jewish children of Jaffa together through the art of ballroom dancing.

This straightforward but colorful film contrasts Dulaine's return to his hometown with the journey of discovery (of self and their natural neighbors) by the children. Substitute any other social, racial, or faith-related dispute around the world for the rift between Jews and Palestinians: Dulaine's task to bring together the children of these natural religious and political enemies only highlights the universal nature of kids: children are children all over the world, and these kids are delightful, funny, and real, especially stand-out Noor, with a mixed religious heritage and explosive anger issues. Dulaine is funny, lively and energetic on the screen, but the real stars are the kids, who vibrantly sum the ground-level view of Jaffa kids.

Against the background of the modern day Jewish/Palestinian struggle, their frustration and disappointments are immediate, without filter, as they slowly, and sometimes reluctantly, learn to "dance with the enemy." Their concerns range from those natural to their age: they can't adequately articulate their reluctance to dance, to deal not only with the rift between political/religious factions but with the more natural, and much older gap, between young boys and girls. At their lessons the children eye each other suspiciously and warily, and go to enormous lengths to avoid touching each other. They're are also very aware of the cultural differences: "If my dad sees me with an Arab he'll kill me," one girl comments.

It's not surprising that the personalities of the kids take over the movie, especially during a section when Dulaine is away from Jaffa. Youth takes center stage in a effervescent montage of practice for their dance recital, and they speak on camera, first shyly but then honestly and openly, of their understanding that neither side (nor sex) is going away. "You don't have to marry everyone you dance with!" Dulaine teaches them, and with discipline and humor as the seed of working together for the next generation as slowly the kids begin to lean to trust, the basis not only of adult life but also of ballroom dancing itself.

A simple, ground-roots production (partially funded through Kickstarter), Dancing in Jaffa has no real surprise or hidden agendas, no real twists, turns or shocks, but succeeds on the basis of its street-view lens on Jaffa and its population, the effervescent, sometimes impatient intensity of Pierre Dulaine, and fantastic work both on and off the dance floor by the kids. Dancing in Jaffa is pretty much what it says on the box, but that label in itself is extraordinary: teaching the kids of a tension-wracked city to trust one another.

For details on Dancing in Jaffa at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, visit the festival website.

Violent Eye Report : Frankenstein's Army

Mondocurry has put up his take on Frankenstein's Army over at his Violent Eye Report.  If you want another take on one of the best films at Tribeca click here and read his thoughts.

Dark Touch (2013) Tribeca 2013 (I will be revealing all so if you don't want to know don't read the review)

One of the best nights at Tribeca was standing around after this screening talking to Mondocurry, Peter Guitterez, Chris Bourne from Twitch and Hubert Vigilla from Flixist discussing, very loudly, this film. This is a divisive a film, and  as you will find as you talk to people about the film opinions will fall everywhere. If you want to get a handle on this film, do yourself a favor and read every review you can because everyone will say something different. (See Below for links)

That said, while I like the premise of the film, I hate the execution. yes it's largely technically great, but either the script was botched to start or it was wrecked in the editing and this is a horror film that had me laughing for all the wrong reasons.

(Okay at this point I'm going to reveal all so if you don't want to know go read something else)

The plot of the film has young Neve being complaining about things moving in her house. When the objects in the house attack and kill her parents, no one believes her. She is taken in by friends of her parents and it isn't long before it all starts again.

The dark reasonings behind it all- Neve was being abused by her parents and she has developed psychic abilities, is on the face of it pretty good. Sadly the director admits to cribbing bits from Carrie so you kind of know where this is going. (In the press notes the director also explains a couple of things that the film doesn't. I shouldn't understand a film better because press notes tell me whats going on. If thats the only way the film works its a failure. Also a failure is the spelling of Neve's name which changes in the notes, the film and elsewhere.)

I took something like ten pages of notes for this film ripping it apart from stem to stern. I think its a mess as presented here, with the opening bits of the death of Neve's parents so confused that you really can't understand whats going on . It could be argued that it's being shown from Neve's point of view except we see things she'd never know. Once her parents are killed, in a silly scene that had me literally biting my hand so I wouldn't scream with laughter, the house catches fire and burns down, kind of....when the police and fire department arrive the house  and furniture is largely unburnt despite talk of heavy smoke and fire damage. Honestly the house looks pretty good to me.

After that things make less sense as Neve and her foster parents clash. Over what I don't know. This produces occurrences which are clearly psychic or demonic or something other than rationally explained, and yet everyone in the film tries to explain it through rational means- despite seeing clearly things are not rational. I've never seen anyone in a horror film as stupid as the people here.(No really-no one has ever been this stupid)

I won't go into more details, however I will say little of it makes any sense and by the time the film ends you may end up like me and writing WTF was that over and over again.

The cast is game, the effects good, the basic plot is rock solid, the trouble is the director/writer made things so way out that the film is more funny (for all the wrong reasons) than scary...unfortunately the darkness in the whole child abuse angle takes this film out of contention for being a good bad film because it's too dark to laugh at it.

The first truly bad film of the year, this was at the time I saw it the worst film at Tribeca.

Of course your mileage will vary-and odds are it will since everyone I've talked to about this film has a different take.

Mondocurry's report at Violent Eye Report
Hubert Vigilla's report at Flixist
Labsplice at Paracinema

Tribeca Day 9- And I am Out of here.... HERBLOCK THE BLACK AND THE WHITE, GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY plus shorts

The press screenings are finished  which means that for me, the Tribeca Film Festival for 2013 is done.

I am so burnt that unless something suddenly appears I'm going to be staying home doing laundry and watching movies in the press library and maybe on pay per view (several titles are available). I also have a ton of stuff to finish up regarding our coverage- hell we have multiple reviews going until next Friday.

My final theatrical total is 62 features plus 3 shorts collections. The total is going to rise with my dipping into the on-line press library.

I had a blast. I always do. I'll be talking about the experience over the weekend.

Today I saw two features and a shorts collection.

HERBLOCK- THE BLACK AND THE WHITE is one of the best films of the festival. This is a marvelous look at Herb Block's decades long career as a political cartoonist. Jon Stewart, Lewis Black, Ted Koppel, Tom Brokaw, Carl Bernstein Bob Woodward and others explain why political cartoonists are important and why Block was one of the all time best. What I love about the film is not only is it a portrait of Block, but it also is a wonderful look at the times he, and we, lived in. A masterpiece.

GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY is a mess. The dual story of Tim's son Jeff going to Brooklyn for a tribute concert for his father in 1991 and the story of Tim himself 30 years earlier, the film manages to do neither story justice. To be perfectly honest after seeing the first half of the film I had less of an idea about the Buckleys then I did going in. Seriously, Tim goes off to make a name for himself while Jeff knocks about Brooklyn trying to pick up one of the women working on the show.  Nothing respembling a story or real plot seemed to be happening so I said to hell with it and walked out. If I feel adventurous (or need sleep) I'll get the film on  VOD on cable.(And please don't get me started on the things that are in the film that weren't around 25 years ago) I should say that Penn Badgley is great as Jeff  and he deserves a better film

Between the two films I saw my third shorts collection CHARACTER WITNESS which is a collection of short biographies.

RECOLLECTION is one of the best films of any length at Tribeca. The film is a look at the importance of pictures in the aftermath of the Japanese Tsunami. Looking at several people who are trying to reconnect survivors with photos lost in the disaster the film explains why we need pictures. Its a touching heart felt film that had tears running down my cheeks.

GRAVE GOODS is an odd little film about the filmmaker's relationship with her deceased grandmother and her stuff- esopecially her stuff.

WHEN THE SONG DIES mixes beautiful shots of Scotland with stories of times past, songs and ghosts as told by old residents of a seaside town.

WILT CHAMBERLAIN BORSCHT BELT BELL HOP tells the story of Chamberlain's time acting as bell hop in the Catskills. Its a wonderful tribute to the man and his second family.

LAPSE: CONFESSIONS OF A SLOT MACHINE JUNKIE is a home movie masquerading as something more.

WE WILL LIVE AGAIN is a really creepy look at cryonics. No idea if it's good but any film that has people talking about putting more dry ice on a head so it doesn't thaw is creepy

RIDER AND THE STORM is about a steel worker who lost everything in Sandy and is given a new surf board. Its not bad.

And that's it for the daily reports of the festival- however multiple reviews continue to next Friday.

GRACELAND opened in theaters yesterday go see it.

Last year at Tribeca Graceland played to shocked audiences. People left the theater shaking their head or talking to themselves. Some people walked out unable to deal with the darkness.  Yet despite the darkness it barely lost out the audience award for best narrative feature despite leading the polling for a good while.

I loved the film. I loved it so much that I emailed the PR people and told them that I would do anything that I could to help promote the film.

Now the film is out in theaters and you really need to see this film. Graceland  is a kick in the ass and a punch in the chest. Its the story of a kidnapping gone wrong, that gets worse than you can ever imagine. Its one of the most intense films ever.

I placed the film on my BEST OF 2012 list and I'm sure if you see it and if you survive it you'll have it on your best of 2013 list.

Yea it is that good.

Want to know what I thought of it when I saw it at Tribeca? Here's a link to my review.

Friday, April 26, 2013

A curriculum of institutionalized suffering in HARMONY LESSONS (Tribeca 2013)

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Aside from a certain momentarily popular satire, which will receive any extra publicity here, this is the first narrative reference to Kazakhstan I’ve encountered, and the first genuine cultural artifact emanating from and reflecting on the Eurasian country located on the southern border of Russia. As a result, it’s a bit difficult to hard divorce its qualities as a feature film from its allure as a source of insight into a distant land.

HARMONY LESSONS is a through and through bleak look at society from the point of view of an adolescent growing up in one of the country’s rural villages. Some of the protagonist’s trials are universal to this age: Insecurities about sexuality, preoccupation with physical inadequacies, and fitting in with peers abound. The story shares some very dark themes with films about this age as it relates to the school experience from other Asian countries: Confessions (Japan) and the animated King of Pigs (South Korea) come instantly to mind for depicting similar tales of student hierarchies and systematic bullying.   

Only, Kazakhstan stands apart as having a more recent surrounding culture of tangible violence for most of its population at large. Students manufacture bullets during shop class and are assessed for their worth based largely on their physical attributes. Ex-convicts appear in school to collect money boys have raised through busking, presumably for paramilitary or fundamentalist religious factions; Daily life has a curriculum with a clear emphasis on survival and warfare.

Things are set in motion when a group of boys play a prank on Aslan during an institutionally arranged medical examination. It’s the stuff of typical adolescent male  obsessions with sexuality. Not only is it humiliating to Aslan, it is an offense to Muslim religious believes, something deeply ingrained within him. Aslan then deals with bouts of physical disgust over the incident and isolation, as the other boys have shunned him. This takes place at the insistence of Bolat, a kind of gang boss to the boys in school, who threatens physical harm to anyone associating with Aslan.

Soon,  a boy from the city arrives. Not initiated into the gang mentality that runs through the school, he forms a friendship with Aslan. His metropolitan ways, however, also put him at odds with the bully of the school, making him another target of their abuse. (This appearance of an outsider who bands together with the main character is very reminiscent of King of Pigs, making me wonder if the film was in fact an influence)

Aslan navigates his isolation, and a growing desire to act against the ceaseless injustice. It is not only an urge to protect himself, but concern for his newfound friend, as well as moral outrage for the victimizing of many of the boys at his school.

These are the important factors in the film’s grueling first act, which is taken even further when a criminal investigation and imprisonment are incorporated into the story, suggesting the oppressive machinations of school can be traced to the behaviors of adults.

Pacing is slow. The dwelling on many long focused shots of dreary interiors suggests director Emir Baigazin wants us to feel the psychic pain of this growing up in this environment. His use of wildlife imagery is none too subtle, but effective, starting with a brutally efficient sheep-butchering scene. Later, cockroaches are drowned and mutilated in intricate traps constructed by stressed and inwardly collapsing Aslan. A homemade terrarium is constructed, in which bottled up lizards are fed the helpless insects, growing larger and larger until they eventually turn on each other. There is little question that Baigazin wants to suggest this society has direct dehumanizing effects on its children.   

A point of curiosity is the absence of onscreen depictions of fatal violence that mark critical points in the narrative.  It is as if to say death is not as damaging as the other psychologically and physically abusive acts that appear throughout the film. Death is perhaps an escape, a message that is suggested in some of the film’s final imagery.

While an overall gloomy affair, HARMONY LESSONS is solid in presenting its societal critique. It gets us scarily close to a world that exists as only a distant idea for most.

HARMONY LESSONS receives its world premiere at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. Visit the festival website for more details.

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Mistaken for Strangers (2013) Tribeca 2013

Brothers in art
Advertised as a film about the group The National, the film is actually about director Tom Berninger who is the brother of The National's lead singer Matt. Tom is an amateur filmmaker who was asked to be a roadie for the band. Figuring he'd have unlimited access Tom decided to film everything that happened, however what happened was not what he expected.

If you go into the film expecting the film to be about the group you're going to be extremely disappointed. I know I was. What I got instead of the film I expected was look at a lovable loser trying desperately to make good. Its a film where we watch as we see someone forced to examine himself and his life. Its also a film full of not so much sibling rivalry, but sibling love and loyalty that is tempered by the need to be realistic,Matt loves his brother unconditionally but knows there are limits.

A very good film how  where you react to the film is going to depend upon how you react to Tom. Tom is a sweet guy, clearly he has talent, the trouble is he has a chip on his shoulder and as much as he wants to succeed he'd probably throw it all over in order to party. As I say he's a sweet guy but at the same time he is more than a little bit of a jerk. Until it's pointed out he never sees that the only reason he was on tour was who his brother was.  Watching the film I couldn't believe it took them 8 months to fire him...

...more importantly you have to admire that Tom put all of this out for the world to see. Any rational person would have hidden it all away. Tom doesn't and it makes for uneasy but compelling viewing.

For me the film is a largely good film. The problem for me is that while the film is good all the way through, there are a few moments where the film springs magically to life and it isn't until late in the game when Tom says "I don't know why I'm here" that it becomes something truly amazing.

Worth a look, so long as you don't expect a film about a rock group.

RAZE (2013) Tribeca 2013

Let me get one thing out of the way right at the start- Zoe Bell is incredible. With luck she's going to become a huge huge star. I loved what she did here...

...I just wish the film was better.

Shot as if it were a horror film, but containing no horror and almost no sense, RAZE is the story of a group of women who have been kidnapped to fight to the death for a cult. If they don't fight some loved one of the women will be killed. And if they lose the loved one will be killed.

That's the plot in a nutshell. Nothing beyond that is explained other than there were 50 women kidnapped at one point, and that the cult supposedly been around for thousands of years.

None of the film makes any sense whats so ever.

Who are the cult? No idea.
What do they want? No idea.
Did they pick all the girls up in the same bar? No idea but it would be stupid if they did
Where are these replacement girls coming from? No idea.
Why will the cult kill the family if they lose? No idea.
How did they choose the women? No idea.
What are the rules of  when and who fight? No idea
If there are 24 women left when the film starts  why do we only see 6 (plus replacements)? No idea?
How did we go from 50 to 24? No Idea
What are the backgrounds of any of the women? No real idea  except Zoe bell is a soldier, one woman knows jujitsu and another is a psycho
Is there supposed to be anything beyond the women fighting? No idea.
Whats the wacky layout of the complex? No idea
What do they do with the dead women? No idea
What does the title mean? No idea.

There are more questions, lots of questions, but that should get you started.

There are other problems.

Because the fights are in a confined area they are largely from the waist up unless the women end up on the ground. This would be fine, except that they are largely repetitive (one pushes another against the wall and lots of punches are thrown). This is understandable to a point but it gets boring, especially when late in the game there is a replacement who is a jujitsu expert and things pick up (speaking of that fight what about what happens at the end of it that sets up the conclusion- where did that come from?They are both in on it?)

And because we don't get any background on anyone or anything the film can, and possibly be should, be seen as misogynistic death porn. The film exists for the fights and nothing else. They are simply objects we watch abusing each other. These are objects we watch die to get our rocks off.  Because the film is filled with unanswered questions there is no way to put any of the deaths into any sort of context. There are no good deaths, it's simply all the women getting screwed over and ending up dead.

I probably shouldn't read anything into it, but a good number of walk outs (and there were walk outs) at the press screening were by women. Were they offended? I don't know and I wouldn't have said anything except most of the walk outs seemed to be by women. (I say I shouldn't read anything into it because with the 6 films at one time press screening at Tribeca they could have been going to another movie...or not)

I'm kind of curious if the film is supposed to be a comedy. Its not funny mind you, Neither I nor the audience ever laughed, but owing to the way that the heads of the cult are portrayed I'm wondering if this is supposed to be some sort of satire or sly comedy... no probably not, I mean the jokes are just not funny...

I hate this film.

Maybe, and I do say maybe this would have played better had I never seen any of the numerous similar films like KILL THEM ALL or COWEB or...anything  that is essentially a gladiatorial combat film updated. Even allowing that many of those films have problems of their own (KILL THEM ALL is cheap) RAZE seems rather anemic especially since the fighting is the same thing. To be honest, my one over riding thought was what would this have been like had Roger Corman produced it in the 1970's with Pam Grier.

I'm sure I'm going to take heat for this (Matthew at Paracinema has inferred as much) but outside of  Zoe Bell RAZE is a lousy movie if you think about it.