Archive for the 'Movies' Category

Tribeca - Easy Virtue

Posted in Movies on May 2nd, 2009

Had to rush for this movie, since it had sold out long before I got tickets (and I got tickets on the first day general admission tickets went on sale to Amex card holders). The rush situation was a travesty. The volunteers managed to establish three different rush lines, shuffling people all over the place in a chaotic Chinese firedrill. My saint of a girlfriend showed up two and half hours early to wait in line for tickets (since I was stuck fighting the urge to nap in My Dear Enemy). Somehow in all the shuffle, she managed to get bumped from first in line to thirtieth in line, completely do to the people establishing the lines being utter dicks. However, she and several of her line mates banded together, found the theater manager, and, with the help of an off duty volunteer who was also in the rush line, managed to get the situation straightened out. The end result was that we ended up being one of the maybe six people who actually got rush tickets for the film. Massive props to the paid staff at Tribeca for actually dealing with the clusterfuck that the volunteers created. It would have been abysmal if my girlfriend had stood in line for two-and-a-half hours to only get screwed out of seeing the film because tweedledum and tweedledee couldn’t figure out how to set up a rush line.

So, on to the film. I liked it a lot. It wasn’t quite what I expected. It actually reminded me a lot of Picadilly Jim (Tribeca 2006), though without the era-bending costuming and set dressing. Easy Virtue remains firmly rooted in its 1920’s ethos, though it definitely flashes some modern muscle with its liberated-woman main character. Jessica Biel plays an American race car driver who meets and marries a charming young Englishman while racing in the Riviera. She returns with him to his family’s ancestral manor buried deep in the English countryside. Colin Firth plays her rather weak-chinned husband, who whilst being all charming proves completely ineffectual at mediating between his new bride and his mother. His mother who is shocked and appalled by the mere idea of an American in the family (and even more appalled that she is a scandalous one to boot) declares war on the new bride, in a battle for the heart and mind of the son. The rest of the film unfolds in cuttingly sarcastic set pieces and passive aggressive trench warfare as neither of the two strong-willed women will back down. The rest of the household is quickly split into side (the servants and father siding with Ms. Biel, while the sisters support their mother) and zany antics ensue. The film lacks the manic glee of Picadilly Jim (intentionally, I think), but still delivers quite a lot of fun. Four out of five.

Tribeca - My Dear Enemy

Posted in Movies on May 2nd, 2009

Somewhere inside this boring film is an interesting idea struggling to get out. Our two main characters are ex’s and the guy owes the girl $3500 from a loan she made him a year ago. As the film opens, she shows up and demands that he repay her, so he is forced to travel, with her, around the city hitting up various friends for loans. Obviously this is meant to be a film of exploration, where more and more of the characters and their back story is revealed as we follow them on their way. The only problem is that their back story is dull as all get out and it takes forever for anything to happen. The film isn’t particularly funny, particularly dramatic, or particularly interesting. With a better script, a better cast, and a better director this film might have been something. As it is, it simply drags on terminally. Two out of five.

Tribeca - In The Loop

Posted in Movies on May 2nd, 2009

British film chronicling the events in the American and British government ministries during the lead up to an unspecified war (read Iraq). As a narrative film there isn’t much of a plot and no character development, this is more a visualization of the backstabbing, political maneuvering, and outright lying that goes on as countries try to garner adequate international support for their invasion. As such, it is both highly entertaining and disturbing. The cavalier way that people lie and manipulate to gain an advantage, as if it was a game and not a geopolitical decision that will end up costing hundreds of thousands their lives, is an all too real reminder of the past eight years of American (and British) foreign policy. The highlight of the film is Peter Capaldi who plays the British Prime Minister’s Press Co-ordinator who is an absolute monster. His use of sarcasm and profanity to tear apart the people around him is worth the price of admission. Four out of five.

Tribeca - Here and There

Posted in Movies on May 2nd, 2009

Robert is a 52-year-old unemployed musician kicking around New York with no purpose in life. When he is evicted from his apartment, he hires a cheap Serbian moving company to get his stuff to an ex-girlfriend’s apartment. The Serbian mover offers him a deal. For six thousand dollars, Robert needs to go to Serbia, marry the Serb’s girlfriend, get her a visa, and bring her back to the United States. Robert accepts the deal and heads off to Serbia.

Here and There is a sweet and charming little movie—stylistically it is what I previous labeled as a serious comedy, combining poignancy, sarcasm, and reality into an entertaining blend. It was quite enjoyable, if not exceptional. I gave it a four out of five.

Tribeca - Black Dynamite

Posted in Movies on May 2nd, 2009

A parody/homage to the Blaxplotation films of the 1970’s, Black Dynamite brings the funk, the soul, and the funny. The genesis of this film (as explained by the director) was rather amusing. Apparently, Michael Jai White (who stars as Black Dynamite) decided that he’d make a great Blaxplotation film. So he got together with the director Scott Sanders and for five hundred dollars they made a trailer. Purely on the strength of the trailer, they wrangled together almost three million in funding and then set about actually creating a story and writing a script. There is something of a plot involving smack in the ghetto and a plot to poison people with malt liquor, but that is almost besides the point. The point is that Black Dynamite is the baddest motherfucker in the hood and is going to throw down on anyone who gets in his way. You dig?

The writing stype cribs heavily from the classic Blaxplotation films, but that doesn’t stop the deadpan one-liners and the speaking in cadenced rhymes from being any less funny. The soundtrack is pure 70’s funk. The ladies are fly, there are hilarious cameos from black comics (as pimps), and the film lovingly plays up the continuity errors and boom mic shots. Viet Nam flashbacks, evil Asian kung-fu masters, corrupt CIA agents—the film throws in everything including the kitchen sink. And just when the film has got you rolling on the floor, they drop the pedal to the floor and end up in the White House, where Black Dynamite has to numchuck fight with the worst villain of the 70’s, Tricky Dick himself. I just lost my shit. The film is ridiculous amounts of fun. A clear five out of five. It gets it theatrical release over Labor Day weekend. Check it out.

Tribeca - Moon

Posted in Movies on May 1st, 2009

Fantastic science fiction from director Duncan Jones. This is a science fiction movie that shares much more with the literary side of the genre than with the traditional sf movie fair. Reminiscent of Asimov or Heinlein, Moon uses its futuristic setting as a lens to explore the human condition—in this particular case, issues of human identity and the corporate mentality. The setup is rather simple. Sam Rockwell plays an employee of a helium mining company working as the sole caretaker of a factory on the far side of the moon (who also happens to be named Sam). His only companion is the station robot (voiced by Kevin Spacey), who is at least semi-sentient and capable of carrying on conversations and having complex motivations. The space satellite that enabled real time communication with Earth was damaged and has not been repaired yet, completely isolating him from any human contact. Limited communication is provided via taped messages bounced off a relay out near Jupiter, which allows him some minimal contact with both the corporate leaders as well as his wife and child. Then things start getting weird. Sam thinks he starts seeing things—other people maybe. There are intimations that there actually might be real time communication with Earth but only for the robot. But there are only two weeks left on his contract until he gets to return to Earth. And then one day he is out to work on a mining machine his rover crashes. When he wakes up in the infirmary he cannot remember anything about the accident or how he got back to the base. And then it gets really strange. I don’t want to say too much more, since it is worth seeing the film without spoilers.

That is the plot side of the film, but the actual message that is there is worthy of the classic science fiction authors as well. In many ways this is a protest film, making a rather strong statement against the traditional corporate view that workers are simply headcount, without individual worth. Firing one hundred people to cut costs is always justifiable since there is no other responsibility of a corporation but generating profit. The ideas of social cost or human worth have no real place in the calculation of corporate wealth. And Moon subtly highlights this, without ever really being preachy or having an explicit moral. Instead it simply presents a view of what happens when you completely diminish the value of a human life against capital gain. The film gets a five out of five. It gets a theatrical release in June (or maybe July) this summer. Totally worth going to see.

Tribeca - Yodok Stories

Posted in Movies on May 1st, 2009

So I had absolutely no recollection of what this film was about when I walked in. That’s actually not that uncommon for me towards the end of the festival. Between seeing movies, running over Manhattan, and doing code development in my spare time my brain is pretty fried. But it was nice to be able to see the film without any preconceptions at all. Yodok Stories is a documentary about a musical production that was done in South Korea (the musical has the same name as the film) about the concentration camps in North Korea. The issues of North Korean concentration camps, where over 3 million ‘class enemies’ have been killed, is something largely ignored in South Korea and the rest of the world. The director of this documentary (a Polish film maker) and the director of the musical in South Korea (an escapee from a concentration camp) decided to make the musical to call attention to the issue in South Korea and make the film to call attention to it around the world. The film intercuts the rehearsals and performances of the musical with interviews of seven camp survivors who later escaped from North Korea. The stories they tell are harrowing, revealing the almost unspeakable suffering that has been inflicted on these people and their families. Beatings, rape, executions, starvation, the litany reminds us of the terrible things that people can be trained to inflict on each other. The musical itself brings to mind a modern, electric version of Le Mis, though most likely without the small amount of happiness that that show allows it characters. The combination is both visually stunning and emotionally shocking. This is an amazing documentary, mixing the power of song and spectacle with the human suffering that inspired it. Five out of five.

Tribeca - House of the Devil

Posted in Movies on April 30th, 2009

My first midnight movie of this year’s festival and it almost worked out. The film feels like a fairly cheap ripoff of Rosemary’s Baby, except it isn’t a cinematic masterpiece and it completely goofs the ending. The first two-thirds of the movie are actually a pretty decent, albeit slow, atmospheric thriller. There is a pretty good mix of actual threat and creepy strange things that seems to be building towards something. And then it just seems like the director gives up in the last 20 minutes and it turns into a lame slasher-esque film. There was a clear moment where the film just stops being creepy and the audience just stopped caring. I was wavering between giving it a 3 or a 4 until the end, but the crap ending earned it a 2. Sad to see the potential go to waste.

Tribeca - Queen to Play

Posted in Movies on April 30th, 2009

French slice of life film, floating somewhere in the nebulous space between comedy and drama. Thankfully, unlike a lot of other French films in this genre, it is not mind-numbingly boring. But it isn’t particularly interesting. A middle-aged woman who works as a cleaning lady decides she wants to learn how to play chess as a way of feeling like the glamorous people staying in the hotel she works at. So she gets one of her clients (a grumpy recluse played by Kevin Kline) to teach her how to play. And then stuff happens. There is actually a story arc and a plot, which is always an iffy proposition when watching French movies. Gets a three out of five.

Tribeca - P-Star Rising

Posted in Movies on April 30th, 2009

Documentary about child hip-hop phenom Priscilla Star and her father’s attempts to turn her into a star. It is a good documentary. The director got incredible access, spending over four years following the family and filming them in pretty much every situation, the good and the bad. While part of it focuses on the musical side of the family, a lot of it centers around the difficulties faced by a single father trying to raise two young girls. Obviously, though, it is the musical side where the film really comes to life, as you watch P-Star move from a nine year old performing at Harlem hip-hop clubs, to a child Latin music star, and then finally into a star on the PBS show The Electric Company. Her attitude and presence, the same things that made her a star on the stage, drive the film forward. This isn’t a bad time for the documentary to be coming out. P-Star is gearing up to release her latest record and the film is probably doing some nice front line publicity work. But it will hopefully also serve as something of a cautionary tale. As the film careens between the highs (the platinum latin album) and the lows (the record label folds and her father has to go back to work as a caterer to pay bills, since he didn’t manage to save any money) the overriding message seems to be, just cause things are going right, doesn’t mean they’re always going to. Don’t worry about the past, but make sure you can take care of the future. Four out of five for film, but P-Star gets a five out of five. She dropped a nice 16 on the audience after the film—stylewise sounded a bit like Macromantic—good stuff. Hopefully her new album is all that.