Archive for May, 2007

Tribeca - Blue State

Posted in Movies on May 9th, 2007

A rather mediocre romantic comedy about a guy who leaves for Canada in 2004 after Bush wins the election and a girl who is running away from something that goes with him. As far as the comedy part goes, the movie is on the lightweight side. Not a whole lot of laughs. And as far as the romantic part goes, the main character is such a purposeless, indecisive character that I was rooting for Anna Paquin to end up with someone else. She does a great job in the movie (yeah Rogue!) and is probably the best part of it.

Breckin Meyer doesn’t do a bad acting job as the lead, its just that the part sucks. The movie has potential and at moments it does shine. But in the end, the lack of a strong main character sinks it. Three out of five because it was very watchable, just not very interesting and certainly not memorable. There are better romantic comedies out there and better political movies out there as well. This film doesn’t really seem to find its niche.

Tribeca - Charlie Bartlett

Posted in Movies on May 9th, 2007

I was convinced that after Live! my last three movies were going to feel really anti-climatic. Which would have been true if not for this great movie. Take your typical teen coming of age story these days. The protagonist doesn’t fit in anywhere, wants the girl he can never have, blah blah blah. It has been done hundreds if not thousands on times. So the fact that this film completely throws all of that out for a much more realistic approach is fucking sweet. The premise is simple. Charlie is a smart, rich kid who keeps getting kicked out of prep schools for acting up. The movie starts with him getting tossed from his latest school, which results in him heading over to the local public school. Oooh you say, this is totally going to be rich-kid-learns-to-be-cool movie. Well, not quite that either.

In fact, the movie seems to flirt with and dismiss pretty much ever teen movie stereotype on its way to creating a film that actually captures what it feels like to be a teen. Not because it is the most realistic movie, but because it captures the essential yearning for validation that is such a part of growing up. The essential core of being a teenager is desperately trying to find your place in the world and heavily resenting any adult who tries to tell you what it is, and this film captures all of that. And it manages to be hilarious as well. When it is not being serious.

The casting of Robert Downey Jr. as an alcoholic school principal is pretty damn funny as well. But he continues to prove that he is just a gifted actor. Between this and “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” he is fast becoming an actor whose presence can drag me to see a movie. Five out of five for being smart, funny, and accurate about what its like to be a teenager. It was apparently a good year at Tribeca for smart movies about teenagers growing up. I’m all for it. This comes out August, probably in a limited release. Go see it. Support non-sucky movies.

Tribeca - Rise: Blood Hunter

Posted in Movies on May 9th, 2007

There was nothing too exceptional about this vampire flick, except a lot of naked Lucy Lui. It’s not a bad experience, though, and must be commended on the lack of vampiresque exposition. Most fang flicks seem to feature twenty minutes of explanation about what vampires are, their weaknesses, how to kill them, etc. There is none of that in Rise. The most explanation offered is to the crossbow quarrels that Lucy Lui is given: “They kill vampires.” They just do. It is a welcome relief. But besides that, the movie does not have much in the way of a plot. Things seem to happen, vampires die, confusion is sown, people die very bloodily. And its fun. While the movie isn’t anything exceptional. you could do a lot worse. Three out of five but I will say this. The ending sets up a sequel. I’d totally go see the sequel.

Tribeca - Live!

Posted in Movies on May 9th, 2007

The premise sounds really trite. A TV network decides to put on a reality gameshow based on Russian Roulette during which someone may actually kill themselves live. Plus it adds an additional layer of potential suckitude by masquerading as a documentary. This is a fake movie, pretending to be a real movie, about a fake real TV show. But somehow it works incredibly well. This might be the best movie that I saw at Tribeca.

It works for the simple reason that the director manages to create an incredible sense of investment in his characters. And by doing so, he places the audience in a crazy moral bind. You want to route for the main character (the network programming exec, great job by Eva Mendes) to get her show on the air, even though it means someone is going to kill themselves. And during the actual show itself, each time a contestant raises a gun to their head, you’re playing this mental game with yourself. You don’t want them to die, but if they do die, it means that other contestants aren’t going to die so maybe its okay. Any movie that can force you to wish an innocent character dead is playing some serious mental tricks on its audience.

Live! is, of course, at least partially a critique of the American fascination with reality TV. But it also, possibly inadvertently, proves why they are so successful. The sense of attachment that Bill Gutentag creates between the audience and his characters is the same thing that every reality TV show goes for. Humans like to feel connected. We like to identify with other people. It is probably at least partially a biological imperative. The reason that your heart is in your throat for the entire last half-hour of Live! is the same reason that reality TV is so successful.

This was a movie where I had to continually remind myself that it wasn’t real. That the people weren’t real and that the TV show wasn’t real, to just try and break the tension it was building. And it didn’t work very well. Despite my best efforts at removing myself from the situation, the film kept sucking me back in. Five out of five.

Tribeca - Playing the Victim

Posted in Movies on May 6th, 2007

What the fuck. I mean seriously, the Russian film industry, smoking some major crack. This film is completely cracked out. And not a good trippy kind of cracked out. This film is slow, uninteresting, and completely pointless. It does, I will confess, have some hilarious moments. The head investigator kicking the giant inflatable rubber ducky around the indoor pool: funny moment. The head investigator trying to eat comprehend sushi and spitting sake all over the floor: funny. The outright lunacy of this police division using a camera to try and ‘reenact’ crimes that have happened for no apparent reason (since in almost every case the killer has confessed): somewhat amusing in a nihilistic Russian way. Sitting through an hour-an-a-half to get to these good bits: very painful. Two out of five, only for the funny bits.

Tribeca - Numb

Posted in Movies on May 6th, 2007

Matthew Perry romantic comedy/drama vehicle about a guy who has depersonalization syndrome which makes it hard for him to connect with the girl of his dreams. It is an interesting change to the traditional rom com/dram formula, but in the end is pretty much a rehash of movies that we have all seen before. Matthew Perry seems to be capable of playing a single character and he’s just the same in this movie, though a bit more spacey due to his condition. Lynn Collins is quite cute as the girl that he falls for, but she’s not all that interesting either. This movie was a last minute substitution for me because Lost in Beijing started late, which kept me from getting to see Hard as Nails. I wasn’t planning to see this movie because I didn’t expect it to be very good and my view wasn’t changed by actually seeing it. It gets a three out of five for being better than average for the genre, even if that still isn’t very good.

Tribeca - Lost in Beijing

Posted in Movies on May 6th, 2007

Chinese drama about a young woman who works in a foot massage parlor. The opening twenty minutes are fairly disturbing as she is raped by first her boss and then her husband. The rest of the movie revolves around the fact that she has gotten pregnant; her boss thinks the child is his and wants it because his wife is barren. Her husband doesn’t care whose baby it is, he just wants to sell it to her boss for $100,000. The entire movie is a slow meditation upon the lack of power that women in China have over their own life. Both the main character and the boss’s wife are plagued by the inability to act out against their husbands, despite the fact that the men take them for granted, force them to make choices they would never make on their own, and generally just crush their spirit. It is a powerful movie. A sad movie. Four out of five.

Tribeca - West 32nd Street

Posted in Movies on May 6th, 2007

I’ll be the first to admit that I know less about K-Town than I probably should as a long-time New Yorker. Sure I’ll head down there for Korean Bar-B-Q from time to time, but besides that, its not really a place I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out. So it was a lot of fun to get a look at the darker side of the area in this crime thriller about Korean gangland murders. This is not a complicated movie, intent on being too tricky for its own good. You move through the story simply, with the main character. You see what he sees, know what he knows, and experience the same sort of confused wonder as he (and you) get more and more submerged in the underground Korean gang culture. There is no insistence on a ‘twist’ to resolve the plot. The story is what it is and it is very well told.

There is a tendency in Hollywood movies to either idealize or demonize gang culture. Few movies really take a look at why people are in gangs, who they are, the cultural pressures that are brought to bear. West 32nd Street does that. It makes the gang members real and by doing so, it makes you care about them. That’s all the hook ths movie needs. It doesn’t need any crazy high-speed chases or gun-blazing heroics or fancy plot devices. It eschews all of that for simplicity well done. And it pays off with a really good movie. This should be getting a wider release, I hope. According to the director, they’re currently trying to hammer something so look for it in theaters in the next year. Its worth going to, especially if you’re a New Yorker. Five out of five.

Tribeca: Lovesickness

Posted in Movies on May 3rd, 2007

A Puerto Rican film looking at love and its complications on the island. This is less of a film and more a visual group of short stories. The film is made up of four distinct stories, which never cross, all detailing different facets of love and relationships. According to the film makers, the stories were originally presented one after another but after advice from Benicio del Toro, their executive producer, they intertwined them. It is initially a bit confusing, because we have been trained by films like Pulp Fiction and Go! to expect all the stories to eventually come together and the fact that they never do can be disconcerting. But once you get over that it works really well.

None of the stories are happy. None of them are completely sad. They all feel very real (and they should, because they are all based on things that happened to the filmmakers and their friends). They all have some absolutely hilarious moments.

This is one of the best films that I’ve seen at the festival, mostly because of its simple yet touching look at love. Five out of five.

Tribeca: Pete Seeger

Posted in Movies on May 3rd, 2007

One of my earliest memories is of attending a Pete Seegar/Arlo Guthrie concert in a tent somewhere in New Jersey. I’m pretty sure it was before my sister was born so I must have been three or four years old. I have almost no other memories from that young, so the concert must have definitely made an incredible impact on me. That’s something that wouldn’t have surprised Seegar, who talks in the documentary about how much he likes to introduce children to folk music.

The best part of this documentary was the audience. A large part of the crowd were older folks, who were obviously Seeger fans from back when he was in the Weavers. So the crowd was incredibly responsive, often singing along with the clips of Seeger performing. The single best moment was the spontaneous applause after a clip of Seeger singing “Bring Them Home” from a Vietnam protest. The applicability of that song to the current situation in Iraq was clearly not lost on the audience.

As an enjoyable hour-and-a-half, the film clearly passed muster. But as a serious, well-documented look at Seeger’s life and influence, this film falls far short. It is partially the fault of the medium: Seeger’s legacy would be better served by an extensive mini-series rather than by a film. But the best part of the film (the music) is also its downfall. The film spends so much time on clips of Seeger performing that it doesn’t devote enough to actually discussing his life. It is hard to criticize the documentary for this because so much of Seeger’s life is his music. But it also is clearly not the definitive Pete Seeger film. I do not know if one will ever be made (and as I said, it would work better as a TV mini-series), but I hope it is. It gets a 3 out of 5. but is worth seeing by anyone who loves Seeger’s music.