Thursday, April 30, 2015

A teaser: Kevin Pollak talks about why he didn't really deal with the darkness that devoured some comedians in his film MISERY LOVES COMEDY

Kevin Pollak meets your correspondent

Back on April 21st I was part of a roundtable interview with comedian Kevin Pollak. We were there to discuss Mr Pollack’s film MISERY LOVES COMEDY about how comedians use comedy to deal with the pain of life. As round table interviews go it was one of the best I’ve ever attended. It was 8 people all on the same page having a conversation together. It’s wonderful dissection of how the film came together and ended up in the form it did. Because Ken helped me prep for the film I sent him a copy of the audio file and he was amazed how well the interview turned out. It’s a great talk.

…but there are problems, first it's very long. We were given 35 minutes, but because I start recording the instant I go through the door and don’t turn it off until I walk out the recording I made runs about 45 minutes. It’s so jam packed with material it’s taking me forever to transcribe it. At the rate I’m going it’s going to be next April before I finish. 

The other problem with the talk is that as good as the talk is to listen to it doesn't read well. There is nothing wrong with the way is sounds or what it said, but much like the Monty Python routine "Nudge Nudge Wink Wink"  it doesn't read as well as it sounds out loud. It reads awkward. Its a problem that has caused me no end of trouble and I ended up asking Ken for help revising and Lesley Coffin for advice as to what to do.

At Lesley's suggestion I'm going to restructure the piece into a cross between a straight transcription and an article reporting on the talk.  Its something that is going to take me a little time to do (I'm tired of fighting it and I'm putting it down for a day or so)

In order to be timely (the film after all is currently in theaters and available on VOD platforms), I’m going to post part of the interview so you can get a taste. 

The piece I'm posting is, selfishly, my first question to Mr Pollack. As funny as the film is I was curious why the film didn’t delve deeper into the dark places that many comedians find themselves in. The question was the result of the appearance of Mitch Hedberg's widow in the film. Hedberg had died as the result of a drug overdose and I found it odd that a potential poster boy for misery and comedy didn’t have his story explored more deeply. It was a question I really wanted answered because as the film ended it's revealed that the film was dedicated to Robin Williams, another tragic loss. 

What follows is the exchange between Mr Pollak and myself. It’s a wonderful statement of what Pollack was going for with his film and why it took the course it did.

Steve: It's a very funny movie, but there's this edge of tragedy there, and it's dedicated to Robin Williams. Did you interview him?

Kevin Pollak: No. If I had interviewed him for the film, he would have been in the film. No, here was a case like with many people...We had four consecutive five-day weeks to shoot and he wasn't available, he was shooting his TV show. Shooting those exact same four weeks, five 12-14 hours on a single camera show, and those four weeks he just wasn't available.

We spoke on the phone twice during those four weeks, almost an hour each time, because he didn't want to get off the phone. He wanted to keep talking on the subject matter, what it meant to him, what it meant to me, what he thought this film could be.

You know he had been a mentor to me since I was twenty. He had been a friend. So when I was editing the film he passed away...and my producers asked if I wanted to get a little crew together and go out and interview some more comedians, maybe (some) already in the film and just ask them how they feel about this passing and include it in the film because it seems germane to the subject and conversation. I felt that was too manipulative, too taking advantage of a horrific situation. Dedicating the the film just became an obvious choice, not only because of his tragic passing but more because of what he meant to me and what he's meant to comedy and what he meant to fans of comedy, which is ultimately what the center of the film is and hopes to be.

Steve: You have Mitch Hedberg's widow in the film and I'm surprised that the film doesn't deal with how dark some comedians can get when they are on the edge of the tragedy....

Kevin Pollak: So the question is why didn't it deal more with that?

Steve: Yes. It's a funny film, but the passing of Hedberg was so tragic and the passing of Robin Williams...

Kevin Pollak: I had to make sure it wasn't a bio-pic. I had to make sure it wasn't about any one individual's tragedy. I had to make sure it wasn't the journey into darkness for any one famous performer or any small group of famous performers. Rather make it about the pursuit of comedy and the articulating of misery. Which to me is a more interesting story than what caused someone to become addicted to drugs and die. I would rather speak to and listen to incredibly funny people talk about their experiences of misery, and their path to finding out a way to articulate it and entertain people with it.

So that while I wanted to include Richard Jeni, his family, or the family member who controls his story, wouldn't allow me to...while I wanted to include Mitch Hedberg...people who had passed based Richard Jeni's case depression, or Mitch Hedbergs's case addiction, which could be connected to depression...that to me is part of the film that to me wasn't what the film should focus on. So I felt like there was more interest and entertaining and even my ability to articulate truth of all performers by not spending too much time on any one performer or one cause of death.

So if you have Jim Jeffries talking and being ridiculously funny...his talking about the family of basketball spinning's my's not my FAVORITE but it's my funniest moment in the film. When he says that's gotta to be one person's passion, there's no way the rest of the family went "Yeah, me too!" And I asked him is that a bit from your act. He said no. Then afterwards when I was editing I said (to Jeffries), this moment was still in the film, you SURE that wasn't a bit from your act. He said no. I said well it should be, you should put that in your act, it's crazy funny and he said no, I said it just there in the moment and it's in your movie, that's fine. But it was him being honest about the weirdness of family that created this incredibly funny moment.

And later in the film, in the third act when we really deal with "do you have to be miserable to be funny", he talks about being on antidepressants for ten years on and off and being a (potential) suicide.

So now we've experienced the journey with him. We've seen him being funny, we've seen him talk about his influences, we have an emotional connection to him now so that when he me it's so much more powerful when he talks about being clinically depressed and when talks about having suicidal feelings because now we have a connection to him as a person as opposed to just focusing on that. So I think that bigger picture to me was much more fascinating

More from the round table interview is coming shortly.  I want to thank Ken Fries for checking over what I typed out and Lesley Coffin for making suggestions 

Lucifer (2015) Tribeca 2015

Love it of Hate it film is notable for having been shot in Tondoscope which means the screen is reduced to like looking out a porthole (see above). Occasionally the image becomes a circular image within the circle. Its a gambit that gets old real fast- even if it forces you rethink what you're seeing.

The plot has a ladder appear in the sky down which slips an angel. Wandering a around small village he works miracles and causes mischief.

Basically a weird arty avant garde film with an occasional insight the film has long segments where nothing happens. I found it boring as all hell so much so I fell asleep.

I don't know what to say beyond that..  Some people seemed to like it, Some people walked out.

Personally I'd take a pass but you might like it, I mean you may need sleep.


Onur Turkel's follow up to last years's SUMMER OF BLOOD is better than that film (how could it not be?)It's a story of what happens in the wake of  a man  not telling a story on a tell all  radio show. (He ends up telling the story to friends and it spins out of control from there)Its amusing but not particularly much of anything. Worth a look when it hits cable or Netflix

Girls will be rude crude and obnoxious in a film that follows a group of them them over the course of a year. While I know how kids can be this feels forced to me as if its not so much trying to be real but provoke a reaction.

Based on true story about a Welsh town where there is an epidemic of suicides among the kids.  A deeply troubling and haunting film that will hang with you for days. This film deserves way more than this short little piece (which is all I can do in the wake of the end of Tribeca) so I'll be doubling back in a couple of weeks to take a look. For those who don't mind troubling films this is a must see.

I should point out that there is documentary out from a few years ago on the same subject which is also deeply troubling..

Food porn for carnivores as director Franck Ribière travels the globe to find out how to get the best steak.  This is a really great film that I need to see again. I saw this toward the end of the fest and was way too tired to truly enjoy it to the fullest extent.  The best thing I can say is I can't wait to see it again.

Feature length version of a short film that played Tribeca in 2012 about a teacher who's life begins to collapse as his wife leaves him and his literary aspirations begin to disappear.  Stupid funny comedy is funny but not as funny nor as charming as it thinks it is. More proof some shorts need not be expanded into features

Large middle aged man who never really learned to socialize who ends up in a dance class was the big winner at this years Tribeca FIlm festival, a fact that confused most of the writers I know as well as my self. What did the jury see? While not bad, it's not not the best.

A full confession, I'm going to have to see the film again down the road and do a proper review. For better or worse the film was the source of several heated discussions, especially after the film won several of the major awards at Tribeca  since some things that happened seemed a tad creepy.

A COURTSHIP (2015) Tribeca 2015

A COURTSHIP takes a look at the courtship movement in America. The movement  looks to have couples chosen by the fathers of the women. There is no dating in a secular sense, the couple is brought together in asuch away that the first time they kiss is at the altar on the day they are married. The film focuses on 33 year old Kelly, a good Christian woman who lives with the Wright family. The Wrights are helping Kelly try to find a husband, in particular navigate her relationship with a young man named Ross.

I'm trying to work out how I'm supposed to feel about the courtship movement and the people involved. There is no doubt that Kelly is a sweet girl and the Wrights are nice people, the problem is that to my New Yorker's eyes they come off as really silly and behind the times. They come off as so backward that the screening I attended was filled with some of the loudest laughter of any Tribeca screening I've ever attended. While there is no question that people need to believe whatever they like, some of the ideas expressed about women giving up all thought of their own lives brought disapproving laughter from the attending audience.

About a third of the way in the film the personality of the film's subjects takes over and we are more accepting, some of the twists and turns still come off as silly for example Kelly's happiness is ultimately determined by a question of semantics as it's not a question that even in God's perfectly ordered universe bad things happen the question is does god simply allow it or does he cause it.  After the film Hubert, Alec and myself tried to unknot the thorny subject and determined that they were ultimately arguing the same point.

I have no idea how I'm suppose to feel about the film, nor do I know how this is going to play in Peoria.  Certainly the film is a good one. It holds your attention and keeps you interested but at the same time I'll be damned if I know if I'm laughing at the people in the film or with them. There is no indication as to the directors intent, on top of that if you are a believer the film is going to be less silly than if you are an believer. Likewise if you don't see women as a man's property then you're going to have a different take then if you do.

One of the more entertaining films at this years Tribeca Film Festival, A COURTSHIP will give you much to ponder.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Good Kill (2015) Tribeca 2015

Ethan Hawke plays a air force pilot who is reduced to flying drones half way around the world from his targets. As the up close world away killing gets to him, his marriage crumbles and he's forced to question what he's doing

Wildly over long, cliched filled film is effectively over ten minutes in as actor Bruce Greenwood delivers a speech to a bunch of new recruits that lays out the entire premise and thematic landscape of the film. Its states everything the film is trying to say so well that what follows is completely redundant. What makes sitting through the remaining 90 minutes so difficult is the actual plotting that includes the badly handled failed marriage gambit, an evil CIA villain, a possible office romance with another pilot and a reoccurring rape on the far side of the world subplot (what is that doing here?). What were they thinking?  (Actually what was Ethan Hawke thinking because he usually knows better)

I was ready to walk out early on but hung in there hoping something exciting would happen. It never did. My smart ass cheer when the film ended brought giggles from the people around me,

Avoid this one- even if you are anti-drone because with films like this you're liable to lose the battle for hearts and minds.

El Cinco (2014) Tribeca 2015

After injuring an opposing player in a soccer match  Paton is suspended for 8 games, pretty much the rest of the season. With time on his hands and little to do he contemplates his future on the field and in life.

Okay, but nothing special film is considerably less deep than I've made it out to me and unlike the official description. Much lighter than you would expect this is really just the story of a guy at a crossroads in his life, he could be in any sport or any job.

I really don't know what to say. Its a thoroughly enjoyable film that isn't really dep or meaningful. While I had a good time seeing it I was left to ponder how the film ended up at Tribeca of all places. Don't get me wrong its exactly the sort of film I'd expect at Latin Beats or some other NYC festival but not Tribeca.

Definitely worth your time if you want something undemanding, but I wouldn't go out of my way to see it.

Come Down Molly (2105) Tribeca 2015 or My Mushrooms with Molly

I'm very curious why this film is being called a comedy when most of the time it's not funny. I guess because its not a tragedy since no one dies it's safe to call it a comedy.

I'm going to do something some of you might consider bad, I'm going to tell you the entire plot. However when you see how thin it is you'll understand that nothing is lost knowing it (hell it's a couple of words longer than the official synopsis)

Molly is a newish mother with a two year old. Stuck at home while here husband is away she feels trapped. When the chance comes to meet her old high school buddies, all guys, she leaves her son with his father and heads off to meet the guys. Once there they all head off to go tubing while doing mushrooms. That's it, that's the whole plot other than they leave the river and end up in a field while stoned.

The majority of the film is people walking , staring and philosophizing. Nothing is resolved.Nothing much happens. Its kind of like just watching people hang out and not talk much. When they do talk it doesn't really add up to much- though about 50 minutes in the film has a couple of hysterical exchanges as one guy makes weird associations and Molly talks about a sexual encounter with a tree trunk.  So little happens that even at 80 minutes the film is at least an hour too long.

With the mixture of landscape shots and Phillip Glas like music the film felt like a weird Werner Herzog film ala AGUIRRE THE WRATH OF GOD, except with out the life or death struggles. There is a feel to some of Herzog's film that this film seems to mimic for no good reason.

Actually I'm still trying to determine what the purpose the film serves. Yea you've got a solid ten minutes of laughs, but what of the rest of it? I'm kind of clueless. The Tribeca material talks about coming to terms with growing older or up  and the group coming together and a bunch of other bullshit that is nowhere near being in this film. This is a bunch of friends hanging out and getting stoned. There are no revelations, or if there are we never hear them-I mean even the appearance of Molly's dead dad goes no where since once he says "I have something to tell you" the film cuts away to Molly sitting on the ground crying. Why? I have no clue.

The best way to sum up the film is probably in the line of I believe a character named Sam who says "I have something I want to tell you but I don't want to talk about it." He then adds he really wishes that we could go inside his head and see what he's thinking. I felt that way about the director of the film. I really wanted to chop off the top of his head and look into it so I might have a clue as to what sort of pretentious twaddle he was trying to sell us.

If only this film had dialog instead of looks; perhaps some more laughs sooner than 50 minutes in and had some point this might have actually been a film I could recommend. Instead I can only say avoid it unless you need sleep.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

In brief:Thought Crimes The Case of the Cannibal Cop(2015) Tribeca 2015

Having premiered at Tribeca and due to run on HBO on May 11 THOUGHT CRIME is a look at the cannibal cop case where Gilberto Valle, an NYPD officer was arrested and charged with plotting to kill and eat his wife and other women.

The film asks as a  portrait of Valle and an examination of the question of at what point do our thoughts become criminal. Its a question that is very important in this age of everyone throwing out all of their thoughts out in public via the internet. I don't know what to say. This is a good, if over long film that is sure to begin a discussion or six. You can't watch the film film and not have an opinion (everyone at Tribeca who saw it did).

As good as the film is there are a couple of things wrong with the film. Part of the problem is the editing which conceals certain facts about the case unfairly. How you think about the film hinges on when we are told certain pieces of information and the film doesn't tell you that what Valle did on the NYPD computer predated by months all the conversations about abducting women.  The juggling of the time frame deeply effects how the events are viewed.

The other problem is Valle himself. While he seems like a nice guy, its also pretty clear that there is something wrong with him. I got the feeling that had he not been caught he might have taken things even farther. He gave me the creeps and I couldn't really root for him.

Problems aside, this is definitely worth a look when it hits HBO on May 11

Hubert's Tribeca coverage for Flixist and Ruby Hornet Part 2

Hubert's Ruby Hornet Avatar
As most of you know Hubert split his time at Tribeca giving Flixist and Ruby Hornet coverage of the festival as well. Because his pieces are too good to pass up here's the second collection of his posts  for other websites:

Live From New York!
GORED’s Reckless Bravery Offers Lessons for Creatives - …
The Adderall Diaries and the Problem with the Brilliant Male Writer Cliche
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Henry Hobson, and Joely Richardson Discuss Maggie 
A review of Maggie, the post-apocalyptic zombie drama starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin 

Hubert has more coming both here and elsewhere so keep checking back


Supernatural thriller has Adrian Brody dealing with the fallout from the death of his daughter and then having to relive the events thirty years earlier when he goes home to see his dad. I'm leaving a huge amount out for very good reason- I don't want you to know too much before you see it. This is a very scary film that gets better as it goes on and better the more you think and talk about it. If you can get through the bumps of the first half hour the film will grab you by the throat and drag you to the end. When the film was done six or seven ouf us stood around talking about it for about 20 minutes. Yea its that good.
(A longer review will be coming after I see it again)

Adam Brody and Alba Rohrwacher meet cute and quickly become a couple. Once she becomes pregnant she begins to deteriorate mentally and become obsessed with the health of their son, refusing to feed it anything other than the homeopathic concoctions she comes up with. As the bady's heath suffers Brody is forced to take action.

A very funny first scene gives way to darkness as things grow bleak and frequently horrific in a very real sense. This is a gut punch movie that reveals how the madness of one person can infect others and how some times mothers don'y know best. If the film were slightly shorter and a bit more even toned this would have been on my best of fest list- as it is it's a punch in the gut must see.

Very good look at Kevin Johnson and his efforts to keep the Sacramento Kings basketball team in his city. A moving documentary about the importance of sports and sport teams in our lives and how  the fans really can make a difference. While I would call it a middle of the road ESPN documentary it's still better than most other documentaries and only suffers when compared to other ESPN films. A must see.

Love and Chemistry: The Divergent Emulsions of BEFORE SUNRISE and VIAJE - Tribeca 2015

On the surface, Paz Fabrega's Viaje seems like it could play in a double-feature with Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise. Both involve chance encounters that wind up meaning more, and both are about various aspects of young love. People meet, they connect, and then there's a question of what happens next time they meet, if at all.

And yet, Viaje and Before Sunrise are such different movies, and Viaje falls well short of Before Sunrise. (To be fair, plenty of movies fall well short of Before Sunrise.) The reason has everything to do with chemistry, specifically emulsion (i.e., the blend of separate substances, often liquids, in this case two strangers—just go with it). Whereas Before Sunrise uses strong characterization and conversation as an effective emulsifier (a substance that stabilizes an emulsion), Viaje uses mere proximity as an emulsifier, which makes its central relationship flimsy and not particularly viable for whatever personal revelations the two leads come to at the end.

In Before Sunrise, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are so well defined, and their flirtation on the train when they first meet has everything to do with how we project ourselves to the people we're attracted to. Jesse has to convince Celine that spending time with someone she just met is a risk worth taking, and Celine is smart enough to be wary, and they're both guarding their mutual excitement. Since Hawke and Delpy had a hand in writing their own characters (a key to the effectiveness of the later Before films), there's something so organic about they way they mesh. Nathan Rabin had a great summation of their banter when he wrote up the film on The Dissolve recently: "From the beginning, their talk has the rarified air of flirting, of people trying to impress one another by being the most fascinating, most verbose, most charismatic version of themselves they can possibly be."

The banter that Jesse and Celine exchange and their ramble through Vienna play to Linklater's strengths as a peripatetic writer/director: wander, talk, observe, react, repeat with variation, allude to previous observations, and let time do the rest of the work. Eventually a philosophical dialogue about relationships emerges, concluding in a kind of syllogism about young love and brief encounters. This deepens in the subsequent Before outings as time becomes an even more essential component in this evolving dialogue between Jesse and Celine—in Before Sunset, it's a question of picking up a thread lost years ago when time has intervened, in Before Midnight, it's a question of the ravages of time—and even finds expression in Linklater's similarly peripatetic Boyhood.

The first encounter between Luciana (Kattia Gonzalez) and Pedro (Fernando Bolaños) in Viaje isn't as charming. They're at a party thrown by mutual friends, they're two strangers, and while Luciana is in a stairway coming out of the bathroom, Pedro goes up and kisses her. This is just a couple seconds after introducing himself, and there's no sense of them flirting or interacting before this moment. (Throughout the film, Pedro seems pretty rapey rather than rakish.) Rather than slugging him in the face, Luciana walks away only return to the stairway and proceed to barge in on Pedro in the bathroom and make out with him.

Viaje isn't about Luciana and Pedro just hooking up, though. In just a few scenes, they have a touchy-feely familiarity with one another like they've been dating for a little bit rather than strangers who've just met. The sole interaction that grounds their rapport is a funny scene in a cab leaving the party in which they discuss subversions of traditional relationships. For a moment, the film seems aware of what it's doing, but then it drops this metacommentary about real-life encounters and movie encounters for a contrivance: Luciana agrees to go camping with Pedro in the Costa Rican rain forest the next morning having only met him a few hours before. The remainder of the film sets Luciana and Pedro in the splendor of nature, trying to suggest that their connection—based solely on proximity rather than chemistry—is as organic as the leaves and branches and water and earth that surrounds them.

It doesn't help matters that Luciana and Pedro's personalities are blank. They're attractive, young, and a little lost, but that's about it. Your twenties are a kind of work-in-progress when defining yourself, but characters in their twenties shouldn't feel like they're aesthetic works-in-progress. When Luciana reveals more about herself later in the film and what's going on in her life, it makes the excursion to the wilderness feel more contrived, and it makes the sudden attraction to Pedro, with a tenderness bordering on love, feel inorganic. In Jane Austen's Persuasion, two side characters fall for one another thanks to a combination of proximity and time, but here in Viaje, there's no sense of time propelling the sense of connection.

What's fascinating about this Before Sunrise/Viaje split is that the events in Before Sunrise occur in far less time than the events in Viaje, and yet Before Sunrise feels more organic. That's thanks to the writing, which allows all banter of all chance encounters to be presented in a kind of purified form. Before Sunrise has the contrivances of a lesser romance but winds up feeling like a real meeting between real people, whereas Viaje starts with the appearance of the real and winds up feeling fake. As Luciana and Pedro are in the woods together acting like a couple, hanging from tree branches, touching leaves that shrink at contact, all I could think was that nature doesn't work that way.

Maggie (2015) Tribeca 2015

Arnold Schwarzenegger's lowest budget film since TERMINATOR is a breath of fresah air in the "zombie"  genre and in Arnold's career. Actually the only need to know is that this is destined to be on any number of  year end best of lists.

The film is set at a time when a necro-virus is ravaging the world. The disease causes decay and cannibalistic madness. Because it takes weeks to turn life goes on, but everyone is afraid of what can happen. As the film opens Maggie has fled from her home into the city. She has been infected and wants to spare her family. Her father wants his daughter home so he goes and brings her home. We watch as she slowly succumbs.

Bleak, heart breakingly sad film is not a horror film but an allegory about watching loved ones die. Its a film that is not even remotely an action film (which pissed off numerous people who went to the world premiere looking for Arnold to fight zombie hordes.) A carefully mannered drama the film tugs at the heart strings as we watch and see one man watch the thing he loves most wither away.  If you changed it all to cancer people would be talking Oscars.

There is no action. There is one jump and a kind of fight, There is just life trying to go on. Its the sort of thing that gets under your skin and makes you sad.

To me this plays out better than say WALKING DEAD. it makes sense. The world doesn't implode instantly, it goes on. There is an explanation of where all the people went or might have gone. In the opening of WALKING DEAD or most other zombie films you have abandoned cars and looting and all of that. Why isn't clear. If you look at what happens in a place where real diseases break out and kill thousands (say in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak) things don't just break down but go on.

To me the slow turning makes sense, after all other than say food poisoning when have you ever really known a disease to instantly infect you as it does in other zombie films? No you don't. The slow spread within the infected is much more devastating as a result since we and they see the end coming.

That things are so emotional is do in large part to the cast. Everyone, including Arnold sell their roles. Schwarzenegger is so good that you can't help but wonder why he wasn't doing straight acting before. He is a real father deeply in love with his daughter and you see how he would do anything for her-even if it means just trying to have her in a familiar place while she awaits her ultimate ending.

One of the real surprises at Tribeca, and very possibly the year. I say that because I expected this to be a dumb zombie film only to find it to be something thoughtful and haunting.

Assuming you can accept this not being a typical zombie film this is a must see.

(An aside- there is no indication in the film that people actually die and come back- its explained as a disease that destroys the body. However the director said in an interview, I believe with Leslie Coffin that they actually die but its not specified in the film)

MAGGIE opens in theaters and will be available on various VOD platforms starting May 8

Survialist (2015) Tribeca 2015

After the collapse of society thanks to over population and declining resources a man tends his small garden in the middle of the forest. There is a just enough food produced for him. Things become complicated when an older woman and her daughter show up wanting to barter food. Against his better judgement  the man lets the women in and thus begins a series of games between the man and the two interlopers.

While there is much to like about the SURVIVALIST, there is also much that makes it a tough slog. The reaction to the film at the screening I attended was all over the place with the result that the film sparked long conversations that lasted past the next film screened and in my case continued on the subway with a fellow writer I met in the subway.

The performances are first rate. Everyone pretty much gives it their all. The world largely looks lived in and broken down. There are also some very good sequences, in particular the sequence in the field where the man hunts the girl and the other man who kidnapped her. Everyone mentions this one crane shot which is absolutely amazing.

Unfortunately the film has some problems that keep the film from being something that I can truly like.

For me the first problem is the staging of the the entire sequence prior to the arrival of the women. Shot so as to give us a sense of life in the woods we get long sequences of the man going through several days. Its so detailed that I thought to myself that we'd seen everything he does with the exception of him masturbating-only to have it occur-graphically-a minute or two later. I disconnected at that point, not because I'm a prude, simply because the film felt it was going to be too day in the life.

In retrospect I do find it odd that we see the man masturbate but that we don't see any sex between the man and the girl.  Why is that? Actually why is the first half of the film graphic and the second less so?

The next problem is that the world the film operates in doesn't work. Clues in the dialog talk about things being bad for at least seven years, which would be possible, except that when the women appear they are neat and clean, something no one else in the film is. There are snippets of dialog that give clues to the outside world but the lines seem tossed off and don't carry weight because we simply don't know anything.

Thinking about it part of the problem is that there is very little dialog. No one talks much with the result that we simply don't know anything... or enough. Doesn't anyone talk except to be part of some plot? If you think about it most of the dialog is between the mother and daughter plotting, or is some line that directly relates to the action. There is no stray line, no comment that doesn't serve a purpose. No one talks. All of this might have worked had the film not brought in the roving bands or the ending...

...and speaking of the ending. The final sequence is truly pretentious. There is an implication that the girl knows the deal with settlement but why is that? Why is everyone so nonchalant that this stranger is walking outside the wire? Its a weird moment that doesn't really play really, especially at the moment where it cuts out- I mean why a pregnancy conversation when there is no way the guard could know that.

Honestly looking over my notes I realize I could pick the film's internal logic apart, but that's not fair
since the film feels less like a movie and more like a high brow novel with pretensions in it's head. Things don't happen organically they happen because they are supposed to mean something.

They do mean something- you're boring you're core audience which isn't going to sit for the pretentious meaning of the events that transpire on the screen.

Honestly I don't hate the film but I don't need to see it again and I really can't recommend it.

Monday, April 27, 2015

In Brief: Very Semi Serious (2015) Tribeca 2015

Portrait of the New Yorker cartoons and the magazines present editor Bob Mankoff.

I'm not a fan of this film. To me a PBS documentary on the same subject a few years back was much better and did the same thing in half the time. While the film has some great moments (911), over all it's all much too rambling.

Actually part of the problem is that Mankoff is not an interesting enough guy to sustain 83 minutes. Its not that there is anything wrong with him rather he's not that compelling. Much more compelling are the younger cartoonists like Liana Finck and the wild Ed Steed who just decided one day that he could be a cartoonist.

For me the film is responsible for an unintentional side effect, after seeing the film it has become very obvious that the New Yorker cartoons are very much one note, not only that the funniest ones are the ones that aren't published.

Not terrible, but nothing you need rush out to see. Wait for it to show up on PBS where I'm certain it will end up

ADDENDUM: The film was picked up by HBO and plays December 7-wait for the screening there and don't waste your money seeing it in a theater unless there is a Q&A

The Montclair Film Festival starts Friday

The Montclair Film Festival is this weekend and if you’re in the New York Metro Area it’s a must attend. Trust me on this the festival is now a very big to do within the New York film community; a fact borne out by many many people at the just ended Tribeca telling me that they were going to pick up a bunch of the Tribeca films at Montclair and that they were looking forward to seeing the films that were premiering there.

I became aware of the festival the first year of its existence when Mr C and Chocko covered it for their own Planet Chocko. I’ve watched it grow every year since then, always hoping to get there but always too worn out from Tribeca to go. Its gone from a really cool little festival to one of the cooler film events of the film year. It’s a festival that I wish was running by me instead of over in New Jersey.

That the film has managed to jump into the fore front of film festivals is due to the clout of founder Thom Powers, a programmer for Toronto, DOC NYC and other festivals. In wanting to give his home town a film festival, he brought out the big guns and jump started it into being a world class fest from the get go.

I’m hoping to get there this weekend, but I’m not sure it’ll happen. I know Mr C and Chocko will be checking in so hopefully they’ll report in some somewhere.

Since the festival cherry picks the best of other festivals in addition to having some great premieres, the fest is screening some films that we at Unseen have already reviewed. The films are listed below and if you click o the name you’ll be taken to out review.

BOULEVARD - has a great performance by Robin Williams and deserves to be seen.

The Montclair Film Festival runs May 1-10 and tickets and more information can be had by going to the festival website.

TENURED Q&A April 24th 2015 at the Tribeca Film Festival

Once again Chocko is sneaking around filming Q&As- this time the one for Tenured on April 24th.


Once more Tribeca proves that the best curated feature category is the sports one. The best part of of every Tribeca for the last six years has been the sports films which really kick ass.

FASTBALL is about baseball's dominate pitch and it's a blast. While not a complete history of the pitch, we don't get an examination of all of the greats, the film looks at the major characters involved with the pitch as well as going into the science of the pitch.

What can I say this is another ESPN Films gem.

A look at the TASER and it's by police across the world and the question of whether the weapon is causing people to die. What starts out as an interesting premise becomes a tough slog as the filmmakers fill the the time with seemingly endless testimony of the TASER company officials in depositions.  Its repetitive and after a while very boring.  Also hobbling the film is the film's premise is that the TASER is inherently dangerous. While the film makes the case that it can be deadly, It undercuts its point that the film is deadly from the get go by only presenting death cases where the police repeatedly tased the deceased- pretty much going outside of the company guidelines. Its not a bad film, just one that needs to be recut.

Boring as all hell story of two brothers during the American Civil War. Slow mannered and best described as an acquired taste film bored the living shit out of me. Helping my displeasure was some twists and turns that had me wondering how these guys were alive at all. One of my least favorite films of this year Tribeca Film Festival.

Very good ESPN documentary about Nick Piantanida who in the 1960's made several attempts to break the world record for free falling from 120,000 plus feet up. This is great little film about how one determined guy tried to make his dream come true-for heroic and tragic results.  I loved this film a great deal. Its a super adventure tale thats worth taking the time to see.

The Overnight(2015) Tribeca 2015

Another film that was seemed to be high on critics must see lists at the Tribeca pre-fest screening, a fact borne out by the standing room only screening. Its a film that has me wondering what everyone heard about the film from Sundance

Actually I know what they had heard- that the film had full frontal male nudity that's used for comic effect. While the use of the nudity is fine in context, the actual nudity or rather obvious rubber privates, is nothing special.

The plot of the film has a couple and their son new to LA going to dinner with a couple they meet in the park.What results is an off kilter post dinner adults only evening as the new arrivals at first are` thrilled by their new friends and slowly realize they aren't sure what the motives are  as they try to deduce if their hosts are playing some game. We watch as the evening goes over the place as we see paintings of things best unseen, love is questioned and penis size becomes a running plot point.

While from far a bad film, the film isn't really that deserving of the love it's found. Outside of the frankness of some discussions and the full frontal nudity, the film is little more than a sex comedy as done by a writer director who doesn't seem to have lived much.  While many of the jokes are funny, many of the them are either cliches or have punchline telegraphed- you know the kids will walk in at an inopportune time, you'll know what Jonathan Schwartzman;s deal is before the people on screen and odds are you'll know what the paintings are. Worse while there numerous smiles very little is laugh out loud funny.

Walking out of the press screening the person doing the PR asked me what I thought and I said "eh". the critics around me were horrified. Why? that's how I felt and I'm not going to lie. If I lie there then I'll lie in my reviews and I'm not going to do that.

How is the film "eh" and I leave it at that.

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2015: Great Movie Quotes

A bear sitting alone at the Tribeca Family Fest

This year I collected great lines from various films. They were supposed to go into the reviews but most never made it. I don't want them to get lost so here they are

(A musician explaining how he ended up playing the drums like his father)  I told my Dad I was interested in the instruments-but I was also interested in Cricket  - SONG OF LAHORE

A:Do you want to know whats wrong with this country?
B: Why is anything right?

I want to tellyou what I'm thinking but I don't want to talk about it. - COME DOWN MOLLY

Enlightenment by shotgun-TRANS FATTY LIVES

I was born into this revolution. You taught me to rebel, to fight. Now I'm going to rebel to race my car -HAVANA MOTOR CLUB

You wear a mask in case you fail, but if you succeed who are you? -ORION: THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING

Nobody's opinion matters but your own -MARY J BLIGE: THE LONDON SESSIONS

We'll build a railroad to the moon and the first thing we'll do is hunt down all the natives -SLOW WEST

When you make a flute with your own hands it feels more precious than your soul - SONG OF LAHORE

Suicide doesn't take the pain away, it gives it to someone else -MAN UNDER

Even a fallen tree rests -AFRERIM!

In the ass of the humble the devil sits crosslegged -AFERIM!

Man is asked to beat his wife with kindness - AFERIM!

Our opposition is still the same- masters and pastors -JIMMY'S HALL

Look where the world is because dudes went mental in the desert -MOJAVE

You shouldn't drink. You blackout. Then you go to change a tire and find a severed head in the trunk - Oscar Isaac to a dog he has been carrying around in MOJAVE

Sorry Jack, I'm already in a sufficiently disturbing relationship -MOJAVE

I like the idea, but this is not the idea - VERY SEMI-SERIOUS

You need help and you need not to screw the help you're getting - the sister of Amber Herd in WHEN I LIVE MY LIFE OVER when she finds out she's having an affair with her therapist

You argue in court and they come back with a decision in 90 days. But on the street you have a split second -TOM SWIFT'S ELECTRIC RIFLE

Don't let her go she's your lobster - SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE

I would rather fail with you than win with someone else -SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE

Sunday, April 26, 2015

In Brief: Sleeping With Other People (2015) Tribeca 2015

Probably the most commercial film at this years Tribeca Film festival has two best friends trying not to fall in love. Its a hopeless task but they are going to give it a shot.

Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie  are utterly charming as the miss matched couple. They are note perfect all the way through to the point I can't imagine the film working without them. They both have a force of personality that carries it all along.

The real star of the film is the script. its clever, wonderfully plotted and full of endlessly quotable dialog. Where MOJAVE, another film at this years Tribeca Film Festival had wonderful lines of dialog, it had nothing else. Actually MOJAVE had such finely crafted lines of dialog that you could never imagine anyone actually saying the words. Here what comes out of Sudekis and Brie's mouths is exactly right. These are witty lines that these people would actually say.

I love this film a great deal. I really don't know why entirely, though I suspect it may have been a certain recognition of several conversations  between the leads that echoed ones I had with my own best friend. I lived parts of this film which made me love it more.

This is a great romance and one of the few films from Tribeca I'm certain will have a long life among film goers.

My Best and Worst of Tribeca 2015

There is a long rambling piece talking about bits and pieces and things that happened coming soon, but in order to answer the most asked question of what I thought was the best and worst of the festival I give you my list:

For the record this is based on seeing 90  feature films and events plus about 15 shorts.

STUNG (Hey it was a blast)

Honorable Mention:

Also Best all the interviews I did, Riff Trax and Monty Python

SUNRISE - too convoluted for me
GOOD KILL- Bruce Greenwood's speech 10 minutes in makes the rest of the film pointless.
LUCIFER- the conceit of the image becomes tiring
SCHERZO DIABOLICO - The lack of logic and silliness of the end detracts from what does work.
MOJAVE-a great performance and quotable dialog do not make up for a plot that sucks
SHUT UP AND DRIVE- Who are these people?
MEN GO TO BATTLE-I'm told its an acquired taste-its not mine.

As for Audience Award Winner KING JACK- it almost got on the best film list but I hesitated so I kept it off.

Monty Python at The Tribeca Film Festival- The Meaning of Live Part 2

I went to two of the Monty Python  events at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. The events were arranged to coincide with the 4oth anniversary of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL but I have the feeling it was just part of the Pythons saying good bye to their fans.

I went to see the HOLY GRAIL with Hubert. We were joined on the trip uptown by Leslie Coffin who was covering the event for a comedy site.

The place was packed and the crowd friendly. There were a few people dressed up as say Tim the Enchanter, but mostly it was just fans waiting to commune with the group.

As we walked in there was a notice that we could tweet questions for the Pythons to answer.

The Robert DeNiro and someone else from the festival came out and introduced the film.

The screening was fun. It was the restored version, with the "get on with it" sequence from the Anthrax castle sequence intact. Seeing it big for the first time I caught little things in the background that I had never seen before.

Surprisingly there wasn't a great deal of reciting during the film, however The Knights Who Say Ni and a few others resulted in the audience adding Ni's or comments.

After the film ended John Oliver (to the right) came out and intrduced the Greatest Fucking Comedy Group to wild applause.

From that point on insanity ensued. Yes the group answered questions seriously but mostly it was nuts.

John Cleese kept wandering off and returning...going so far as to bring a chair for the invisible Carol Cleveland

Then a game of musical chairs began

Eventually deteriorating into a something that looked like the stateroom scene in NIGHT AT THE OPERA

Cleese wandered behind the screen and did weird things

He returned and he and Terry Gilliam made a weird horse

Then John Oliver declared the tweeted questions shit and then climbed into the audience to get new ones-telling people straight out when their questions sucked.

And then sadly it was the end and the Pythons said good bye

Hubert and I headed off into the night- and I got ready for the next day and the World Premiere of THE MEANING OF LIVE (The director called it a world premiere)

I reviewed the film yesterday calling it the best film at Tribeca and I still feel that way. Its both funny and entertaining. (I'm waiting to see what Sam Juliano, a long time internet friend who runs Wonders in the Dark will make of it. He was at the screening and it afforded us a chance to finally meet in person)

After the film three of the Pythons, Eric Idle, John Cleese, and Michael Palin came out and spoke along with the two directors Roger Graef and James Rogan and Holly Gilliam

A much more serious discussion there was a lot of talk about doing the live show and making the documentary. Things were frequently thoughtful.

And frequently funny...

Everyone seemed to be having a good time

It was a delight even to the point that the questions from the audience didn't suck.

I know I should probably tell you more (like this really is the end, the documentary only got done because the directors are friends of the Pythons, and other stuff)  but I don't remember it. Where the night before I was laughing too hard, here I was just enjoying one last time with some of my idols.

And then it ended with the Pythons signing some stuff and heading off

And with that they were gone and were were left to ponder a world without Pythons...

However I must say, as the women sitting next to me did to Eric Idle when the show was over- He asked what her question was  and she took his hand and replied "No no questions- just Thank you. Thank you for everything"

Yes, thank you Mr Cleese, Mr Idle, Mr Jones, Mr Gilliam, Mr Palin, Mr Chapman and even the invisible Carol Cleveland, thank you for everything.