Tribeca Mini-Reviews: What to Catch
Tribeca Film Festival
New York, NY
With the final weekend of the Tribeca Film Festival upon us and last-minute screenings being added as we speak, here are my two cents on the festival films so far. I enjoyed the movies for the most part, but the running theme of malaise and dystopia makes me wonder whether the programmers need a long vacation to a sunny place.
BEWARE THE GONZO
2010 | 94 min | Feature Narrative | Directed by: Bryan Goluboff
A mid-fest Tweet that I glanced basically summed up my feelings on this film: “It probably wasn’t the best film at Tribeca, but it was certainly the most entertaining.” This story of a group of smart, off-kilter students and their revolutionary rag is just the kind of coming-of-age, triumph-over-the-man type movie that I’m a sucker for. GONZO’s lead actor, Ezra Miller, is definitely one to watch. I got a decidedly Christian-Slater-in-HEATHERS vibe. Without being a spoiler, I will just say that my big disappointment was the ending, which I feel seriously compromised the secondary “girl power” message of the film.
GAINSBOURG, JE T’AIME…MOI, NON PLUS
2009 | 136 min | Feature Narrative | Directed by: Joann Sfar
This cinematic portrait of French songwriter Serge Gainsbourg contains many predictable aspects, particularly in celebrating Gainsbourg’s rock-and-roll sexcapades. However, it is not your typical biopic. For one thing, Gainsbourg’s success on the airwaves and in the bedroom is set against a backdrop of post-Holocaust paranoia that pervades the film. Furthermore, the animated trips into Gainsbourg’s psyche occasionally give the visuals the feeling of a dark, Roald Dahl fairy tale come alive. Although the film overly glorifies Gainsbourg’s philandering ways, it is hard not to be seduced by his story. Hey. If notorious sex-bomb Brigitte Bardot went there, why shouldn’t we?
2009 | 105 min | Feature Narrative | Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Beautifully absurd in the way only the French can pull off, MICMACS is a warning against modernizing to the point of dehumanization. Yes, the film primarily takes place in a garbage dump and features quirky characters like an emotionally damaged contortionist, but ultimately it poses an important question: Which is more absurd, the imaginary world of the film, or the real world of weapons manufacturing and arms dealership that the protagonists rally against? I particularly relished the stop-and-smell-the-flowers moments that filmmaker Jeunet is known for. When the camera captures life’s little pleasantries like a sheet billowing as a father tucks his daughter in at night, we are reminded of life’s beauty even amidst the calamities of modern life. Notably, the film does not shun technology entirely. While it is overall an homage to handmade culture, D.I.Y., and recycling, YouTube still saves the day in the end.
MEET MONICA VELOUR
2009 | 97 min | Feature Narrative | Directed by: Keith Bearden
Kim Cattrall, playing a former porn star who’s down on her luck, is positively transformed in this film, and her performance makes it worth watching. While Samantha Jones (Cattrall’s Sex and the City role) may have pulled off such lines as “You screw a few hundred guys and the whole world turns against ya,” Cattrall delivers them here with perfect anguish and restraint uncharacteristic of the uber-confident Samantha Jones. Unfortunately, her counterpart, lead actor Dustin Ingram, channels Napoleon Dynamite to the point of distraction, which makes their relationship seem even less plausible. Monica Velour’s story is a thinly veiled and occasionally trite metaphor for America’s consumer culture. My favorite expression of this is the American icon collector’s assertion that, “Paris has the Eiffel Tower. We have Pez dispensers.” Despite its flaws, I was drawn into MEET MONICA VELOUR, admittedly choking up a few times.
2009 | 86 min | Feature Narrative | Directed by: Tarik Saleh
I kind of wish I hadn’t seen MICMACS first, because METROPIA is another treatise against hyper-modernization and corporatization, but it is not nearly as entertaining. “The man,” in the form of a mind-controlling corporate magnate, is portrayed as soulless but somehow the protagonists don’t manage to grab my sympathies either, so the entire film feels a bit void of emotion. The somber animation is kind of interesting, and it’s cool to hear Juliette Lewis pull off a voiceover role, but my advice? Just see MICMACS.
THIEVES BY LAW
2010 | 90 min | Feature Documentary | Directed by: Alexander Gentelev
I spent the first 20 minutes or so wondering if THIEVES BY LAW was actually a documentary, or rather a farce along the lines of WAITING FOR GUFFMAN. The three featured “former” Russian gangsters are so perfectly cast as stereotypical mobsters, and they cavalierly discuss the good ol’ days of gang activity as if they are reliving champion Varsity football matches. At first, it is hard to take seriously the extreme violence being described, especially when the interviews are conducted in exclusive seaside resorts and other very serene settings. The dialogue even verges on black humor with anecdotes like “I come into the restaurant. He’s sitting there eating his borscht. And then BAM! I hit him in the knees with a baseball bat!” Unfortunately for contemporary Russia, the interviewee’s stories are all too real, and made even more chilling by the power that these men must still wield today if they are able to look straight into the camera and admit to heinous crimes without fear of repercussion. THIEVES BY LAW is not a very aesthetically pleasing or well executed narrative (no pun intended) but as a character and sub-cultural study, the film is fascinating.
Catch ‘em while you can, and please share your thoughts below…