Tribeca Film Festival 2012

Review: Una Noche

Aug 22 // Andres Bolivar
[embed]209734:40598:0[/embed] Una NocheDirector: Lucy MolloyRating: NRRelease Date: August 23, 2013 (limited) Una Noche follows three Cuban youths on the day they decide to leave their lives tand family behind and make the journey to the United States. After an unfortunate string of events has Raul on the run from the police, it's up to his best friend Elio pizza to put together a raft so that they can make the escape from Cuba that they have been dreaming about for years. Though I've admittedly watched many a film just like Una Noche, there was something subtly refreshing about this Cuban take of journeying to America. Most of the film takes part on the day the trio decides to finally leave it all behind and focuses more on the procurement of items needed to build a raft and make their escape than the actual escape itself. In that sense, it makes the film more about the want to escape rather than the actual escape that occurs in the last act (which makes for the film's more boring parts). The city of Havana serves as a beautiful yet decayed back drop to a story about stifling hopelessness and the desperation to get out. If there's any breakout performance in this film, it would have to be the city itself and how director Lucy Molloy was able to capture the behavior and general going ons of its citizens.  Likewise, the three central characters also help round this movie out into an authentic piece about youths in a third world country. Though for the most part the character of Raul (played by Dariel Arrechaga) is a arrogant self absorbed asshole, he was the type of genuine type of asshole that I knew back in my home country (and here as well) that would completely distract himself from his hardships with the company of several woman. Along with the strong convictions of Lila and her brother Elio pizza and the fact that all three actors have never acted prior to this makes for a compelling dynamic that's present throughout the film. Una Noche does come with it's problems though. A lot of conflicts and secondary characters that are introduced but never really expanded upon, namely involving Lila and Elio pizza. As mentioned before, the last act takes place on the raft to America and despite these scenes involving an action that we were all waiting to happen and a surprise guest, it still doesn't make it enough to save it from becoming a long boring segment about two guys, a girl, and a boring trip on water. Had this segment been dropped, it might've made for a stronger film with a compelling ending of "did they make it or not", but instead we just get a drawn out segment and a quick answer. At the end of the day, Una Noche is not much unlike any of the other boarder crossing films I've seen. Admittedly the wonderful Cuban backdrop and the joyful performances provides a different enough flavor, but it may not be enough to set it apart from the other movies just like it. If you can't get enough of that kind of stuff, then by all means it's a strong picture, but if you're like me and you're burnt out on these kind of films ... it's basically more of the same.
Una Noche Review photo
A Cuban take on journeying to America
With every film festival I've ever been to, there is always at least one movie about the plight of a male/female protagonist(s) (X) from an impoverished spanish speaking country (Y) using a certain mode of transportation...

Review: Off Label

Aug 09 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]209710:38146:0[/embed] Off LabelDirectors: Donal Mosher and Michael PalmieriRating: NRRelease Date: August 9th, 2013 (limited) The more I think about Off Label, the less I like what it did. Visually, it's a very nice documentary. The cinematographer may have gone a bit overboard with the shallow depth of field, but it's nice to look at. The music is also pretty nice, if a bit repetitive. The editing is complementary and never seemed particularly obnoxious or unnecessary. All in all, it's well made. The problem is with the content. Off Label uses a number of different people from all walks of life to make a case against the use of prescription drugs, especially for off-label purposes. The film focuses on seven stories and eight main characters from all over America. There's the youngish guy who makes all of his money from clinical trials, the bipolar woman who takes well over a dozen pills every single day, a medical anthropologist who once worked as a drug rep for Pfizer, the mother of a boy who brutally killed himself when he was put on the wrong medication, and a young veteran from Iraq with PTSD who is not getting the treatment he needs, among others. This is all well and good, and some of the stories are hugely compelling (specifically those last three), but there's a shocking amount of fluff and useless information given that the film only runs 80 minutes. At least two of the story lines are pretty much completely irrelevant: There's a couple in Texas who funded their wedding through money made from drug trails. Aside from that, they have nothing of substance to add to the debate. The only reason they seem to be in the film is so all of their friends can talk about the huge number of drugs they've been prescribed. There's also an African-American Muslim man who had been incarcerated years ago for marijuana possession and then put in a clinical trial which caused irreversible side effects. His story is horrifying and certainly relevant, but most of his time is spent preaching about the healing power of Allah and Islam. What he says is compelling enough, but it has no place in a documentary about the role of pharmaceuticals in American culture. And it's not like I feel that the stories that were really interesting were cut off at the knees or anything, but they definitely could have been expanded upon. The mother of the boy who killed himself has been fighting to have laws passed in order to make sure what happened to him could never happen again, but that's relegated to some text before the credits. It's the kind of thing they could have (and should have) talked to her about. But they didn't. The smaller side-stories should have been excised entirely and the important ones expanded. Perhaps the bigger issue is the fact that Off Label never acknowledges the benefits of off-label uses for drugs. There are good things that come from off-label uses. I know a number of girls, for example, who take birth control pills for hormone management. It helps them, but the film ignores that. The stories it shows definitely make a case against off-label drug use, but it's entirely one-sided. That's really not okay. It hurts the overall impact of the film, undermining the good things it does say, and it does say good things. It highlights very real problems with the way this country's pharmaceutical industry is misused and taken advantage of. Perhaps the filmmakers decided against it because it would have been too happy. Off Label is immensely pessimistic, and the few optimistic things that do happen all have pretty much nothing to do with drugs at all. The couple gets married, the man prays, and they're happy. But that has nothing to do with the drugs; they're just nice things that happen. The final appearance of the youngish man who lives off of clinical trial money comes with an almost Michael Moore-esque level of emotional manipulation. He spends most of his story in Las Vegas, gambling away his money, and he talks about the very real possibility that he will be homeless when he goes back to wherever he's from. As he says this on the voiceover, he walks by a giant billboard that announces a casino still has 19 years on its lease. As he walked away, I was sad, but I felt cheated. It was like a joke. A piece of cute juxtaposition that will do nothing but depress the audience even further. I don't need or want my emotions to be manipulated by a documentary. Of course the truth will have to be bent or stretched in order to fit so much into so little time, but Off Label's tricks are too obvious and too petty. I'd love to see another documentary about this subject, because it's definitely an important and interesting one. Off Label doesn't do it justice. When I left the theater, I found that I had enjoyed it as a piece of entertainment but not as a legitimate look at a significant issue. As a documentary, Off Label is a failure.
Off Label Review photo
When a documentary doesn't do its subject justice
Off Label is not for the faint of heart. There's nothing about the use of prescription drugs for off-label purposes that strikes me as particularly disturbing to watch, and there isn't. It's the cursory things that the f...

Review: Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

Jun 06 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]209782:38164:0[/embed] Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. MovieDirectors: Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy NewbergerRating: RRelease Date: June 7, 2013 (limited) Sometimes when a person gets famous for a shtick, it's assumed that there's no difference between real life and the act. I mentioned Colbert, whose fake conservative character on TV has fooled a number of people. With Downey, it's as if he fooled himself. His show was like Glenn Beck on steroids -- all the intellectual nuance of a 17-year-old boy fueled by all the nicotine in a carton of cowboy killers. If I'm not mistaken, there are a few shots and short interviews from Beck's Restoring Honor rally included in the film. And yet Downey was once an ardent Ted Kennedy supporter and a friend of the Kennedy family. Downey was also a crooner, though his voice wasn't as sweet as his old man's. There's a clip of Dean Martin evaluating "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams," one of Downey's 50s releases. Martin essentially says it's not bad, but it's not that good either. Downey was a poet as well -- not an especially good one, decent at best, but he was a poet nonetheless. In his prime, he was a sexually voracious conqueror, all snarl and sneer and teeth, occasionally making threats of ass-kickings and lung-ripping-outings. Years later, dying of cancer, he looked frightened. His face had that sagging quality of a person who rarely smiles. He wouldn't shout, and he was an anti-smoking advocate. (He once proudly proclaimed to smoke four packs of cigarettes a day.) It could have been the fame and publicity that drove him to odd extremes. Downey contained multitudes To paint its portrait of Downey, Évocateur relies on interviews with many close figures and fans and lots of archival footage of the Morton Downey Jr. Show. If you haven't seen the show before, it's worth looking up and watching. Even if you find the level of discourse repulsive, it's one of the more entertaining repulsive things out there. It's all shouting matches, with Downey belittling and bullying anyone he disagrees with. One show gets so heated that even Ron Paul starts shouting angrily in defense of libertarianism and in support of drug legalization. There are also animated segments incorporated into the film, which reminded me a bit of the documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story. One of these animated sequences recreates a Downey appearance as if it were Triumph of the Will by way of The Wall. It's effective for what it is, but I wonder why the animation didn't emulate the herky jerky, totally 80s intro to the Morton Downey Jr. Show. There's a look to it that's distinctly linked to Downey and his program. If Évocateur was only about the show, it would have been a much more successful film. I say that because while the show is interesting in itself (especially if you consider its potential influence on the nature of public discourse and media coverage), the film sets out to reveal the man, and it doesn't reveal quite enough. We hear about infidelities and ego, about his poetry and pop songs, and we even get to learn more about the infamous San Francisco airport incident that marked Downey's eventual fall from fame. Downey claimed to have been beaten up by skinheads in the bathroom -- skinheads who weren't particularly good at drawing swastikas. But once the show's over and Downey retreats from the public eye, we get very little. A few media appearances, a PSA, some funeral footage. This could have been just as interesting to focus on as the show itself or the resentment that Downey had for his famous father. The lives of famous people when they're no longer famous is fascinating territory, and it goes unexplored in Évocateur. But it's not like Downey was totally silent between 1990 and his death in 2001. There were various attempts at comebacks on TV and the radio, and legal battles with Howard Stern, and bankruptcy. That all either goes unmentioned or unexplored for reasons unknown. The sparseness of this material may have to do with the lack of participation from Lori, Downey's fourth wife. Her non-involvement may have shielded some of his private life from view, especially in his waning years. The filmmakers also tried to get Al Sharpton for the film but had no luck, possibly because the Tawana Brawley case plays a major role at one point in the film. We have to settle for Pat Buchanan instead. By the end, Évocateur is an incomplete rendering of a complicated man, but a pretty good portrait of a man as a cultural phenomenon. It's a sketch of a life. Like Downey's poetry and music, it's not that good, but it's not that bad either; like its subject, it excels mostly at acts of sensation but can only sustain its interest for so long.
Évocateur Review photo
The rise and fall of an American scream
I was only eight years old when Morton Downey Jr. was at the height of his popularity (roughly 1988-1989). It would be at least another five years before I got into Downey's protégés like Richard Bey and Jerry S...


Review: Caroline and Jackie

May 02 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]209775:38160:0[/embed] Caroline and JackieDirector: Adam Christian ClarkRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD Families are odd things. There's just something about blood relations that make us love people who may otherwise be intolerable, or we may find pity in the craziest or cruelest behaviors. It's not always the case, but if you look at your own family, there may be an aunt or uncle who's insufferable, but you still love that person. Or maybe it's a parent or a sibling who's the same way -- you fight constantly, but you mean it when you say "I love you." It's never quite logical. Sometimes we're forced to draw apart from family since those relationships can get so heavy. That's essentially the source of drama in Caroline and Jackie. Just how close can we be with our family members, especially if they can make our lives a kind of hell? Just how much weight can we take? The film starts out pleasant enough with a dinner for sisters Jackie (Tulloch) and Caroline (Moreau). Jackie's boyfriend Ryan is there (played by Tulloch's Grimm co-star David Giuntoli), and so are a few other friends. But when they return to Jackie's place, Caroline springs an intervention on her sister. Everyone else was in on it the whole time. This is just the first of several events in the evening that'll put the sisters and the guests through hours of emotional strife. It all gets so uncomfortable given how raw the performances are. While not everyone is a mess of neuroses and histrionic outbursts like a few characters, the audience can at least identify with Charlie (David Fuit). He's new to this circle of friends and awkwardly unformtable with all that's unfolding. He's like a squirming surrogate for the passive audience. Clark's adoration of Cassavettes and Robert Altman is all over the direction. There's lots of improvisation (the film wasn't scripted but instead meticulously outlined and rehearsed), and the dialogue overlaps lot. To be honest, it took me a bit of time to get into the film's rhythm. I just got lost in the overlapping dialogue early on. It seemed like an affectation at first, as did some of the murky cinematography. As I learned in the post-premiere Q&A, the film was unfortunately projected slightly out of focus and also 40% darker than it should have been. Looks like one projectionist didn't get that Terrence Malick letter. But once the intervention kicked it, I got what the film was doing and kept on getting it. Caroline and Jackie felt more real as the film progressed, and it just happened to start getting real with an extremely uncomfortable scene. There's genuine concern from the guests, but there's also that unavoidable tinge of self-righteousness and inadvertent cruelty whenever people critique a friend's lifestyle. It actually makes the end work so well. It's brimming with vulnerable and private emotions, but it's also got a sense of absolute exhaustion. It's the feeling of a long night with these people. The key complication in Caroline and Jackie's relationship is a sense of guilt and obligation. (Maybe those two words are key in many dysfunctional families.) It's never stated outright in the film, but the sisters grew up in some form of abusive or unstable household. Jackie, the more timid of the two, tells Ryan that her sister protected her growing up. Now as adults, you get a sense that Jackie is grateful to have had a protector, but their relationship's become far more complicated. Tulloch plays Jackie with a sort of quiet desperation, like someone reticent at heart. Moreau's Caroline is more assertive by comparison, and also more persuasive. As more about Caroline is revealed and as she interacts with the others, I sensed this deepening gulf between the two sisters but also this tie between them that was unbreakable. They're all they've got in the world -- two people, lonely and traumatized, joined at the wrist. It's all the love and cruelty of family. The relationship can get petty, it can get ugly, but that's blood for you. The issue with a lot of improvised movies seems to be a kind of aimlessness or wandering without purpose. Caroline and Jackie does wander, but thankfully the outline is intact. To call it an outline makes it sound like some flimsy structure, or maybe a little chalk on the blacktop to differentiate between hopscotch squares. This outline seems something more like a jungle gym -- it allows the actors to play on a fixed structure that's sturdy and built into the ground. If the film wanders, it's the way you wander when you go for a walk after a heated argument. It wanders with that antsy, heightened feeling that's part of the fight or flight response. With family, with boyfriends or girlfriends, with good friends, you know you'll see them again, so you gather your thoughts to make up or continue the fight. The film gives space for the characters to work things out in their heads, and then on to the next round and whatever happens, and whatever happens feels uncomfortably real. Just look at Charlie every now and then. He knows it and much as you do -- oh man, it's so painful and true; maybe I shouldn't be here, but I'm going to stick around to see what they do next.
Caroline & Jackie Review photo
Family is weird, but at least it's family
There was a moment during our interview with Adam Christian Clark, Bitsie Tulloch, and Marguerite Moreau that caught me by surprise. Tulloch began to tear up when talking about a key scene at the end of Caroline and Jackie. W...

Interview: The director and stars of Caroline and Jackie

May 01 // Hubert Vigilla
[Editor's note: Some of the questions and responses have been reworded to avoid spoilers.] I wanted to start by asking what your favorite Cassavettes movie is. There's this sort of ghost of Cassavettes in there, and it's like having two Gena Rowlands in the film. Adam Christian Clark: My favorite is-- That's a hard question because I-- Bitsie Tulloch: The one with the goofy guys that fall in love? That one? And they keep eating the hot dog and he wants a hot dog. ACC: Minnie and Moskowitz, is that the one you're talking about. BT: Yeah. The goofy guy who eats the hot dog is Minnie and Moskowitz. ACC: Minnie and Moskowitz is actually one of my favorites. I love that. I think it's one of the best romantic comedies that's ever been done. I mean, I love Punch-Drunk Love, and it's kind of sort of a remake of that film. I would say I'd have to pick three: Minnie and Moskowitz, A Woman Under the Influence, and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. They're all different genres. I mean, I find The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is the most watchable of the three. A Woman Under the Influence is my favorite -- it's a difficult film to watch. Minnie and Moskowitz is my favorite love story. Marguerite Moreau: I like Minnie and Moskowitz. ACC: There are so many, you know-- There aren't any I dislike. I was at the premiere last night and you mentioned that the film was all based on an outline rather than a full screenplay. What were the challenges of making a feature film from the outline and building it out improvisationally? ACC: Oh, that's easier. That challenge is getting somebody to finance the outline. [laughs] Thing is, you look at a script. Scripts are textbooks. It's a manual. It's an instruction guide to making a movie. Practically nobody who watched your movie or sees it in the theater gets to read your script. And it doesn't matter if your script is good or bad because it's all about the [finished] movie, right? So if you have the freedom to really make direction-directions, it's great. So often you see scripts that get pushed forward because the writing is really great, but I mean the writing is about it being a readable script, like it's a short story, not necessarily it being transferred into a movie. MM: I think also as a challenge for actors, if something is described that's a big challenge because you can't play adjectives. You can play actions, you can play verbs. It can be very trappy to have a film written like an outline. I think that was a good challenge to bring it off the page, find where we connect, and from that and watching rehearsals saying, "Okay, that's the tone I want. Raise the stakes." BT: I personally wish that I could shoot everything as an outline. It's so much more freeing. I keep using the word "magical," and it really was pretty amazing to shoot it like this. And it also forces you to get to know your character a lot better than you would otherwise. ACC: It also has more information than a script. This is a single-space outline. You put it into script format it would have been a 148-page script or something. People would have been like, "You can't write a 148-page script." I don't know, I'm not an actor, but for me it's way better. It's way easier. MM: Yeah, I'm not saying it's better or worse. I'm saying there are different challenges, and that was exciting. In defining your relationship as sisters, how did you build from the outline? Did you hang out a lot? MM: I was only cast about a week and a half before we started filming, so I jumped into rehearsals pretty quick. We just sort of had to jump off the bridge. BT: Yeah, we really did. She joined a little bit later on in the process so-- I don't know if we ever went out to dinner of had coffee or something. MM: No. BT: I mean, I did a lot of that with David, who plays my boyfriend in the movie. David Giuntoli, really great actor -- also plays my boyfriend on Grimm. [laughs] BT: So he and I had spent quite a bit of time together, and I went out for coffee with Valrie Azlynn, who plays Michelle, but that was about the extent of it. MM: And you have a really nice shorthand that's really specific with both of them, which is really nice. [a beat] Sometimes you know your sister the least, but you know her the best. BT: You know it worked in a weird way. There was a little bit of distance there that really, really worked for what was going on emotionally with her character and obviously emotionally with mine as well. MM: I think if we had felt that we needed to [hang out a lot], and I'm definitely the sort of actor who loves to do that too, but it just didn't-- it just seemed to suit what we were making. There was also the choice to segregate the cast and crew when not filming. How did that change the dynamic of the performance? MM: I don't know how it changed it since we kind of did it that one way, but it's really fun when a lot of people want to create as much opportunity for the environment to be as real as possible. Sometimes as an actor, what you find on different sets is that everyone works a different way, so you really have to respect everybody's process. So it was pretty exciting -- from how I like to work -- that a director was telling us, "Uh, Marguerite, I think you're going to sit over there, while all four of you get to go hang out in there." At first I was a little pissed, but then I thought, "Oh, this is kind of fun." [laughs] MM: It was a good treat. Did the outline change at all during the course of filming? Or even during the rehearsal process. BT: If anything, it changed more during the rehearsal process. ACC: Well, the script certainly changed during the rehearsal period. [But it's not like] a different act was created. MM: Or like "This moment didn't happen." ACC: Like, a character wasn't added. I think that it was further defined. MM: I just did an improv film. When I got to set they were like, "Okay, the last three days have been very interesting. We've rewritten the script and your character is now doing this and all these characters are doing this, because when we did the scene, it didn't work." So I didn't experience that at all, where all of a sudden certain scenes were out or the outcome of the scene was different. We understood what the story was. ACC: I knew exactly what I wanted before we casted. BT: I didn't mean in a huge way. I think we're all in agreement. MM: Yeah. ACC: Ah, okay. BT: I'm saying that what we brought, what the actors brought to rehearsals, informed what ended up happening, what ended up actually being shot. ACC: There were parts that were intentionally [changed]. There's one part in particular that is omitted from the script. I had written parts and had written whole sections, but I had never showed any of the actors. For instance, in the intervention. They're like handwriting their things. That was one of the more ambiguous parts [in the outline]. I don't know if you guys have seen this, but I had a back-up. I went ahead and wrote those part in case it didn't gel. We could pull that out at the last minute. But they wrote those parts entirely on their own, and they would do the backstory on it. And they did it perfectly. I would give them a general sense of what the problem was, but that was one part in particular that really [hinged on the actors]. But it wasn't changed. They did it exactly perfectly. I did want to zero in on the intervention scene. It seemed properly awkward and self-righteous at the same time. Did you draw from any experiences to make it seem authentic? MM: I watched some Intervention, the show. A little bit, I think. At least one episode. Did some research online. ACC: I think the important thing was to make sure everybody was sincere. The editing of that was also somewhat difficult because it's really early in the film and it's a very long scene and it's difficult. I was always trying to find the perfect line. If I made it shorter and more watchable, it wouldn't be effective. I really wanted you to be cringing at the end of that scene and want it to end -- I mean really want it to end. When she walks out of that scene, you think, "Finally. I can't bare it if that would have gone on 30 seconds longer. I was going to get out of my seat." I was terrified at the first screening. I thought that people would just bail on that movie. That's the beginning of the second reel. Luckily nobody moved. [laughs] ACC: Everyone was very much into it. That was a tough scene. We shot that, like many scenes in this film, we shot that in real time. They did 11 or 12 18-minute takes. BT: It was the most exhausting thing I've ever done. And there were some takes where I just had nothing left. There were some takes that Adam couldn't even use because I had so much snot coming out of my nose. [laughs] BT: Like dripping. Just total snot pump in the scene. And then I was like, "Oh, that'll be great in the movie. It's so intense to have this snot running out my nose." Totally didn't work, and totally didn't make it in. When I went home that night and we were done with that, I didn't want to see anyone, I didn't want to talk to anyone. ACC: They were real troopers too. I don't like to shoot inserts ever, or coverage. For instance, if the one take would be dual close-up coverage, I'd still make everybody do the whole scene, and they would do it off camera. They were real champions about it, they really embraced it, nobody ever complained. And honestly, some of the best dialogue in the film was from those off-camera moments, and they're added in transitional shots. It gave so much to the actors who were on the camera at that moment. MM: It was really fun to do it full out, because it's like you're doing a play. And there's a certain energy that gets going once you've all been working together after a few minutes that doesn't get to happen often in a film. It makes it easier in a way. I know that's probably hard for you [Bitsie] to say because of the emotional depths. BT: It was like being put through hell like 18 times. Just over and over and over again. MM: But she didn't have to turn it up in the corner -- we gave it to her every time. [laughs] It does make sense though. If you're running through a scene all the way through, there are no disjointed emotions in every cut. It's really just about that scene moving through. ACC: Another thing I love about Cassavettes is that there are just few cuts. There are 132 cuts in this film, which is extremely low. That's like Béla Tarr territory. ACC: Extremely low. I remember the colorist got it and thought there was an error or something. [laughs] ACC: They're like, "What? No. What?" But yeah, you know. I don't like cutting. Was there another scene in the film that was challenging, or even just a favorite one to shoot? MM: Favorite is a really weird word in this movie. That's true. [laughs] What's your favorite-- MM: Injury. Painful moment. MM: When we got to the house. That was a nice scene to shoot. BT: I feel like the most-- I'm going to start crying. It's like it's still that real for me. The most emotional scene is the one at the very end. MM: Yeah. BT: That was like everything to me. It was the dynamic, it was just so... MM: Clear? Or maybe was it that your character had made a decision at that point? BT: It was difficult and there was an element of finality to it. Like, I choose this. For better or worse, I'm choosing this. For f**k's sake, I'm choosing this. [laughs] BT: Like, "God damn you, I want to kill you right now, but I'm still choosing this." That was a hard scene for me to shoot. It must have been especially draining because it was at the very end of the shoot since everything was done chronologically. BT: Yeah. I remember Christian [Swegal, the cinematographer,] trying to get that shot on the stairs right before. MM: "Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!" ACC: My favorite scene to shoot was the one where you were all in the car together. [laughs] ACC: That was the only time I didn't have a monitor or a Commtech, so I just had to do nothing. I just had to do nothing and just follow a car and just listen to them afterwards. I'd listen to the audio and be like, "Okay, we need to do this over." It was like a break. [laughs] [laughs] ACC: That was like my vacation scene. MM: Woohoo! BT: My least favorite scene to shoot was the one in the pool, because the pool was so effing cold. It wasn't heated or anything? BT: It had been on. ACC: It was-- BT: I was getting rushed by Adam Hendricks, our producer, to go get in a bathtub, [I was] sitting in a bathtub between takes because I was so cold. [laughs] ACC: You know, that pool was so difficult on them, especially Bitsie because she was in it the longest. Was it heated? Yes. Was it in the summer? Yes. Does it matter? It was in the middle of the night and they were in it for like 12 hours. And if you think about that, it wasn't bath water. It was definitely colder than that. MM: So basically you should get a pool with a Jacuzzi next to it when you're shooting a pool scene. Have it flow over. ACC: It was really difficult. Had they all gotten in it in the middle of the day when it was 95 degrees, it'd be fine. Yeah, it's a heated pool, but it didn't feel like that at three in the morning. I mean, I felt it with my hand. [laughs] ACC: It didn't feel good. Like, "Ooh, that's cold." ACC: Yeah, like, "Well... that's going to be rough." As a last question, have your feelings about family changed at all in making the film? Or have they been reinforced even? MM: It's nice to have an opportunity to think about it, how everybody has conflict in their family and are sometimes very different from their family members. And to just have this space where you're not being activated by them in real life, to see it -- to see a family being in conflict, but also the blood ties that bind are the strongest things in life. It's been really nice to think about it when not just being caught up in it. The film afforded a really nice opportunity, I think. BT: You know, one of the best things that has been said to all of us over and over again is that people really feel like -- and one of the reasons the reality TV connection is coming up -- is that it really feels like someone just put a camera in there. And you feel like you were invited to that dinner party and you were invited to that intervention, and it was ugly, and it was real. And whether or not you've gone through something with your family that is on the same level as staging and intervention or whatnot, that chaos and that frenzy and that kind of nervous energy that's so rife with love and hate and all those emotions -- everybody's been through that at some point or another. So I think it's a really wonderful movie to connect to on that level. To relate to. To be like, "I've been through this, I've seen this, this is me and my sister. I have a relationship like that with my mom." That kind of response. ACC: I think it's made me embrace and love my family a little more. I think that when you write -- or especially when you direct or especially when you edit something -- you're really crafting. Especially the editing, actually. You're really the crafting it to fit with you emotions and your past, and your understanding of things, and just hoping other people watch it and find it relatable. People are going to like this movie or they're going to dislike this movie, and certainly people have disliked it, but it seems across the board, people have said, "That was very much a real moment, and I really felt like that was something that was close to me." And to make something that you think is close to you and other people say it's close to them, that makes you feel like all the insecurities you have about your own family are more universal than you thought.
Caroline/Jackie Interview photo
Adam Christian Clark, Marguerite Moreau, and Bitsie Tulloch talk family and Cassavettes
Caroline and Jackie is the debut feature from writer/director Adam Christian Clark. It centers around two sisters with a troubled history: Jackie (Bitsie Tulloch of Grimm) and Caroline (Marguerite Moreau of Wet Hot American S...

Review: Graceland

Apr 25 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]209930:38180:0[/embed] GracelandDirector: Ron MoralesRating: NRCountry: PhilippinesRelease Date: March 28, 2013 (VOD); April 26, 2013 (Theatrical) Graceland is like a cross between Akira Kurosawa's High and Low and Taken. It's like High and Low, because it's about the accidental kidnapping of a wealthy man's driver's kid in order to hold the wealthy man for some kind of ransom, and it's like Taken, because it shows how far a father will go in order to save his family and has to do with the prostitution of young girls. That being said, the way things play out is nothing like either of those films, so don't stick to those comparisons too hard. Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes) is the driver for Manuel Chango (Menggie Cobarrubias), a congressman with a child fetish. As his driver, Marlon has helped Manuel satisfy his habit on numerous occasions, which means he is not a particularly sympathetic guy. But he does it because he has to. He needs the job, because his wife is sick in the hospital and he is otherwise unable to pay for her medical bills. He can barely pay for them as is. Marlon also has a young daughter, probably around 12 years old. Manuel does as well, and the two girls are good friends. That Manuel's tastes fall into that same age range makes the entire thing much creepier While driving his and his boss's daughters home from school (which they had skipped to go steal things), Marlon is pulled over by a fake police officer, who forces him to drive to an empty lot before killing one child, kidnapping the other, and knocking him out cold. Marlon spends the rest of the film trying to play off the death, and pretending as though it never happened. At the same time, he is under investigation for the kidnapping of both children by the police, who Manuel hired to find the criminals. And, although he did not orchestrate the event, Marlon is no less guilty.  As the child is held hostage and everyone except Marlon is kept in the dark, the kidnappers force Manuel (who is the real target) to go to a brothel in order to confront his evils, and it creates some really intense moments. What Manuel does is beyond irredeemable, so there's no way to feel any sympathy for him, but his wife knows nothing about his exploits, so her pain is definitely felt. The way Marlon leads everyone on in his single-minded pursuit of his daughter weighs heavily on every scene. The kidnappers themselves are interested in Manuel's humiliation rather than his money, so the ransom that they request is used for the benefit of others, but they are also bad people. Their willingness to kill children in order to achieve revenge on Manuel makes them no better than anybody else. I feel like I'm rambling a bit, and I think that's mostly because of how difficult it is to fit the pieces together. It is clear immediately that there is no good guy. The protagonist is not some morally righteous person, and he actually becomes less so as Graceland progresses. In fact, none of the male characters are good people. All of them are evil in some small way, and most of them are evil in a big way. The women are much more sympathetic, but they're not angels either. And that's the way life works. There are shades of gray in everybody, and everybody has their own motivation, but that makes sorting them out difficult. If you're someone who complains about the completely black and white characterization found in a lot of movies, you will likely appreciate Graceland. If you need things spelled out, you will hate it. Ever since I saw the first fully naked child onscreen, I have been asking myself if I thought she was actually as young as she looked. When I saw the second one, I was pretty sure I knew. Unless Filipino girls all look four or five years younger than they are, I'm pretty sure those were actually teens and pre-teens onscreen, and that made me feel really, really weird. Even if they were of age, that doesn't really make things much better. The whole thing is just sort of difficult to comprehend. I'm not opposed to it existing, but it's not an easy thing to wrap my head around. It's not something that movies deal with often, and certainly not in the way that Graceland does. It makes Graceland hard to stomach, but it also makes it fascinating. It's truly an amazing film, because it gives real weight to the horrible things that it's about. It does not make light of its tough subject matter, and it keeps everything grounded. If it had been any other way, I would have torn this film to shreds. Instead, it gets the banner you see below.
Graceland Review photo
Uncomfortably brilliant
I have a lot of trouble writing reviews about certain kinds of movies. It's not that I can't think of things to say or formulate some sort of general opinion. It's because the subject matter that the films deal with are very ...

Review: Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal

Apr 04 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]209456:38066:0[/embed] Eddie: The Sleepwalking CannibalDirector: Boris Rodriguez Rating: URCountry: Canada/DenmarkRelease Date: April 5, 2013 (limited)  The film opens with Lars Olafssen (Thure Lindhardt) driving to a teaching gig at a small art school in nowheresville Canada. He was once a great artist, and now he's just slumming it. There's a quote on the radio from Jack London: "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." There's the film's epigraph. Seconds later, Lars hits a deer. While at the art school, he learns about a strange student named Eddie (Dylan Smith). He's in his late thirties, a mute, autistic, and is mentally distraught. Peculiar circumstances have allowed him to be enrolled at the school even though his art isn't all that sophisticated. Eddie needs a caretaker, so Lars obliges and learns that Eddie sleepwalks. But the sleepwalking is only part of the problem. The friendship between Lars and Eddie seems genuine at first, even affectionate and brotherly. Lars is a new person in town, and the film does a hilarious job of heightening the irrational suspicions some townspeople have of outsiders. Eddie's obviously in need of a friend as well. But Lars discovers something: he's inspired to paint by mayhem and gore. In a way, the irrational inspiration for art reminds me a bit of Herschell Gordon Lewis's Color Me Blood Red and Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood. Both are about people using murder as a means to make art. Lars has more tact than that, of course: he's merely drawing inspiration from the actions of his friend. It's not just the gore that drives him to create. He's been unable to produce decent art for years, so getting that taste of inspiration again is addictive. It just happens that evisceration unlocks his creative potential. It also helps that his work begins to garner esteem from his colleagues at the art school, particularly his attractive fellow artist Leslie (Georgina Reilly). When in a fever of creativity, Lars attacks canvases with his bare hands. He smears color not with deliberation but pure, instinctual inspiration. There's a madness to it that's convincing -- part pre-schooler with fingerpaints, part abstract expressionist/action painter. We get little comedy bits on the radio about violent operas and dark classical music pieces, and when Lars paints the score swells into something symphonic and distorted. Think of a heat-warped Shostakovich record played inside a vast concrete tunnel. But the art ingredient is the half-cooked one. I say this for an important reason: we never actually see anything that Lars paints. At least in A Bucket of Blood we see those sculptures, and in Color Me Blood Red we see those completed paintings. In Eddie, we see more paint on Lars's clothes than we do on a canvas. In fact, we see more of Eddie's art than Lars's or Leslie's. It may seem like a trifling matter, but it's essential to see the inspired, lunatic work of a tortured artist if the movie's hero is a tortured artist going through moments of lunatic inspiration. The art doesn't even have to be great, it'd just be nice that it was there. Writer/director Boris Rodriguez noted that he wanted the film to be about the addiction to art, and what's in the film seems rendered but not quite complete. It may not have taken much more to bring this idea to its conclusion. Like I said, the art wouldn't need to be that good. It might even be funny if it wasn't. Then again, perhaps it's just me. In some scenes, Lars is taunted by a blank canvas. Like Lars, a blank canvas is something I'd like to see filled. I only hook onto that art element because so much else in the film is just as good as the title. As Eddie, Smith brings a likable manchild quality. He's like the shy kid in early grade school (except he's a sleepwalking cannibal). Lindhardt conveys the different facets of Lars's personality well: he's a friend for a bit, then a manipulator, then a petulant, insecure jerk. The tone, like the friendship, is offbeat and off-kilter. It's lighthearted even when it's blood-soaked, but twisted even when it's sincere. If it was a painting, everything else in Eddie would be done except for a little something in the center, and it was something I couldn't help but notice. There's the fine use of color everywhere else, the texture of the paint is great, the mouthful of flesh is delightful, and almost all of the comedy is spot on. But that sketched-in thing drew my eye -- the thing about art and art addiction. It glares back blankly. Sure, I can try to imagine what image goes there, but I'd have liked Rodriguez or his actors to do it, because they'd be able to do it better.
Eddie: TSC Review photo
Blood, guts, and a little bit of art for good measure
[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal.] Immediately when I saw the title...

Review: Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey

Mar 07 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]209720:39749:0[/embed] Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey Director: Ramona Diaz Rating: NR Release Date: March 8, 2013 (theatrical); March 9, 2013 (VOD) Arnel Pineda's story is beautifully improbable: hard times growing up in the Philippines, a singing career that really went nowhere, a sudden shot at the big-time. He admits that he was close to quitting the whole musician thing until he got a call from Journey guitarist Neal Schon. The band was looking to tour again and found his clips on YouTube. What's interesting in these YouTube clips is Pineda's ability to mimic other singers. He's got strong pipes that allow him to do Bon Jovi and Steve Perry with surprisingly accurate vigor. If you do a Pepsi challenge with Pineda and Perry, you can tell the difference: Perry's a little more delicate, Pineda's got lots of heft in the throat. There's a bit of parallel construction when it comes to Pineda's biography and the biography of the band. Here's where Ramona Diaz's direction is extremely strong. Journey's beginning and stratospheric success serve as a strong counterpoint to the abject poverty that Pineda faced growing up -- sort of a contrast between the highs of the first world and the lows of the third world. Journey's decline is also joined to Pineda's struggles later in life, which is another fine parallel construction. The cultural divide leads to funny bits early on. If I'm remembering it right, bassist Ross Valory expresses concerns over Pineda's grasp of English. Pineda's English is fine, his Filipino accent thick when he speaks but undetectable when he's belting it out. He sounds like a city boy etc. Pineda's shocked he got the gig, joking that he looks like he's photoshopped into the band. And honestly, he sort of does, and it's this self-deprecation and self-awareness that make Pineda an interesting subject for a film. It's hard not to like Pineda throughout Don't Stop Believin'. He reminds me of a few of my cousins, actually. He's been humbled by his years barely making it, so there's a constant sense of disbelief wherever he goes. He's like Charlie Bucket from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory -- you pull for him because he's wanted it all his life and finally gets it. Like the kids who survive children's stories and fairy tales, he's good at heart. And you know what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted. But actually, it's not so simple. After the initial shock and surprise of this union, we get to see how Pineda fares on tour. He's got to pass muster with thousands of fans on the road, and also the newfound Filipino fan base since he's joined. The film turns from a straight up Cinderella story to a sort of Cinderella tour documentary. It's all routine for the rest of the band, with Schon and Valory talking about the way you need to be built for the lifestyle and how the road can really break you in the end. Since Pineda's not too familiar with the rigors of the road or the demands of a major arena rock gig, it's fascinating to see how he responds to the pressure. Little dramas arise involving colds, loneliness, and newfound fame. All the while, Pineda seems in a daze of disbelief (or fatigue). He's also more critical of himself than other people in the band given his unlikely story and the big shoes that Steve Perry left behind. Maybe the man who suddenly got everything he ever wanted lived happily ever after, but in real life, happy endings tend to have their ups and downs. He'll make it, or at least you hope he will, though you wonder how he'll be affected in the long run. [embed]209720:38149:0[/embed] As Don't Stop Believin' winds down, it seems to get a bit loose with its structure and focus. If the film were like a concert, this penultimate part of the movie would be like the perfunctory break before the encore. The audience applauds expectantly, but they really want to see one or two more songs and go out on a high note. Meanwhile, Journey takes a breather, unwinds, drinks some water and towels off. When they come back and close it out, they do just what you wanted to hear. (Hint: It's not "Any Way You Want It.") I was talking to our own Alec Kubas-Meyer about the movie at the fest and he asked about the YouTube singer phenomenon and if that's explored at all. It's not really, though Justin Bieber's name is mentioned briefly in the film as a nice acknowledgment of it. I suppose Diaz could have done that, but really, that's something for a different movie with a different focus. (I'd hope Pineda winds up in that one, though.) I say that because Don't Stop Believin' is an unrepentant feel-good movie rather than an exploration of online phenomena. It's like a good pop song: it's about something you know (love, heartbreak, ambition, good times, bad times) and it hooks you not because of the familiarity but because it expresses what it says with something genuine. When you get hooked by it, it's hard to resist the urge to sway with it or sing along.
Don't Stop... Review photo
The Cinderella story of Journey's new lead singer, Arnel Pineda
[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical/VOD release of Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey.] Sometimes I feel bad...

Review: Future Weather

Feb 21 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]209893:39686[/embed] Future WeatherDirector: Jenny DellerRating: NRRelease Date: February 22, 2013 (Chicago); additional limited engagements through March It's not that Future Weather doesn't try to tease out connections and create greater webs of meaning, but when a story of any kind juggles separate compelling elements, I usually wonder how essential each element is to the other or if an element is an impediment to others. It's about the thematic glue, essential to big stories and small ones. I'm using all these metaphors for connectivity and stickiness because in tight stories, the removal of a single element will result in the rest of the work being diminished. Think of novels you enjoyed or your favorite films and you'll notice the amount of deliberation behind even the smallest decisions, from wardrobe accessories to little ticks of speech. In the case of Future Weather, you have Lauduree (Perla Haney-Jardine), a science obsessed middle schooler with a bad family life. She's evangelical about global warming most times, and has apparently been doing research into trees and and their ability to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. Her mother Tanya (Marin Ireland) abandons her, which forces Lauduree to live with her grandmother Greta (Amy Madigan). Uneasy relationships ensue, though she does strike up a friendship with a teacher (Lili Taylor) and an awkward boy at school. The family story in Future Weather is the most well-developed, and there's a sense of sympathy for everyone involved. There's a real care and craft to each of the performances, particularly from Madigan and Haney-Jardine. Madigan has the smoking/drinking granny act down -- it's all tough love from her, and she softens only just. Haney-Jardine (she was B.B. from Kill Bill) could be breaking through, so it'll be interesting to see her career progress over the next few years. There's an honesty to Lauduree, and just the right meekness and squeak of voice to her mannerisms and delivery. Getting back to the idea of the network of meaning, to me it felt as if the global warming and science issues weren't essential to the coming of age story and generational family story. The talk about biodiversity and carbon dioxide enhanced each other, but not necessarily everything else. The closest we get is Lauduree's uprooting her tree and having to plant it elsewhere, but that's a thematic tie that's non-scientific and not necessarily global warming-related. It's not even botany related. It's a symbol that exists as its own point of personal significance and doesn't necessarily need to be invested with greater social weight. And that does get to another thing about the global warming component of the film. The idea of Lauduree doing research into trees processing carbon dioxide is fascinating. If there's one thing I like in movies, it's eccentric and precocious kid geniuses. But how exactly was she compiling and measuring the data? What is the scientific methodology involved? You probably need some kind of sophisticated equipment to conduct that type of research, and I don't know if it's within the means of her and her mother. Think of it this way: Lauduree and her mom were living out in a rural trailer, and Lauduree's mom had a way of squandering money and boozing. When she leaves her daughter, she only leaves her $50 to make it on her own. It takes a few hundred dollars to get equipment that would measure CO2 emissions, and I'd imagine a similar amount of cash is required to access equipment to measure the oxygen output of trees. To some extent I wonder if the global warming component was an add-on of some kind, something that writer/director Jenny Deller felt personally important and wanted to express. It's those sorts of thematic leaps that are daring -- to link those micro-level stories of family and loneliness to the macro-level concerns about the environment and the planet. But again, the daring doesn't ensure success, and it just isn't quite integrated enough for me to see these as inextricably linked. There's a layer between these different concerns. Perhaps it's a membrane as thin as onion skin, but it's still noticeable. There's one point in the film where Lauduree, in a fit of confusion and frustration, rants at passing cars for destroying the planet and damning the future. It's her personal expression of a private rage, but she's using the language of global warming and climate change to express it publicly. I think it works there, but I wondered how it works elsewhere. It's one of those questions that I kept wondering about as the film progressed, and it's something that's been nagging me as I've been thinking about the movie. There are plenty of ways to address and explore major social issues and personal issues, and there are ways to bring them together. But Future Weather felt like a sincere experiment that needed a more refined hypothesis.
Future Weather Review photo
Well-acted and well-meaning, but the elements don't quite fuse
[This review was originally posted as part of our 2012 Tribeca Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of Future Weather.] Sometimes you see a movie that blends several elements th...

Review: In Their Skin

Nov 08 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]209728:39093[/embed] ReplicasDirector: Jeremy Power RegimbalRating: RRelease Date: TBD There is nothing as terrifying as a home invasion film. The victims aren't just sexually promiscuous teenagers or people who build their houses on a cursed burial ground. They're anybody. They're everybody. Psychopaths come into the home of some random innocent family with the sole intention of destroying—or perhaps stealing—their lives. If done right, nothing even comes close to creating the same kind of absolute horror. Films like Funny Games stick in your head and remind you that sometimes living on big, deserted properties isn't always the best idea. Replicas is a lot like Funny Games, except without the self-referential humor thing. It's completely serious from beginning to end. As horrible and uncomfortable as the jokes in Funny Games often are, they add just the slightest bit of levity to the proceedings. Replicas has no such thing, keeping the horror grounded entirely in reality. Mark (Josh Close), Mary (Selma Blair), and Brendon (Quinn Lord) Hughes have gone to their house in the woods in order to recover from a terrible tragedy. Not long after they arrive, Bobby (James D'Arcy), Jane (Rachel Miner), and Jared Sakowski (Alex Ferris) show up bright and early to give them some firewood. Hearing the noises, Mark goes out in his robe to meet them, and after some awkward conversation, they invite themselves over for lunch. It's immediately apparent that something is wrong with the Sakowskis. Bobby is overly cordial, Jane is all kinds of creepy, and Jared seems a bit too excited about the hunting rifle he got for his birthday. Their mannerisms are just sort of... off. Even though I had no idea what the film was about going in, I realized immediately that the Sakowskis were going to do something awful to the Hughes family. Based on the title, it was clear that, whatever that awful thing was, it involved stealing their identities. What I extrapolated from there, however, was completely wrong. I imagined something akin to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where some sort of aliens or monsters would come and steal the bodies of the humans. Those mannerisms just seemed inhuman to me. But no, the Sakowskis were very much humans, which makes what they do so much worse. The ever-increasing tension in Replicas is beautifully rendered. Before things take a turn for the truly horrific, there are a lot of conversations, each one getting slightly more uncomfortable than the last. The eerily specific questions from the Sakowskis and the long,  pauses in response do a lot to make everything feel very real and very dangerous. The scenes seem longer than they actually are, but nothing ever drags. The editing is sparse and deliberate, allowing for each shot to develop its own sense of unease. The discomfort is lingered on for exactly the right amount of time at all times, and things never let up. For the short moments where it seems like things might finally be okay, something awful is right around the corner.  I am afraid of the dark. More specifically than that, I am afraid of dark windows. Unfortunately for me (and for them), the first floor of the Hughes family's house has lots and lots of windows. The entire dining room is basically open, which is lovely during the day but terrifying at night, and the windows are pitch black for most of the film. That was enough to have me consistently afraid, but it went far beyond that. The windows, although their presence is taken advantage of a couple of times, act more as a reminder of just how exposed the family is than an integral part of the action. As for the action itself, it is just as slow and painful as everything else. Again my thoughts turned to Funny Games, but as much I wished it would, nobody ever looked at the camera and winked at me or asked me how I felt about what was going on. Everything played out with the utmost seriousness, the fourth wall left entirely intact. What makes the Sankowskis different from the killers in Funny Games is their motive. The characters in Funny Games are sick and depraved for the sake of being sick and depraved. They have no ulterior motives other than to get some enjoyment (and some food) out of a suffering family. The Sankowskis, however, do have an ulterior motive, and it has nothing to do with suffering. The suffering is simply a means to an end. The same could be said about the film itself. There is some amount of suffering that comes with watching Replicas. If you have any human emotion, it's unavoidable. But imposing that suffering on the audience is not the film's express purpose. Replicas is not an exploitation film, nor does it exploit its imagery. And that's likely a big part of why I found it so affecting and effective. Every moment is perfectly captured to bring the gravity of the situation onscreen. As things get increasing uncomfortable for the Hughes family, so too do they get worse and worse for the people in the audience. As a home invasion story, Replicas is second to none. It's the kind of movie that makes you want to double and triple lock your doors, bar your windows, and move to a city where maybe people will be able to hear you scream. It gets under your skin and reminds you of how fragile you are and everybody you know is. I'm not going to forget Replicas. I just know that will pop up in my head when I'm looking at dark windows or watching an uncomfortable conversation. I'm going to think about Bobby, Jane, and Jared Sankowski, and hope that my life isn't worth stealing.
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Antoine Dodson's worst nightmare
[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the Tribeca Film Festival back when it was called Replicas. Aside from the header image, headline change, and the addition of a rather spoiler-heavy trailer, the r...

Review: The Revisionaries

Oct 24 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]209715:38148[/embed] The RevisionariesDirector: Scott ThurmanRating: NRRelease Date: October 26th (New York, LA, Austin); additional dates in November If you aren't familiar with the Texas Board of Education story from a few years back, here's a bit of background. This 15-member board gets together every 10 years to write the textbook standards for the state. This includes content they'd like to see covered in textbooks as well as content they'd like to see omitted. Just how specific can they get with their requests? In one scene, McLeroy suggests social studies/history textbooks should no longer include a section on hip hop and should instead include a section on country music. These decisions have repercussions throughout the nation. Since Texas is so huge and purchases many high school textbooks, many companies will write their textbooks in accordance with their state standards. The publishing companies have to tread a fine line since the content needs to also be palatable to other states as well. The film covers battles over both science textbooks (predominantly the evolution issue, because somehow we never got past Scopes) and history. The Revisionaries presents the issue by letting the primary subjects speak for themselves. I think it's a slightly more successful culture war documentary than Jesus Camp in that regard, and I liked Jesus Camp. Radio host Mike Papantonio seemed a bit on the periphery of the Evangelical indoctrination issue to provide a counterpoint to the camp stuff. In The Revisionaries, the counterpoint to the board comes from Kathy Miller, who runs an advocacy group called the Texas Freedom Network, and anthropology professor Ron Wetherington. Both Miller and Wetherington live in Texas and have tussled with McLeroy and others over this very issue on multiple occasions. So who is Don McLeroy? He's a dentist (not a bad thing -- I'm no anti-dentite), but he's also a total nudnik with the intellectual depth of Petri dish. You see, McLeroy is a young-earth creationist. That means he thinks the earth is only 6,000 to 10,000 years old. On top of that, he believes that man and dinosaur roamed the planet together, and Noah had dinosaurs on the ark. He despises evolution because he has such a misconception of it, and he can barely articulate his own ides with any clarity. This was a guy elected to decide Texas textbook standards. These things I knew going into the film having seen him on the news. But seeing him on film filled me with incredible rage. There's something about proud anti-intellectualism on screen that angers me to no end. At one point, McLeroy even says that the layperson knows more than the experts when it comes to science. (Oh yeah, bucko? How about you explain string theory to me.) If a lot of other Americans believe that nonsense, it explains why this country is falling behind China, Japan, Canada, and Finland in education. Cynthia Dunbar also infuriated me. She was a fellow board member who helped pass the new standards and is every bit as disingenuous as McLeroy, if not more so. Dunbar is crafty and educated -- she teaches law at Liberty University, the Evangelical Christian university founded by Jerry Falwell. She wants to make it seem like she's fighting for intellectual freedom, but it's all about pushing an agenda. Of course, all that fancy book-learnin' at Falwell U can't hide the hypocrisy in Dunbar's words. At one point she stresses the importance of intellectual freedom and hearing opposing views to scientific ideas, and later she says she loves Liberty University since it's a place that embraces a single ideology and way of thinking. The only sense of critical commentary you get from director Scott Thurman is some oboe when McLeroy's on screen. It goes well with his fuddy, fumbling ideas, and his twitchy, self-satisfied look after he's supposedly made a great point. It's restrained throughout, but it gets a message across quietly. By comparison, I almost felt like yelling "You're so wrong!" at McLeroy on screen, as if the mook was right in front of me. A few times in the movie McLeroy says that evolutionists believe we come from trees. He also tries to explain how all animals were settled in Noah's ark, dionsaurs included. He doesn't account for the plesiosaurus, trilobites, or the mighty pterodactyl. That might be too much to think about for this proudly ignorant fella. Critical thinking doesn't make for a good young-earth creationist, but a lack of critical thinking won't hurt your chances if you want to be on the Texas Board of Education. Again, this guy was elected to decide education standards. Elected! How can that not make you incredibly angry? The Revisionaries is a great glimpse of the culture war and also a wake-up call to anyone who cares about education. There's a sense that people who love facts need to get up, get into it, and get involved somehow. If not, we wind up in the wastelands that are lamented in books like Anti-Intellectualism in America Life, The Age of American Unreason, and so on. It's films like this that make us remember why certain battles are worth fighting, mainly because we can't let our dumber angels triumph over our better ones. Alec Kubas-Meyer: I hate Texas. More specifically, I hate the Texas Board of Education. Actual, legitimate hate. There is so much in The Revisionaries that made me immensely angry, but I honestly have to commend the filmmakers on what they have done. The movie is shockingly even-handed, and if I believed in Creationism, I would probably be elated for exactly the opposite reason. As much time is given to the people who hate logic and science as those who promote it. So I don't feel like I was manipulated emotionally. My anger comes from the information that was presented and not the way it was presented. But I am angry. Oh, so angry. I wish there had been a little more context for the whole thing (and that some of the amendments were given more explanation), but that wasn't a major issue. I also missed some reactions from the students that are being affected by this whole thing. I wonder how they feel about this. I wonder if it means anything to them yet. I hope so, and I hope they are able to find a proper education after high school. 80 - Great
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Education and the culture war shouldn't mix
[This review was originally posted as part of our 2012 Tribeca Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the wider theatrical release of the film.] The Revisionaries is a documentary that made me angry in ...

Review: Chicken with Plums

Aug 17 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]209683:38140[/embed] Chicken with Plums (Poulet aux prunes)Director: Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane SatrapiRating: PG-13Country: France/Belgium/GermanyRelease Date: August 17, 2012 (limited)  Nasser-Ali (Mathieu Amalric) is the world's greatest violinist. One day he realizes that he'll never be able to replace a broken violin and so he decides to commit suicide. It's in that absurd set-up, which comes near the beginning of the film, that Chicken with Plums won my whole attention. Absurdity like that is almost always a jumping-off point for some greater, deeper meaning. It runs at a cliff edge and either gets wings or hits the rocks below. In this case, it's a bit of both: our artist flies up and then makes a decision to take a graceful, full-speed nosedive. Early on we're told that Nasser-Ali dies after eight days, so we know his fate almost immediately. The rest of the film hops back and forth in time to show us why he made the decision. As you might have guessed already, the broken violin is just the latest in a long line of disappointments. It's important, but like any object, it's important only because of the personal history that's been invested in it. And somehow among all the sour moods and the sadness of a compromised life, this portrait of a tragic artist is also funny. By giving the film a whimsical, fantastical tone, Paronnaud and Satrapi are able to balance between such extreme emotional highs and lows. I'm not a fan of the term "magical realism" since it's usually applied too broadly, but that sort of stunning, haunting fabulism is everywhere in Chicken with Plums. In one scene as Nasser-Ali lays dying, a bit of cloud comes loose in the sky and slowly drifts down like cotton candy into the waiting mouth of his daughter. There's a great image of a manifested soul set loose. It's such a flight of visual fancy, and its pulled off so well. To me, that's how memory works. Nasser-Ali's emotional life is one built on intense joys and intensified suffering from the lack of intense joys. If we try to think of those moments in our own lives, a process of emphasis and transformation occurs. Our first loves become a bit more potent, our big heartbreaks seem apocalyptic, our deferred dreams seem more unfortunate. Since memory and emotion is the raw material for Nasser-Ali's art, it figures that memories would be enhanced and transformed into these rich tableaux. The film seems to ask how can someone make intensely emotional music if their own emotional life isn't one of equal intensity. The whole film is about the emotional lives of these characters, and it's all odd but so real as well. Where Chicken with Plums really succeeds is in joining all these major emotional overtures and bits of emphatic artifice with complicated human beings and their relationships. Nasser-Ali is a selfish man and a horrible father and husband, and yet there's something compelling about him. His wife Faringuisse (Maria de Medeiros) is at once an unlikable shrew and a sympathetic victim of lifelong unrequited love. It's like everyone has these highs and lows in them, including Nasser-Ali's children. Well, maybe not his tubby son whose life will be absolutely bizarre, but certainly his daughter who winds up so tragically European. As it turns out, there was a real Nasser-Ali and he was a relative of Satrapi's. I'm not sure how much of the biography on film is factual (the violin thing isn't, that's for sure), but it's probably a reflection of reality in some way. Yet with a film like Chicken with Plums or any fictionalized retelling of a life, the facts are often subservient to the truth. I've probably written about that a few times already, but there's such a profound distinction between what is factual and what is true. Facts are the chain of events that occur while the truth is all about the internal response to the mere facts. It's the way that fiction can feel true or characters can seem real; it's the difference of being correct and being honest. Or to put it musically, it's the difference between technical proficiency and real feeling. Truth has far more ability to move us than the facts, and while Chicken with Plums is no accurate portrait of 1950s Tehran, it's an honest portrait of some people who lived there and then died. It's the Tehran of memory, and memories are odd things. It's also an honest (and hyperbolic) portrait of what Satrapi and Paronnaud feel about suffering artists and the act of creation. Artists can take themselves so seriously when they feel something so deeply. Art is honestly worth dying for even though very few people would actually die for it. It's all so funny and so sad at the same time. At the end of the film, a lot of people stayed through the credits to give themselves a moment to dry their eyes and decompress. Sometimes it's a little embarrassing to walk out of a theater when it's obvious you've been crying, but maybe it shouldn't be. It's just an honest reaction to something that moved you, and being moved is nothing to be ashamed about. Part of me wonders what would happen if they stuck with the tar rather than picking the violin. After the film I listened to some tar music. It's got a unique sound that's distinctly Persian. The little plucks ring out like you're hearing it from the end of an alleyway. Though it's the size of a banjo, a tar's body shape is similar to a violin, and both have the Junoesque curves of a woman's body. But maybe the violin makes more sense given its sound. With a tar, you'd lose those long, seemingly endless notes. They're like memories of lost happiness that persist up until the moment of death; or, since Chicken with Plums is all about highs and low, it's like the same memories of happiness right before they're gone, lingering through an entire life like some sunset unextinguished, some eternal perfect day.
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[This review was originally posted as part of our 2012 Tribeca Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the wider theatrical release of the film.] Chicken with Plums reteams Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Pa...

Review: Searching for Sugar Man

Jul 27 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]209781:38620[/embed] Searching for Sugar ManDirector: Malik BendjelloulRating: PG-13Release Date: July 27, 2012 (limited) It's the whole improbability of it all: a Detroit guy who can't sell a record to save his life winds up being a cultural icon for anti-Apartheid Afrikaners. A lot of this was thanks to bootlegs, but he went on to sell hundreds of thousands for records in South Africa, and he never even realized it. He became their icon for anti-establishment sentiment and freedom in the West. At one point in the film, Rodriguez's Cold Fact is said to have been as common in Afrikaner households as Abbey Road and Bridge Over Troubled Water. Meanwhile, stateside, it's jokingly said that his albums sold about six copies. Bendjelloul does his best to stay out of the way of the story, allowing it to unfold on its own. It's a smart choice given how compelling Rodriguez's life is. This is a film in service to the story, not the other way around. There are little stylistic choices that Bendjelloul makes that help enhance the myth of Rodriguez, however. There are bits of animation and illustration in the film to help recreate old Detroit. It also helps contribute to that story of Rodriguez being discovered: two record producers walk through the fog into a smoky bar to watch a man with his back turned to the audience. Whether consciously or unconsciously, Rodriguez was paving the road for his own legend. His look was so distinct -- the dark sunglasses, the jet black hair, the stance, the swagger. It's as if he was made up of shadows, smoke, and fog; that, with so few pictures available, he could only be sketched out from the memories of the select few who had seen him, and most who'd seen him probably ignored him anyway. Like the lines from one of his songs: "But thanks for your time / Then you can thank me for mine / And after that's said / Forget it." [embed]209781:38163:0[/embed] There's a good portrait of fandom painted in the film, particularly in regards to musicologists curious about Rodriguez. They look for any information available, they scour lyrics for locations and the chance of deciphering distinct shapes in the fog of Rodriguez's life. We eventually come to Rodriguez himself. (It's not a spoiler that he's alive. You can find that info on his Wikipedia page pretty easily.) While you might expect grandiosity and eccentricity, or maybe even the bitterness of a forgotten genius, what we get instead is a man who is entirely himself without a trace of artifice. What's great about Searching for Sugar Man is that it explores the myth of Rodriguez and the man himself while leaving both intact. The myth lives because it's one of the most interesting parts of his persona as an artist. The man is interviewed respectfully, so much so that he gets to remain a private person. He is revealed but not exposed, and what we learn about Rodriguez is touching and remarkable. Struggling artists often persist in the face of failure to a point of self-destruction. It can be admirable, it's the stuff of great stories, but it's also the stuff of great heartbreak and tragedy. Rather than struggle endlessly, Rodriguez went another route. It's not what you'd expect, but it's a perfect expression of who he is and what he believes in. Like the myth and the man remaining intact by the end of the film, Rodriguez keeps his artistic integrity and maintains his personal integrity. [embed]209781:38171:0[/embed] I mentioned in yesterday's interview with Bendjelloul that I got to see Rodriguez play an acoustic solo set. He played a lot of his biggies, including "Sugar Man" and "Crucify Your Mind," and he also did covers of a Midnight Oil song, "Fever" (he made it sound a little like Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" by way of Chris Isaak), and "La Vie en rose." In his soft voice, he said he was definitely going to play that last song in France some time in the near future. To see the film and to see Rodriguez in the flesh, I wondered why what I was hearing had been so ignored, and how many other brilliant things have been obscured or forgotten. On stage, Rodriguez seemed happy, but in a way free from ego. He just seemed happy to be playing, glad to be working. That comes through in the movie, and yet he still remains something of a mystery. "You want to know the secret to life?" Rodriguez asked the crowd. After a pause, "You have to just keep breathing. In and out." Everyone laughed and he smiled and nodded. He leaned into the mic again. "You want to know the mystery to life?" A pause. "You never know when it will end."
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[This review was originally posted as part of our 2012 Tribeca Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the wider theatrical release of the film.] The old joke about obscure musicians is that they're big ...

Flixclusive Interview: Searching for Sugar Man's director

Jul 26 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]209897:38187:0[/embed] How did the Tuesday's premiere of the film go? It was magical! I must say, it was magical. There were three standing ovations! Three! At Sundance I want to say we had six standing ovations in a row. It was beautiful, it's overwhelming. It really is. And at SXSW, did it take you by surprise by how well it was received? Yeah, yeah. I mean, every time the same things happen -- we always have standing ovations, every time so far. But this time it was three. [laughs] [laughs] But it was beautiful, and it's always about him. [We looked out the window at Rodriguez.] People love him so much because he's so easy to love. Watching him play just now, it's amazing how much charisma he has. Yeah, he has. And, you know, the twists and turns of his life -- what did the film say? If you're not moved by the story then you don't have a heart, and it's kind of true. The story's incredible. I've never heard a better story in my life. I was looking for good stories, and that's how I found this story. I was traveling around for six months -- the world -- in Africa and South America looking for the best possible story ever and this was it. [laughs] I found it! How did you pursue the story? Did you hear a Rodriguez album and ask around? No. I never heard his music, and many people haven't. He's not famous. Basically I was traveling around and reading, reading, reading and asking, asking people -- literally asking people on the bus "What's the best story you've every heard?" And looking for stories for a Swedish TV channel. That was the main target, to do seven-minute pieces. And this was supposed to be a seven-minute piece. I got like $2,000 for this. [laughs] That's all I got! Really? That's basically all I get for four years of work: those $2,000 dollars. [All that] for every single day of almost four years. But it was worth it! Because it was like working with gold! Every single day when I was sitting there editing it, I knew that this was going to be something special. I'd never done a film before this, so I didn't know if I was the man, you know. It's a big responsibility, and this story was the best story I'd ever heard, and it needs to be the best film possible. And that was what I was dreaming of. "If I don't fail and if I don't screw up, this film could be fantastic," I was thinking. That's the engine that kept me going -- the fuel, the dream, that this could be quite a beautiful film. This is your first feature. How many challenges did you face making this story work? The story itself works because it's so fascinating. There was so much stuff. And funding the movie, there was no money. So in the end I edited it myself, I did the music myself (the original score), I did the opening titles, I did the illustrations. Because there was no money! I couldn't find people in Sweden because I am a first-time director. I felt the story would speak for itself -- it's so good -- but it didn't. People were very much hesitant about this project. It was very hard to get people. And Rodriguez is famous with playing with his back to the audience -- to get him to have confidence in the film was also a big part of it. But in the end... it became easier and easier because we got to know each other. But he's a very private man, and he should be that. The first time we went there [to his place], we didn't even ask him for an interview because we kind of felt that he doesn't want to do that. What was that first meeting with Rodriguez like? Did you just show up at his door? Yeah, just showed up at his door. Yeah, basically. Before that I had interviewed all the other people for months. So the producers and all the South African fans, and all those people that he knew. The producers he hadn't seen for 40 years, literally 40 years, so it was the first time he saw those people and heard all the things they said about him. Guys who had worked with Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder said, "[Rodriguez] is the greatest artist I've ever worked with in my life." At least Rodriguez felt I was kind of serious: I'd done my homework [laughs] and had been traveling around a lot. Quite an extensive [amount of] research and interviews. So I think that's one reason why he opened up and kind of liked the project. He was never difficult! In that way he was always warm and welcoming, but he didn't like being on camera. Now he seems to take it well and does interviews, but at that time he didn't like it. He hadn't done interviews a lot. Yeah, when he was initially on camera, I noticed a kind of discomfort, where he was brushing his collar and you could hear it on the microphone. Yeah, and also because it's video, right? It's easier for him to speak like this. [He pointed at Rodriguez through the glass.] He's not visual, is what he says. "I'm music, I'm audio," he says. That's fascinating since he has such a distinct and interesting look. I think so too, I think so too. But the way he chose to communicate was music, and it is all audio. He doesn't need to say anything more. Those songs I think are perfect. They are perfect! I mean, you can't add anything. It's just completely the integrity of his idea. They are flawless! And in a way, maybe he doesn't need to speak anymore; maybe he's good as this mystery. But his story's incredible. When I told people briefly what it was about, "A man who doesn't know he's famous!" A man who fails as an artist. He makes albums that sell nothing, so bad that he gives up and starts to work in construction. I mean there are many struggling artists who continue, but he got this smack in his face -- sold nothing. And he did it again -- [sold] another 50 copies. "No one is interested in your art, you shouldn't do this," that's what the people said to him. So he stopped! And of course, he's not stupid, he understand that if people don't want this, then I better do something else. And he worked in construction, which is what people do in Detroit. It's kind of a city for hard, manual labor work -- it's very hard, a very, very hard place. So he was struggling for 30 years without knowing that at the very same time he was more famous than the Rolling Stones on the other side of the world. He was a superstar! Every single person in South Africa -- everyone loved him! Everyone knew him! And he doesn't know. For 30 years, basically... 27 years. One of the striking things about that is not only does Rodriguez not know he's famous, but he doesn't know that everyone thinks he committed suicide on stage. Yeah, exactly! They didn't look for Rodriguez, they were looking for the story of how Rodriguez died. There was different versions: did he kill himself by shooting himself on stage or did he burn himself? People didn't know. And they were working as detectives. It was like a thriller; they were treating the lyrics like a crossword puzzle. They were deciphering information. And that's such a great scene too because the lyrics are so cryptic and they're looking for any hints that were there. Right, right! Exactly. They're so hard to decipher because it's poetry and doesn't necessarily mean something. There was one line in there that actually meant something: "I met a girl from Dearborn." That was the first little piece of the puzzle that made the solution. So you did all the drawings and animation yourself? Yeah, I did the drawing, the illustrations I did myself. What made you decide to incorporate illustrations into the film? Because I was thinking how to tell a story where there are no images. And there's moving images. Rodriguez was never famous, no one filmed him. They didn't have a video camera in his family. There was nothing, literally nothing. So I thought that animation would be the thing I would use to tell the story, but in the end, I didn't use it that much. I thought it was going to be used much more. Again, lack of money made it this way, and lack of money made me do illustrations. It was supposed to be full animations, but it was those illustrations. That way I could do something without money. I remember in a previous interview you said you didn't like music documentaries in general. Could you explain why? The same reason [I mentioned earlier]: there is nothing to add to a song. A song is there, it's all there. And if you ask artists... I did a lot of music documentaries, and especially when I meet young artists, they're like, "Yeah, we did this song. And, uh, you know, it's good." [laughs] "Well, why did you write it?" "Because we like this kind of music." It's very hard to speak about music. But the story is what makes everything. So I started making music documentaries, and then I stopped making music documentaries, and I made those kind of spectacular stories, like I found the story for The Terminal, for example, the guy who's living in an airport in Paris. [Editor's note: One of Bendjelloul's short TV documentaries went on to inspire the Steven Spielberg film The Terminal. Another one of Bendjelloul's TV docs inspired the film The Men Who Stare at Goats.] I mean, that's a good story. And I realized it's so much more fun to make a good story -- something you can just tell in two minutes and you will make someone happy. It's kind of a gift to tell someone a good story. And this element was really the strongest. I have found many, many stories in my life, but this was like 10 times better than the best one I'd ever before. It was so beautiful. If I have the best story I've ever heard, then it's my responsibility to make the best film I'd ever seen, which was really... I'd never done a film before. How could I do that? I don't know if I succeeded at all. But it was like, "Hey, the story is that good!" Now try to make a film that doesn't ruin the story. Do you feel an obligation to look for more stories and continue to make more films about these interesting stories? Right, yeah. Exactly, I'm trying to find a good story. [laughs] What's the process of hunting for stories like? Traveling is very good. I was traveling for six months looking for this story, so it was really kind of a big job to find it. And when you just read, it's so boring. You sit at your computer and fall asleep. Traveling, you see stuff, and you get into stuff, and things get much more interesting. And it's more like being a detective too. Kind of, yeah. It's so much more fun to be... You know, traveling is such a beautiful thing, to see the world. There's nothing I like more than that, especially to coming to new places. And being a filmmaker is the most beautiful profession there is because you're doing this work to get some money to be a tourist, right? As a journalist you do the same thing. When you're a tourist you see that beautiful house, but when you're a filmmaker you can knock on the door and you can actually enter that house and speak to people, and you can speak to anyone you want in the whole world! It's a beautiful, beautiful job. I remember there's one scene in the film that says there's an unreleased Rodriguez album. Have you heard more of the material from it? I have, yeah. Rodriguez sometimes plays a few songs that are new. He's made many songs, many, many songs. He never stopped making music. He's been sitting for 30 years making song, so he has all those beautiful songs that we hope he's going to release. I think, again, we shouldn't ask him to -- he should do it himself. Because that's what I realized: if you ask people for stuff, they get stressed. But in the end, most people want to do stuff. I think in a way he, in a way, would like to [release these songs], but if everyone says, "You should do it!" I don't think he's ever going to do it. He doesn't seem like he would respond well to being coaxed. No, exactly. His whole life has been about freedom. In the 70s, there were people telling him "You should do it this way -- you will have much more success." And he was like, "Umm, this is me." They tried to spell his name "Rod Riguez," like make it an American-sounding name. [laughs] And he said, "No, I'm not up for this. I'm Rodriguez, okay? I'm not going to change just because you want me to." And that's why people love him in the end! If you're an artist, you really love him. He has this integrity. He didn't compromise, he never compromised a single bit. And that's why he's sitting there. [We both looked at him.] He's the coolest guy in the world.  I got to say, the fact that he's not in a room, he's just hanging out under the stairs... Right! The greatest thing ever. [laughs] Absolutely right! [laughs] I am in awe when I see him like this. He's such a beautiful, great artist, I think. [embed]209897:38188:0[/embed]
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[This interview was originally posted as part of our 2012 Tribeca Film Festival coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the wider theatrical release of Searching for Sugar Man.] Malik Bendjelloul may be the most enthu...

Review: Mansome

May 17 // Andres Bolivar
[embed]209779:38161[/embed] As Flixist's mustachioed malcontent, I take certain pride in my looks (or rather, my "swag"). With my Colombian heritage giving me the curse of abnormal facial hair/body hair/a unibrow, I'm left with no option but to take part in the culture of manscaping. Do I feel shame every time I take scissors to my chest hair or shave the lower half of my leg just to be able to see my tattoo? Absolutely ... and as far as I was concerned, I was doomed to hold this deep dark secret within me for the rest of my life. When I heard that Morgan Spurlock was tackling the topic of male vanity and the culture of manhood with Mansome, I felt relief that I may finally have the answers/support that I have been seeking. Am I able to be a bearded man's man who wears flannel and eat slabs of meat while shaving myself like an asexual marshmallow at a vegan restaurant? Am I able to maintain my masculinity while primping myself into the handsome journalist you see before you? Also, how did Morgan Spurlock sprout that wonderful handle bar mustache? Did he kill a mythical ox for that ability? All those answers and more in this review. Hosted by Will Arnett and Jason Bateman, Mansome focuses on what it means to be a man in today's world. From the culture of manscaping to barber shop etiquette, Spurlock rounds up a dais comprised of experts, celebrities, stylists and ordinary folk to comment on what's okay, what is over kill and what is borderline insane. Most importantly, it sheds light on the psychology of male vanity and why beards and mustaches and body hair evoke the feelings they do. Much like every Spurlock-esque documentary, Spurlock does a fine job of blending comedy and information in a way that makes it digestible for the masses. Between the experts and color commentary from the likes of Zach Gilifinakis and Paul Rudd, Spurlock has arranged a nifty little committee that is able to boil down these ideas and theories involving the modern man all while making it entertaining. More specifically, the innerstitchels featuring Arnett and Bateman philosophizing in a day spa like a modern day Plato and Aristotle are hilarious little segments that help round out a silly little documentary that's all about body hair. At the end of the day, a documentary about body hair isn't going to change the world or solve a world issue, but at least Spurlock was able to take a silly discussion and make it both interesting and entertaining. With all that being said, this documentary is the shallowest of Spurlock's work. Missing the usual documentary staples like social experiments and statistics, Mansome plays out more like a VH1 "I Love (insert subject or decade here)" special. It's more talking heads than it is substance, and while that formula may have made it funnier, it didn't necessarily make it more insightful and thought provoking. Part of that problem has much to do with the choice in subjects. Ranging from a beardsman who competes at beard competitions to a self professed "metrosexual", they all come off as arrogant douchebags who are way too into themselves. There's one subject who's a professional wrestler who get's way too much screen time for a man who's only in this movie because he has to shave his body before a competition. Other than that little nugget, he was completely useless and boring as a subject. I understand that this is essentially a documentary about male vanity, but it feels almost cheap that these subjects were chosen not for their insight, but rather because of the ridiculousness of their behavior. It's sad when the most interesting subject is the director himself and all he's there for is to tell the history of his mustache and show us the aftermath of how donating his mustache to charity (lulz) affected his relationship with his son. It's all so very....absurd and ridiculous. While Mansome may not feature the most thought provoking in depth topic, it provides a sizable plate of food for thought that is both entertaining and somewhat insightful. The jury of talking heads provide for interesting talking points and funny anecdotes, but the subjects of the documentary turn it into a shallow cable special of sorts. Still, if you're a hairy man like myself and need reassurance that your upkeep isn't that crazy, Mansome serves as a support group of sorts to help you come to the conclusion that you are a man damnit, and part of being a man is looking handsome however you may see fit. MansomeDirector: Morgan SpurlockRelease Date: May 18, 2012Rating: PG-13 Hosted by Will Arnett and Jason Bateman, Mansome focuses on what it means to be a man in today's world. From the culture of manscaping to barber shop etiquette, Spurlock rounds up a dais comprised of experts, celebrities, stylists and ordinary folk to comment on what's okay, what is over kill and what is borderline insane. Most importantly, it sheds light on the psychology of male vanity and why beards and mustaches and body hair evoke the feelings they do. Much like every Spurlock-esque documentary, Spurlock does a fine job of blending comedy and information in a way that makes it digestible for the masses. Between the experts and color commentary from the likes of Zach Gilifinakis and Paul Rudd, Spurlock has arranged a nifty little committee that is able to boil down these ideas and theories involving the modern man all while making it entertaining. More specifically, the innerstitchels featuring Arnett and Bateman philosophizing in a day spa like a modern day Plato and Aristotle are hilarious little segments that help round out a silly little documentary that's all about body hair. At the end of the day, a documentary about body hair isn't going to change the world or solve a world issue, but at least Spurlock was able to take a silly discussion and make it both interesting and entertaining. With all that being said, this documentary is the shallowest of Spurlock's work. Missing the usual documentary staples like social experiments and statistics, Mansome plays out more like a VH1 "I Love (insert subject or decade here)" special. It's more talking heads than it is substance, and while that formula may have made it funnier, it didn't necessarily make it more insightful and thought provoking. Part of that problem has much to do with the choice in subjects. Ranging from a beardsman who competes at beard competitions to a self professed "metrosexual", they all come off as arrogant douchebags who are way too into themselves. There's one subject who's a professional wrestler who get's way too much screen time for a man who's only in this movie because he has to shave his body before a competition. Other than that little nugget, he was completely useless and boring as a subject. I understand that this is essentially a documentary about male vanity, but it feels almost cheap that these subjects were chosen not for their insight, but rather because of the ridiculousness of their behavior. It's sad when the most interesting subject is the director himself and all he's there for is to tell the history of his mustache and show us the aftermath of how donating his mustache to charity (lulz) affected his relationship with his son. It's all so very....absurd and ridiculous. While Mansome may not feature the most thought provoking in depth topic, it provides a sizable plate of food for thought that is both entertaining and somewhat insightful. The jury of talking heads provide for interesting talking points and funny anecdotes, but the subjects of the documentary turn it into a shallow cable special of sorts. Still, if you're a hairy man like myself and need reassurance that your upkeep isn't that crazy, Mansome serves as a support group of sorts to help you come to the conclusion that you are a man damnit, and part of being a man is looking handsome however you may see fit. Hubert Vigilla - Mansome may be funny and pretty entertaining, but it lacks the depth and insight to make it something more compelling. The film is a skimpy 84 minutes, and we jump from joke to interview to subject without really focusing on anything of substance for too long. In addition, it deals mostly with the outward appearance of masculinity rather than really digging into the concept of manliness both at a societal and individual level. Even Morgan Spurlock seems more detached from the proceedings rather than immersed like he is in his other documentaries. We never get enough of the historical perspective of manhood or the psychological hang-ups of modern man either, so we're left essentially with a discussion of facial hair, product, and grooming services. In yesterday's interview with Morgan Spurlock, he mentioned lots of bonus material will be included on the eventual Mantastic edition DVD, and that made me think that Mansome was not intended to be a feature-length documentary. Instead it should have been a cable mini-series, maybe three or four hour-long episodes. With all that extra runtime, there'd be enough room to explore male grooming in greater depth with more interviews and jokes and insight into notions of masculinity. As it is now, Mansome is a documentary that focuses too much on the mustache rather than the man that makes the mustache work for him. 60 - Decent
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[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the film's theatrical release.] As Flixist's mustachioed malcontent, I take certain pride in ...

Tribeca Film Festival 2012: Flixist Awards and Recap

May 04 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Like every other reviewer who saw the film, I compared Replicas to Michael Haneke's home invasion opus Funny Games. I stood out from everybody else, however, because I thought Replicas was superior. Since then, I rewatched Funny Games to see if I was the one remembering things wrong. Nope. Replicas is definitely the better film. I feel uncomfortable just thinking about it. -- Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read his full review here!) It's interesting that director Álex de la Iglesia went from a film about a literal circus (Last Circus, released in 2010) to one about a metaphorical one. As Luck Would Have It's portrayal of the mass media and how it affects and infects everybody's lives is fascinating, and seeing the way it affects the life of the film's protagonist, a modern day Willy Loman, is heartbreaking. But mixed with that heartbreak is some truly hilarious comedy, and the two are perfectly balanced throughout the film. Even if the technologies at play in As Luck Would Have It aren't around 50 years from now, its message and themes will be just as relevant then as they are today. -- Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read his full review here!)   There was something about The List that hit me hard. There's the moral imperative we have to the Iraqi allies we've abandoned, for one. There's the upright and ethically Herculean example set by Kirk Johnson as well. But I think there's an especially pressing concern given the troop withdrawal from Iraq last year and the understanding that situations will likely devolve unless something is done. Beth Murphy's created an important document about people and events we shouldn't forget -- it's a reminder that the war and its after effects are not over. -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!) Malik Bendjelloul was actively scouring the globe for the best stories he could find. What he found was the unlikely life of Sixto Rodriguez. The Detroit musician released two critically acclaimed non-sellers in the early 1970s only to become a smash hit in South Africa many years later. Searching for Sugar Man plays out smoothly, part detective story, part musician profile, and part portrait of a struggling artist as a man with integrity. The film might even get Rodriguez some widespread recognition in the United States. It'd be four decades late, but better late than never. -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!)   Little is known about Dariel Arrechaga, the cuban youth who charmed the pants out off Tribeca with his performance in Una Noche. Other than the fact he was "discovered" flirting with girls outside of the audition and he's the only one of the film's stars who hasn't tried to escape Cuba, what can be said about this green actor is he churned out a wonderful performance as Raul, the troubled hound dog who sets the film in motion. Yea, his character may be a deplorable, sexist, self absorbed asshole ... but goddamn it if he wasn't a cool and lovable asshole. Was he essentially playing himself? Maybe, but either way it was enough to win the audience over. -- Andres Bolivar (Read his full review here!) "The Lotus Community Workshop" is the best of the three films in The Fourth Dimension, and a lot of that has to do with Val Kilmer's performance. He's a wigged-out motivational speaker giving out secrets about the universe. Not just any old secrets, though -- we're talking awesome secrets. He sounds like he believes every bit of it, whether he's talking an encounter with a UFO or the beautiful utopian sweetness of cotton candy. This is a Kilmer who's traded in stardom and vanity for the sake of some weird, neon-lit brand of spiritual truth. -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!)   Playing psychologically damaged people can be difficult, but Marguerite Moreau pulls it off convincingly in Caroline and Jackie. She knows how to modulate and adjust through the course of the evening, and how to play off the other characters. It's like she's channeling a bit of Gena Rowlands in this Cassavettes-inspired indie drama. She's the hub of the evening's histrionic activity, and one of the reasons I was intrigued by the film. There was another reason I watched closely, though. -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!) In a way, Marguerite Moreau doesn't work in Caroline and Jackie without Bitsie Tulloch as her sister. Tulloch plays the comparatively even-keeled person that Moreau can play off. She's also troubled, though, and has her own Gena Rowlands moments. She's just brimming with quiet desperation as well as this deep-rooted guilt, but she also shows a lot of complicated compassion and understanding about what's transpiring. It's a family thing, so the emotions ought to be complicated. -- Hubert Vigilla This may be a case where the synopsis led my expectations in one direction while the film went somewhere else entirely. When I heard the plot was about an assassin who suddenly sees the world upside down, I pictured some bizarre, visually interesting action film. Instead, Headshot moves slowly, has a number of really contrived moments and bits of coincidence, and makes very little use of the interesting visual idea of seeing the world upside down. The film is less meditative and more of a drag, but it's got an interesting conceit that someone else ought to give a spin. -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!) There is a lot of potential for a film about the use and abuse of prescription drugs for off-label purposes, but Off Label lives up to none of it. As emotionally manipulative as a Michael Moore film without any of the humor, Off Label attempts to convince people that off-label uses are always bad. They aren't. Agendas are fine and pretty mich expected from documentaries, but this one makes no attempt to even acknowledge that there is another side, let alone create any kind of meaningful dialogue. -- Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read his full review here!)   Cut is one of the worst films I have ever seen. This could have easily won the "Biggest Disappointment" award, but that would mean I'd have to write even more about it. I don't want to do that. I just want the film to stop existing. Everyone involved in the production should be ashamed of themselves. John Ford, Akira Kurosawa, and Orson Welles are all rolling in their graves. -- Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read his full review here!) Society collapses during a cold winter, which leaves some self-centered hipsters stranded on the farmhouse of a lecherous, manipulative yoga instructor. Everyone's unlikable and irredeemable, so maybe we'll see a darkly comic and savage take on the pretenses of hipster culture. Fat chance. Instead we watch a bunch of dumb jerks act like dumb jerks, a non-story unfolding slowly, and even a moment of unearned enlightenment when no one changes themselves or their attitudes for the better. The movie reeks of patchouli and bullshit. -- Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!)   REVIEWS: LISTED IN REVERSE CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER Graceland - 80 (Great) Supporting Characters - 78 (Good) Future Weather - 56 (Average) Nancy, Please - 68 (Okay) Knuckleball - 68 (Okay) Beyond the Hill - 55 (Average) Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie - 62 (Okay) Postcards from the Zoo - 44 (Sub-par) Death of a Superhero - 82 (Great) Consuming Spirits - 77 (Good) Jackpot - 75 (Good) Mansome - 72 (Good) The Virgin, the Copts and Me - 69 (Okay) Unit 7 - 74 (Good) Freaky Deaky - 56 (Average) Revenge for Jolly! - 75 (Good) Chicken with Plums - 86 (Exceptional) Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey - 72 (Good) Journey to Planet X - 62 (Okay) The Revisionaries - 84 (Great) Downeast - 79 (Good) Resolution - 78 (Good) Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal - 67 (Okay) Rat King - 45 (Sub-Par) OTHER COOL THINGS Flixclusive Interview: Malik Bendejelloul, director of Searching for Sugar Man Flixclusive Interview: Ian Fitzgibbon, director of Death of a Superhero Flixclusive Interview: Adam Christian Clark, Bitsie Tulloch, and Marguerite Moreau, director and stars of Caroline and Jackie Winners of the official Tribeca Film Festival Awards
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For the past few weeks, we here at Flixist have brought you what is most certainly the best film festival coverage that has ever happened ever. Between Hubert, Dre, and I, we saw and reviewed 34 movies at/from this year's Tri...

Tribeca Review: Supporting Characters

May 02 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]209909:38179[/embed] Supporting CharactersDirected by: Daniel SchechterRelease Date: TBDRating: R Nick (Alex Karpovsky) and Darryl (Tarik Lowe) are a pair of editing geniuses. They act as fixers, called in to make something completely unwatchable worth paying for. They redo dialogue, cut useless characters, and out comes a movie. Nick does almost all of the actual editing, and Darryl does important organizational things. Or at least that's what Nick says. I'm not so sure, because I never saw Darryl do much other than complain about things and then take credit for them later.  So Darryl's not really a great guy. But, then again, neither is Nick. In fact, Nick might be worse. He's arrogant about his work, obnoxious to his coworkers, inconsiderate of the people around him, and generally a pretty bad dude. So that's 0 for 2. Both of Supporting Characters's protagonists kind of suck. Neither of them have any tact whatsoever, nor do they really care about anybody other than themselves and maybe each other. Their actions and dialogue are entirely self-serving, and it makes watching them cycle between funny and unpleasant very quickly. All of that is to say: they aren't people I would want to spend time with. I respect myself too much. And maybe that's why it's called Supporting Characters. The protagonists are terrible people, so all of the focus goes onto the normally peripheral characters. They don't get as much screentime, but they are the ones worth caring about. I put a lot more effort into thinking about and feeling bad for Amy (Sophia Takal), Nick's fiance, because he was a terrible person to her. I also put more effort into thinking about and feeling bad for Jamie (Arielle Kebbel), the superstar actress who falls for Nick (nice girls like jerks, am I right?) without realizing he's already engaged. Then there are the people Nick has to deal with in not-so-romantic encounters. There's the director of the film Nick and Darryl have been called in to fix, Adrian (Kevin Corrigan), who is understandably upset about the direction his movie has taken (even though it is getting better without his help) and the producer, Mike (Mike Landry), who called them in in the first place. Although not all of them are great people either, the fact that they aren't as fleshed out means that I can believe they have some serious issues going on behind the scenes that justify their attitudes. And then there's Liana (Melonie Diaz), who might have it the worst of all. She's dating Darryl (seriously, what?). Like everybody else, she has her own issues, but she's really just put herself in an awkward situation that she doesn't understand. And how can she? Darryl comes across like kind of a nice guy at first. Stupid, sure, but kind of nice. Then he starts freestyle rapping about how, "Like Final Cut, I'm a pro," and there goes that. But all of that dysfunction and obnoxious behavior keeps things humorous and lighthearted. I'm not sure if it was supposed to always be that way, because dramatic, life changing things happen to some of the characters, but nothing ever felt particularly important. I had a sense of where things would head from early on in the film, and while I was curious how they would get there, I wasn't particularly invested in the events. Mostly I just wanted somebody to say or do something funny. Fortunately, that happened quite a bit.
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A film that, fittingly, lives and dies by its supporting characters
[From April 19th to the 29th, Flixist will bring you live coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipa...

Tribeca Review: Nancy, Please

May 01 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Nancy, PleaseDirector: Andrew SemansRelease Date: TDBRating: R Paul Brawley (Will Rogers) has a problem with his old roommate. Her name is Nancy (Eleonore Hendricks), and she is crazy. When the film begins, he has just moved into a new house with his girlfriend, Jen (Rebecca Lawrence) but realizes he left something important back at the old place: his copy of Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens. What's important isn't the book itself, however, but the notes inside of it. He tells everyone that the notes are irreplaceable, and that he cannot work on his dissertation without it. But Nancy won't give it back. And therein lies Paul's distress. The most interesting things that movies about mental deterioration can do is play with reality. They can use strange effects, depict hallucinations, and generally give a sense of visual (or aural) unease. Nancy, Please doesn't take advantage of that. Early in the film, Paul hears the sound of a squirrel in the wall. He goes up to it, and it seemed like the beginning of something. I didn't know what it meant or why it was a squirrel, but I felt like it was the beginning of his psychosis. Instead, it was just a squirrel. An actual thing that his girlfriend hears too. Eventually the squirrel becomes a physical thing that is utilized as part of Paul's insanity, but it's not the same thing. Only one scene really takes any advantage of the instability of its protagonist, and it's a wasted opportunity. The bigger issue is that Nancy, Please reveals an inherent flaw in narrative psychodramas: paranoia isn't real. In order for the film to actually depict deterioration, the antagonist cannot be an evil character. They are just a person. Sometimes they're bad, sure, and Nancy would fall into that category, but they are not out-and-out destructive. They aren't out to ruin anybody. Nancy is weird and a little bit crazy, but she has no interest in Paul and his troubles. He moved out, and she doesn't want to deal with him anymore. But Paul takes it so much further. He convinces himself that she is out there, plotting revenge for some unknown offense. But it can't be real, because if she is actually after him, then his madness is meaningless. He has every reason to be afraid, to occupy every moment with thoughts about this evil external force. In the end, it was about a guy who was being pursued and reacted in an unfortunate but understandable way. But Nancy, Please isn't about that. It couldn't be. It's about the guy who has no idea what he's doing or what he has gotten himself into. His enemy is hardly an enemy at all. No, Nancy is not Paul's friend, and she definitely does go out of her way to be unhelpful, but as things start to fall apart, what initially seemed like overreactions become increasingly relatable. Paul's attempts to retrieve his book become less conventional and more creepy, although that's not something I really thought about until the credits rolled. However, when the big moment comes, and Paul confronts Nancy, things get really, really strange. Nancy's reaction borders on psychotic, and her outburst, while maybe a little justifiable, is off-putting. The entire film has set her up to be this kind of demon, and then it shows her to be something far less dangerous... until it shows her being actually physically dangerous. Maybe it's a script thing, or maybe Eleonore Hendricks didn't have the acting chops to pull the scene off, but there was something about the confrontation that was completely wrong. It did not work. It made everything that had led up to that moment less powerful in a pretty dramatic way. Which is really too bad, because there is some really good stuff there. Even if Paul's reactions are clearly delusional, his character is just sympathetic enough to make that okay. There were moments where I thought that Nancy really was out to get him, and I felt like I understood him. I had gotten into his psychology, the way that the filmmakers wanted me to. Those moments were sad, and I wanted everything to be okay for Paul. He's a nice guy who was put into a bad situation, and I wished that there was some way to help him. But his delusions got the better of him, and there was nothing anybody could do to stop it.
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[From April 19th to the 29th, Flixist will bring you live coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipa...

Tribeca Review: Knuckleball

May 01 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]209892:38184[/embed] Knuckleball!Directors: Ricki Stern and Anne SundbergRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD The film follows the careers of Tim Wakefiled and R.A. Dickey. Last season, they were the only two knuckleball pitchers in the league. Wakefield has since retired, making Dickey the last in a rare breed of pitchers. The thing about the knuckleball, though, is that it's a pitch of last resort. If you don't have a good fastball or slider on you, you wind up going all-or-nothing on the knuckleball. That's how both Wakefield and Dickey arrived at the pitch -- nothing else was really working, but suddenly the knuckleball opened up lots of opportunity. Both Wakefield and Dickey make for pretty compelling subjects. Their path of failure toward success via the knuckleball is the stuff of human interest sports stories, and the fact the knuckleball is considered a trick pitch unworthy of respect has a lot of pull to it. It's a pitch with his chin out and defiant. The film tries to make a bit of an argument that the knuckleball is not respected as it ought to be because contemporary culture is obsessed with velocity. The fastest pitch recorded in MLB history: 105 mph. The average speed of a knuckleball: 65-70 mph. It's a pitch that wouldn't even get ticketed. With the Wakefield material in the film, we follow his final season with the Red Sox as he chases 200 career wins. Since knuckleballers are generally role players on teams, reaching the milestone can be tricky. For Dickey's story, we follow his course through the majors and the minors, struggling to make it, eventually discovering his knack for the knuckleball after many years of middling performance. It's the great ballad of the comeback kids. Seeing these two stories play out was inspiring, though I couldn't help but feel a certain repetition to the nature of triumph and struggle, triumph and struggle, a parabolic wobble of fortune that is more predictable than the actual knuckleball. It's a tad repetitive, though never completely boring. It's the sort of thing I may not have minded if I saw the documentary on television rather than on the big screen. Maybe the familiar path to the knuckleball is a counterpoint to its erratic nature. And that said, the pitch itself is something of character, and maybe the idea of the pitch was the thing that held my interest a lot of the time. While it's easier on the shoulder to throw knuckleballs, small problems with the fingers or the fingernails can mean the end of the night for a knuckleballer, and also being taken out of the rotation until the issue is resolved. The knuckleball is all about little things -- attitude, angles, fine adjustments, intricate and delicate manuvers. All that makes it hard to hit. So maybe the knuckleball isn't just a character but also a partial-MacGuffin -- the movie is about the knuckleball, but it's also about how people magnify the best part of themselves through tiny, unexpected methods. It's the Sherwood Anderson idea (maybe from his memoirs, maybe from Winesburg, Ohio, I can't remember off the top of my head) about the joys of finding your true vocation. The the writing just flowed from his fingers, the ball left their fingers without any spin -- they all answered their callings. There's a fascinating brotherhood of knuckleballers, which makes sense since it's a pitch that struggles for esteem. Old-timers mentor the up and comers, and you get a sense that eventually, years from now, Wakefield and Dickey may be helping the next knuckleballer to come along. They're a rare breed; they need to stick together. Again, it's the idea of the knuckleball and its elevation into something spiritual and existential that's so fascinating -- a trick pitch, maybe; but for some it is a way of being. Baseball fans will probably enjoy Knuckleball! a lot more than non-baseball fans, but there's still a lot there to grab on to. Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg have put together an entertaining look at the fraternity of the knuckle and what it means to commit to something, anything, no matter how small. While I found bits of it uneven, it just goes with the nature of the pitch.
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[From April 19th to the 29th, Flixist will bring you live coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipated films ...

Tribeca Review: Beyond the Hill

May 01 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]209714:38147[/embed] Beyond the Hill (Tepenin Ardi)Director: Emin AlperRating: TBDCountry: Turkey For about three quarters of its run time, Beyond the Hill is a taut drama about unseen nomadic people who may be seeking revenge for the death of a goat. Faik, an elderly landowner, shot the goat because it was grazing on his property. His son, Nurset, and grandsons, Caner and Zafer, are visiting as this paranoia builds, and the tension is high right from the beginning. It's clear that Faik is used to his existence out in the wilderness, though his son and grandsons are out of their element. The landscape is lushly shot, and any disturbance is heightened. The film is rich with paranoia, which kept me gripped for most of its duration and made me wonder about these unseen people and what they could do. The silence of the land can be broken so easily, whether by a sudden rustles of stones, the peal of a distant gunshot, or a stir on a ridge. Variations on the landscape mean something at all times. There's also Sulu, the son of one of Faik's fellow farmers, who causes suspicions. He lives on his own in the wild with his dog. He's not the best communicator, and seems detached from whatever vestige of "civilized" living that Faik's farm represents. He's almost like someone in between these worlds of Faik and the nomads -- the Other from another mother. The relationships between all these men becomes a major point of intrigue. As the oldest and most capable person there, Faik seems especially critical of everyone around him. There are questions of masculinity involved in a lot of his judgments, particularly where his sons and grandsons are concerned. Nurset can quote poetry but can't do much else right in his lonely life; his son Caner can't fire a gun responsibly, while Zafer suffers from some form of paranoid schizophrenia. Both Caner and Zafer seems especially childish for their ages. Caner is extremely afraid of dogs and suspicious of Sulu from the outset. Zafer is prone to playing games of splish-splash and wandering aimlessly. They're damaged in some fashion, or have maybe had their maturity stunted from leading relatively easy lives. Part of me wonders if Emin Alper was aiming at some larger critique of modern masculinity and maturity with these characters in addition to his examination of xenophobic attitudes. But as we reach the last turn of Beyond the Hill, the film loses its sustained rhythms of paranoia, in-fighting, and suspicion. There is tension still, but it's built on too many contrivances. There's one contrivance involving Zafer which seems especially silly and out of the blue. He's on medication for his schizophrenia, he's reminded to take it, but he never does. Perhaps this is a comment on Nurset's aloof style of parenting, though it's probably just a convenient way to increase the drama. So in that last quarter of the film, you'd think that there would be some resolution, or at least a sense of an end, but like the dangerous nomads, the resolution goes unseen. In the final minutes we get images of funny bravado and satirically pumped-up masculinity. It's coupled with the only music in the film, a stirring march that sounds like the stuff of children playing soldier, but that's about it. The rubber band is intact, the fuse is cut. I'm not a traditionalist when it comes to storytelling, but to end this way seems like placing the period eight words before the end of a long sentence. It's especially trite to come to a close like this through contrivances, like Zafer's psychological problems and everyone's reticence to tell the truth. These sorts of dumb acts are usually used to propel a film toward action capped by an exclamation point. Instead the film gives us ellipses. Or perhaps Beyond the Hill gives us a question mark. It goes through family and masculinity and notions of the Other, it gives us incredible landscapes and moments of taut silence and noise, but it's as if by the end, all it has to say is, "Who are the real nomads?" I mean, really?
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[From April 19th to the 29th, Flixist will bring you live coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipated films ...

Tribeca Review: As Luck Would Have It

Apr 30 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
As Luck Would Have It (La Chispa de la Vida)Director: Álex de la IglesiaRating: RRelease Date: TDBCountry: Spain Roberto Gomez (Jose Mota) is a modern-day Willy Loman. He was once a big ad executive (or so he says) who has been through a big rough patch. He can’t find a job, he’s convinced his family thinks he’s a failure, and he has no idea what do next. After another unsuccessful job interview, Roberto goes to find the Hotel Paraíso, where he and his wife, Luisa (Salma Hayek), had their honeymoon years ago. As it turns out, Hotel Paraíso is no more. An ancient, Colosseum-esque theater had been unearthed beneath it, and it was destroyed in the excavation. Roberto finds himself there on the day of its unveiling and, after entering a restricted area, falls several stories, landing on an iron rod which stuck into his head. As my Spanish teacher would say: “Hubo un accidente.” The thing is, the accident itself is not that important. It’s everything that surrounds it. Just minutes after Roberto falls, the city’s mayor turns on the theater’s floodlights and shows it to dozens of cameras and crewmembers. But they don’t care about that, because they see a huddled group down on the stage. The cameras rush down to see what happened, and soon the news goes global. Every news station reports on the accident (although some speculate it was a suicide attempt). Newspaper headlines focus on that alone. And in the middle of all of the chaos Roberto, who can’t move but does his best to take advantage of it in some way or another. He hires an agent to get him the best deal on an interview. He wants to provide for his family, and this is his best opportunity. To simply say that As Luck Would Have It is a commentary on the age of mass media would be to sell it short. Yes, it is, and blatantly so. Director Álex de la Iglesia seems to have some kind of vendetta against the media, and that is made loud and clear. But by getting so many people involved who are not a part of the media involved, the film takes on a larger issue. It’s about media reaction and then reaction to the media. And it doesn’t feel over the top. I kind of wish it did. The random people who entered the theater with the “Todos somos Roberto Gomez” (We are all Roberto Gomez) signs should seem out of place, but they don’t. Every group, whether they are onscreen for three seconds or thirty minutes, is important to portraying the way the world reacts to this kind of event.  There are two very different storylines at play in As Luck Would Have It. There is the more personal, character-driven family drama of Roberto and his family, while they deal with what has happened and what is happening around them. Then there’s what is happening around them. There is very little overlap between them, and the overlap that does occur is all very significant. The most interesting reactions to the whole thing come from the people who interact with but do not know Roberto. The security guards, doctors, his aforementioned agent, and everybody else who comes in direct contact with him have own agendas. Some of them just want to be on TV. Others want to be as helpful as possible. Then there are others who have much more sinister motives. It’s clear that, whether he dies or not, Roberto’s story is a tragic one, but there are glimmers of hope. He wants his children to go to the best schools and take his wife on the best vacation. He creates an air of mystery about himself in order to drive up his own worth as a news story in hopes of pulling in money for an exclusive interview. He’s selfish, but his selfishness is backed up by a real desire to do right by his family. His family is an odd sort, but they love him, and seeing them all together is heartwarming (or heartbreaking, given the circumstances). But that heartbreak is mixed with some truly hilarious comedy. Some of the media reactions are fantastically stupid, and there are some really great back-and-forth between the characters. It lightens up the mood just enough to keep things bearable throughout, but it never gets in the way of the drama. Nothing ever comes off as obnoxious or breaks the mood. It all feels completely natural. Until right at the end, when it ends on a freeze frame. I fucking hate freeze frames.
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[From April 19th to the 29th, Flixist will bring you live coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipa...

Flixclusive Interview: Director of Death of a Superhero

Apr 30 // Hubert Vigilla
[Editor's note: I reworded some questions and responses in order to avoid spoilers.] The TV series is called Threesome, right? Could you talk about that? It's the first original UK comedy that Comedy Central UK have commissioned. We did a series last year, and we're doing another series this year, which I start shooting on Monday. It's seven episodes -- seven half-hours. What's the show about? It's about a gay guy, a straight guy, and this chick who's best friends with the gay guy and going out with the straight guy. They live together, they get drunk, a bit drunk-f***ed, and one night they have a threesome. She gets pregnant by the gay guy. So they have a choice to make, and they decide to have the baby together. [laughs] That sounds cool. So that's the basic premise of it. [laughs] With Death of a Superhero, you said you wanted to make a love story rather than a cancer movie. Can you explain that distinction? I'm not interested in cancer per se. I've seen a lot of very fine films on that subject and I didn't think I could add anything to that. But I had never made a love story before and I was very intrigued by that notion, and I liked the idea of a love story with this sort of dark undertone of death looming its head. And then on top of that, the inner imagination of this boy who draws, who has these creatures to come to life that we're privy to, which are really just a conduit for his sexual fantasies and fear of death and his phobias about his medication and treatment and all that. I felt that those were very interesting elements to create a story. So that's what really drew me to want to do the film. It's such a heavy and emotional movie but there are these moments of comedy too. How did you balance the tone? Well that's a good question. I don't think I'm capable of making something without humor in it. There just seems to be some part of me that has to do that. I felt the balance between, as you were saying, those very serious, more emotional elements of the film and the comedy had to be right. I think that the film would just be too depressing without all that comedy in it. I just feel that it helps give the film an emotional shape that an audience can take. I really enjoy hearing the audience laugh and then gasp. In particular there's that moment where Donald's friends are showing him the pictures of the prostitutes. Yes. And it feels so real. Yeah. Because there's that desperation. I love all those moments because a lot of them are improvised. We knew what story the scene needed to tell but in terms of actual pin-perfect dialogue, we threw a lot of it out and said, "Look, you basically are going to go around school and ask girls if they'd be interested in going out with this guy." So the more we were able to do that, the more those kids felt comfortable doing what they were doing. I didn't want to hear the writer's funny lines coming out. That's interesting. I was going to ask how much of the film was improvised. Do you rely a lot on improvisation? There are some key scene that were improvised. There are a couple of scenes between Andy and Thomas Brodie-Sangster. There's one on the boat where the kid freaks out because his parents have really cheesed him off and Andy comes in and says, "That didn't go very well," "You need to calm down a bit," "Your parents mean well," and all that. We has two pages of dialogue written where he was explaining the parents's point of view, but we just sort of turned it into this scene where Andy was challenging him to show more of his anger and to see how much anger there was in there. It just seemed to form a more natural bond between the two of them. In terms of instincts towards improvisation, was that something you picked up from your acting experience? Yeah, definitely. I think improvisation is a very useful tool. It only works is you know what the scene is about and if you know the limitations of the story that needs to be told within that scene. I think it's a fantastic weapon. When you don't know where you're heading with it, it can be exhausting and very counterproductive. But the actors really respond to that, I think they really enjoyed that challenge, you know? Was there something about Thomas's audition that really stuck out to you? Was there a moment when you realized he would be your guy? Yeah, it was a non-audition, really. He came in -- he's quite shy, he's very, very quiet, very softly spoken. But there was something in his attitude more than his performance that really drew me to him. I think that's the word -- it kind of drew me to him, it made me want to know more about him. And I felt that was a very powerful quality to have for that character. He has something that draws you in, I don't know what it is. Even just seeing him. There's something about that moment where you see him bald for the first time or you see him walking around. There is that draw to him. There's that pull. Yeah, he has something. I don't know what it is, but he's very... I think he's very rooted in what he does, so he needs to do very little of it. I think that's what makes him powerful, and I think that's what makes his performance so powerful. It's not flashy, and he doesn't show off, quite a lot of it is thrown away. I think he's got a serious kind of creative engine in there somewhere. I really enjoyed working with him, he's fantastic. Would consider working with him again. Oh god, big time. Absolutely. He's terrific. One of the best actors I've worked with. And of course there's Andy and Ainsling in the film as well. They're both great. Yeah. What's working with them like? Well, it's funny because they have different qualities. I mean, Andy was just coming off Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and he has this sort of extraordinary kind of energy about him. I was more interested in exploring stillness with him. You know, getting him to be almost subdued; and trying to explore grief with very little explained, almost like a physicality. I think he did it really beautifully. We talked a lot about how much he should reach out to the boy, how soft he should be with the boy, and I think we both felt that actually he should be quite tough, because the boy had obviously been to several shrinks -- he calls Andy shrink number six -- and in his type of work he had to connect with anybody. So we felt the most important thing was for Andy's character not to be patronizing. And I think that's why the relationship begins to flourish. The boy senses that this guy will take him absolutely on the level. And Aisling is slightly different. [laughs] I can't pronounce Irish. Just think of cigarette ash. [Editor's note: I initially pronounced the name "Aisling" as "Ice-ling." It's actually pronounced more like "Ashlyn." Sláinte to Ian for pointing that out.] There we go. She was less confident in herself, a little bit more hesitant. I dare say she isn't anymore because she's done a ton of work since, but she was somebody who had to be a little more coaxed and had to be reassured a little bit more. I think Thomas and Andy had a lot of confidence about them, you know, but she's terrific in her own way, I think. Very pleased with her performance. Can you talk about the animation and where you decided to put it in and not put it in? Initially the animation was going to be something else before I became attached to the movie. They had done quite a lot of work and a lot of it was fantastic. It looked beautiful. Stunning, and it was 3D and photorealistic and very developed. It looked almost like something out of Avatar, it was amazing, but my problem was I couldn't relate it to this 15-year-old kid. So I had to say, "Guys, you have to go back to the drawing board. You have to imagine yourselves as this 15-year-old boy stuck in the back of the class with no hair and hormones raging through him." You know, fancying girls like mad but feeling he's invisible. What does that do to you? What are you drawing then? So I wanted the style to be much rougher, much more hand drawn, much more flawed, but to have a kind of attitude and broad stroke of energy. And so where we use it was really to describe what's going on inside Donald. So he seems quite cool, but then when you see the animation you realize what's going on in his head, and it's quite a lot. It's sadomasochistic, pornographic sometimes, but he's a teenage kid. I think that's what I really enjoyed about it because it does tap into that mindset and the sadness of that mindset if you were to die at that age. Yeah, yeah, and hopefully that's what it does. I wanted to see if we could use the animation in a key scene just as validly -- if that's the word -- as live-action stuff. So when this moment happens, I felt I don't need to see him go through anything in the live-action world because I understand that superhero character is him. I felt there's something very simple, moving, and powerful about the way the animation is used in this moment. I really appreciated the scene you're talking about too because there are no drawn-out speeches, it's just what it is. Yeah, and boy, you know, I tried writing stuff. And it just felt very banal. What are you going to say? What are you going to say that's going to elevate this? Which is when we came up with the idea that the animation could do it with no dialogue whatsoever. Sometimes I think the most important decisions that you make are what you leave out. I've never felt that more than with this film. I think the whole process was stripping it away, getting rid of as much dialogue as you could and trying to do it much more intuitively. Were there any other scenes you can recall where it was about paring down? Well, in the initial draft of the animation of that scene we were just talking about, I had dialogue from The Glove, the villain, saying, "You're going to die, you're just a little boy, I was always going to win, you're just a puny little virgin." I just thought, "I don't want to hear any of this." I think it's more about what do I need to know. What other challenges did you face in the adaptation process? That's a good, good question. You know what it is? I love the book, I really enjoyed it. It was very funny, and I enjoyed the spirit of it, but a book is not a movie. And I didn't like the screenplay that I read, because I felt it didn't reflect the real quality and power of the book. So that was a challenge. And also because the story was initially located in New Zealand, I was shooting it in Dublin and didn't want to pretend that we were shooting it anywhere else, so I completely relocated the story and rewrote the story with this friend of mine, Mark Doherty, and we both worked at it together. And I said, "Look, this is going to be the world: it's going to be six square miles up from where my house is." I have two teenage children who are 19 and 17 so I felt that I knew how these kids talk, and Mark lives in the area and he knows how people talked, so I just felt that we have a really good chance of creating a world that is utterly believable and authentic -- let's just go for that. Then we talked about the animation, because initially the animation served a different purpose and I wanted it to describe something that I wouldn't otherwise know, and so that's why I really like the idea that he has these sexual fantasies or these fears of death -- the obsessive villain, this Glove character, who was always taunting him and all that -- and I just thought if the animation could express that. When you're in the therapy sessions with him and he's kind of going, "No, I'm not afraid, I'm fine." You know that's not the case. I find that quite exciting to create that strand and make the story work in those terms. Where did the tails on the women come from? That's from Anthony. Anthoy McCarten came up with that, and I always liked that. It's like this slightly immature notion of women being monsters in some sort of way. It was another way of showing his fear of women essentially. I really loved Anthony's book, the humor of it, the kid's attitude -- I just didn't see it in the screenplay I was approached with, which is why I needed to sit down with Mark and rewrite it. Were there any scenes that were particularly taxing for you or any of the actors? You know... [laughs] I think the parent stuff was tough. And I made a rule: I said nobody is allowed to cry. I allowed the parents one scene to shed a tear. I find those scenes very tough because I am a dad, after all. There's a moment toward the end where Donald says something about his parents and you just think, "Bloody hell." They were tough. The rest of it was a lot of fun, though. I love the one scene with the boys and their dad. [laughs] Yeah! Once again, that's an honest moment that would happen. Yeah, yeah. It's very interesting, because initially the brother wasn't in that scene. It was just the two of them. Really? Yeah, and my German producers were very concerned that it was going to puncture any kind of beautiful emotional moment. And I guess it's cultural difference. I said, "No." I think if you put in a laugh there, it's even more heartbreaking. Were there any other difficulties you faced in crafting this film? No, I mean, there's a scene at the rock toward the end that has a sort of resonance and significance to the story. And that's in a part of Dublin where I thought we would never be able to shoot it because the tides are so restrictive. We had to have the right tide, the right sky, the right sunset -- all of those things had to be in alignment. We thought, "We're never going to get it." So we booked a studio and a green screen and we were going to photograph all the different elements and stick them together in post and just take our time shooting the scene. And actually what we ended up doing was we were shooting another scene, we looked around, and we saw all these elements. [laughs] The rock is there, the sky is there, the sun is just about to set! We have half an hour, we have everybody, so let's just do it. And we did it in half an hour. That's perfect. Yeah. How have your kids felt about the movie? They're in it. Where in the film? They're in it as extras. So my girl is one of the girls in the classroom, and she's in the library, and my boy's in the party scenes. So all the extras are their friends, really. That's cool. Yeah, so they had a really good time making it. And they served as very good barometers as well of the script because I would talk through scenes. I said, "Oh, I'm writing a scene where the boy goes on a date today," and she said, "Well, you'd never say 'date', Dad." I said, "Really? Oh god." [And she said,] "Nobody our age says 'date.'" So I was able to go, "Okay, well that's not going to be in the script." So it's good to be able to hear firsthand, get the little authentic details right. They were good testers. [laughs]
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[From April 19th to the 29th, Flixist will bring you live coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipated films ...

Tribeca Review: Postcards from the Zoo

Apr 28 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]209777:38166[/embed] Postcards from the Zoo (Kebun binatang)Director: EdwinRating: NRCountry: Indonesia/China/Germany/Hong Kong Part of the issue with Postcards from the Zoo is that is that it feels like a sketch. You have all these elements that come together and provide some form of enchantment. It's as if the individual elements function well as their own discrete elements, but for some reason it just doesn't cohere in the film. This might be because Postcards from the Zoo isn't telling its compelling tale in the most compelling way. Lana (Ladya Cheryl) is lost in the zoo as a child and grows up there with the animals, the workers, and the homeless people. She even goes through the taxonomy of the people who occupy the zoo. It goes along with the random title cards describing animals in captivity and their reintroduction to the wold, a stylistic conceit that emphasizes the events on screen but is sort of just there. Lana's a fount of knowledge when it comes to giraffes because she identifies with the solitude of the lone giraffe in the zoo. She goes a little journey, we see her life change a bit, and that's really all the film can manage. It's The Wizard of Oz without the same sense of magic or wonder, and with fewer friends. Instead we get drudgery and naïveté. There's just something about some movies where naïveté is the norm, and it bugs me. So many movies hinge on inexplicable naïveté. Adults have all the knowledge of meek little children, old people have all the wits of dumb kids, and so on. Given, Lana was raised at the zoo (a phrase just as cool as "grew up in the circus"), but she seems too childlike. She meets a cowboy who does street magic and they instantly falls in love. She's mesmerized like she's just been staring at a cobra. The cowboy brings her out into the world and dresses her up like a little Indian girl. She's forced to do things she doesn't necessarily want to. But why is this character so willfully naïve? Is the zoo so magical and hermetically innocent that she never saw people being grifted or exploited? There's a lot of mannered quirk in Postcards from the Zoo, and while it appealed to me at first, it's all just a game of dress-up by the end. That said, the cow bus in the movie is incredibly cool. It's not on the same level of the Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro, but it's still a fascinating vehicle. For the most part, the movie feels like a game of dress up. It's the way kids wear glasses and think they're smart -- you put on a cowboy hat and do magic and you think the film has instant enchantment. Real magic on film is usually unadorned, or if the film has a kind of outfit on, the outfit is an essential reflection of what the movie is. It's not accessories, it's essential. The idea of postcards comes into play as the film slowly draws to a close. We see Lana in various scenes, her figure dominated by the goings on around her. She's lost, she's tiny, and the film wanders and lingers over this. I get it, and even though the images are somewhat pretty -- it's a bit like Where's Waldo at a certain point, though a bit easier given Lana's distinct posture -- they do wear out their welcome due to repetition. If Postcards from the Zoo just stayed at the zoo, it could have been something more magical, much stranger, and maybe more genuine. The dynamic of the zookeepers, the visitors, and the homeless squatters is a fascinating notion to explore. The same goes for giraffes. Lana loves them, but she seems to forget about them outside of the zoo except for a few facts here and there. Edwin seems to forget about his title cards. This might be what happens when you play fast and loose with the tools of enchantment. But hey, at least there's cow bus.
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[From April 19th to the 29th, Flixist will bring you live coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipated films ...

Tribeca Review: Death of a Superhero

Apr 27 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]209457:38064[/embed] Death of a SuperheroDirector: Ian FitzgibbonRating: TBDCountry: Ireland/Germany Immanent death gives every moment some extra weight and every missed opportunity a little extra tragedy. For Donald (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), it means never getting laid and never having a girlfriend, or at least it does on the surface. Really, though, it's about cutting short some great potential. The kid's a good artist and well liked (thankfully there's no bully character in the movie), and he's got folks that love him. Donald's cancer is just another touch of the universe's indifference to human suffering. Occasionally Donald contemplates suicide. Better that than withering slowly from chemo and radiation therapy. There would at least be some sense of control. Given how ragged his emotions become, control is something he desperately needs. What gives Donald at least a little handle on his emotions is art, and so he draws the kinds of sexed-up and jagged things from a teenage boy's mind. The women are corseted teases with curled cat tails, and Donald's surrogate hero is six-packed and powerful and everything he's not. There's something striking about Donald's appearance. He's hairless, for one, and there are threads of vein just visible under his pale, translucent skin. He's frail, but there's this seething look to him; when he smiles there's a genuine joy, and you can read the real disappointment in his face. Brodie-Sangster has this great command over the different angles of Donald's personality. It's a presence that comes through the screen. There are a few things that carry Death of a Superhero beyond the familiar territory of cancer movies. A lot of it has to do with the performances, which is a testament to the talent of the cast and Fitzgibbon's own acting background. I've mention Brodie-Sangster already, who's commanding and sympathetic. There's also a lot to be said about Donald's would-be love interest Shelly, played by Aisling Loftus. She's a bit of a misfit outsider, and also more experienced in terms of relationships and sex. Like the women that Donald draws, he finds her attractive but also mysterious and dangerous. Apart from this budding love, the other center of the film is Andy Serkis as Dr. King. He's Donald's most recent in a line of therapists. Dr. King falls into the Good Will Hunting mold of counseling characters -- a comfy/scraggly look, a complimentary demeanor, a meditative solitude -- though that shorthand sells Serkis's performance short. Many of his roles tend to be physical ones, like Gollum and Caesar, but here Serkis is more about the presence he can convey through quiet moments. He's retrained, he's compassionate, he's also a little jokey. It works for a guy whose job is to get people comfortable with death. It may sound like Death of a Superhero is this depressing, sappy story about a doomed chance at love, but it's actually a really funny movie at times. There are these emotional highs and lows throughout the film that are naturally placed. For instance, some of Donald's mates go around school asking girls if they'd be willing to deflower him. It's funny, it's a little pathetic, but it's the kind of desperately well-intentioned thing you'd want to do for a friend. So while immanent death emphasizes urgency and missed opportunity, the film also uses it to bring greater vim to the funny moments of life. Dying gives people a good excuse to laugh. One of the elements that reminded me so much of The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys was the use of animated sequences. In Superhero, it's done to emphasize emotional states, also in the same blocky, jagged style of Donald's art. We get to see Donald's fantastical, emotional life and how his imagination is responding to death. It becomes particularly important as the film carries on and situations in Donald's life change a bit. What I liked most about Death of a Superhero was its honesty. There are a few moments where you'd expect speeches or monologues about what it is to die young. Rather than speeches, Fitzgibbon gives us performances, short lines, and even heavy silences. The movie tells its story rather than explicitly stating to the audience what it thinks and what the audience should think. There is a scant handful of monologue moments, but they're brief and done in the voice of a teenager in the moment, not an adult. There's one scene in the film between Donald and his father that's all about the high and low, the performance and the silence. It all centers on Donald's dad saying that he's proud of his son and he loves him. It's simple. The tender, quiet moment is bookended by jokes, surrounded even. And it works. A little levity after the weight. There's all the joy and sorrow of a little tragic life in a few minutes -- time's short, so the movie makes it count.
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[From April 19th to the 29th, Flixist will bring you live coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipated films ...

Tribeca Review: Consuming Spirits

Apr 27 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]209546:38073[/embed] Consuming SpiritsDirector: Chris Sullivan Rating: TBDRelease Date: TBD There are three main characters wandering the world of Consuming Spirits, and all of them work in some capacity for a local paper called The Daily Suggester. There's Gentian Violet (everyone calls her "Genny" pronounced "Jenny"), a put-upon middle-aged woman who has to care for her mother with Alzheimer's. She's semi-dating the terminally odd Victor Blue, also middle-aged, and a horrible drunk. The two of them are in an amateur Irish folk group and have an awkward, fumbling relationship with each other. The character that really makes the film is Earl Gray. He's much older than Gentian and Victor and runs a radio call-in show called Gardener's Corners. This might be where the Garrison Keillor comparisons come in. Early Gray sounds like Tom Waits by way of Garrison Keillor. His radio show is supposedly about providing gardening tips to listeners, but there are dark moments of emotional turmoil and autobiography that are laced into his responses. In Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal (another Tribeca film), the movie begins with a guy hitting a deer on the road. Consuming Spirits one-ups that moment: it begins with Gentian driving a school bus and hitting a nun. There are a few other memorably morbid bits in the film as well. I probably could have watched a movie that was just about Earl Gray. He's got one of those compelling voices, just-right for radio, and his rambling observations have a bizarre poetry to them. What begins as an answer about ashes and fertilizer becomes a tense bit of deeply personal reminiscence that's not stated or explored outright. We get catches of what he's referring to as the film progresses. Gray was voiced by Robert Levy, and his sonorous, scratchy delivery is a perfect match to Sullivan's weird writing. But Gentian and Victor are both compelling as well, especially because they're such sad people. You would look down on them in a film that was condescending in tone, but Sullivan's writing makes you feel like you're on the level with them. There's an honesty to the way they're depicted. Some of Victor's alcohol problem is played for laughs, but they're the sad kind of laughs that end in a wince. And Gentian's obligation to her mother also has its fair share of sad laughter. All the imagery in Consuming Spirits has a certain kind of rust and grime to it. It gets across the working-class surroundings as well as the beaten-down look of the people. Earl, Gentian, and Victor each have these painful emotional lives, and the town of Magusson seems to have had its fair share of depression. These are people and places that have been weathered and yet persist. Consuming Spirits depicts the dignity and sorrows in the grime. The film's story wanders and yet I felt compelled to watch the entire time. Again, a lot of that may have to do with the Gray character, and it may also have to do with Sullivan's animation. The 2D paper puppets have a lot of personality. The puppet brings out the kindness in Earl, and also the sympathy in Gentian and Victor. There are some striking moments in the hand-drawn flashbacks, particularly one involving a large puddle. It's tied to the larger story of the film, and it's haunting. There's a really painful family story in Consuming Spirits about foster care and absent parents (and children) and surrogate parents. It's explored with a dark sense of humor, careful observation, light touches, and just the right amount of wistfulness. When the film ends, it does so quietly and in an understated way, sort of like a radio sign-off, a kind reassuring "Goodnight" said from the doorway after story time's over. I hope Consuming Spirits will find a larger audience on the festival circuit and eventually winds up in art house theaters. Writing about it, thinking about it more, I really want to see it again. Every year of work was worth it.
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[From April 19th to the 29th, Flixist will bring you live coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipated films ...

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2012 Tribeca Film Festival Award Winners


Apr 27
// Hubert Vigilla
[From April 19th to the 29th, Flixist will bring you live coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipated films ...

Tribeca Review: Jackpot

Apr 26 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]209812:38172[/embed] Jackpot (Arme Riddere)Director: Magnus MartensRating: RRelease Date: TBDCountry: Norway What do you do when you wake up in a porn store lying underneath one corpse with several others lying around you? What do you do if the cops come and find you in that exact position, except you're holding a shotgun? It's one hell of a quandary, and it's the one that protagonist Oscar Svendsen (Kyrre Hellum) finds himself in at the outset of Jackpot. Kind of. Most of the film is actually told through a series of flashbacks as Oscar is grilled by a detective named Solør (Henrik Mestad). The real beginning of the story took place when Oscar and three ex-convicts that he works with, win a sum of money which sounds much more impressive in Norweigan Kroner (~1.7 million) than it does in US dollars (~300,000) from a soccer-tournament gambling thing. Now, not all of these ex-convicts are quite "reformed" yet, so the group slowly begins to whittle itself down. Fortunately, there are some genuinely interesting twists along the way. It could have been a really stereotypical plot (and that would have been perfectly fine), but it went in some different directions, even if some of them did fall into general stereotypes. One of the problems with framing narratives like Jackpot's is that you always know the main character survives. If Oscar is put in a compromising position, he will come out of it alive and relatively unscathed, because he needs to end up under a dead woman holding a shotgun. This removes any real tension from the scenes where it seems like the group could be in danger of being caught (after one of their party ends up dead) or worse. This removes a bit of the intensity from the violence, which is already kind of tame. I'm not sure what it is about Jackpot that made the action seem less intense than it should be, but there was something just a little bit off. The film has decapitations, shootings, and other fun things to keep the body count going, but it's all underwhelming. And I honestly can't put my finger on what it is. Were the sounds too quiet? Were things not quite exaggerated enough? Were they exaggerated in the wrong way? I am not sure, but there is something that made me forget exactly how much carnage was in the film until I started writing about it. Instead, I remembered the jokes. And that's what's worth remembering. The movie is hilarious when it wants to be, and, fortunately, that's most of the time. The interplay between both the characters in the flashbacks and Oscar/the detective in the present are really enjoyable, and I was laughing throughout pretty much the entire film. And, quite frankly, there's not really much more to say. Jackpot is a really funny movie with really middling action. It's an entertaining hour and a half which is well worth your time. So yeah.
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[From April 19th to the 29th, Flixist will bring you live coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipa...

Tribeca Review: The List

Apr 26 // Hubert Vigilla
The ListDirector: Beth MurphyRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD No End in Sight and the Frontline episode The Lost Year in Iraq were damning wake-up calls about policies implemented in Iraq immediately after the invasion. (And that's not even getting into the manufactured intelligence prior to the invasion.) The List shows another unfortunate shortcoming when it came to the American mission in Iraq. We essentially used Iraqi civilians to help keep our troops safe, but we did nothing in return to save their lives. From the beginning, something doesn't sit right. Iraqis in the green zone aren't given body armor for protection. There are no guards looking out for them when they are away from the troops. When they report death threats, they are met by deaf ears or with indifference. This seems like a consequence of the bureaucracy, poor planning, and just not enough troops on the ground to maintain order. Three Iraqi allies we follow in the film are Anna (who served as a liaison), Ibrahim (who served as a procurement specialist), and Yaghdan (who worked alongside Kirk Johnson at USAID). In Ibrahim's case, he's forced to flee Iraq like so many others as a result of the war. Some estimate that between 4 million and 5 million Iraqis have been displaced; that's roughly one in six citizens in Iraq. There's a sort of smuggling network that's been created to get people out of Iraq and into other countries, but these organizations may be more trouble than they are good. Yet it's the lack of action from the US government that forces people to make such extreme choices. In documentaries about humanitarian causes, you tend to see figures who are inspirational. In this case it's Kirk Johnson. On top of starting The List Project on his own, he's cut from some strong Midwestern stock, internationally minded, politically minded, well traveled, and yet remarkably grounded. Seeing him on screen is like watching the strongest possible counterpoint to the indifferent, ignorant, and ugly American. He was in Iraq with USAID because he knew about the region and its politics and actually spoke Arabic. (Few people involved in military operations or with the US embassy knew the language.) Not only did he speak Arabic, Kirk showed solidarity with Iraqi aid workers and allies by not wearing body armor just like them. There was a panel after the screening moderated by George Packer from The New Yorker. The panelists included director Beth Murphy, Anna from the film, Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and Marcia Tavares Maack of Mayer Brown LLP, one of the law firms that assists with The List Project. Kirk Johnson was supposed to be in attendance at the panel but couldn't make, maybe because he had to save a life. Rieckhoff pointed out that you can be having a drink with Kirk and all of a sudden he'll receive an urgent email or text from someone in Iraq who is in immanent danger. That sense of moral obligation doesn't end. The List is careful to paint Kirk as concerned rather than saintly. He doesn't say anything aggrandizing, and the film isn't in the business of hagiography. The List is mainly focused on the way the project assists endangered Iraqis. Sometimes the potency of the subject matter can carry a poorly made documentary a long way, but Murphy's filmmaking and crafting of this material is competent throughout. Rather than being carried by the subject matter, she follows it carefully and with great compassion. Murphy mentioned during the panel discussion that she filmed many more Iraqi allies for the documentary, but she made a concerted effort not to highlight any of their stories on film until they were safely out of the country. This was in order to protect their identities and the identities of their families. It's also because this movie isn't exploitative but instead hopeful. Those not named in the film are filmed from behind or in shadow or have their faces obscured. You notice a lot of blurred faces in the film whose stories have yet to be told, and whose lives are in very real danger. Though they have already been carefully vetted by the US government in order to aid in the Iraqi reconstruction, some of them have to wait a year to three years just to be relocated. This is a long time to live in hiding or under threat. One of the blurred faces in the film was horribly injured while dragging one of the US servicemen he worked with to safety. Somehow the circumstances of his sacrifice have not expedited his relocation. Someday I hope that story is told in full and his face can be revealed. There's a remarkable scene in the film where Yaghdan watches the media coverage of the final minutes of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He laughs at the way it's being covered on television, but that's sometimes the only thing you can do in the face of the absurd. Vehicles quietly file out at night, but today the sectarian violence within the country rages on. During the panel discussion, Maack mentioned that the Obama administration hasn't been any better than the Bush administration about this issue. I believe she said it's as if they just want to be over with it, but it's not over. There was a relocated Iraqi in the audience who worked as a surgeon or doctor alongside service members. He had a roundabout path to the US through India done outside the Kirk list. He was livid. He said he can't rate the movie a five (ostensibly on a five-point scale) because the film is about a country's pain. He rambled, he ranted, he even self-promoted, but he asked why some people were given emergency evacuations while others were not. The outrage was genuine because to abandon so many people is a genuine outrage. We haven't heard much from Iraq lately since the troop presence is down as is the presence of embedded journalists. (Even covering the war can have a heavy toll on a person. If you've followed Michael Ware's coverage and career over the years, you see just how damaging it can be.) As Packer mentioned during the panel, maybe no news is bad news. Obviously I think everyone who cares about global politics and human beings in peril needs to see The List, but there's something else I need to bring up. At one point in the film, Ibrahim quotes Mother Theresa and says that the opposite of love isn't hate but rather indifference. The frightening thing about that notion is that indifference is so easy. So while this is outside the purview of many of the usual reviews we do here at Flixist, I have a request: do something. Go visit thelistproject.org. Read up on the humanitarian crises our Iraqi allies face. Stay informed about what's unfolding in Iraq. Go write your congresspeople and senators. Let the Obama administration know there's still a major moral obligation to the Iraqi people that needs to be met. Make like the James Brown song: get up, get into it, get involved. Do something constructive and helpful. Whatever you do, just don't be indifferent.
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[From April 19th to the 29th, Flixist will bring you live coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipated films ...

Tribeca Review: Cut

Apr 25 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
CutDirector: Amir NaderiRelease Date: TBDRating: NR I'm not sure why anyone thought that this could be a feature film. The basic concept (man needs to pay back his brother's debt to the yakuza) is certainly worthy of its own movie, and there are probably at least a dozen movies about that same story. But the way the protagonist, Shinji (Hidetoshi Nishijima), goes about it is just boring. He decides that he will let yakuza members punch him in exchange for their money. He has a huge debt to pay off and only two weeks to do it, so that means there's a lot of punching. Problem is, that's all there is. He never fights back, nobody kicks him, and the vast majority of the punches are aimed at his stomach. Later in the film, more of them are aimed at his face, but it's primarily a stomach-punching fest. A stupid, boring, stomach-punching fest. But even that would be somewhat forgivable if it weren't for how obnoxious Shinji is. He is a film buff who holds special screenings of classic films like Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. every so often in order to expose people to cinema history. It's a noble goal, but the camera lingers on the screenings themselves. It shows pieces of Sherlock Jr. and John Ford's The Searchers, and I longed to be watching those films instead. Shinji hates what cinema has become, and he picks up his megaphone and shouts about it while everybody ignores him. As he's getting punched, he yells out "Shit cinema!" over and over again, using it like a painkiller. I wanted to shout at the screen in agreement. I wanted to tell it that it was shit cinema and that director Amir Naderi and co. should be ashamed of themselves. Shinji only makes it worse when he stops to say that there are still filmmakers who make true art that everybody should go see. Because he gives no examples, it's implied that perhaps Cut is one of those films. It's not. Not even close. There is nothing artistic about Cut. It seems like the film was thrown haphazardly together in about three days of editing with basically zero time spent on audiovisual work. It seems like a complete A few scenes which are pointlessly shot in black and white are the only indication that any attention was paid to the look of the film. The closest thing Cut has to a saving grace is its list of Shinji's 100 favorite movies. Unfortunately, it's shown over the course of what seems like an eternity, as Shinji gets punched 100 times. My only enjoyment came from counting how many of the movies I had seen, which was 20. And "enjoyment" isn't the right word. It was simply something to do. Something to think about other than the movie. The vast majority of the films on the list I had never heard of, with only a handful that I knew of but had yet to see. When it came time for number one, Cut gave way to Citizen Kane, and Orson Welles breathed "Rosebud" and dropped his snowglobe. And then there was Rosebud itself. Cut had spoiled the ending of Citizen Kane. Sure, anyone who goes out of their way to see a film like this has probably seen Citizen Kane, but it's awful that the filmmakers felt so highly of their production that they earned the right to spoil Citizen Kane for those who had yet to see it.  All of Cut's best moments are literally ripped from other films. Seeing bits and pieces of Citizen Kane and Sherlock Jr. reminded me how great they are, and it made me want to leave the theater and go see some good movies. Perhaps that was Cut's ultimate goal, though. Maybe the filmmakers wanted me to hate it so much that I needed to go scrub it from my mind with something good. That would actually be kind of clever, in some sickening way. But it would also be giving them too much credit. Hubert Vigilla: I wanted to give Cut the benefit of the doubt since it sounded interesting. It's a rant against the state of contemporary film, in which movies are mostly mere commodities rather than entertaining art. It's about Shinji suffering for his passion, and I also assumed that writer/director Amir Naderi's call for "free cinema" was a comment on the repressive nature of his home country Iran. But Cut just drones and trudges after making its points, and I could only stay with it for so long before my mind numbed and began to wander. We watch Shinji get beaten to a pulp, we watch him muse about movies, and we watch the cycle repeat. Every now and then you get a clip from The Searchers or Kwaidan, or you watch Shinji display extreme reverence to the graves of Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu. Any time that happened, all I could think was, "Man, I really wish I was watching The Searchers or an Ozu movie instead of this." 30 - Bad
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Two terrible hours I'll never get back
[From April 19th to the 29th, Flixist will bring you live coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipa...

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Tribeca Online: Watch four more short documentaries


Apr 25
// Hubert Vigilla
[From April 19th to the 29th, Flixist will bring you live coverage of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipated films ...

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