Jul 31, 2007


by Marc Kandel

Much as I’m an Autumn guy, Spring is New York City’s crowning moment. In the midst of our planet’s spiraling decline into the possibility of:

A. Waterworld (hopefully bereft of annoying tatooed children but with plenty of Jeanne Tripplehorn lookalikes)

B. Desert Planet a la Mad Max/Cherry 2000/Judge Dredd (damn, really not coming up with good examples on this one)

C. Ice Age minus cute squirrel/rat hybrid lightening up our mass extinction with zany antics as we fail to outrun freezing temperatures on foot Roland Emmerlich-style

D. Planet of the Apes–eh, probably not… we’re gonna kill every living thing on this rock waaay before we go teets up, and my luck it would be the Burton version anyhow....

...we NY’ers have the promise of two, sometimes three perfect weeks of moderate, sunny weather with crisp, cool breezes coasting between buildings, no steaming asphalt, no baking concrete, no collective pit stain/sweatcrotch scent wafting through the streets- an excruciatingly rare miracle in this overcrowded kennel.

The bustling commerce is augmented with farmers markets and street fairs along the sidewalks (mozzarella fried in sweet cornmeal pockets a not-to-be-missed treat), the sparkling skyscrapers wring a look up from the most jaded city dweller, the planted trees on the avenues stippling bright green over grey stone and dark glass, the clouds race over a sky that’s more periwinkle than blue (more of an autumn thing, the blue), and the parks be it Central, Battery, Riverside, or just the fenced off patches of green amid the concrete are little swaths of Elysium (Union Square is my particular favorite in May), you aren’t being driven to the ground by that wet, oppressive heat that’s just around the corner- the sunlight splashes rather than beats. The crowds are present, but just short of the obnoxious throngs to come.

For a short time, everything’s just right in the world- people are eager to explore rather than wearily trudge from point A to point B, walking with ease and wonder, sampling the sense of pleasantness and spring clearance sales. And the women… Ah, the women lose those long black coats and scarves and break out the midriff and leg revealing outfits- and these are the women that should, mind you, not the August hogs that will soon be splayed out on the subway seats, munching on spider crab legs as their protruding belly bulges threateningly over their Denham skirt that finds scant purchase on their upper, upper thigh, threatening imminent visual onslaught by squamous, Elder Godlike camel toe.

As I said, I’m more of a purple/grey day October guy, so I can give with the life affirming joys of spring only oh so much, but it's a nice time to be here, and a great backdrop to the Tribeca Film Festival, providing a natural sense of renewal and excitement to the unveiling of so many creative ventures and opportunities.

And it appears I’m not going to be able to give you much else to go on beyond that, as I’m woefully deficient in coverage this year. For that, you have my sincerest apologies.
Here’s my full tally of reviews for the first week of the festival: http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16162&reviewer=358)

Yep, just one. And yes, I've never learned how to link the fucking text to the url links on this site- I've asked, I've put the data in that I thought would do it, and its never worked. Fuck it.

It’s a decent offering from Italy, putting classical comedic elements to use amid a fictionalized account of Napoleon Bonaparte’s exile on the isle of Elba and the subsequent hundred days of his return to power. There’s a smidge of tragedy thrown in that might irritate or distract those expecting a through and through farce, but I found the addition of political upheaval and brutality underlined the protagonist’s weaknesses in such a way as to effectively advance his journey, and the plot overall. Four Stars.

I didn’t see a single film the rest of the week, even over Sat-Sun. More on that in a second. I did manage a few other feature screenings in the next week:

First, Day Zero: http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16178&reviewer=358], a frightening look at an America with the Draft reinstated. I’m surprised this didn’t pick up more kudos, considering its one of the best September 11 Attack explorations to be found without beating you over the head with… well, September 11th. I really hope this gets a buyer (evidently only 4 films were picked up by the money at this fest, most backers evidently saving their checks for Cannes), because it's a frightening and enlightening exploration for folks who haven’t had to grow up in the shadow of the draft. Really, what the hell would you do if the Government decided to send you over to Habib’s House of Insurgency? Try and see this film, and let people know you want to see it get a run at the local multiplex please. Four Stars.

Then, Charlie Bartlett: http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15614&reviewer=358], my personal highlight of the festival- a synopsis here would be difficult, as its one of those white guys vicariously reliving high school through a guy who they wish they were back then, so just read the review. Tastes may vary, but I fucking loved it and want to get some buzz out there. Five Stars

Two winners, but this year’s been a real bitch at the ol’ festival screening-wise. Like many folks, I put in a solid work week to make my coin and it ain’t from doing reviews. As much time as I spend at and going to and from my cubicle (45 at work, 10 in train, 2.5 in subway per week), I’m rabidly protective of free time and if I’m offered a service and choose to take advantage of that service only to find my time wasted when the service is not functioning, its time to pick up my ball and go home, no regrets.

The TFF press office was friendly and courteous but perfected their strategy late in the game. In their defense, its an extraordinarily busy two weeks for them and they got their act together in the latter half, implementing suggestions about email inquiries for press screenings rather than office visits which piss away precious lunch breaks. They arranged a press screening or two for which I am grateful as I can’t do too many since they predominantly fall in the middle of my 8-5 workday.

Considering there’s a year between festivals to plan however… at the very least, better communication would have helped from the get-go, and I wouldn’t have had to lose a perfectly nice Saturday coming into the city for a screening I was told I’d have a reservation for only to discover none was forthcoming without even an email update. I had to use that fucking “I think I’m on the list” line; a bit of Studio 54esque lingo that tastes like dogshit on the tongue of a guy who’s never on the list, doesn’t expect to be, doesn’t want to be, which returned alternating blank and apologetic looks. I shrugged it off and waited two hours in line only to not make the cut when it came time to let the crowd in. I tried calling the TFF office on my cell, and after explaining the situation to two different people was told that the theater in question was not reserving tickets for the press. Ugh. I was so disgusted that in fury I wrote Sunday off as well and spent a nice day with my wife- that was me being stubborn and letting my stupid temper get the best of me about the whole thing, so don’t blame the festival folks.

I’m not a lazy prick, I don’t have an overblown sense of entitlement; I’ll stand in line with the next guy and pay up if I feel it’s necessary. FYI- 18 to 25 dollars a ticket = not necessary. Ah yes, did I mention skyrocketing ticket prices from the already considerable $13 last year? For that amount, not only should the film be a guaranteed five star epic with nude models, dinosaurs and rock stars, but I should be able to take the print, open my gas tank and expect 20 gallons of premium unleaded to pour out of the reel.

What’s really alarming is a survey that festival volunteers passed out in the lines prior to the film that asked a lot of questions about my income and what it’s spent on (as in MP3 Players or Plasma Screens) leading me to believe that as steep as prices were this year, we ain’t seen nothing yet. Those of you that pay mortgage or rent know exactly where I’m coming from. My boss, a regular festival attendee has the scratch to pick up 10-15 tickets at $18 a pop. Me? Not so much. And if I’ve got to come up with $100 dollars in 2008 to see five films whose quality is pretty much a crapshoot? No promises.

Enough kvetching, onto the Short Film Lightning Round:

The last day of TFF I saw Express Stops Only, a short film collection sporting the intro: September 11th is viewed through a different set of “eyes”… by various filmmakers. Horseshit. One film was a little ditty about 911, the rest just take place in NY, and frankly could have taken place in any large city, the tagline not only misleading, but needlessly infringing on the vision of the various filmmakers who didn’t need a commemorative ribbon stamped on their ideas. Moving on:

Say Can You See ** - A CGI requiem for the World Trade Center attacks. Initially, the world is seen through the eyes of the quarter-fed viewfinders atop the Empire State Building. They observe the attack, the heavens weep stars, photos of Ashcroft and Bush float around, the latter smashing his pug against the screen in a large ugly gesture of confrontation, the viper nestled in our bosom, and then we swoop back to our original perspective, the anthropomorphic viewfinder who finally sees a return to hopeful times as a child comes to look through his lenses, releasing an American flag balloon into the sky. Gebus, are you kidding me?

Had we stayed with the viewfinder on a journey watching the people of New York take the hit, pick themselves up and get their shit together again, maybe I wouldn’t be so annoyed with the results. All I saw was a computer-generated feel-gooder morph into a political hissy fit. If the director needed to get that out of his system, great. Did nothing for me. I’ll pop a second star on for the clean, simple look and tight patterns of the animation, particularly on the viewfinders. Next.

A Nick In Time ***** - Tense, effective narrative of a barber defusing a volatile situation when a boy enters his shop asking for a haircut, large jacket and baggy pants obscuring his possessions, hand in pocket clutching what can only be a weapon. The barber is attending to one of his regulars, and both know the boy is working himself up to action.

The setup alone is riveting, but then the barber begins a tale flashing back to his younger days just starting in the business, his boss allowing him to cut the hair of a prominent black politician who needs a fast, perfect haircut on his way to meet the mayor. Nervous over handling this pillar of the community, he makes a mistake in the cut and must fix matters discreetly and effectively. The past and present interweave as the boy listens to the tale, the customer waits for the hand to emerge from the pocket and the barber cuts and talks, maintaining his composure and trying to reach this boy who has not yet made his move through the tale of this defining moment in the barber’s life when a mistake was made and a second chance was needed.

There’s a twist at the end which I won’t reveal here, suffice to say that the barber is protecting more than his and the customer’s life. A compelling, fascinating piece, told with a sure and solid hand by director B´e Garrett.

Red Shoes ** - The owner of a small massage parlor cannot afford a pair of nice shoes her daughter has her heart set on, and decides to take the drastic measure of utilizing the ol’ old rub-n’-tug on a client for extra cash. The customer offers more money in return for additional pleasures and the woman, having bought the shoes for her daughter, gratified in the pleasure she sees in her little girl’s eyes, decides to follow through considering what more money can do for her and her girl. Alas, she neglects to lock the damn door, her daughter finding out exactly how one gets the nicer things in life. A depressing morality tale with an ending that leads me to believe I’ll never buy a goddamn thing for my kid if they ever show such condescending ingratitude. Of course, I can’t think of any situation where I’d accept the cock. Death first. What was the point of this again? Next.

Lock * - A woman sitting on a rooftop is joined by a man who accidentally dislodges the door-jam locking them both out. Their efforts to find a way to the ground floor or alert passers by on the street are fruitless. Both are awkward around the other as strangers will be, but the two gradually see the humor in the situation- a classic New York moment (that still has nothing to do with 9-11). The man says “Fuck” a lot. Then someone opens the door, he goes to leave, she wants to tell him something that sounds important and portentous, but doesn’t letting him walk away, and evidently the audience is expected to grasp the significance based solely on subtext. Bah.

Happiness *** - Coming from the more surreal school of thought, an older woman working the line in a condom testing facility to check for holes in the individual products (funny in and of itself) covets the immaculately white high heels of her supervisor, but passes a pair of them by in a shop window to enter another store, where she purchases a box with the simple label of “Happiness” on it. Asking the clerk if she can take a look inside before she buys it, she is told that she cannot. She asks how long it will last, the clerk tells her its not exact- seconds, days, years, it depends on the person. The box is purchased, taken home, examined from every angle, shaken, poked at, and taken to bed unopened. In the morning she makes a decision. A charming piece about gratification and risk with a cute ending.

Super Powers ***** - Hilarious to the point of wetting oneself. A troubled couple’s attempt to spice up their love life is thwarted when a realtor brings clients to view their for-sale apartment, leaving the flustered lovers stranded on their balcony in Party City style Batman and Wonder Woman outfits (the husband having only succeeded in putting the top part of the Batman suit on). As the duo try to furtively find sanctuary where they can get a change of clothes and maintain their dignity, they stumble upon a crime in progress and nature takes its course- do I have your attention yet? This puppy fucking rocked, rightfully earning itself Special Jury Prize for Best Narrative Short.

Special mention for actor Jay Klaitz (Batman) whose mix of apprehension, frustration and tentative curiosity are bolstered by a tremendous ability for physical comedy and facial expressiveness that can’t even be hindered by a half-cowl.

Laura Nordin plays the wife at her wit’s end, comical to the extreme as the horror of her situation seethes from her wide eyes, but keeps the situation from being overly absurd, her obvious distress over the state of her marriage and the determination to save it bringing gravitas to an otherwise ludicrous situation. On a less professional note, the sight of her in that Wonder Woman outfit… I can’t go on. Suffice to say we have a major contender for the “Princess Leia Slave Girl Outfit Hotness Awards” broadcast live from the inside of my pants.

Seriously, this is a truly warm, funny film that will make you feel wonderful.
= http://www.tribecafilmfestival.org/tixSYS/2007/filmguide/title-detail.php?PageNumber=3&AlphaRange=SS&Category=ALL&FilterVenue=ALL&Day=&Month=&Year=&Genre=ALL&FestProgram=&ShowShorts=&ShowPast=Y

Raving ***** - Remember my rant about gross misuse of subtext in Lock? Julia Styles in her writing/directing debut manages to give a textbook lesson on the correct way to utilize this tool, allowing the audience a glimpse of just enough to put things together without having to spell it out, rather than slathering ambiguity all over a story insuring no one will come away with anything of value. She does it with a dress, a picture, and an irate neighbor complaining to the protagonist, all the pieces fall in place, and it’s as beautifully executed as anything you’d find in a JD Salinger short story. Nice work Julia.

Two damaged people come together under curious circumstances when a man hires a girl he knows to be a con artist, who we have already witnessed rooking marks to fund her club hopping lifestyle, to help him pack up his apartment. The girl is dubious of the offer, aware the man knows about her swindling, but is enticed by the $500 dollars he offers, as well as the opportunity to steal whatever valuables she can find. She soon discovers there is a strange plan in place by this strange man who is suffering crushing loss, and needs her particular brand of help to go forward.

Bill Irwin, a very physical performer whose work I have always enjoyed gives a rich, soulful performance as a man who has lost his way and much of his mind, but pulls it together enough to play out a desperate scheme to save both himself and another lost soul at the same time. Zooey Deschanel makes for a lovely, amoral scoundrel who discovers empathy, and finds she has the capacity to be better through this odd friendship. I really enjoyed this one – tight film.

Bill Irwin’s one of those actors you recognize lurking about in so much film and TV, from Robert Altman movies to Northern Exposure episodes, and he’s one of those terrific artists you want to see more often. As for Deschanel, she’s getting enough good work that she don’t need my props- very fond of her talent.

In Vivid Detail **** - A pleasing love story that challenges perception, Justin (John Ventimiglia), a talented architect, has caught the eye of Leslie (Piper Perabo), the new girl at the office. The two become involved but not long into the relationship Leslie is upset when Justin walks right by her, looking directly at her, not bothering to acknowledge her presence.

Justin apologizes, revealing he has a condition called Prosopagnosia – “a neurological disorder that makes him incapable of recognizing faces” Leslie takes this in stride, but as a devastatingly beautiful woman, finds it strange to be involved with someone for whom her face is immaterial. It’s not a simple matter of vanity, she wants him to be able to see her and enjoy her. Her attempts to address the issue infuriate him (think shouting in a deaf person’s ear to see if they can somehow hear you), but Justin comes up with an eloquent solution utilizing his drafting skills.

Its great to see Ventimiglia showcase a different side to his talent from his recognizable Artie Bucco role in The Sopranos. Here he is a capable, charming man of great humor and kindness, and Perabo complements him, creating a believable, imperfect relationship. A good capper to the selection of films.

With four absolute winners just squeaking past the mehs and ughs, I was very happy with my time and dough spent at the theater.

If you’ve kept up with me to this point, thanks- figured I’d take it all in one shot rather than breaking it up into two features. I’m sorry I can’t offer more, but that’s just how it went down. I had my share of fun times though, and did rack up some quality films I hope you’ll be able to see for yourselves in time.

::this article is officially published in http://efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2181

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