Tribeca Film Festival Reviews

My third year going, entropyenator’s first.  The weather on the second weekend wasn’t quite as good, being a good deal chillier, but it wasn’t raining and it was decently sunny most of the time.  Entropyenator lucked out of having to stand in line under a miserable drizzle, so I suppose we’ll have to try again next year and see if we can properly introduce her to NYC rush lines.

Shorts: Be Yourself: Six short documentaries.  American Renaissance had probably the most non-traditional structure, impressionistic and grounded versus explanatory.  Live Fast, Draw Yung and All-American Family explore their subjects by focusing on internal family dynamics that then spiral out to the “hook” (child prodigy artist, Deaf culture).  Elder and Eternal Princess are basically monologues, although Elder was by far more emotionally resonant; Eternal Princess never rises above hagiography (also, super-awkward moment when everyone was asked to clap for each director as they were announced, and Katie Holmes got polite applause to the whoops of the others).  My Enemy, My Brother did some creative interpolation of flashback/reinactment that convey visually how PTSD bubbles up afresh every day for its subjects.

El Cinco: A very naturalistic, almost to the point of documentary, movie about an aging soccer player who decides to retire, and who has to figure out the second act of his life.  The nonjudgmental, nondramatic filming style suits the main characters, none of whom are particularly deep thinkers (the main character is, honestly, an asshole who loves well but loves tribally), but all of whom feel deeply and honestly.  If the camera was jump-cutting and using tricky angles to signal every dramatic development, I think it actually would have cheapened the emotion with the artificial setting.  Put in context, the conflicts in these characters’ lives are nothing new but they’re intimately relatable.  Also, although the movie revolves entirely around a man, the female lead is unusually well-developed and realistic in that her attempts to support him are sometimes misguided, often ineffective but well-intended, rather than some perfect pixie girl.  Which goes a long way towards making the sex scenes (including an aborted outdoor sex scene) playfully earthy rather than porn wish fulfillment.

Mojave: Really pretentious mangst about how a rich white guy in the entertainment business overcomes his inexplicably tortured psyche to become a better sociopath than a bonafide serial killer.  There are some overly cute and meta in-jokes about Hollywood and the movies and how they eat people alive (Mark Wahlberg shows up just long enough to prove he’s terrible at playing not badass).  Oscar Isaac appears to be having a ton of fun playing a cut-rate boogeyman, and lifts a couple of scenes to interesting all by his lonesome.  Otherwise, the lack of suspense here makes you nostalgic for the Scream franchise.

When I Live My Life Again: Dysfunctional child comes home to dysfunctional family and is forced to confront her childhood traumas.  There’s a through-line about songwriting and musical comebacks and evolution, but it’s got no ommph behind it (also, the song that the movie takes the title from, it’s a terrible Sinatra pastiche).  Every parallel about destructive parent begetting destructive child is drawn, every terrible decision that could be made by a character is made, and every dated assertion about selling out is tossed out there.  Christopher Walken and Ann Magnuson at least seem to be having a lot of fun, but Amber Heard is horribly grating as the self-righteous unlikable heroine who just seems to exist as somebody’s daddy issues mouthpiece.

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Tribeca Film Festival: Electric Slide, The Other One, Intramural

I finished up the festival with, basically, a bunch of empty visual calories.  The fun stuff.  The insane stuff.  The stuff you wonder what on earth were the programmers thinking when they let this in, what, I thought film festivals were all Serious and Arty and not at all about the drunken/baked college demographic (full disclosure: I was slightly buzzed when I saw all of these aside from Electric Slide, either from beer or from the exhaustion of running on four to six hours of sleep a night because I kept booking late-night screenings).  But hey, why not?  Sometimes you go for the six-course tasting meal, and sometimes you go for the fried everything basket.

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Tribeca Film Festival: Shorts – Handle With Care, The Bachelor Weekend, Chef, Bright Days Ahead

i will admit that TFF’s $40 ticket package for matinees and late-night showings was more than worth the money, paying off after I redeemed four of the six tickets you get.  Would’ve been an even better deal if I’d been able to come for an additional weekday, but I do have to earn the paycheck.

If last weekend was (oddly, and totally unplanned) all documentaries, this one is shaping up to be nearly all narratives.

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Tribeca Film Festival: Ballet 422, Shorts – Totally Twisted, 30 for 30, Beyond the Brick, Tomorrow We Disappear

I have to say that it was a gorgeous weekend in New York, so at least it looked good outside while I forgot my pre-printed tickets, struggled to get the hotel printer to work (by the way, Google, setting up Gmail to default to remembering you even if you log out is crap for shared terminals), and then ran across town to the first of three rush lines I was planning to hit (with a stop at Union Square for ramps, because RAMPS.  Finally.  Such a harsh winter).

Well, waste of effort for my first two films.  Nobody in the rush line even got in for the second.  I don’t know that I really buy the TFF pitch of being a film festival for all, considering how easy it is for people with passes costing upwards of $500 to block out people trying to get single tickets.  But anyway, what I did get into:

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The Lego Movie

There’s always a moment in kid films where they have to get the moral of the story across in a big, Meaningful speech, which justifies the entertainment while being stilted and completely boring for anyone old enough to actually think about it.  And The Lego Movie’s got one of those.  It’s eye-rolling.

Except then they cut to this no-dialogue scene where you’re just watching the character move around and look and think, and you see the change of mind happening, and that’s the actual climax of the film.  You still have the speech to clunk it all out, but the real emotional shift happens without words.  And that is surprisingly mature and thoughtful.  I don’t think this is a classic like Toy Story, simply because too much of the plot is specific to the characteristics of Legos and so it’s missing that universality, but it’s certainly several cuts above most kid-oriented movies, and it’s slightly more than its commercially-oriented origins (and let’s face it, primary motivations) should have made it.

Oh, and yeah, the detail of this movie?  Is amaaaazing.  I want to go back and freeze-frame every scene so I can pick out all the little itty bitty anal-retentively creative Lego set dress.

Movies: Frozen and The Nut Job

The Nut Job: Yeah, they don't know either

The Nut Job: Yeah, they don’t know either

The first thing I have to say is, if you’re an adult going to a kids movie by yourself, you end up feeling very weird and defensive.  I kept having this urge to explain that no, I hadn’t wandered into the wrong theater by mistake.

I went to see these movies because I happen to have done work tangentially related to them.  Frozen was last week, and by far the better of the two movies.  It really worked on both a kiddie and an adult level, and I appreciate how they truly reinvented the Snow Queen fairytale, instead of just translating it into animation with modern dialogue.  I also love how they expanded the usual boy-girl confront various plot obstacles-shaped-like-characters storyline to have relationships about sisters, about the weight of family expectations, and about screwing up dating your first time out of the gate.  I think my only disappointment was the forgettability of most of the songs.  Oh, I enjoyed them when I heard them, and they’re a cut above the usual in terms of quality, but they’re just not earworms.  Even Pocahontas had me unwillingly humming Colors of the Wind for weeks afterward.

The Nut Job.  I just don’t know what this was.  This was like somebody took a movie about dysfunctional adults and tried to dumb it down for kids by making everybody animals, only they forgot that you need to make the characters lovable and relatable and God, I don’t know, consistent?  There’s this one character, Grayson, who reminded me strongly of Brad Pitt’s airhead from Burn After Reading, except he wasn’t played by Brad Pitt so his idiocy wasn’t hilarious, it was just silly, and the script wasn’t written by the Coen brothers so his character’s nonsensical behavior didn’t set the tone, it just slammed on the brakes so everybody could have a good long think about how bad the movie was.  Also, the romantic leads had no chemistry whatsoever.  All the chemistry was between the male lead and his two male sidekicks (Grayson counts as a sidekick), and it…just made you wonder whether the animators were working out some behind-the-scenes issues.  I think they were going for bromance à la Woody and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, but they just totally missed the planet on that one.

Oh, and everybody knows the villain’s cardinal sidekick’s design is totally ripped off from Charley Harper’s work, right?

Review: Cat Harnesses

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Last week Mango got lost. (Well to me. He knew where he was the whole time, the evil melon). Don’t worry, he came back, which is the only reason I am still functioning today.

I’m not going to go into the details of what happened here, because it’s extremely embarrassing how much I freaked out in those 2 hours, but the other thing that the episode did besides severely challenge my sanity was give me an opportunity to review various cat harnesses* to replace the one he lost god knows where.

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Movie Review: Rise of the Guardians

rise-of-the-guardians-poster2

I’m not sure why I like this movie so much. Having never read the books that it was based on, to me the film is basically Avengers with a fairy-tale twist, and full of the usual cast of characters. You have the big softy (Mr. North), the gruff kung fu master (Bunny), the hyperactive sweetie (Tooth) and the pint-sized powerhouse (Sandy) trying to convince the rebel with a heart of gold (Jack Frost) to join them against the embittered former pal (Pitch). The movie is wholly predictable.

But beyond the animation, which even in these days of CGI ubiquity is beautifully done, there is something else that really grabbed me. Even the inevitable kiddy moral seems less saccharine than it could have been, as the idea that there is nothing to fear but fear itself is easily applicable to all ages. It has corn, and it has cheese, but its good corn and cheese.

Tribeca Film Festival: Out of Print

Out of Print: The digitization of books and its ramifications. This is a hard documentary to evaluate.  It’s not innovative in format, but the juxtapositions of talking heads saying diametrically opposite things is well-done; this film chose articulate interviewees who effectively convey their passion as well as their point of view.  But it’s not an entry-level documentary at all.

This is going to seem like a harsh review, but…I have issues with this film. But the issues make me think, in a good way, and so ultimately, I think it was a good one. It just wasn’t what it was advertised to be.