Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More from Tribeca, part something...

I spent some time in Bermuda, which I'll talk about later, but here is the penultimate batch from Tribeca...kind of late, Sorry:


Written and Directed
by Talia Lugacy

Revenge fantasies are nothing new. There are lots of them throughout the history of literature and cinema. What's different about this one is that it's a chick flick. It's quite simple that Talia Lugacy is one of those feminists that hates men and wants to get her rocks off by degrading a few here and there. This is a movie, it's supposed to be fun, even though it isn't.

Maya (Rosario Dawson) is the perfect woman. She's a college student who's so wonderful, she is almost a TA as a sophomore. Also, the fact that she's black is a plus. Perfect to make her victimhood nobler than it might otherwise be. She meets Jared (Chad Faust) at a party. He's all charm and caring, and she initially resists, but there's that charm again, and with the title we know that it can't be a positive development.

He shows his true colors, and she, now broken, turns into a slut who is saved by the local bartender's(Marcus Patrick) personal cult. Cut to the next semester….

Adrian is now the focus of the picture and is taking the class where Maya is now a TA. She's running the final exam and he of course, is cheating. This leads to her brutal revenge, which is extremely graphic.

That's it. What's supposed to be somehow a deep psychological drama is in fact just a wind-up toy going through the motions. The acting isn't all that great, although Faust makes the most of what he's given. Yes the great betrayal is a bit of a shock, but the foreshadowing is such that something like that happening is expected. This is a feel nothing movie that's just repellent. A complete waste of money, don't bother.

The Grand

Written and Directed
by Zak Penn

It's quite obvious that Zak Penn is tiring of superhero movies. Otherwise he wouldn't have decided to do a mockumentery on of all things, poker. Now Poker as a spectator sport has become rather popular [why I don't know, it's worse than golf] and this isn't the first poker movie to come out in recent months. So with pop culture going in that direction, this sort of thing is to be expected. This film is all about the expected.

This is primarily about One Eyed Jack Faro(Woody Harrelson), a permanent resident of a rehab center who's heard that his grandfather's casino is going to be bought by the evil billionaire Steve Lavisch (Michael McKean) if our hero doesn't pay off his megabucks debt within a few days and the only way this is possible is to get into the eponymous poker tournament and win it. He gets in and then the film changes direction slightly to start having profiles on the other players in the tourney.
Lainie(Cheryl Hines) and Larry Schwartzman(David Cross), who are twins, trained by their father(Gabe Kaplan) to be ultra competitive, Deuce Fairbanks(Dennis Farina), a gangster of the old school, The German (Werner Herzog), a nazi of the old school, Mike Werbe (Michael Karnow), who's borderline autistic, and last and least, Andy Andrews (Richard Kind), who likes to play on the internet, and so, following this far-from-merry band the story of the Grand goes on.

Quite simply, the mockumentary has played itself out. Sure this has some good points, but for the most part the jokes fall flat. Ray Romano, as Lainie's husband, is just grating, as is Gabe Kaplin, who at one time was considered a genius. I guess it's Matt Bierman's writing which fails.

This is probably going to come and go faster than an inside straight.

The Killing of John Lennon

Written and Directed
by Andrew Piddington

The revelation here is that Mark David Chapman was married. We always knew that he was a nutcase, and there's nothing here that's much of a revelation. Although, this film documents a major event in popular culture, it's lacking something very important. Suspense. Yeah, we know the Titanic sinks, but it's what happens the characters around that which is interesting. This is an attempt at understanding, to make sense of the murder of John Lennon, but it fails. With all the words that Chapman wrote over the years, he's still primarily opaque.

The film starts when Chapman(Jonas Bell) was a security guard in Honolulu. He and his wife Gloria(Mie Omori) seem to be having a decent life together. True, his mom (Krisha Fairchild) is a bit of an airhead, and his job isn't particularly glamorous, there doesn't seem to be anything especially wrong with it. Then he gets religion.

The religion in this case is Holden Caufieldism. He falls in love with the “Catcher in the Rye” and his grip on reality begins to disintegrate, he goes on and on about this and that in the book, driving his poor wife to distraction. Then he falls in hate with John Lennon.

What's scary here is that his criticisms of Lennon are actually somewhat logical, although his solution is not. We know that there is madness here, but there doesn't seem to be anything but pure logic behind each and every action. This is a madness the audience is sucked into. He doesn't seem like a nice guy, but where he's coming from is rather clear and concise.

The film goes on too long. I'm not sure that keeping the film going well after the crime is a good thing. It feels like a denouement and as such it goes on and on and on. Okay, we know why he did it, enough already!

This is an uneven film, Well done technically, but missing something, and that unknown something ruins it.

Illegal Aliens

Directed by
David Giancola

I don't usually review direct-to-video movies, but there was a reason to make an exception for this one. Anna Nicole Smith had just died and was being treated as a martyr. Although she wasn't an actress by any means, she was one of those celebrities who were notorious rather than famous, and pretty much everyone had forgotten why she became famous in the first place. So when I received a press release for it a few months back I was intrigued.

The DVD screener had the film and the trailer, so I took a look at the trailer and it looked as bad as I feared. Then the publicist called me up and asked what I thought. It sucked, I said and I probably wasn't going to review it because he was nice to me in sending it and I didn't want to give him bad publicity. He said that I should review it anyway, “but give it some respect.”

Okay, here it is. I respect the producer because he had the cajones to get all that money out of unsuspecting people to finance this piece of garbage and thus is a far, far better salesman than I ever can hope to be. Having seen the film in its entirety, I cannot comply with the publicist's request. This is pure unadulterated crap.

Cameron (Lenise Sorén), Drew (Gladys Jimenez), and Lucy (Anna Nicole Smith) are the eponymous superheroes from another planet, who fight to protect Earth from baddies from other planets, but their day job is as stuntwomen in Hollywood.

In this case, it's Rex (Joanie Laurer) who goes around shooting people for no reason and wants to blow up the Earth. She has a good reason too. So the IAs go off to save the day yet again. Yadda, yadda, yadda. This has all the looks of a failed TV pilot, and probably was at some point.

This is a sloppy film. Yes sloppy. It appears as if the first draft of the script was written while the writers were drunk, and the second pass was just to correct typos and spelling errors. The editing is slapdash. Anna complains to the director about a dumb line and breaks out of the story, which is something everyone does at the end. The acting isn't actually inept, it's just not very good, and Ms. Smith is just as “fine” as everyone else. That's sad, as some of the people appear to have talent, despite their working so hard to hide it. Why do they DO this?

This is what “Grindhouse” films were all about. Crap. Tarentino take note.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Tribeca Reviews: The Eighth Batch

Charlie Bartlett

Directed by
Jon Poll

This has all the makings of a Disney Channel TV series except for one small thing. It's about the high school drug dealer. Charlie Bartlett(Anton Yelchin) is too good to be true. He's one of those lovable rogues that everyone roots for even though he probably deserves everything he's going to get...nah!

Gustin Nash's script begins with the obvious, Charlie is getting expelled again for selling phony drivers licenses. So, with no posh private school willing to take him, his mom(Hope Davis) is forced to send him to the local public school. Of course wearing his old school uniform gets him beaten up by the school bully(Tyler Hilton), who soon becomes his partner in crime, but there's the delightful Susan Gardner(Kat Dennings), who's sole fault is that her father(Robert Downey, Jr.) is the school's principal. So, with the family's shrink more than happy to over-prescribe various drugs like riddlin, and soon our hero has become the most popular kid in the entire school. Then something happens and Charlie is in big trouble once again. Can he get out of it this time?

This is basically your standard high school comedy. Not that his is a bad thing, of course. One the one hand, Yelchin is chewing the scenery a little too much, and that makes the film a tad too cute. On the other hand, the supporting cast, most notably Downing as the principal and Mark Rendall as the kid who something bad happens to, are uniformly good, and despite the boilerplate feel, this knocks it out of the park. The sad fact is that the film's rated “R” and there are going to be a lot of kids sneaking in from what is probably more wholesome entertainment. In other words, the intended audience isn't supposed to see this. But they will. Which in this case is fine.


Written and Directed
by Fredi M. Murer

It's tough being a genius. Six-year-old Vitus(Fabrizio Borsani) knows this better than anybody. He's a piano prodigy who's years ahead of all the other kids his age. His parents aren't much help,

Dad(Urs Jucker) is an inventor who's actually quite successful and mom (Julika Jenkins) is big in other business, and at first leaves him at kindergarden where he's bored to tears, and then with a 15-year-old babysitter Isabel (Kristina Lykowa), who introduces him to certain things that he's too young for. The only person who understands him is his grandfather (Bruno Ganz), but he's living out in the country. So Vitus rebels…cut to six years later.

Vitus(Teo Gheorghiu) has grown arrogant and somewhat mean. Things aren't going particularly well for him in general, so he takes some drastic steps, a surprise that knocks the audience for a loop and turns out to be a brilliant subterfuge that only Grandpa is privy too. He then goes into high finance. This is a perfect tale of adolescent rebellion without too much angst.

The film is much better than it sounds. The script is thoughtful and the acting is excellent. These are real people. The pace is slow, but not to slow and while the film is on the long side, it doesn't feel it.

This is the perfect film to introduce the kids to subtitles.

This Is England

Written and Directed
by Shane Meadows

1982 was a pivotal year in British history. The Argentine fascists had decided that Maggie Thatcher was too weak to respond to an overt invasion of the Falkland Islands, and there was a short and bloody war that overthrew the military government and kept Thatcher in power for another eight years.

Eleven-year-old Shaun(Thomas Turgoose) and his mum(Jo Hartley) are victims of that war. The father of the family had been killed and they're in mourning. Other kids in the school comfort Shaun by insulting his memory and picking fights. It's this kind of thing that can inspire hooliganism in a kid, and that's exactly what happens.

The hooligans are skinheads, a neo-fascist gang of tricksters led by the surprisingly jovial Woody(Joseph Gilgun) and his girlfriend Lol(Vicky McClure). They are violent and destructive, but they're not racist, for one of the gang is a Jamaican named Milky(Andrew Shim).
There's also a female child molester named Smell (Rosamund Hanson), with whom Shaun has a bit of a romance. What's really strange is that Mum is actually okay with all this. Then everything takes a turn for the worse when Woody's old pal Combo(Stephen Graham) shows up after having gotten out of prison.

Now Combo is overtly racist and introduces Shaun to the wonderful world of hate, driving Woody out, and making things very difficult for all involved, even though Shaun does feel appreciated.

This is basically a historical artifact and a meditation on the nature of evil. Somewhere between Woody and Combo is a line that shouldn't be crossed, and a price must be paid for crossing it. Things get bloody. The acting is fine, Gilgun and Graham are excellent as Shaun's two mentors and Turgoose manages to hold his own among the grownups. Definitely worth a trip to an arthouse.

My Best Friend

Written and Directed
by Patrice Leconte

Francois (Daniel Auteuil) is an antiques dealer who is all business and nothing else. His business is losing money and his partner Catherine(Julie Gayet) is worried, but he doesn't seem to be.

He first shows up at a funeral for a former client solely to talk to the widow about some furniture. His wife has left him and his daughter
Louise(Julie Durand) can barely stand the sight of him. Catherine says at a dinner that he doesn't have any friends, and Francois angrily replies that he does, and wagers his new ancient Greek vase to prove it. She gives him to the end of the month. Enter Bruno (Dany Boon), the know-it-all taxi driver.

Fortuitously picking our hero up a number of times, Bruno is at first annoying, but soon Francois decides that this is the person to give him “nice guy” lessons to he could win the bet and possibly fill a gap in his life, and there develops an interesting dynamic between the two. Auteur Leconte has managed to get a lot of psychological insight into a light comedy, or rather what might be termed a “platonic romance.” Bruno and Auteuil have a genuine chemistry together and the former is excellent, especially at the penultimate sequence, which is actually riveting.

This is one of the better films to come out of France this summer.

Tribeca Reviews: The Seventh Batch

The Air I Breathe (U.S.A.) - World Premiere

written and directed
by Jieho Lee

Based on a Chinese proverb, these four overlapping stories dramatize the four emotional cornerstones of life: happiness, pleasure, sorrow and love, or so says the blurb, but these actually two narratives, which are shoehorned into each other at the end, and not too well either. It took five years for Jieho Lee and Bob DeRosa to get this film on film, and it doesn't seem like all that time and effort was worth it.

The film starts rather promisingly. Titled Happiness, it's about an investment counselor(Forest Whitaker) who hears about a fixed race and decides to go to an illegal OTB parlor and bets a huge amount he doesn't have on the horse, which unexpectedly loses. Here he meets the main character of the film, a crime boss named Fingers(Andy Garcia), who explains how he got the nickname and gives him a couple of weeks to get the money he owes. A bank robbery is staged and it all ends badly, but our hero achieves the title of his segment.

The second segment, entitled Pleasure, is about Fingers' assistant (Brendan Fraser), who we see briefly in the first segment and has the gift of prophecy. Fingers assigns him to look after his nephew(Emile Hirsch), and for some reason he loses his gift, and somehow this gives him the title emotion. So far, so good, but then the thing begins to fall apart.

In part three: Sorrow, Trista, a pop star (Sarah Michelle Gellar) discovers to her horror that her manager has gambled away all her money and that she's now his slave. Falling in love with Brenden Frasier…the whole thing starts to lose steam, and this isn't Geller's fault, it's purely that of the writers, because the characters are flat. The fourth segment, Love involves a doctor (Kevin Bacon) who needs Trista because she has an extremely rare mutant blood type. It's grasping at straws, and gets more pathetic by the minute, and the ending is just plain bad.

There's no mystery as to why this took so long, what the mystery is is how it managed to make it onto the screen at all. Don't bother.

Suburban Girl, (U.S.A) - World Premiere.

Written and Directed
by Marc Klein

Michelle Bank's bestselling book, “The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing,” was a series of short stories chronicling the adventures of one Brett Eisenberg, an ambitious young book editor, on her way to fame, fortune and a good lay. There was no doubt that it would be turned into a movie eventually, and if it's a hit, a sequel or TV series. “Daughter of Sex and the City!” Hey, why not?

The two stories that made it two the movie were “My Old Man” and “The Worst Thing A Suburban Girl Could Imagine,” which are about love and much older men: one platonic and one not so.

With her first book stuck on the back shelves of some local bookstores,
Brett(Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her best buddy Chloe (Maggie Grace) plan to ambush high-powered publisher Archie Knox(Alec Baldwin) and use his influence to pressure the managers. It's love at first site, and Geller and Baldwin become a latter day Tracy and Hepburn. In the meantime, Brett has to deal with dumping her dopey boyfriend Jed (Chris Carmack) and the discovery that her new boss, the notorious Faye Faulkner (Vanessa Branch), who hates her, also schtupped Archie.

The film runs on chemistry, if it were not for Baldwin and Geller having it, this whole thing would be a lot less entertaining. The whole thing about her father is rather predictable, as is the relationship with Archie. But Geller has a great time chewing the scenery and Baldwin's recent real marital troubles provide quite a bit of inappropriate laughter.

This film is nothing special, however, it's well done and for a chick flick does what it's supposed to. This is something that the gals should see by themselves and leave the guys to see stuff blowing up elsewhere in the multiplex.

The Hairy Tooth Fairy (Argentina/Spain)

Directed by
Juan Pablo Buscarini

It’s nice to see a children’s film in which the auteur has given a little though as to the construction of a fantasy world. In this case, it’s a world where at least SOME grownups aren’t entirely clueless.

Lucía(Delfina Varni) is a first grader living somewhere in the British Empire with her parents: Dad(Fabián Mazzei) is an unemployed chef and real estate broker mom(Ana María Orozco), and aside from Dad’s job problem, everything is going nicely. Now in Wherever this is, when a kid loses a baby tooth, it’s not picked up by the Tooth Fairy™, but a famous mouse named Perez (voice of Fran Perea). What Perez is supposed to with the teeth is anyone’s guess.

Which is what makes this tale for tots rather nifty. It seems that Perez has a recycling factory, where the teeth are turned into pearls, and then taken by boat to a mysterious jeweler named Morientes(Joe Rígoli), who purchases them and makes a very tidy profit. This is a metaphor about globalization, so the dastardly plot is extremely capitalistic. Perez is going to be kidnapped, and his Number Two, Fugaz (voice is Mariano Chiesa) is going to enslave the workers [selling them off as lobotomized toys], and completely mechanize the factory, while Morientes’ nephew Pipo (Diego Gentile), as the outside man, will take the enterprise global.

So it’s up to Lucia and her genius cousin Ramiro(Nicolás Torcanowsky) to save the day and the enterprise for the benefit of little kids everywhere. Also, Dad winds up getting a job, which is nice.

While much of Enrique Cortés’ script is mostly boilerplate, it’s still kind of fun, and the perfect melding of CGI character animation and makes suspension of disbelief rather easy. If you’ve got kids, it might be worth a rental, however I doubt it would readily available anytime soon.

Tribeca Reviews: the sixth batch


a documentary directed by
Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman

World War II began well before Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. In fact, it began in 1931, when the Japanese invaded Manchuria. Between then and the bombing of Nagasaki 14 years later, the “War in the Pacific” would contract and expand in ferocity and scope wildly, causing not a few historians to question whether or not Japan even was part of the great conflaguration prior to December 7th, 1941.

Make no mistake, it most certainly was.

In 1937, Japan decided to take over the rest of China, and in November and December of that year, perpetrated what was forever called “The Rape of Nanking.” The reason it was called that was because that's what the Japanese troops did to most of the women who hadn't fled beforehand. The Japanese have always said that it wasn't nearly as bad as everyone says, and every now and again, it's good to remind the World as to what really happens.

There are no reconstructions here with the exceptions of actors(Jürgen Prochnow, Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemmingway, Michelle Krusiec, Hugo Armstrong and some others) dressed up in period costumes and reading the diaries of the westerners who heroically protected tens of thousands in what was officially called “Safety Zone for the Chinese refugees”. What was amazing was that they got the the Japanese soldiers to respect them and it. Also, that the Nazi diplomats living there did so much to help the victims of this atrocity. That was a revelation.

The dramatic readings seamlessly blend with interviews with aged survivors and the newsreel footage to create an exiting and heartbreaking picture of one of the greatest horrors of the entire Second World War. There are no holds barred, and nor should there be. This is well worth paying full price for.

Scott Walker - 30th Century Man (U.S.A./U.K.) - New York Premiere.

A Documentary Directed
by Stephen Kijak

What makes a legend? Mystery. Once upon a time there was a rock trio called the Walker Brothers, [nobody in the band was named Walker, by the way] and they had a number of hits during the mid to late 1960s. Then they broke up, and the band's star, Scott Walker, originally named Scott Engle, went solo. At first he did the usual bubblegum stuff, and then, as was the fashion back then, he added some more experimental works, plus covering more esoteric writers like Jaques Brell.

He went so far that he fell off the edge, lost whatever popularity he had and became a recluse, producing three albums in twenty years. Weird stuff that is almost unlistenable. But still, he was extremely influential, as the likes of David Bowie, Brian Eno and Jarvis Cocker eloquently attest.

The fact that Walker was the Justin Timberlake of his time means that there's a lot of archival footage of him to fill out the early part of his career and the Howard Hughes-like transformation from pretty boy to insane genius. It's sort of like the Brian Wilson story except that Wilson never actually left the pop music's collective consciousness, Walker seems to have been wiped out of rock's narrative except for maybe “The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore” and a few other hits.

However, he had a tiny fanbase, and Stephen Kijak was able to mine it to the max. Also, Walker came out of hiding to do his first album in ages and let Kajak to film the entire process.

The whole thing is a fascinating look at the phenomenon of the tortured genius, and what happens when an artist gets too far ahead of his/her audience. This is much better than the album.

The Workshop (U.K.) - World Premiere.

Written and Directed
by Jamie Morgan

Somewhere in Northern California, self-help guru Paul Lowe is laughing his way to the bank. This dirty old man has been promoting his New Age philosophy in expensive workshops he holds in his estate for years. For anywhere from a week (1200 bucks) to eight days (add an extra 150) one can go there and get one's mojo fixed.

Jamie Morgan is photographer and music video director who heard about the program and decided to fly half way around the World for what would be a weeks' worth of nudist psychoanalysis and personal growth through adultery. No wonder it's for mature audiences only!

We don't actually see all that much of Lowe. Yeah, he talks a bit about his philosophy and the like, but the focus is on Morgan and his fellow “campers” and how they react to what is going on. What's interesting is that pretty much everyone who gets any face time is NOT American.

This follows a select few Brits and a German who are encouraged to explore their sexuality, because, as Lowe clearly states, monogamy is an artificial construct, which stultifies consciousness. This, of course leads to lots of nudity, some stalking, and a broken marriage or two.

The campers are portrayed as rather nice people. One would expect that, after all, there are lawsuits to consider, but no one is perfect and it seems that there has been some psychic progress on the way to the orgies, the first of which isn't shown.

Morgan has actually made a nice promotional piece for Lowe's program, it's not great, it's not for everybody, but it gives a fair look at what it's all about.

SHAME, (Pakistan, USA) .- New York Premiere.

A documentary directed
by Mohammed Naqviln

In a really perverse way, getting raped was the best thing that ever happened to Mukhtaran Mai. Now bear with me. What happened to her was quite horrible, and it shouldn't happen to anyone, but had it not been for that, a vast amount of good wouldn't have been done. Allah does indeed work in mysterious ways.

In 2002, Mukhtaran was living in a remote Pakistani village. She was unmarried and her family was poor. Then her brother allegedly did something to a neighbor's daughter that wasn't very nice. The other girl's family was enraged, and the local religious authority ordered that both he and Mukhtaran be publicly gang raped to atone for it. Instead of killing herself, as she was expected to do, she complained to a local mullah, who took her to the cops many miles away. The local media heard about this, and then the national and international media got their hands on it and it became an international cause. Islam worldwide was heartily embarrassed as was the Pakistani government. Her rapists were arrested and Mukhtaran Mai was given a chance to improve her lot and that of the entire district.

Mohammed NaqviIn, being Pakistani, has been able to follow the case more closely than most foreign documentarians could and has put together a detailed and stirring tale of female empowerment where that sort of thing is supposed to be illegal. She's an international role model and has done nothing to make anyone regret it.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Meanwhile, in the world of international politics...

Looking through the international news this morning, I noticed that there was a general election in the Bahamas yesterday. I was shocked.

Why? Because there was no news about the campaign in any news website anywhere on the net. There's stuff about Bush, Sarkozy and Royal, Blair and Omert, there were elections in Nigeria too, and while that recievd far less coverage than it should have, it HAD coverage in the major newspapers and magazines.

The Bahamas? NOTHING. Well, actually the AP had a small article, which is how I found out about it, but since the Bahamas are a small country, no one gave a darn.

Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham's Free National Movement won 23 seats in the 41-seat legislature, ousting incumbent Perry Christie's Progressive Liberal Party, which claimed the other 18, according to the government-owned Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas.

The issues were finances, tourism (which is the country's major industry) and Anna Nicole Smith's allegedly fucking her way to a residency visa.

While the PLP had a more leftist program, the FNM accused it of being corrupt and incompent. The Anna Nicole imbroglio was apparently the straw that broke the camel's back on this account. Real estate was another big issue. Apparently foreigners have been buying it up for retirement homes.

Which is the big problem with Bahamian politics. Outside of tourism and oil transhipments [there's a huge refinery and storage area near Freeport], there's really no industry there. The soil is bad, fresh water is scarce, the population is generally poor, and outside of Grand Bahama [Freeport] and New Providence [Nassau] islands, the population is rather sparse.

Then you've got all those Hatians and Cubans trying to escape their homelands and trying to settle.

So outside of commercials promoting tourism, the Bahamas will fade out of the American conciousness again.

Tribeca Reviews: the fifth batch

The two superduper galas have taken place, they open tomarrow.

Spider-Man 3

Written and directed
by Sam Raimi

Superhero movies are always to some extent absurd. This doesn’t make them bad, per se, It’s just that there are different goals for shoot for and heavy psychological drama isn’t one of them, that’s where this thing fails. A film like this should be intelligent enough not to be a total joke, and concentrate on the animated action sequences. After all, this is a live-action cartoon, and one-note characters are perfectly acceptable.

Yeah, I know, Spider-Man’s angst was one of the comic’s selling points, I read it as a kid just like everyone else. However, the attempt to take it to a more adult level just doesn’t work all that well. Not that it’s BAD, however…

Okay, Peter(Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane’s(Kirsten Dunst) relationship is beginning to mature a bit, but Petey’s with Harry Osborn(James Franco) is not. In the first big action scene, Harry gratuitously attacks Pete on the way back from MJ’s opening night musical debut, and that’s really good. It’s fast paced and violent, giving Harry a slight case of amnesia and making everyone friends again. So far so good.

Everybody who’s supposed to be back is. Aunt May(Rosemary Harris) and J. Jonah Jameson(J.K. Simmons) return entirely intact, and it gives a homey feeling to it all. Even the introduction of the secondary villain, Flint Marko/Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) is done well. However, it’s the primary villain, Eddie Brock/Venom (Topher Grace), and the romantic polygon over MJ and Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), which make the whole thing stumble a bit.

Back in the early days of the original comic book, Spider-Man was a cross between “Superman” and “Archie.” Sure, Spidy would fight the likes of Doc Ock and the Kingpin, but when he was in “Clark Kent mode” it was as a slightly geeky Archie Andrews with MJ and Gwen being the equivalent of Betty and Veronica, and Harry taking the Jughead part. As far as it went, it was pure genius, but then Pete went to college and the whole thing began to go down hill. This is kind of what’s happening here as well.

Then comes Venom. Venom was introduced into the comic book by a dues-ex-machina in a Marvel-wide plot arc, and the original black suit wasn’t that popular on Spidy so it got a book of it’s own. The introduction of the suit in the movie is the best they could do, I guess, but the whole thing is kind of lame, and it nearly ruins the film in the middle, when Peter starts acting like John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever” The musical sequence there stops the film dead in it’s tracks, and it almost doesn’t manage to regain it’s momentum. The final deneument is also lame, especially after the nifty final battle between the bad guys and Spidey.

It’s a huge budget Hollywood comic book blockbuster, you’re going to see it anyway, and I’m not going to try to stop you. So go.

Lucky You

Directed by
Curtis Hanson

Morons can be very intelligent people. Curtis Hanson, who wrote and directed one of the great movies of all time [LA Confidential], has decided to explore this phenomenon in what might be his weakest film in years.

Huck Cheever (Eric Bana) and Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore) are both very intelligent morons. He is a professional gambler and she a lounge singer. He burns though money like there’s no tomarrow, and she’s got lousy taste in men and knows it.

They meet cute, Huck “saves” Billie from a guy at a party, and despite the fact that her sister Suzanne(Debra Messing) knows our hero very well, she goes with him anyway. They have cute conversation and after they screw, he steals her money. She gets mad, but not that mad. Then Huck tries to get the ten grand to get into the World Series of Poker. He has an offer from a big shot gambler(Charles Martin Smith) in exchange for a 60/40 split [in the other guy’s favor], but he doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone, especially his hated father L.C.(Robert Duvall), who is also a gambler, but relents and then blows it all. Moron. He knows that he should have paid the entry fee immediately, but no. Then there’s a really stupid scene where our hero tries to get the money via a weird bet with another gambler(Horatio Sanz). Billie is back, and how they part is moralistic tripe.

The problem with this film is the writing. The whole thing is based on idiot plotting. Yeah, the acting is good, [Bana’s the weakest of the bunch, and Duval and Barrymore do their shticks with the professionalism that we’ve come to expect] but the characters aren’t well drawn, Hanson’s usually sharp dialogue is rather blunted here, and the world of the film seems emotionless and remote.

This is all the more disappointing because Hansen’s films of the past decade, and this includes “In Her Shoes”, have been wildly entertaining. But mediocre Hanson is better than good almost anyone else…no it isn’t. Bargain matinee or cable material only. Darn! I was sooooooo looking forward to this one…

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Tribeca Reviews: the fourth batch

The Suger Curtain

A documentary directed
by Camila Guzman Urzœa

Camila Guzman Urzœa's father was talented, rich and socialist. Thus when the government of Chile was overthrown in 1973, he and his family were welcomed to live in Cuba as privileged refugees. Thus, little Camilia had a very good life in the so-called “worker's paradise.”

Now a filmmaker living in Paris, she's gone back to look up old friends and see how they turned out. I was expecting pure propaganda, but happily I was wrong. It appears that she “gets it.”

Camila goes on a tour of Havana, looking for old friends, all of whom were from the new privileged class and fondly remembered the days of their childhood, where they went to Camp once a week and during summer, and the Soviet Union paid for pretty much everything they needed as far as school supplies and Communist Summer camp went. Since communist indoctrinations is actually rather kid-friendly, the “PIONEERS” was a blast [at least for the “cooler” among them], but then that mean Mr. Gorbachev screwed everything up by causing the entire Communist World to collapse and without all that gracious funding, the fun ended.

The so-called “special period” was all about Castro hanging on to power, and the people be damned. All Camilla's friends have relations that have emigrated, and the fact that the Cuban government helped pay for this depressing film is pretty amazing, considering the indirect criticism of the government and the acknowledgement that the whole communist “paradise” was one huge Potemkin village, a façade with no insides, which collapsed almost immediately and is only surviving on western tourism and handouts from Venezuela.

Having been to Cuba (legally), I can personally testify that the island is lovely, the people nice, and that once Castro goes to the great below there's a chance that everything could be just fine in the future. In the meantime, this is a lovely portrait of a benevolent despotcy.

Vivere, (Germany) – World Premiere.

Written and Directed
by Angelina Maccarone

On Christmas Eve, Antoinetta Conchiglia (Kim Schnitzer), a teenager if there ever was one, runs away from home. Her dad (Aykut Kayacik) sends sister Franceska(Esther Zimmering) to find her. Knowing that Antoinetta has gone to Rotterdam with her rocker boyfriend Snickers(Egbert Jan Weeber), she heads off in the family’s taxicab to find her.

On the way, Franceska finds a car that has crashed into a dumpster, and that the driver, Gerlinde (Hannelore Elsner), is still alive, so our heroine takes her to the hospital, but Gerlinde doesn’t WANT to spend Christmas in the hospital, and goes back to the cab to hitch a ride all the way to Holland, where she disappears. In the meantime, Franceska locates where her sister is supposed to be and starts up something with the proprietor of the club(Tygo Gernandt), where Antoinetta is finally found…in bed with Girlinde! We then rewind for chapter two, to follow Girlinde to the same point, then Franceska.

This film is extremely gay. Gerlinde is a lesbian from waay back, and it seems that Franceska might be switch-hitting as well. Granted Antonetta has a hereto thing for Snickers, but men seem to be the last thing on auteur Angelina Maccarone’s mind and seems very unhappy to even let them on the screen as more than extras. This is especially true of the three men who have more than a line or two, who are rather boorish and unwelcome, this is especially true of Dad and the club owner, the latter of whom just seems to be there to be smarmy.

All in all, this is a rather boring and pretentious film, full of an adolescent angst that pervades everything, even Gerlinde’s relationship with her lover. This will probably never be seen again on this side of the Atlantic, which is probably a good thing.

West 32nd, (U.S.A.) – World Premiere.

Written and Directed
by Michael Kang

The title of the film refers to a rather obscure fact: for two blocks between seventh and fifth avenue, the signs on 32nd street are mostly in Korean. This is where they do business, as most of the community lives in the outlying boroughs. Like most people outside or even IN the tribe, John Kim (John Cho), an ambitious young lawyer, knows very little about this. That is until he hears about a 14-year-old kid indicted for murder in a mob hit there, which is a perfect case to do pro bono as a way to drum up paying business from the community.

So he goes to Queens to interview the suspect’s sister Lila (Grace Park) and mother(Ja Won Kim), who seem to imply that this is a major miscarriage of justice perpetrated for racist reasons. However, they do give our hero some leads, which lead him to a local bunch of wannabe gangsters led by a certain Mike Juhn (Jun Sung Kim), who was briefly the successor of the murder victim as the manager of a 32nd street “room lounge” which is a Korean institution resembling a cross between a bar and a whore house. The term “briefly” is quite important here, because it leads to conflict between Mike and his superior in the Korean mob(Jun-ho Jeong). A perverse friendship develops between John and Mike, who takes our hero through the Korean underworld.

This is about as exotic a film as one can get. Despite being Korean, John is an outsider and as such is fascinated at the exoticness of the whole subculture that’s right under his nose, and that sucks the viewer into the film even more. That all involved except John and the kid’s family [the kid himself is never actually seen for more than a couple of seconds near the end], want the kid to go to jail is an interesting plot point which adds to the mystery of whether he’s actually guilty or not.

The acting is rather good. Cho and JS Kim have a good chemistry together and JW Kim is excellent in her extended cameo as the mother. This is a taught thriller to be sure, and does indeed keep one interested. Worth the bucks despite the subtitles.