Archive for April, 2008

Tribeca - Simple Things

Posted in Movies on April 30th, 2008

A Russian film which is clearly aspiring to the French genre of Pointlessness. Look, slice of life films aren’t a terrible things, but films which lack any real story arc and in which none of the characters are particularly identifiable, interesting, or experience an evolution lack are like a car without an engine. They might be amusing to look at briefly, but they fail at all the things cars are supposed to do. Movies are about story-telling and when a film cannot bring itself to tell a story, it is a failure as a film. Yes I acknowledge that real life is often like that. That does not mean films should be.
Thankfully, this film does not go as far down this road as Charly did, but its homage at the alter of reality is disappointing, since it has potential. The story of an anesthesiologist in a Russian hospital who is attempting to get his job and his life into some sort of order, the film is a showcase for the decay and corruption that has plagued Russia since before the fall of the USSR. It is also an interesting study of character interaction in such a corrupt and unhappy environment. But it can never quite commit itself to telling a story, so the characters mostly just meander around, wasting a large part of their dramatic potential. Without any sort of identification with any of the characters or with their struggles, it is hard to give the movie anything better than a three out of five.

Tribeca - Milky Way Liberation Front

Posted in Movies on April 30th, 2008

Ostensibly this is a film about a young Korean filmmaker struggling to finish the script for his feature film and cope with breaking up with his girlfriend. There is a lot that I think I missed while watching this film because I don’t speak Korean (and there seemed to be way more nuance to the speaking than was conveyable in subtitles) and because I know little to nothing about how the Korean film industry works. So there were most likely fascinating layers of subtext of which I was completely ignorant at work.
What I was able to pick up on was enjoyable. Eschewing a clearly definable style, it instead is a pastiche of a variety of styles: dream sequences, flashbacks, silent films, comedy of the absurd, films-inside-of-films. None of this particularly impinges upon the entertainment value of the film but it does make it somewhat hard for it to have a comprehensible story arc. Even by the end of the film it is not entirely clear exactly what happened in reality and what happened inside peoples’ heads (which might be the point). I suspect this might be a better film than what I got out of it, but I cannot state that definitively. I gave it a three out of five for the enjoyment I got out of it.

Tribeca - This is Not a Robbery

Posted in Movies on April 30th, 2008

In the director Q&A after The Zen of Bobby V, the filmmakers mentioned that they had shot over 500 hours of footage with Valentine. The lack of focus in the film was probably a result of trying to reduce all that to less than two hours. The directors of This is Not a Robbery were faced with the opposite dilemma. Their film, about the oldest bank robber in American history, had its genesis when they read his obituary in the LA Times. That made it fairly impossible to get any direct footage of their subject. Some small amounts existed from TV coverage of his multiple arrests (all after the age of 83) and a little bit of FBI footage, but for the most part their subject could not appear in the film.
This minor inconvenience did not stop them from putting together an amazing film. They were blessed with a fantastic character, one that Hollywood would be hard pressed to invent. Red spent fifty years as an upstanding moral man, although one plagued by the death of his stepson and the failure of his business in later years. Despite that, he continued to persevere until the death of his wife. Her death started a downward spiral, during which he started frequenting strip clubs, took up with a drug-addicted stripper, and then finally starting doing hard drugs himself. Remember the guy is in his late seventies, early eighties by this point. When he finally kicked the drug habit, he needed to get a rush from something so he started robbing banks.
The first time he was arrested, no one really thought he was serious. He was let off with a warning to stay out of Alabama for the rest of his life. The second time, he was sent to jail for 3 years, which the judge thought was fair given he didn’t expect Red to survive to get out. The final time he was arrested, he was put away for life.
To tell his story, the directors mixed together the small amount of archival footage they had of him with interviews, photo montages, a pictorial time line of his life, animated recreations of his life and robberies, as well as footage of the places he robbed and was incarcerated. They also got extremely lucky that the GQ author who had interviewed Red before his death allowed them to use his recordings, letting Red posthumously narrate a large portion of the film. The result transcends the pieces that make it up, mostly because of the incredible effect that Red had on everyone he came into touch with. It gets a full five out of five.

Tribeca - The Zen of Bobby V

Posted in Movies on April 29th, 2008

Bobby Valentine has to be one of my favorite New York sports figures. The moment that always stands out is his sneaking back into the dugout, wearing a fake mustache, after being ejected from a game. The combination of his love of baseball and his apparently lunacy made him an always entertaining character and it was personally sad to see him leave MLB and go back to Japan to manage. So I was greatly anticipating this documentary which followed a year in his life as a manager in Japan. For the most part, I was not disappointed.
As an enjoyable film, the Zen of Bobby V succeeds on all levels. Valentine is a ‘character’ and delivers plenty of hilarious moments. However, as a documentary the film suffers a bit, mostly from a lack of focus. The film is structured around the Chiba Marines 2007 baseball season, but it also focuses around Bobby V as a manager in Japan, around the cult of celebrity that has formed around him, around what is happening to baseball in Japan as more players come to America and Valentine’s attempts to change Japanese baseball so that it can survive.
Unfortunately, the film is not able to adequate server all of those masters, leaving it somewhat disjointed and not answering some of the most interesting questions of all. For example, the film spends a lot of time showing game footage, chronicling the journey of the Marines through the season until their eventual playoff defeat. But there is little connection between the season and Valentine as a person, making all those scenes rather superfluous to the larger story the film is trying to tell. So while a large part of the film is devoted to that, it leaves some larger issues unaddressed. For most is the question of WHY Valentine is such a celebrity in Japan. There is plenty that shows how is constantly mobbed in public and how he responds to it, but the film never addresses the center issue of the connection between Bobby V and the Japanese people. The cover the beer and the burger that he has had named after him, but not how a loopy American manager became a larger celebrity than any professional athlete in America.
It also raises the issue of the continuation of baseball in Japan now that American teams are hiring the stars away. This is an issue which Valentine is very passionate about, because he wants to preserve great baseball in Japan. And there is some small attention paid to it, as part of the larger story, but that to me, much more than one more season, is the true story of Valentine in Japan. Here is an American, who is getting offers to come back and manage in MLB, who is turning it down to try and save baseball in Japan. Much more could have been made of that.
But all these criticisms have to be taken in the context that these are ways the film could have been better, not things that made it a bad film. It is a wonderfully fun film to watch and while it might have been more, it is still strong as it is. A well-deserved four out of five.

Tribeca - Let the Right One In

Posted in Movies on April 29th, 2008

It was not an intentional pairing, but this film provided an immediate and marked comparison to Charly. Like the previous film, Let the Right One In explores the relationship between two children, except it excels in every area that Charly crapped the bed in. This film features a 12-year-old Swedish boy and the 12-year-old girl who moves in next door. The motivating force behind the plot is that the 12-year-old girl is actually a vampire and is much older in actuality than she appears. There is also the slightly inconvenient fact that she needs to kill and consume the blood of a human every two to three days to survive.
The film spends very little time actually dealing with the rules of vampirism: the assumption is made that audience members have at least a passing familiarity with the traditional lore. The movie instead focuses around the evolving relationship of the two characters. The young boy finding someone to be friends with, despite his isolation at school and at home, and the vampire being drawn into a friendship with him despite her obvious reluctance.
The most interesting aspect of the film comes from the character of the vampire, who is simultaneously both a child and an adult. She is able to both be the young boy’s friend, but also his mentor and protector. Her presences obviates the need for adults in the movie, while still allowing the film to explore both branches of their relationship. The young actress that plays the vampire is fantastic (much better than Interview with a Vampire Kirsten Dunst) at capturing both facets of her character and believably moving between them. The film does not work anywhere near as well if she cannot be realistically seen as both an innocent child and a ruthless adult, so credit has to go to her and the filmmakers for making it work. Clearly a five out of five.
As a side note, I’ve really enjoyed the films that use horror tropes as metaphors for adulthood. Ginger Snaps, the Canadian werewolf movie is an obvious example, and Let the Right One In is another that succeeds. I think it is the horror we all associate with the loss of childhood innocence that makes the connection so powerful and successful.

Tribeca - Charly

Posted in Movies on April 24th, 2008

According to the introduction to this film, the second directed by French actress Isild Le Besco, her first film was positively compared to Breathless. Alas, I have to say I would be more inclined to compare her current film to pointless. There were brief moments when her characters struggled to break free of the plodding morass that masqueraded as a plot, but those were quickly and efficiently crushed, usually by cutaways to animals swimming in an aquarium. The plot can basically be summarized as a fourteen year old boy (who would be the protagonist in a film which actually had a plot) who doesn’t do anything and has no future runs away from home for no reason, meets a similarly aged prostitute with OCD, spends a few days living in her trailer, goes to the beach, and then goes back home to his grandparents.
I should also mention, the entire thing is shot in a style which is either Dogme 95 or greatly resembles it, so the concept of lighting, exposure, shot composition, and decent sound are completely done away with as well. If it weren’t for the subtitles, there are plenty of moments when I would have had no idea what was being said because one actor was standing behind the mic. It does, however, include a gratuitous shot of male genitalia. Fantastic. I gave it a two out of five because I have seen worse films and the director showed up on roller skates, which is pretty hot.

Tribeca Film Festival 2008: Introduction

Posted in Movies on April 24th, 2008

Another year, another 20+ movies at the Tribeca Film Festival. The Festival has actually improved a lot of things between last year and this year. Ticket prices are down, which is excellent, since they were aiming at elitist New York Film Festival prices last year. Buying tickets was again a nightmare. As per usual, I showed up early to stand in-line at the box office on the first day of sales. Box office opened at 11am. I arrived at 7:50 or so and was second in line. Anyone arriving after 9am was pretty much shit out of luck. They were going to wait longer than I waited and by the time they got in, people on the Internet would have had hours to buy up all the tickets. Word of advice, if you’re going to buy tickets at the box office, get your ass out of bed.

It is odd that the festival has almost entirely moved to the East Village and Flatiron. Every movie I am going to this year is either in the East Village Loews, in the Village East theater on 2nd Ave. or in the Flatiron Loews. For a festival whose genesis was in bringing life back to Tribeca after 9/11, it is very odd that they have now almost entirely abandoned it. There is no longer a reason to visit a Tribeca bar (Brandy Library, mmmmm) before a midnight screening or get lunch somewhere downtown. Maybe Tribeca has recovered enough? The name is fast becoming an anomaly, which is sad.