Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tribeca Reviews: the second batch

Here's our second batch from Tribeca:

Golden Door (Nuovomondo),

Written and Directed
by Emanuel Crialese

From 1892 to 1924, tens of millions of immigrants were processed at the facility at Ellis Island, New York, all of whom were looking for a better life. The voyage from the Old Country to the New was fraught with dangers, and not everyone, once they got here, was let through “the golden door” that led to America and had to go back to Europe. This film is a look at how this procedure worked, a slightly comic version of “Law and Other” or “CSI,” showing how things work through a story than just doing a documentary.

The film begins in Sicily, where A barefoot Salvatore Mancuso (Vincenzo Amato) and his older son Angelo (Francesco Casisa) climbing a mountain barefoot with rocks in their mouths, as a sacrifice to Jesus in return for advice as to whether or not to actually buy passage across the wide Atlantic and build a new life in America. The answer is positive.

Following Salvatore and Angelo on this epic voyage are his mother
Donna Fortunata(Aurora Quattrocchi), who's a local faith healer, his other son Pietro(Filippo Pucillo), who's mute and apparently somewhat dim, and two neighbors, Rita(Federica de Cola) and Rosa(Isabella Ragonese), who had been promised husbands on the other side of the ocean.

When they get to the port, they unwittingly pick up a “hitchhiker” named Lucy(Charlotte Gainsbourg), who's British and uses the Mancusos to sneak on the ship. Why she's doing this is to some extent uncertain, but her desire to get to America is genuine and she even entertains advances from a wealthy stranger(Vincent Schiavelli, in his final role) who promises her a wealthy husband.

But in the end, this is more about procedure than personality, and nearly half the film takes place on Ellis Island, where it was filmed, and we learn about all the medical and bureaucratic crap that immigrants had to go through to get to the other side. This is an authentic recreation of what went on back then, and is very educational. What isn't are the fantasy and dream sequences, which while they sort of fit with the rest of the film, are rather annoying.

Be that as it may, the acting is rather good and the story is almost compelling, and the penultimate scene is a bit of a gratuitous shocker. Wait 'till it gets on cable.

Black Sheep

Written and directed
by Jonathan King

In New Zealand, sheep outnumber people by about ten to one. So it's only natural that the first major horror film about killer sheep should come from there, right? and with the with the WETA workshop, one of the best FX houses out there doing what's basically a charity job for purposes of patriotism, this thing can't miss, right?...right!?

Well actually, it can, but forutunately it doesn't. For those of us who like gross-out films with some intelligence behind it, this is exactly what we're looking for, which is why it's been such a hit at the film festival circuit.

The film centers around two brothers, Henry(Nathan Meister) and Angus Oldfield (Peter Feeney), who were brought up on a huge farm, and the film begins with a traumatic incident back when they were played by Neick Fenton and Eli Kent, which would traumatize Henry for the rest of his life. In fact it might traumatize you! But that's neither here nor there, for when Henry appears as an adult, he's taking a taxi from one of New Zealand's few large cities [at a cost of hundreds of dollars NZ] in order to sell out to his brother, who's about to show the world his latest creation, the perfect sheep, genetically engineered to be…uh oh. You know what that means.

So after Henry gets his check, He's given a last tour by Tucker (Tammy Davis), the farm's long time manager, but there's danger about, for moronic animal rights activists Grant (Oliver Driver) and Experience (Danielle Mason) have arrived to collect evidence of evil genetic experiments conducted by the evil Dr Rush(Tandi Wright), and unsurprisingly manage to get it. Then even more unsurprisingly, screw it up, releasing a mutant sheep fetus that infects the massive herd nearby and turn them into carnivorous killers!

What's best about this film is not the effects, which are actually rather cheesy, no the best thing is dialogue, which is unerringly witty and perceptive the acting is really good. While the film isn't the last bit scary, the gross-out factor more than makes up for it. This is one heck of a funny movie, and for fans of gore, one of the mandatory films of the year.

Go for it.

Lady Chatterley

Written and Directed
by Pascale Ferran

The classic work of high class smut in the 20th century is D. H. Lawrence's “Lady Chatterley's Lover.” For over seventy years the work has been translated into almost every language and into cinema, getting people in trouble again and again along the way.

The above is very well known, but what is not, is that Lawrence wrote the novel three different times before publishing it, leaving two complete versions sitting gathering dust on a shelf. That was before the second version was published decades after Lawrence's death. It is this version that Pascale Ferran, and her collaborator Roger Bohbot decided to turn into a miniseries for French television. I'm not sure if it was for pay cable or broadcast, but they're a lot less prudish over there and it could very well be the latter. It also explains why this thing is so damned long.

Sir Clifford Chatterley (Hippolyte Girardot) had his nether regions severely damaged during the First World War, and thus cannot have a normal sex life with his lovely wife Constance(Marina Hands), and when the film opens, they are living in an opulent estate out in the boonies, where with the help of myriad servants, she takes care of him while he runs a large coal mine nearby.

With the exception of momentary glimpse of Connie's beautiful naked breasts, the first hour of the film has nothing to do with sex or eroticism in general. In fact, the first third of the film could be rated G! Imagine: G-rated porn!

When she and her sister hire a nurse(Helene Alexandridis) for Clifford, Connie goes out more often and begins the immor(t)al relationship with Olivar Parkin (Jean-Louis Coulloc'h), the gamekeeper, and title character of the novel. Again, as they start getting hot and heavy, the film remains chaste. They don't actually take anything off. The sex is fully clothed and there's nothing here that would get the film past the PG-13 barrier until well into the final third of the film.

The problem with a film as long as it is, almost three hours, is the boredom factor. Yes indeed, there are times when one looks at one's watch and eyes become a bit heavy, but for the most part, the drama sustains it. Maybe if they cut out the brief closeup of Parkin's penis, they would be able to show the entire miniseries on cable, this is too long for one slog, even with the great acting.

You Kill Me

Directed by
John Dahl

We have a winner! The worst movie of the first half of the years is this one! Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have written one of the most inane and unfunny comedies I've ever seen, and have managed to completely waste a brilliant cast of wonderful actors.

Frank Falenczyk(Ben Kingsley) is a hit man for Buffalo's Polish mob, which is run by his uncle Roman (Philip Baker Hall), who wants him to whack Irish Godfather Edward O'Leary (Dennis Farina), but is so dunk that he passes out waiting for him.

So his uncle sends him to San Francisco, where a friend, Dave (Bill Pullman), gets him a job and a place to stay, and the tenor of the film changes to a celebration of Alcoholics Anonymous and a romantic comedy, y'see, Our hero meets a woman named Lauren(Tia Leoni) and because she's a bit of a maniac herself, they fall in love…and oh yeah, there's Frank's sponsor Tom(Luke Wilson), who knows Frank's secret…in fact, everyone knows Frank's secret, as he's a chatterbox.

While the film has its moments, the whole mess is painfully unfunny, with unlikeable characters and mediocre writing. The cast is fantastic, but that's why this isn't one of the worst movies of all time. Avoid this like the plague.

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