Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tribeca Reviews: the first batch


So here we are again, Tribeca has, at least for me, been going on since last week, and not that it's started, I can start posting stuff.

Santiago
, (Brazil) – North American Premiere.

Written and Directed
by Joao Moreira Salles

In 1992, Joao Moreira Salles started making a film about Santiago, the butler who had been working for his parents since his childhood, then, because he realized he had nothing actually usable, he put it all away and for the most part forgot about it for over a decade.

Santiago was a bit of a character, spending his free time going to concerts or writing lists and histories of various royal dynasties from ancient to modern history. But the film isn’t as much about him as it is as Salles and the problems associated with writer’s block. There are the long, loving scenes of the family piazza, and various artistic abortions from the original edit of the film of 1992, which are really pretentious and appear to be embarrassing to the filmmaker, who presents them to us as a form of self-flagellations.

Not worth the money, it’s probably good that this film will never be seen in these parts again.

Making Of– International Premiere.

Written and Directed
by Nouri Bouzid

The film’s title is basically a fake-out. It becomes obvious later on, but not well into the third reel. Bahta(Lotfi Abdelli) is a Tunisian break dancer, who’s a bit of a crook. His father hates him, his mother is too protective, and aside from the Islamic aspect, it resembles any slum area in the Western world. But after our hero decides to “borrow” his cousin’s police uniform and cause havoc in a local bistro, and gets into real trouble.

So when he can’t stow away on a ship leaving for Europe, he’s stuck, but, then he’s introduced to a mysterious stone carver(Lotfi Dziri), who wants to make our hero a jihadist. It’s at this point the film suddenly becomes grainy and discolored, and the actor playing Bahta rebels. He was hired to play a dancer, he tells the director(Bouzid, himself), and the latter explains what his goals are, and not very well, although, the film resumes.

Much of the rest of the film is about the making of a suicide bomber, and while characters from the first part of the film make some further appearances, such as our hero’s girlfriend(Fatima Ben Sa├»dane) getting pummeled “for her own good” in the name of Islam by our now-fanatical protagonist, it’s almost entirely the two Loftis discussing religion and why blowing innocent people up is a wonderful and peaceful thing to do.

The ending doesn’t make much sense, but this is a Greek Tragedy, and everything has to end badly. Sure, Bouzid is on the side of peace and modernity, but the film isn’t well constructed, and the need to break away from the action in order to further discuss the issues involved gets really old really quickly. The acting is good, and the dancing at the start is excellent, it would have been nice if the filmmaker stayed with that, but politics got in the way, which is why we’ll probably never see this again.

Half Moon– U.S. Premiere
Strand Releasing 114min NR

Written and Directed
by Bahman Ghobadi

Kurdistan has great scenery. Perhaps that’s why The Turks and the Persians want it so much. Bahman Ghobadi is a Kurdish patriot who loves his culture and very much wishes to celebrate it, which is why he’s made variations on this film several times.

The movie begins with a middle aged rascal named Kako(Allah Morad Rashtiani), running a cockfight with his sons [PeTA take note, animals WERE harmed in the making of this movie], when he’s informed that the great singer Mamo (Ismail Ghaffari) and his multitudinous offspring(Ismail Ghaffari, Hassan Poorshirazi, Golshifteh Farahani, Sadiq Behzadpoor and some others) have been invited to sing in front of a throng of half a million in Iraqi Kurdistan and it would be nice if Kako would kindly drive them there.

Thus begins an epic journey through Western Iran, where going through the mountains they pick up and drop off various characters, most notably the beauteous Hesho (Hedieh Tehrani), who has been exiled to a remote village because in Iran, musicians of the female persuasion are banned.

Hesho is first hidden, and then when she’s found, sent back where she came from, then found again, lost again, and Mamo and at last family have to go on without her. Then there’s the thing about another famous singer dying of joy and the introduction of the title character.

This is protest presented as dark comedy. The whole thing is cute, and while the scenery is spectacular, Iran seems a place that we most definitely wouldn’t want to spend much time in. Worth a matinee for the scenery alone, however.

Gardener of Eden
(U.S.A.) – World Premiere.

Directed by
Kevin Connolly

Somewhere in the heart of New Jersey, there are two pubescent boys arguing about superheroes. One says to the other, “The only reason that Batman gets to be a superhero is that he’s very, very rich. If he was middle class he’d never get to first base.” The other isn’t so sure, but agrees he’s probably right. Well, Tex Davis, who’s done quite a few screenplays in the past [a few of which have even been produced] simply doesn’t agree, and has decided to show us what Batman would be like if he started out as a lower middle class slacker.

Adam Harris(Lukas Haas) and his friends(Jim Parsons, Jerry Ferrara and ) have had a deal with each other since they were kids. Each would steal from their employers and share the proceeds with each other. That works pretty well, that is until one day, our hero’s life falls apart, getting fired by his evil Israeli boss [anti-Semitic? Don’t really know], because of what his disgusting brother did and Adam tried to stop. Then his parents throw him out of the house. Finally, at the end of his rope, Adam loses it, and beats the crap out of the next person he meets. That of course, is the local serial rapist, and instead of getting arrested, he’s acclaimed a hero.

So he decides to become Batman without the cape. Since he’s just a schlub from New Jersey, his arch nemesis isn’t the Joker, but a local drug dealer named Vic(Giovanni Ribisi), who mainly deals in weed and coke, but can get just about anything. He’s very popular with just about everybody, even, at the beginning, Adam.

This sudden change in attitude, alienates him from his friends, gets him in trouble with the police, and maybe even causes him to commit involuntary manslaughter, but it does get him a girlfriend in the person of Mona(Ericka Christensen), who was the rapist’s last victim.

The problem with this thing is that by the end of the film, Vic is far more sympathetic a character than Adam. Vic is popular because he’s providing what he thinks is a necessary service for the town, while Adam is just full of righteous indignation. He abandoned his friends and is surprised when they don’t like him any more. Also, he wants to join the police, but asks in such a way as to insult just about everyone on the force. The ending is a bit of a shocker, but it actually fits the Batman mold. It’s sad in a way. It’ll probably just get a nominal release before going to that great video bin in the sky.

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