Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Day 7 was even more low key than yesterday. I spent much of the day either watching movies or talking to Joe Bendel between movies or at lunch at Lucky Burger. Like at this years New York International Children's Film Festival we seem to keep choosing the same movies.

The movies today were an okay group of films. I'm sure a couple of these will get bigger write ups over the next few days, but for right now the little blurbs that follow are all I can manage.

FAMOUS NATHANS- The grandson of Nathan takes a look at the restaurants that his grandfather started and at the dynamics of his family and extended family. Almost certain to make you feel hungry this is a film that kind of disappointed me. Its not so much that its bad, more that the way its put together-it jumps around in time and space and focus between family and business- seems to indicate that the filmmaker was much too close to the material to make a truly great film. As it stands now its a very good one, with a couple of extra points if you're a New Yorker of know Nathan's in Coney Island.

SILENCED is the story of three people charged under the 1917 espionage act-a law so arcane only 3 people had been charged between 1917 and 2001. The people are all ex-intelligence agency workers who acted as whistleblowers to government misdeeds only to find themselves abused by the government who wanted to shut them and others like them up. I like the film, but if you have an interest in the subject this isn't anything new. To me the most interesting story is that of Thomas Drake who was charged for answering Congressional questions I wish more of the film had been on him. Very much an important film, especially if you haven't heard the stories, you need to see this will depend on how much you know.

I only saw half THE OVERNIGHTERS. The reason I only saw half was that I really wanted to see the film after talk by other writers made me salivate. The trouble was there was no way I could see either public screening which left only the ability to see part of the press one if I wanted not to lose other films I had committed to. Based on what I saw this is one of the better films of the festival. The story of the small town of Williston North Dakota and the influx of men looking for work is one that will stick with you. Its about a lot of men drawn by the chance to make big bucks in the fracing industry. As they flood into the state they have nowhere to live and a local pastor tries to do the Christian thing by giving them a place to stay. Its great people dealing with real issues. I can't wait to see the rest. As I said one of the best (?) of the fest.

ELECTRIC SLIDE has me stumped. Give it many points for being unique-but I don't know if that means its its good. The story of Eddie Dodson, a gentleman bandit who robbed over 60 banks in order to pay for his lifestyle is told in a kind of countdown fashion from Eddie's "rise" to fall. Full of eclectic 80's music, witty dialog and style to burn the film annoyed several people at the screening. It moves to its own beat so this is a film you wither buy into or go crazy with. I have no idea what to say except there is no other film like it at Tribeca which may be good or bad. That said if you want to see something unique run out to see this over the next 3 days because this is the sort of film that just may fall through the cracks since I don't know how the hell you'd promote it successfully.

The final two films of the day were screening under the heading 30 FOR 30 SOCCER STORIES and are two short ESPN films. The combined running times is listed as 53 minutes but we were done in under 45. They are okay films but their brief nature makes me wonder why they are at Tribeca-even with the post screening talk.

MARADONA '86 is a portrait of the fall and rise of soccer legend Argentinian Diego Maradona who dashed his countries 1982 World Cup hopes by being red carded in one of the matches. The film then charts his return to favor in 1986. Made up entirely of footage from the period with passages of  Soccer Sun and Shadow read over it. I'm not sure what I think of it. It kind of plays like Wagnerian idol worship, which is fine, but it doesn't add up to much if you're not already one of the converted.

THE OPPOSITION is another poser. The story of the 1974 World Cup team from Chile, the film focuses on how the National Stadium was turned into a concentration camp after the military coup that toppled the Allende government. Part of a huge story (the coup) this small little part of it suffers from being cut off from a larger context. yea we know enough to follow the story but not enough for it to have deeper meaning. I walked out going Yes and...?

After the films I headed out with Joe. He headed uptown for more movies and I stopped to talk to Chris Bourne who had also been covering the days events. It was a good brief talk that left me regretting seeing Electric Slide since Chris was raving about Jon Favreau's Chef which he said was a must see. While I missed it at Tribeca it is coming out soon. We then split up- I to get home to write and he to get food before the next two films.

Fishtail (2014) — Tribeca 2014

The cowboy as a movie hero may be a thing of the past, but the real cowboys are alive and well, as seen in this short, eloquent documentary directed by Andrew Renzi. This "portrait of the modern cowboy" follows the Young family of Fishtail Basin Ranch through typical days during calving season. Beautifully filmed, it deftly captures the burnt golds and bronzes of the fields and the deep blues of Montana's Big Sky country: full, gorgeous vistas and the men who work on the land. It looks like the finest Marlboro commercial ever, minus the coughing and hacking.

Although chock full o' cows and centering on the birth of new calves, this is more than just a pretty nature documentary. The cows may be the scene-stealing stars - witness the scene where the herd queues up in a perfect line for feeding, as well trained as dogs, except for Betty the cow, who nibbles out of turn and received a scolding for it. It's Betty's keepers in the spotlight, however: the contemporary cowboys diligent at work and play, through segments devoted to their everyday tasks: feeding, tagging and banding the calves (with protests by a protective mother cow), night check-ins, and an extended sequence of a calf's birth and first steps.

Harry Dean Stanton narrates the film. His voice seems mixed too loud; his voice-overs are frequently jarring and flat. But the narration is suitably spare and the film mostly lets the action and brief dialogue speak for itself. There are no interviews: it simply follows the cowboys on their day, Stanton's occasionally over-eloquent recitations contrasting with the straightforward simplicity of the visual narrative.

Extremely naturalistic and compelling as it is straightforward, the simple beauty of Fishtail is in it's the bond between the men and the land, their gentle banter, and portrayal of a modern ranch hand's life with cows, horses, guns and lassos, and the occasional 4-wheel ATV. It's as fully formed as that newborn calf - a trifle unsteady in parts but still breathtakingly beautiful.

For details on Fishtail at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, visit the festival website.

Below Dreams (2014) Tribeca 2014)

Three unconnected stories of three people returning to New Orleans after some time away. An ex-con comes back hoping to get his life in order, a man from New York chases after a girl and a young woman with multiple kids crashes at her mother's house in the hopes of regrouping and finding away of getting her man back.

A sort of hybrid documentary, drama, experimental film  that seems to blur the line of reality and fiction, this is going to split audiences who either are going to click with its vibe or run fleeing into the night. Several critics at the screening I attended walked out. Many more of us stayed to the end. I liked the documentary like nature of the film and I liked two of the three characters and wanted to see what happened to them.

Very much rambling and of the moment the film covers a period of several months in the lives of the characters, something you have to listen to the dialog to realize. We are dropped into various moments, memories and other things, we are left to surmise whats happening or will happen on our own, especially at the end when the film just stops.

As I said I like the film a great deal. I love the complexity of the film and it's construction with the multiple story lines and the the use of radio and TV broadcasts under the dialog, or in place of the dialog as a means of adding shading to events. The film isn't always successful in what it's doing but it's ballsy enough to at least to try and be different that every other small film- hell I love that the film just starts mid action with no opening titles of any kind- lights down boom we're in the film.

If the film has any flaws it's that  the story about the guy from New York goes nowhere. What is he doing in this film when he doesn't really do anything except remember New York? Yes his early scenes show promise but some where along the way it loses it's momentum. Its like a rocket that is fired suddenly running out of fuel and coasting to a stop.

While decidedly not for all tastes, for anyone wanting to go in a different direction Below Dreams is worth trying.

'Hacks and Stats: Love And Engineering (Tribeca, 2014)

Even though Love and Engineering is a documentary, it can at times feel like science fiction. There are protagonists, and there is a simple quest at hand: to see if love could be defined as a quantifiable concept thus allowing it to be conquered.

The cinematography is a glimmering florescent at times and combined with the modern feeling of the city of Helsinki can give a sense of looking at a constructed vision of the future. Adding to the mystique are occasional views of a cavernous bluish black room filled with rows of computer banks flickering blurrily. There is also a wonderfully catchy electro pop score, which I have not been able to get out of my head some weeks later.

IT engineer Anatas is something of a main character here, as he has devised a means, several actually, of finding out the answer. The fellow engineers in the film are like supporting characters, serving as something of a combination of subjects to observe, causes whom he tries to help (he coaches some through mock dinner dates via earpieces connected to a walkie talkie), and allies aiding him in his quest.

Various means of cracking away at the mystery of human attraction are employed, some humorous, like the coached dates described above, and some amazingly scientific, with participants hooked up to various wires and patches producing intense amounts of data. References to chemicals produced in the body and brain activity suggest the issue is being very meticulously researched.

But there are also amazing instances of humanness emerging from the circuitry. To varying degrees, the subjects change in ways that are delightful to behold. One takes on a persona of the ‘captain’ when wearing the uniform of a cruise ship commander makes him realize newfound ability to project confidence. Todor, perhaps the most engaging of characters shows an amazing growth in his sense of self-awareness, discovering that making progress toward finding a romantic connection leads to as much frustration as it does satisfaction, when difficulties arise that cannot be clearly calculated. His experiences speak to a truth of people shielding themselves from the hurt of rejection and difficulties of starting over by keeping to themselves.

Some aspects of the challenges facing these individuals working in highly specialized fields is illustrated very clearly with no need to show explanations or moments of discussion. Cameras at times survey the subjects’ personal rooms filled with various screens set up, revealing a vast world of interactions outside of that involving two face to face humans. Do these provide enough stimuli to convince one to neglect the latter? Is this sort of interaction in some ways more appealing? More instantly gratifying? Easier to control the outcome of? When it comes time to discuss their feelings about these possible hang ups, the candid answers of the subjects are both fragile and insightful, and relatable to the universal struggle of finding one with whom to share mutual affection.

Between Anatas’ practical ‘attraction hacks’, scientifically rendered truths, and social ventures outside of their comfort zone both with one another and in talking with potential girlfriends, Love And Engineering is ripe bursting with discoveries at every level. I know I heard several murmured aha’s from amid the audience at key moments. You may want to bring a pen and notebook so you can refer to these ideas later in your own pursuits.

LOVE AND ENGINEERING screens Thursday the 24th and Saturday the 26th.  Click here for moreinformation or to buy tickets.

Garnet's Gold (2014) Tribeca 2014

Docu-essay cum biography of Garnet Frost who 22 years ago almost died while wandering in the Scottish Highlands. Finding a staff hidden in some rocks he later realized that the staff was exactly where a fortune in gold that was to help Bonnie Prince Charlie was supposed to be hidden. Using his friends for help he mounts an expedition to try and find the place where he found the staff and hopefully the gold.

 Beautiful to look at film is more concerned with Garnet's internal landscape than anything else. As one person says" it's all about the gold at home but once he gets in the wilderness what will it really be about?" If you can go along with Garnet on his trip then you'll be loving this very good film that proves the adage, its not the destination but the traveling that's the important part.  Also important is the question of how you react to Garnet himself. If he grates you the wrong way odds are you're going to want to punch him out, as one person at the screening I attended confessed.

I liked the film. Is it the greatest thing since sliced bread, no, but I do think it's a intriguing portrait of a man and his mania. I definitely think it's worth seeing. andwhile the film was produced in part by the BBC and will no doubt end up on TV, I do think that you may want to consider plunking down some cash to see this on a BIG screen since the vistas are breathtaking...besides if nothing else you'll get to meet Garnet's 90 year old mom who is wonderful and deserving of a film of her own (She is one truly wise bird).

Tribeca Day 6: Meatballs and movies (SLAYING THE BADGER, NOW, MISS MEADOWS, the Totally Twisted shorts)

The quietest day so far for me. Just movies and a long over due sit down with Mondo for meatballs. Its so good to reconnect on a human level. I miss that.

Actually it was so low key I made it home at the same time I usually get home from the day job.

Today's slate was as follows:

SLAYING THE BADGER is the story of Greg LeMond's battle to win the Tour de France in 1985 and 1986. This is a gripping story that plays like the tensest thriller. Its amazing how the film keeps you on the edge of your seat even if you know how it all ends. If you can see this on the big screen (it plays tomorrow and Saturday) do so because the race stuff is great. If you miss it it's an ESPN film and will surface there no doubt when the Tour de France happens in July. One of my favorites of the festival.

NOW:IN THE WINGS ON THE WORLD STAGE this about the Kevin Spacey Richard III that played around the world a year or so ago. Its also the film that I covered the red carpet for last night. The film disappointed me greatly. While its clear that enough footage was shot to really explore the play and the production, what we get is a 90 minute puff piece or over long DVD extra that has too much of the gee whiz factor and not enough meat. It's not bad, but it's nothing special even if it looks and sounds great.

MISS MEADOWS is Katie Holmes as the prim and proper title character who is also a vigilante. The source of a long talk between Mondo and myself at the lunch that followed it I liked its black comedy off kilter tone and Mondo hated it calling it one of the worst films he's seen. Over lunch I realized that his points were all on target but at the same time I kind of liked it even if it wobbles toward the  end.

After the movie a much needed and long over due lunch happened between Mondo and myself before I headed back to the theater for one of the shorts collection called TOTALLY TWISTED. Its a mix bag having some of the best films in the festival of any length and one of the worst. A quick break down of the films is as follows:

Thirty Year Old Bris- A 30 year old man agrees to have a bris to make his girlfriend happy. Its a single joke about castration stretched out to 20 minutes. It has some laughs but isn't anything special.
Trust Me I'm a Lifeguard- Airplane like story of two lifeguards and the women in their lives. Its amusing if juvenile and has some laughs, but like the first film nothing special.
Peepers-One of the worst films of the year about a couple who think they are being watched by the peepers who hide in the darkness and judge them. Stupid doesn't begin to describe it.
Ramora-One of the best films of the festival has a man going to see his brother to get his blessing about his marrying his ex. What the brother discovers is the film and you have to just see it for yourself.
The Body- Great great horror film about a serial killer and a body he is dragging around on Halloween night when no one suspects. One of the best films of the festival. (I'm going to do a longer write up for this film)
One Please- I can't reveal what it is but think EC Comics grossness. A wonderfully ghoulish trifle.
Sequence- Almost great film has a man waking up one morning to find the entire world hating him because of something horrific he did in their dreams. Its brilliant until the denouncement when it falls flat. Its not fatal but it makes it just good over all.

That was it for today.  After that I headed home ahead of the rain and with hopefully enough time to catch up on my writing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Ludicrous Lessons of Miss Meadows (Tribeca, 2014)

The character Miss Meadows is as kooky as they come. A Mary Poppins-esque substitute teacher that is full of positivity, a stickler for grammar, and insistent on taking figures of speech literally, she also has a penchant for murdering society’s nastier elements in cold blood. Katie Holmes is the right actress to return to the screen and play the role, staying consistent to all of Meadows’ verbal and physical quirks, and doing coming off very naturally as she balances poise with lethality. One might expect a darkly comic good time seeing a displaced Meadows stir up a commotion in the world we know; clearly she just wasn’t made for these times. However, the world around Meadows is just as wacky, to the point of being nonsensical, and there are so many inconsistencies in its presentation that very little rings true. A made-for-tv sensibility adhering to black and white truisms of criminal minds suggests we take her struggle between following the law and doling out vigilante justice seriously…once in a while. But premises are put before us that are so ridiculous, they at worst insult viewers’ intelligence, at best leave them stranded somewhere between satire and deadpan seriousness, while never satisfactorily achieving either one.

One of the first major instances of coming apart at the seams arrives when Miss Meadows takes the first grade class she inherits as a result the original teachers’ fatal illness on an outing to the local park. A point of was made of noting that this is a class of economically underprivileged, academically underperforming students, but I’ve never seen a group labeled as such that behave in such a well-mannered fashion or have such a luxurious classroom environment, not to mention a blessedly small class size. Miss Meadows goes to a nearby fast food restaurant - she had promised hotdogs for all - where there happens to be a mass murderer at the end of a shooting rampage (don’t worry she takes care of him). It is when she returns that there is an editing cut from the restaurant to the park so sloppy and awkward looking, it is made glaringly clear that the two locations are nowhere near each other. Even without this unsightly cut, there is such a disparity between the two locations it's obvious they are not in the vicinity of one another. But like seeing the stitching on a badly designed item of clothing, it makes its shabby construction that much more apparent. 

In the same park on the same outing near an ice cream truck is a guy just hanging around who looks like a leering child-molesting pervert. And guess what, he is child molesting pervert. To be fair, this preponderance of villains in the same place and time does not go completely unaddressed; apparently the nearby prison has decided they cannot hold all of the criminals being convicted so they have just decided to release 800 of them or so into the world. Suddenly this is a world not like the comic book story Arkham Asylum – except at least in that Batman tale, there is the somewhat more logical premise of the convicts breaking out.

We are now faced with the impossible task of viewing Miss Meadows as a person who may be troubled and out of synch with her environment when clearly such a comic book fantasy world is exactly where she belongs. Who would criticize Batman if he were to run around in a cape and utility belt with this much villainy amassed in the same place? It makes Miss Meadows seem like perhaps the only sane character, which is strange considering her mother’s (another commanding performance by Jean Smart) influential words are clearly made out to be a message of misguidance.

Confusing characterizations also leave us unsure of which way the wind is blowing. That same menacing perp from before, when confronted by Miss Meadows, offers something like a voice of reason suggesting maybe Miss Meadows' bleak worldview is overly simplistic. However, not long after, in the midst of assaulting her and a student, when asked about changing his ways, his rationale is simply that he "changed again."

Miss Meadows behavior is not just randomly inspired. But when we do find out a dark secret from Miss Meadows’ past that keeps being hinted at in that schlocky looking manipulative Made-For-TV-Movie fashion, it is the most randomly conjured up criminal act occurring in a completely misplaced setting. The sort of thing that occurs in only the most delusional paranoid thinker’s mind. Perhaps this eye-for-an-eye world view is not that far off from the director’s intended message?

Miss Meadows is not devoid of some delirious fun. But if writer/director Karen Leigh Hopkins wants us to accept Miss Meadows’ vigilante-ism as a valid reaction to our world, the jokiness should probably go. Or if it is in fact all just for a laugh, then some of the very disturbing predatory acts (which give credence to the most blatant and obvious stereotypes) are very out of place.

I love fantastical premises and when satire is done well, I’m fully capable of suspending all manner of disbelief to enjoy a critical message. Inconsistently done, though, all manner of serious thought goes out the window and little remains except how well a film is made and how compelling or not a story is. If Miss Meadows is going to teach us about the difficulties of abiding by the law when the criminal justice system presumably fails us, she had better get the supporting details of her essay in order.

MISS MEADOWS screens Wednesday, April 23rd and Thursday, the 24th. Click here for more info or to buy tickets.

A Love That Stands A Ghost Of A Chance: The Girl And Death

This beautiful depiction of ill-fated love set in a Europe shaken by World War II is both haunted and haunting. It is not necessary to be familiar with the historical background to fall into rhythm with the story and become invested in the characters’ tragic paths. A classically villainous antagonist, memorable lead performance by Leonid Bichevin, and richly detailed melancholic interiors make the story a compelling vision of unfulfilled love with a touch of ghostly atmosphere.

The film begins with Russian doctor Nicolai looking back his time spent in Germany starting with his arrival at a stoic hotel. There he encounters a somewhat comical motley crew of regulars, but he is love struck when he first gazes upon Elise, a pale young woman with a restrained beauty, long residing in the hotel. Although Nicolai would like to act on his impulses to court the seemingly distant woman, there is a devilish catch. Elise comes from an awful upbringing, raised in destitution by parents who abused her, and stricken with a fragile institution, the signs of grave illness merely waiting to germinate. She was taken from that horror and placed in this position of comfort and luxury by a wealthy Count at the cost of her complete subservience to him.

Elise cannot help but yield to young Nicolai’s advances. Their youth and spiritedness reveals an obvious chemistry between them. Yet, The Count’s reaction is unsympathetic, doing his best to banish Nicolai from their presence and lashing out physically on the shrinking Elise.

A struggle ensues on an uneven playing field, as the wealth and influence that the Count commands is determined to keep Elise and Nicolai apart. Even in the Count’s seeming defeat, his stature commands a grasp over the hotel and those in its employ, making Elise a helpless prisoner there. The couple struggle over staying together or forcing about a separation, each for the sake of the wellbeing of the other.

Nuanced mannerisms give characters a fairy tale-ish flair. There is Nicolai’s constant shrinking behind doorways that suggest he is a hero that has not fully realized his confidence, who may suffer insecurities despite his bravado. The Count is presented grotesquely, often making grand displays of his power.

There would appear to be a theme of true countenances being hidden under different guises. There is The Count’s pretense of kindness in taking Elise in when his actions really show a desire to dominate another’s will. Elise too tries to hide her decaying beauty, as we see her insisting on being made up as her illness worsens, hoping to maintain the allure that attracted Nicolai to her. A climactic scene even takes place amidst a masquerade. It is an opulently detailed confrontation in which the Count has organized a high stakes game of cards, and the guests are adorned in monstrous costume. The Count himself appears here as a character out of a Poe story, caked in an obscene amount of white makeup. The frivolity is interrupted by Nicolai who, having taken on a macabre likeness, sets about a fiendish game of intimidation and slight of hand. This is a magnificent sequence filled with darkly lit lurid colors. The masked guests in the background are like a Greek chorus of demonic figures waiting in judgment. It fits very much with the theme of unmasking the true nature of those hiding behind a façade.

The hotel in which so much of the film takes place is of great import, and Jos Stelling makes wondrous use of it. We are moved from one room to the next til its structure is firmly entrenched in our minds. Truly it is a prison for Elise, one from which she cannot escape despite its lack of physical restraints. When we see the structure of the past juxtaposed with its dilapidated transformation some 50 years later, it is again as though pleasantries existing on the surface are chipped away to uncover a sinister veneer underneath.

Everything is tinged with moroseness. Even a desperate love scene between Nicolai and Elise that would be passionate is staged in a gauzy blur, their movements something of a mechanical dance as a slow creeping carnival-esque  melody churns in the background. There is a delicate beauty to this. As there is to many moments of the film that are touched by sadness.  Even as the fragile flame of romance between Nicolai and Elise seems doomed to be extinguished it is hard not to be held rapt by its faint glow amid the darkness.

The Girl And Death opens on Friday, April 25th, at Cinema Village in Manhattan's East Village.

Honeymoon (2014) tribeca 2014

Honey, what was it that you met in the woods?
Just married Bea and Paul go to her family cabin in Canada for their honeymoon. All is great until a light in the window causes Bea to disappear into the woods. Paul freaks out and goes out to find her...naked and dirty. Something has happened to her...she refuses to say what but Paul begins to worry since Bea isn't herself any more...

Creepy horror film plays in many ways as an allegory about martial anxiety. I'm not sure it completely works as one, but it does help to get over the rough spots.

Actually this is best viewed just as a horror film that leaves you feeling very uneasy. Its the unease that sets the film apart from others. There are only two real scares and one supremely icky scene late in the game, but the sense of dread starts with the opening titles and doesn't go away until some time after you've woken up the next day.  This film really got under my skin and made coming home to a house with everyone asleep very difficult- things were just too damn quiet.

Is it perfect?No,its a tad long at 86 minutes and I'm not sure it all comes together, but that won't mean you won't be bothered by it. I still am and I saw it two weeks ago- this movie is just wrong in all the right ways.

Put this one on your list- this is a small scale gem.

1971 (2014) tribeca 2014

Story of the break in of FBI offices in Media Pennsylvania that rocked the country and the government as the revelation of the documents showed an agency out of control.

Good look at one of the first whistle blower cases told by the people involved (and reenacted by younger actors) this is a history lesson for most people alive today. I doubt most people remember or even know what happened by the revelations set the stage for the cynical nature that resulted from Watergate and other 1970's scandals. Here at last was proof of all the terrible things that the FBI was doing, and doing on a scale much larger than anyone suspected.

Its still shocking, though looking back with modern hindsight there is still a sense of what did you expect?

As a whole the film is very good. Its a wonderful window to a world where we were all largely much more naive about things. My feeling watching it was that this would be a really good History Channel documentary, and then I saw at the end that PBS and Independent Lens gave cash at the producers. As PBS specials go it's prettys damn good.

That said its definitely worth your time to see it though I'm not sure I can suggest paying film festival prices to see it on a big screen.