Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rory Culkin deserves an Oscar Nomination for Gabriel (2014) Tribeca 2014

The reason to see Gabriel is to see an amazing piece of work by Rory Culkin in the title role. Culkin is scary good in a role that should win him tons of awards.

The film opens with Gabe, no one is supposed to call him Gabriel, on a bus. He's going somewhere, it turns out that he's looking for a girl named Alice. The trouble is that his information is several years out of date- worse he's not suppose to be there, he's suppose to be heading home for a weekend with the family.  Gabe eventually makes it home, but by that time we in the audience know something really isn't right with Gabe. Over the course of the next 90 minutes we find out how wrong things are with Gabriel who seems to have inherited his fathers madness All we can do is watch how far he takes his obsession  with finding Alice, his one true love.

Okay, I'm going to spoil something, this isn't a horror film, there is no blood bath. Yes things go really off the tracks, but this isn't a psycho killer film. This film is a drama about a very damaged young man. There are no bodies, despite a score that frequently impliesthere may be one soon.

How is the film?

Almost... something... great maybe. No it isn't a bad film (though the continuity errors involving amongst other things the weather and the layout of New York City are distracting), its kind of a good one. The trouble is that the film is kind of a foregone conclusion, you know how its going to end, unhappily but all you can do is wait for things to play out. Watching the film I was loving the cast and the performances, but at the same time I didn't know why I was watching this because outside of Culkin's stellar (and I do mean stellar) performance. There isn't a great deal new here, and it follows a predictable pattern. Okay yes the finale is quite good and unexpected, but beyond that you've been here before.

Should you see the film? If you want to see my early pick for an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, you should. Actually even with the feeling of having been there before you won't regret seeing it, this is ultimately a good film with a truly great central performance.

kinda like being there: Tribeca day 2 Surviving Globalization & Staple Guns

Today I took a big step back from the amount of new Tribeca films I took in on the previous day, to better digest what I've been able to watch so far. I also split my time between Tribeca activity and the Old School Kung Fu Fest event that Subway Cinema is putting on for the second year in a row over at Anthology Film Archives in the East Village. I won't talk about that here, but will, hopefully not too far down the line. In the meantime, if you are in the area, take a bit of time out from your Tribeca experience and GO! GO! GO!

This morning, I interviewed director MIDI Z and lead actress Wu Ke-Xi, the images from their film Ice Poison still seared, or better said forming a hazy surreal cloud around my brain. In speaking about this first feature film set in rural Myanmar and concerning two troubled souls drawn into the drug trade, MIDI Z emphasized his primary concern in making the film is to show the broad effects of globalization. His interest in criticizing the the effects of the drug trade is second to looking at how disenfranchised communities accustomed to traditional ways of life are thrust into finding ways such as this to compete economically and survive, something he called a phenomenon occurring around the world. He and Taiwanese actress Wu Ke-Xi also discussed the effects of improvising through some of the dialogue and working with non-actors in some of the less central parts. The actress felt confident about these instances, suggesting a preference for improvisation in stage acting experiences in her native Taiwan. MIDI Z expressed some concern about his actors' comfort and camera awareness, in many instances preferring the candid performances of the native Burmese included in the production. His goal was to capture something extremely real to life. This may account for the film very feeling documentary-like at times. More details will be written about the interview, hopefully, soon.

ICE POISON still has screenings on Sunday, April 20th, and Tuesday, the 22nd and will be available through the Tribeca Online Festival (But I strongly urge you to see it in a theater on a big screen!) Click here for more info or to buy tickets.

I watched a comedy feature from Israel called Zero Motivation about a group of young women, working an office detail on a desert base of the Israeli military. The two main characters are very good friends,  but as in all comedies with a touch of drama, that friendship is put to the test. Here it reaches lethal combat proportions, momentarily reminding us of the potentially violent setting, with a staple gun wielded like a lethal weapon. The two are also cartoonish in their hopelessly flawed personalities. One strong-willed and usually unconcerned with the opinion of her peers, putting her best efforts into little nothing save for undermining her supervisor's best efforts to conform her. The other is perpetually weepy, bemoaning the fact that an impassioned letter campaign has failed to get her transferred to a base in more cosmopolitan Tel Aviv. Yet they undergo just enough change in their demeanors to give the film some emotional weight. A nice spirited female-centric comedy set in an unlikely environment, and filled with enough edgy dialogue and outrageous occurrences to keep your attention rapt.

ZERO MOTIVATION still has screenings on Saturday, April 19th, Monday the 21st, and Thursday the 24th. Click here for more info or to buy tickets.

Me on twitter = @mondocurry

Missed the SUPER DUPER ALICE COOPER Premiere screening? Here's the Q&A

Midi Z and Ke-Xi talk ICE POISON at Tribeca 2014

Tribeca Day 2: Three directors and three films ABOUT ALEX, VIRUNGA and WHEN THE GARDEN WAS EDEN

It was a day and then some. I'm beat- despite getting home two hours earlier than I expected thanks to a meeting causing me to miss Extraterrestrial. Not to worry I have it covered and a review will be coming.

The day began with my heading over to interview Alonso Ruizpalacios about his film GUEROS. On the elevator up to do so I ended up meeting Director Midi Z and actress Ke-Xi Wu in the elevator. Thanks to Mondo's report from last night I recognized them. They seemed to be taken aback that I knew them and that there was a report up. On the press floor they went to do an interview and I went to speak with Mr Ruizpalacios.

The interview was a trip. He's a charming articulate man and I could have talked for hours. How a discussion of his film morphed into a discussion of the Simpsons and British comedy was amazing. Yes its in context. We also discussed his love of Fellini, film festivals and a few other things. I should have the interview up in a few days.

Thank you to Mr Ruizpalacios fortaking time to do the interview and Denise Sinelov for setting it up.

On the way down I met a lovely woman in the elevator. She introduced herself as Sofia.

"Are you covering the festival?" I asked

"No, I'm a director."

"Really what did you direct?"

"Broken Hill Blues."

"I thought it was great..."

And off we went talking for a good long while as I walked her over to the Press Lounge. I'll have a report soon with a few details on the film and her next soon. She is utterly wonderful and if I was smart I would have spent more time with her.

I did take a picture -
Sofia Norlin

If any of you get a chance to talk with Ms Norlin do so, she is an absolute joy to talk to.

After I left Ms Norlin I headed back to the press screenings.

ABOUT ALEX is a Big Chill riff that knows its a Big Chill riff, but isn't as good despite pithy dialog. If you haven't seen The Big Chill you'll love it if not you'll like it.

VIRUNGA is about the Virunga national park in Congo. The last refuge of mountain gorillas and other species the park is under threat from war and the discovery of oil. This was a huge disappointment. At the top of my must see list, the film is a mess. I wondered why until I saw six or seven people listed as editors- no wonder it's unfocused. (Longer review to follow)

WHEN THE GARDEN WAS EDEN- great documentary on how the New York Knicks teams of the late 60's and 70's changed basketball and became legendary. The one screening at the fest is done- but it's coming to ESPN so you'll want to make time to see it. I can't wait to see it again.

The rest of the day was filled with friends (John, Hubert, Alec, Mondo, Chris Bourne and other) and great talk.

I'm beat- time for bed since I have three or four films tomorrow.

Friday, April 18, 2014

APP (2013) Tribeca 2014

APP is a short film playing at Tribeca in the collection of shorts called Handle with Care. It's the story of Paul an app designer on the verge of bankruptcy. If he doesn't pay his bills by the next morning his app will be deleted from the server it's on.  Tracking down the ideal money man at a local bar he piques the guy's interest with his drive to get the money, however if he wants the money in time to pay his bills he has to prove the app works. Since the the app is a virtual wingman that allows people to connect to each other, Paul has to pick up the prettiest girl in the place-unfortunately the app is has determined that they are completely incompatible.

This sweet and charming comedy is beautifully acted by all concerned. These are a bunch of likable people who are searching for love. The film scores many points with me by being perfectly timed. It does what it does, very well and then gets off.  That shouldn't  be read as snide toward APP, but at several other shorts I've run a cross recently. They all  seemed to be not about the short story they were telling but about the feature film that it was clear the filmmakers hoped would follow.

With APP director Alexander Berman has made a perfectly compact tale that is wonderfully complete unto itself, and while I wouldn't mind finding out what happens next, my feeling is that would be another film all together, one unconnected to this one. To be perfectly honest given my choice I'd rather see Berman take his talent and make a different feature. Why remake this story when he's already told it. Why not see him tell us another one? I'll be waiting to see what that is especially since this one tuned out so damn well.

As for those of you who want to see a neat little film and get on the Alexander Berman bandwagon APP plays several more times at Tribeca and info can found by going here. sickness and in health: Honeymoon (Tribeca, 2014)

Honeymoon is a very economical production that keeps its cards hidden til they really count. Set all in a few acres of abandoned woodland and consisting of a cast of 4 – the main characters and a briefly appearing pair that they meet during their impromptu honeymoon vacation – the film starts out like a typical horror film of a certain recent variety. There is a cloyingly affectionate couple in the midst of post wedding celebration, whose every word seems a show for the camera. You know things are gonna go wrong. But just what goes wrong and how it does so is an exciting change up from what we usually find.

For a long while there is more of the same mildly irritating back and forth along with some minimal scares – lights flickering, and an encounter with a couple, of which the male is a figure from –‘s past, having an off putting manner about them. Yet along the way, moments of subtle tension rise through the miniscule cracks of newlywed exuberance. A slip, perhaps Freudian, about pregnancy, raises a question of what each of them want in terms of starting a family, and Paul’s reaction to the wilderness seems ever so slight a letdown to Bea. In turn, her reaction to seeing this friend from her childhood lights a spark of jealousy in Paul’s demeanor.

A strange occurrence takes place that finds Bea in a trancelike state; she attributes it to sleepwalking.  It has Paul frantically trying to figure out the nature of her change.

For a while, where other films would typically turn up the supernatural effects, Honeymoon keeps things within a very real realm; we get a hint of something off but the maladies that Bea experiences could very well be symptoms of something psychological: she forgets common things and scribbles notes frantically. She acts evasive, turned off to what would normally amuse her. Where we would normally be yearning top reach through the screen and shake the significant other around for being blind to unearthly danger, here his insistence on finding a logical cause is believable.

As Bea’s affliction persists, Paul’s drive to get a conclusive answer about her state intensifies. And yes, Bea’s state does change in nightmarish ways, the body horror all the more heightened for the lack of atmospheric effects and its adherence to realism. What transpires not only succeeds in horrifying, it offers a thoroughly fresh take on the genre premise it eventually builds to, one that is far different than any way that it’s been presented before.

Is there a subtext to the squirm-inducing visuals? It may be so direct as to be right under our noses. The casual interactions between new husband and wife that pervade most of the film show the difficulties of coming to terms with compromise. Is your mind’s will all your own anymore, and if not, how much must one give up? And what if that question is applied to the body? There is also a question of how well you really know someone, a pondering ratcheted up to an obsessive level as Paul tries to figure out what is happening to his wife.

On another note, it cannot be ignored that this is the work of a female director. And in her debut, Leigh Janiak seems to have a playful design on reversing traditional roles of the genre. Bea is definitely he alpha of the couple, domineering a boat and taunting Paul to jump in the water, while he takes charge in the kitchen. As things get deadly it is Paul whose well being we worry for, whom we want to warn not to open that door.

HONEYMOON screens Monday, April 21st, Wednesday, the 23rd, Friday, the 25th and Saturday the 26th.  Click here for more info and to buytickets. 

Venus in Furs (2013) Tribeca 2014

One of my favorite films of Tribeca has Roman Polanski back at the top of his game by adapting David Ives Broadway hit for the big screen.

Matthieu Almaric stars as playwright who is directing his own adaption of the novel for the stage. He is ready to hang up the auditions for the lead role, every one coming in being completely wrong. Heading out to meet his fiance for dinner he is topped Vanda,played by Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigmer, who has dragged herself and her bags into the theater for her audition.  What follows is a sparring match that is not what the writer ever expected.

A damn near perfect  piece of theater for the big screen, you would never know this films theatrical origins until maybe the last couple of minutes. Until then you have one of the great adaptions that I've run across. Especially when you realize that the play isn't really opened up.

I was floored by the film. To me it's a great film with two great performances. Almaric is one of the great actors working today so I wasn't shocked when he knocked it out of the park, Seigmer, who I never really recognized is equally amazing. I say this because I went into the film expecting this was, as with several earlier Polanski films, a case where the director's significant other got the role because of where she slept and thus wrecked the film, except that this is perfect casting. (and a little eerie since Almaric looks a tad too much like Polanski for comfort).

The verbal sparing and the dance down the hall toward dark sexual areas isn't gratuitous, but genuinely comes from the material. This is a film that is very much about the relationships between men and women and how that dynamic affects desire. Its heady stuff  that isn't really just about sex. It also raises the playing field  for any film that wants to try and mine the S&M  genre here after. I suspect that 50 Shades of Typing  and other similar films are not going be able to match the films intellectually and instead are going to have to use tits and ass instead of the more powerful words and implication.

I loved this film pretty much from start to finish, with only the final couple of minutes coming across as something too theatrical to work off the stage.

An amazing film. One of the best of Tribeca.

A must see when it plays April 22 and 27th

Lucky Them (2013) Tribeca 2014

I didn't want to see this film.

I really didn't want to see this film

The only reason I saw this film was because I was seeing other films on the day this screened and decided to stay.

I'm so glad I saw this film because, god damn its a funny heart warming film that just makes you feel good.

Toni Collette plays a rock critic who is told by her boss to track down whether a once legendary superstar was alive or dead. Collete wants nothing to do with it since said superstar was her ex-boyfriend and there is too much baggage to get through. Given the choice of doing the story or being fired she does the story-along the way meeting a young singer whom she falls in love with and a loopy rich ex-boyfriend who wants to make documentaries who tags along for the ride.

Powered by great performances and a killer script this film is a keeper. This is going to be one of those films you return to again and again. Trust me by the time the film ends you're going to want to go back and do it all again because you've fallen in love with everyone. You'll also want to go back and laugh your ass off at several scenes that are so funny I missed lines because I was laughing to hard.

If that isn't enough for you the film also has one the best music tracks of the year. Trust me when you're done, you're going to be like me and want to track down all of the songs, both those performed and those heard in the background.

One of the films at this years festival you should make an effort to see

This Plays April 21,23 and 26

Kinda Like Being There: Tribeca 2014 Day 1 Drugs, Guns, and Swords

Director Josef Wladyka (Manos Sucias)

Today was day 1 of the 2014 Tribeca Festival and no doubt a different wonderful experience for everyone partaking. There are so many different paths to follow and it is incredible to me that this was only the first of many more. Having a day off from work and having a press badge thanks to this here humble online abode, I was able to take in press screenings starting this morning and at last, a few public screenings, which always bring a crucial level of energy and sense of community - both important elements in getting the most out of many films.

I first watched Der Samurai. This was a beautiful nihilistic dream of lurid colors that thrusts the inner turmoil of a sexually and emotionally repressed cop in a quaint German town violently outward. It manifests in the form of a mirror image of himself, only feral in his physicality and with a samurai sword he weaves an alluring and destructive dance. Best appreciated on the big screen.

Next was a film of immense proportions: the Norwegian production In Order of Disappearance. The action thriller filled with breathtaking visuals of snowscapes and ledges overlooking icy rivers takes on a difficult balance of deadpan satirical humor, genuine action, and sympathetic characters' earnest struggles and pulls it all together with panache. Taking a scathing look at Norway's national identity and the tenuous relationship between various ethnic groups, it looks at the pointless folly of men playing gangsters. It also calls to mind a brilliant knack for suspenseful storytelling, seen in other productions from Norway like Headhunters.

Manos Sucias (Dirty Hands), directed by first time director and student of Spike Lee, Josef Wladyka is a nerve wracking trip into the islands of Puerto Rico and Cuba where two brothers unwittingly sign on for the same risky job transporting drugs by way of a small motor boat. The feeling of dread and of how fleeting human life can be in this environment is summed up by the words "It's either us or them." When the brothers are not racing for their lives, the film brings out soulful moments of bonding over music and football. An amazingly accomplished debut from a promising new voice in film.

Director Midi-Z (left) and actress Ke-Xi Wu (Ice Poison)

Ice Poison (Bing Du) takes on the drug trade in a very different part of the world and with a vastly different feel. Another first time feature director Midi-Z shot this film in Burma, his native country, but brings his experience studying film in Taiwan. It shows a lifestyle in a hilly village of Myanmar that is heavily influenced by drug use and poverty. Two adult characters, both afflicted by a desire to make enough money to live on, are drawn to each other and an opportunity to sell drugs. As they begin using the product themselves they find a blissful escape from the droll reality around them, but not without a toll on their minds. The views of rural Myanmar are magnificent. At times the film doesn't seem to move, but rather rests in one place, embracing the languid pace of its setting.

More should be said about each of these films, and hopefully will be. For more information or to buy tickets visit the Tribeca Film Festival Website.