Tuesday, April 25, 2017


THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P JOHNSON is complex film. Nominally the story of Miss Johnson, her life and death, the film actually casts it's film wider and takes in the story of Johnson's compatriot Sylvia Rivera as well as the struggle for transgender rights and respect even within the LGBT community.

The story of  Miss Johnson is framed by the investigation of Victoria Cruz from the New York City Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project. Cruz knows that most crimes against transgender women go unsolved or unpunished and she would like to determine what happened to Johnson who was one of the driving forces of the Gay and Trans Rights movement. Cruz is very much aware that looking into a death 25 years after the fact is going to be difficult but she hopes that someone or some piece of information will come to light.

Based on the write up in the Tribeca press material I thought I was going to be a true crime murder mystery focusing wholly on Miss Johnson. I didn't expect a film that laid bare the history of not only the history of Gay Rights but also the history of Trans Rights. What I thought was going to be a straight forward tale became a rich layered story that is going to require several more viewings in order to truly fully process everything that the film as telling us. Quite simply there is a lot of history in this story that most people are simply not going to be aware of.

I am not certain what to say about the film other than this film demands to be seen. This is a heady and frequently moving mix  this is a film which needs to be seen about a battle that is still being fought. If you need further proof of the struggle still being fought consider that as the film was premiering at Tribeca Chay Reed was killed in Miami.

A must see

Natasha (2015)

16 year old mark is growing up in a Russian expat community in Toronto. He goes along as any teenager would. When his uncle enters an arranged marriage with a woman from Moscow she bring her 14 year old daughter Natasha with her. Mark is given the task of showing Natasha around and a bond quickly forms between them. However Natasha has secrets in her past that could destroy their relationship.

Based on a book of short stories by director David Bezmozgis NATASHA is a rambling coming of age film that perhaps is a bit too dour for it's own good. A film with lots of silences and secrets the film has the feel of an overly earnest short story brought to the big screen. While not a bad film it is awfully mannered and very much the sort of thing that wants to be about something even if it means that things don't fully connect to the  audience.

While on some level the dual English Russian language may make the film realistic there is an uncertainty in some of the performances depending upon which language they are speaking in.

The real problem with the film is that writer director Bezmozgis is focused too much on the thrust of the tale and not on the details. Yes he has the cast switching between English and Russian as people would in real life but he forgets to give anyone anything that isn't meaningful to say. Every utterance plays into the plot somehow.

Worse in moving the characters around he has wiped out all sense of details of real life. We do not see anything that anyone does that gives s a sense of these people are real people. In a short story you can talk around the lack of detail but here every set is spartan, There are no tell tale signs of a life off screen. Everyone only exists for their single moments.

I never connected. Worse I never cared.

While technically not a bad film it never engages enough to care about the characters and what happens to them. Personally I would rather read the stories the film is based on since I'm guessing it will be more alive than this film.

NATASHA opens in Theaters 4/28

Ariela explains what happened- Literally, Right Before Aaron (2017) Tribeca 2017

Allison(Colbie Smulders)and Adam(Justin Long) were together 8 years before they split up. Now less than 2 years later, Allison calls Adam and invites him to her wedding. He decides to go. Why? Who knows. He is still completely in love with her and the film shows him remembering times they had together throughout the film. He looks at photos of them together, he cries. But still goes to her dinner party, and then the wedding. His friend, played by John Cho, sets him up with the super quirky Kristen Schall, to take her as his date to the wedding.

It was refreshing in a way to see a guy who's broken hearted, because most movies seem to focus on the woman. The pain that Adam is in is so obvious. I kept wanting to yell "why are you doing this to yourself?!" It seemed so masochistic. I felt so sad for him and he was holding it together fairly well, I kept wondering, when is he going to break?

The film was good, it was sad more than anything(though I didn't actually cry). It's definitely not a must see. Another one to watch when it comes out on Netflix.

Ariela on FOR AHKEEM (2017) Tribeca 2017

For Akheem is a documentary about 17 year old African American Daje who lives with her mother in not the best area of St. Louis where people around her age are getting killed regularly and she worries about being next. (She mentions a bullet wound in her stomach at one point but we don't know the circumstances to how she got it.) She gets kicked out of school and has to go to an alternative school. for kids who frequently get into fights and have problems. Her mom wants to see her graduate and encourages her to do well, telling her there's a whole other world out there that she's not even aware of and she can be whomever she wants to be. Teachers and staff in school are also encouraging and try to help her. She has a boyfriend who doesn't go to school or work and spends his time smoking pot and also worrying about being the next victim to being killed. She is having a hard time doing the "right" thing, struggling to get a diploma and even winds up getting pregnant. Missouri has the highest rate in the country of African American students being kicked out of school.

The story is a sad one, and not that unique to what we hear and see in the news. The documentary takes place around the time of the Ferguson trial. I felt myself at times feeling hopeful for Daje and other times feeling pessimistic. I found the documentary a bit slow/long, but I liked it overall.

THE 2017 HARLEM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL announces schedule for its 12th edition (May 4-7)

Opening Night Afro-Punk Sci-Fi Cinema with Live Dance and Musical Performances features the World Premiere of Daniel Peddle’s GARDEN OF THE PEACEFUL DRAGON

Closing Night features the North American Premiere of Angela Robinson Witherspoon’s CURTSY, MISTER

Additional World Premieres include; Jacques Zanetti’s DAY AFTER DAY, Robert Clem’s HOW THEY GOT OVER, Stephen Dest’s I AM SHAKESPEARE (THE HENRY GREEN STORY), and Jason Swain’s SAVE ME FROM LOVE

New York, NY (April 24, 2017) – The 2017 Harlem International Film Festival (Hi) today announced the official selections for the 12th edition of the film festival taking place on May 4-7 at MIST Harlem (41 West 116th Street). Opening with the world premiere of Daniel Peddle’s inspirational documentary, GARDEN OF THE PEACEFUL DRAGON, and closing with Angela Robinson Witherspoon’s tale of survival on the streets of New York City, CURTSY, MISTER, the four-day film festival will showcase 90 films from more than 30 countries, on subjects ranging from immigration, sex, race, romance, music, art, fashion, combating HIV/AIDS, surviving breast cancer, homelessness, gentrification, celebrating dance, and much more - including 6 world premieres, 2 North American Premieres, and 2 U.S. premieres.

“This year’s lineup is typically diverse, both in content and the filmmakers responsible for the films, bookended by personal profiles that hit close to home both because of their redemptive themes and because they get to the heart of what is the best in humanity,” said Harlem International Film Festival Program Director Nasri Zacharia, “In our 12th year, the festival will once again provide a forum for wonderful storytelling and exciting moments on the big screen created by talent all around the world.”

Opening Night, on Thursday, May 4, will mark the debut of Daniel Peddle’ GARDEN OF THE PEACEFUL DRAGON, which profiles Burley Luvell Benford III, an elderly African-American veteran who occupies an abandoned piece of government property by the beach in Kauai, Hawaii. After being discharged from the Marines, Benford became one of the first employees of IBM and neighbor to Timothy Leary. A single acid trip changed his life over-night. Ditching his “suit”, he moved to San Francisco where he fell in with the Beat Poets and witnessed the birth of The Grateful Dead. Legendary music promoter Bill Graham hired him to be a bodyguard for his artists and he spent the better part of a decade jet-setting and hobnobbing with stars. Looking for another dramatic change of lifestyle, he repaired a schooner and sailed it all the way to Hawaii. Three divorces and four children later, we find Luvell homeless, living out of his pick-up truck on the beach. A man whose incredible life story may have been lost to time is rediscovered in this final chapter of his life. Preceding the screening of GARDEN OF THE PEACEFUL DRAGON will be the U.S. Premiere of Anneta Lauffer’s short film, AFRO PUNK GIRL, and Eileen Byrne’s short film IRIDESCENCE.

Closing Night, on Sunday, May 7, will feature the North American premiere of Angela Robinson Witherspoon’s CURTSY, MISTER. The documentary tells the story of Ronnie Grant. Raised in the projects on 61st and West End Ave., in New York City, but eventually managing to move to the much nicer co-ops on 64th Street, right behind Lincoln Center, Grant’s life was changed forever after an aunt began dressing him up as a little girl. This led to a life of androgyny as well as an early molestation by a friend’s father. However, Grant never thinks of himself as a victim as he looks back at his life. He tells recounts very personal story with honesty, dignity and a large dose of humor. The film is preceded by Joschka Laukeninks’s short film BACKSTORY.

Highlights among the Harlem International Film festival’s other world premieres include: Jacques Zanetti’s DAY AFTER DAY, another New York-centric film, focusing on the push and pull within the relationships of two diverse couples in the city; Robert Clem’s documentary, HOW THEY GOT OVER, which combines vintage footage of the television series, “TV Gospel Time” with interviews with members of spiritual music legends, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Soul Stirrers, Dixie Hummingbirds and other groups; Stephen Dest’s film, I AM SHAKESPEARE (THE HENRY GREEN STORY) which follows the inspiring story of survival of 19-year old Henry Green, who was brutally shot and left for dead just shortly after his inspiring performance in William Shakespeare's ‘Romeo & Juliet”; and Jason Swain’s romantic comedy, SAVE ME FROM LOVE, about a woman at wits end with her fiancé, that is pushed by her friends to begin dating again.

Additional festival highlights include; the New York premiere of Coreon Du’s BANGAOLOGIA – THE SCIENCE OF STYLE, about the African continent’s influence on style from the runways of the world to the meccas of visual art; James Marquand’s drama, BEAUTIFUL DEVILS, which is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's Othello set within the music scene of East London; the East Coast premiere of Sean Durant’s drama/doc hybrid, GINA’S JOURNEY, based on the Afterword of the book, Life of William Grimes the Runaway Slave, written by Regina Mason, in which her path is retraced as she visits historical locations and key points of interest along her 15-year path of discovery; the New York premiere of Johan Eriksson’s HODA’S STORY about a young woman’s remarkable comeback from a gunshot wound-induced coma amidst the endless strife in the Gaza Strip; and QUALITY PROBLEMS, about a couple coping with a sudden breast cancer diagnosis while they face the challenges presented by a father with Alzheimer’s and an approaching birthday party for their 8-year old.

The Harlem International Film Festival will also feature virtual reality (VR) installations, special live musical performances, the festival’s annual Screenplay Showdown, and…table tennis matches.

Free-to-the-public industry panels and exhibitions will include:

Join film distributors Isil Bagdadi and Michael Sergio from CAVU Pictures, along with other industry experts as they reveal the secrets on how to secure distribution for your film in today’s crowded marketplace. Learn how to build a battle plan that will launch your film onto the big screen and then across multiple distribution platforms.

Film festival passes and tickets go on-sale soon. To purchase tickets and for more information on the Harlem International Film Festival go to http://harlemfilmfestival.org/hi-lights//

Feature Films Presentations

Afro-Punk Sci-Fi Cinema
Director: Daniel Peddle
Country: USA, Running Time: 87min
GARDEN OF THE PEACEFUL DRAGON is an intimate, moving and transformative portrait of Burley Luvell Benford III, an elderly African-American veteran who occupies an abandoned piece of government property by the beach in Kauai, Hawaii. We witness his off-the-grid existence while learning about his fascinating life-story. Unforgettably charming, Burley Luvell Benford III upends our presumptions and challenges our worldview while earning his place in our hearts.
Preceded by
Director: Annetta Lauffer
Country: USA, Running Time: 16min
AFRO PUNK GIRL is a dystopian sci-fi drama set in a near future Britain, where Christmases are hot, nights are filled with violent muggings and the militia government enforces the “Happiness Agenda” upon it's citizens.
Ditrector: Eileen Byrne
Countries: Germany/Luxemborg
After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, élodie turned her suffering and fears into a creative fight against the disease and the debilitating effects of the treatments used. Her latest work, IRIDESCENCE, is the personal story of her fight with cancer and the way she found to deal with the disease in a creative and hopeful manner. It's also a way of giving back and handing on the positive vibes that she's received from friends, family and strangers during the course of her disease.

CURTSY, MISTER North American Premiere
Director: Angela Robinson Witherspoon
Country: USA, Running Time: 60min
A very human story of survival. Ronnie Grant is raised in the projects on 61st and West End Ave., in New York City, but eventually manages to move to the much nicer co-ops on 64th Street, right behind Lincoln Center. His favorite aunt, Glo, decides he would be cute dressed up as a little girl. This leads to a life of androgyny and an early molestation by a friend’s father. Ronnie never thinks of himself as a victim. He tells his very personal story with honesty, dignity and a large dose of humor.
Preceded by
Director: Joschka Laukeninks
Country: Germany, Running Time: 8min
As a young child our protagonist is left by his mother and has to live with his violent father. He fights his way through adolescence and falls in love with the woman of his dreams and just as everything seems to be finally working out for him, a sudden event changes the course of his life forever. A story about how everything we love, everything we learn, everything we build, everything we fear, will one day be gone.

Ariela on Aardvark (2017) Tribeca 2017

I was really hoping to like Aardvark as I really like Jenny Slate and the film sounded like one I would be interested in, however I was disappointed.

The film is about three people; Jenny Slate (Emily), who is a therapist, Zachary Quinto, (Josh) her patient, and Jon Hamm, his brother(Craig). Josh who we very quickly see is troubled, starts seeing Emily to get help. He tells her he has a famous actor brother named Craig, who is in town, but has no way of contacting him. He says he hasn't seen him in 15 years.

We soon find out he has schizophrenia. Everyone is Craig to Josh, a homeless woman, a police offer. He says every time he sees Craig he is a different character and tells him its his best work. Josh also mentions to Emily that he was diagnosed with a disease years ago, but we never find out what that disease is. Is it his schizophrenia? We don't know if this is what he means.

One day actor Craig appears at Emily's house to ask if she is treating his brother. He is glad that she is, and the two of them very quickly wind up sleeping together. In the meantime, Josh meets a really cute girl and they start spending time together. This part of this film was very sweet and I thought this might be a turning point for Josh. But at one point I started to wonder, is she real? We never find out. Why haven't the brothers seen each other in so many years? We never find out. Craig doesn't want to see Josh, he says he pays his bills and he tells Emily that he's very disturbed. Is that why he hasn't seen him in so long? Again, we don't find out. I kept wanting and hoping for more from this film, more about the brothers, more about Josh's troubles, but never got it. This film premise seemed hopeful, but instead was pretty bland and not memorable.

Another one I would say to skip.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Before I do longer reviews (of some) of the Day 4 and 5 movies here are some capsules

I am slightly under the weather- I rushed home early tonight instead of going to THE LAST POKER GAME World Premiere to try and rest up. I am better but I am still not 100%.  The practical upshot is I am behind writing up a whole bunch of stuff. 11 events even with Ariela's and JB's help is too far behind. SO in order to take some of the pressure off myself I'm going to give you capsules and word on the longer pieces that are coming.


WASTED- The less I think about it the less I like it look at the waste of food in the world. Its flashy, an beautiful to look at but they don't really get too deep into things.

ANIMATED SHORTS CURATED BY WHOOPI G- The films all look good but half of the films are disposable. SUMMER CAMP ISLAND while wonderfully surreal an funny doesn't end, it stops. Clearly CArtoon Network has  bigger plans for it. ODD IS AN EGG, about a boy with an egg shell head is charming but just misses being great, SECOND TO NONE is a funny black as night comedy about a brother trying to kill his sibling. It good but until the denouncement you know where its going. The gem here is DEAR BASKETBALL which had me in tears all 3 times I saw it (it was the subject of the Glen Keane Kobe Bryant Talk.

THE LAST ANIMALS- Is a very good  doc on the death of rhinos and elephants. While preachy and uneven in spots its one of the best docs on the subject of saving animals transceding most similar films. (Ariela is going to do a full review soon).

LITERALLY BEFORE AARON - funny but often painful to watch film of a guy going to his ex's wedding.Its painful to the point of just being sad about what he does to himself (Ariela will have a review shortly)

AWAKE: A DREAM FOR STANDING ROCK- first two parts(films really) of this look at what happened at Standing Rock are just awful-  the dreamy first film cleared much of the audience. The second is unfocused- However the third part is quite good as is the film's coda both of which should be seen simply as shorts. A a feature its a painful slog to get to the the good stuff. (No further review is coming)

The Kobe Bryant/ Glen Keane talk - was excellent- and all they really talked about was the short DEAR BASKETBALL which they ran twice - and as a result it made me cry 3 times in one day (A full report and a pictures post are coming)

ROCK AND ROLL - very funny farce that is damn close to tragedy... and is really strange. This story of the lengths one man will go to prove he is "rock and roll" has some great performances and some big laughs but the second half split audiences which has some people people really hating  the second part despite laughing loudly. (Ariella will be reviewing this)


FRANK SERPICO is a very good look at Serpico and his life as told by the man. It was great to have him walking through his old haunts. This is going to play better if you don't know his whole story. Not quite the best of the fest one programmer told me but really good.

GET ME ROGER STONE- is a good look at the political fixer in the words of himself and others. A solid film for two thirds of its running time it kin of sputters in the final run to the end because Stone seems to have run ot of secrets or interesting things to say an do. (A longer review is coming)

ACORN AND THE FIRESTORM- is good look at the national community group that was brought down by You Tube videos that allegedly showed wrong doing. A good look at the organization and it's fall from grace that should have been great. Blame it on weak editing which doesn't tell the story compellingly enough. The downfall story seems much to jumbled to allow the film to soar.

BOMBSHELL-Excellent biography of Hedy Lamar and her need to invent. A great American Masters documentary that will bring her the fame she deserves. One of the best of the fest (A longer review is coming)

DOG YEARS- A good moving film of a once great star who is given a life time achievement award from a film festival and is sent spiraling back through his life. Burt Reynolds gives one hell of a performance. Heading in unexpected (and expected) directions the film is it's own unique thing and despite not wanting to the film will probably bring a tear to your eye. I have a great deal to say about the film, so a review is coming, but for right now know its a good film with great moments but not the best of the fest some friends had labeled it.

Look for the longer reviews soon.

(I should point out that Ariella will have a review  of PERMISSION and AARDVARK soon.)

Ariela's serves The Dinner (2017) Tribeca 2017

The Dinner is the story of a congressman who's running for governor (played by Richard Gere) who invites his brother (Steve Coogan), who has a history of mental illness, to dinner, along with both of their wives. (Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall)

After a very lengthy time with scenes switching from the past, showing the congressman with a previous wife, and Coogan dealing with his wife's cancer, and the present, the dinner itself, which kept being interrupted with calls the congressman had to take. We finally, after forever, find out that the congressman wanted to have the dinner to discuss a crime that both their sons committed. The parents have to figure out what their actions will be.

The premise of this film is good. However, I felt there was way too much that was unnecessary. Steve Coogan is/was a history teacher and there is a very long scene about Gettysburg(which he was obsessed with). I think I dozed off at one point. There is also some narration of the film by Coogan's character which I found odd.

An hour into the movie and we find out about the crime which was disturbing, and they have their conversation, which consists of very differing views. In the end, it is a film about morals. Prior, to this point, I found the film so dull. I wanted to yell "talk about it already!" The ending is left open-ended which left me frustrated.

 Definitely one to skip.

The Last Poker Game (2017) Tribeca 2017

Martin Landau stars with Paul Sorvino and Maria Dizzia in a charming eyes opened look at the perils and joys of growing old.

Landau plays Dr Mandelbaum, a retired heart surgeon. When his wife's Alzheimer's advances to the point where he can't handle her on his own he moves them both into a nursing home. Things don't look all that bright, the home's director says flat out that he hates old people, but Mandelbaum's luck changes when he he meets a roguish man named Phil played by Paul Sorvino. Sorvino has lead a more than full life and isn't going anywhere without  a fight. Add to the mix a young caring nurse played by Maria Dizzia and you have a sweet little film.

Unjustly buried at  the Tribeca Film Festival THE LAST POKER GAME, is an absolute charmer. I'm guessing the films charming warm feel confused the programmers who liked it enough to schedule it but had no idea how to schedule it or how to program it. In all honesty the film remains an enigma to many in the press corps who had no idea the film was at the festival. "You're covering what film?" they asked.  When I told them they still had no idea. Honestly they missed something special

Written and directed by neurologist first time director, Dr. Howard Weiner the film is remarkable for a couple of reasons. First the film shows the sure hand of a director who has been making films for a long time.  Comparable and in many ways better than the sea of  small independent films that run across my view each year it's hard to believe that Weiner hadn't done this before. The camera set ups, the  editing and the creation of a sense of place are all first rate.

The other thing that is amazing is the script which takes a real and clear eyed view of growing old. I love the frank talk and atypical twists of the plot.  While I would not be fool hardy enough to say that Weiner has written a perfect script, there are a few moments that seem like they were a bit too melodramatic and or a tad contrived, there is enough here that is unlike any other American film. I love the waves of emotion Landau and his wife share- no other filmmaker would have been able to craft such real moments unless they were extremely talented.

I want to see what Weiner has coming up next for us.

I have to mention the cast. The whole cast is full of great people but the three leads are exceptional. Landau, Sorvino and Dizzia have turned in wonderful performances. While I have seen Sorvino and Dizzia recently, Landau seemed to have disappeared.  It's a great thing that he's resurfaced in this film. Not only does he turn in his usual high caliber he seems to have upped his game, no doubt egged on by Sorvino who seems to match him note for note.

THE LAST POKER GAME is a gem of a film and worth your time when it resurfaces now that its Tribeca screening is done.

Newton (2017) Tribeca 2017

Newton is a film that America kinds of needs now. Never mind that the film comes from India, the tale about the importance of voting and doing the right thing is the sort of thing that will give you a kind of hope in these dark days in America.

The plot of the film has Newton, an election volunteer heading into a remote section of India to oversee voting. Where is is going is dangerous. Maoist rebels have pulled a candidate out of a car and shot him. They are threatening to disrupt the election if their demands are not met. Traveling in to the fray comes Newton, a young man who takes his charge very seriously. Newton is going to discharge his duties come hell or high water so he is not going to listen to the rebels or the police who seem not to want him to do what he was sent to do.

Amusing dark comedy is going to be taken very differently by those of us in America who are rattled by the way the election process of the last cycle played out. What should have been a humorous look at the way we need to follow principles with things as important as an election now has shadings that would not have been there a year ago. The humor now occasionally catches in the throat.

I really liked this film a great deal. A wonderfully acted film this is a tale that can’t help but bring a smile to your face even as things turn several shades of dark.


November (2017) Tribeca 2017

After the first press screening for Tribeca my friends who attended it described it as both the best film at the festival and the worst- at the same time. Having seen the film myself I completely understand why they said that. A film of singular vision it has sequences that will make you sit wide eyed and slack jaw at the beauty and raw power of them, while at other times the film just boggles the mind making you wonder what they were thinking. Either way the film is a masterpiece and grand piece of cinematic art.

The film is set in a time when Christianity and pagan beliefs intermingle. The dead come home on All Saints Day for a meal, the Devil can your soul in exchange for magic, and people do turn into werewolves. Everyone steals from everyone else. As everyone tries to get by with as little effort as possible a girl named Liina falls hopelessly in love with a boy named Hans and pines for him so much she turns into a werewolf.

I’m only touching on the plot of the film. There is great deal going on the film but not a lot of it lays together in any sort of narrative arc. This is a film which has its mind more on the ideas it is playing with. Do we need a soul? What is the nature of being alive? Is the purpose of life to work? The thin narrative is used to string together a series of scenes that kind of explore these ideas and others.

Visually arresting the black and white photography will take your breath away. Squalor has never looked this good. This is a film where the images instantly transports you into another time and place. It’s a film that reminded me of the monochrome work of Andre Tarkovsky, Bela Tarr, Jim Jarmusch or Aleksei German. And not only visually narratively the film echoes some of the best work of these but other directors as well. Everything seems other worldly. The monochrome sheen creates pure a place that by passes our conscious mind and goes straight into the center where our dreams live.

Sequences play out as waking dreams the opening bit where one of the kratts steals a cow and flies it back to its master is one of the most amazing things you’ll see all year. Even though you’ll know how it was done you’ll still marvel at how real it plays. All the scenes with the kratts are some of the best in the film. The kratts are creatures made from farm tools that are given life by the devil in exchange by the devil (think something from a Jan Svankmajer or Quay Brothers film). They have to work or they will die- though giving them an impossible task can result in unfortunate results.

If you’ll notice I’m only speaking of the film in pieces and that is because in many ways the film does not hang together. As amazing as the film is in its parts, it never quite hangs together some sequences are just strange, others ramble on with no clear point and others don’t quite work. Things don’t always link up and we have to connect a good number of dots. The result moments where our spirits soar are occasionally followed by ones where we are moving through mayonnaise. It’s extremely frustrating and makes you want to scream at the screen.

And yet despite the films problems I would argue the film is must see.

The moments that work, the visuals and many of the thematic elements keep the film from completely crashing and burning. As several of my fellow writers told me when they saw the film a month ago said-this is among the best and the worst films you’ll see all year at the same time. This is a film that is truly a singular vision and the work of a completely and utterly mad director. Love it or hate it when you are done seeing NOVEMBER you will know you have seen a film.

If you want to see something special, if you want to see a film that is unlike anything else and which will make your mouth hang open in wonder even as it bumping around then you must see NOVEMBER which is one of the best films and one of the worst films at Tribeca

A Suitable Girl (2017) Tribeca 2017

A Suitable Girl is a look at the Indian drive to get married. According to the film women are raised with the intention that they will one day get married and raise a family. The film takes a look at three women who are aiming for marriage.

Dipti is a woman in her early 30’s who just wants to get married. Working as a school teacher she has been unable to find anyone. Part of the problem according to some in the lucrative marriage industry is her weight. She is a sweet straight forward woman who wants to just be married and loved.

Amrita marries a childhood as the film begins and move off to be with her husband’s family. A working girl and lover of partying before marriage The plan was for her to rejoin the work force after the wedding but a sudden illness of her father in-law changes the her plans and she is forced to cope with falling into a traditional role.

Ritu is a young woman working in high finance. While she feels she wants to get married she won’t do so to anyone who will not understand her need to work and be more than a traditional wife. We also get to know her mother who works as a high stakes matchmaker and who is unable to get her mother

A Suitable Girl is a good look one cultures obsession with marriage. I love that the film lets us experience the women’s uncertainty at how what they want will affect their lives. We also get a hint at them chaffing at what society expects from them (A baby by the third anniversary).

As good as the film is the film has two small problems. The first is that the film is so well versed in the world of Indian weddings there are times the film should explain more. Terms are used and events transpire that are not 100% clear to an outsider. It’s far from fatal, we catch up via context, but at the same time it keeps us slightly outside events. The other problem is the film is kind of devoid of dramatic tension. The film is about the path to the women getting married so the fact that they do is not surprising. The only question is who the grooms are going to be and since its outside the film until it happens no suspense is generated.

Regardless this film is definitely worth a look.

Tribeca ’17: The Trip to Spain

Seriously, does anything go better with spicy seafood than Roger Moore impressions? They’re in Spain, you see. The Moors, Roger Moore. Get it? You will if you join Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon for another culinary jaunt in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Spain, which screens again today at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Steve Coogan is still Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon is still Rob Brydon. Coogan was always the more famous one, but that is especially true now that he is riding high on the success of the ridiculously overrated Philomena. However, despite his professional frustrations, Brydon appears to be the happier one. It would be more accurate to say the loving father and sort of faithful husband is somewhat happy, whereas the emotionally unfulfilled Coogan is really just miserable. Of course, we are talking about their Trip franchise analogs, not the real comedians, right?

Regardless, Brydon and Coogan are together again, following up their restaurant tours of Italy and the North of England with a saunter through Spain. This time, Brydon will do the newspaper reviews, while Coogan takes notes for a self-indulgent book. Of course, Coogan brings up Philomena every chance he gets. His digs at Brydon also seem less good-natured, but his Welsh counterpart largely lets them roll off his back. After all, this is a good gig for the working-class celebrity.

Once again, the two bickering friends mine comedy gold from their dueling celebrity impressions. Coogan is also quite the good sport allowing Brydon and Winterbottom to deflate his pomposity for comic effect. There is no question Coogan and Brydon dominate this Trip, just like they did previous installments of the UK television series/US film franchise. However, Kyle Soller scores a lot of laughs in his scene-stealing cameo as Coogan’s ex-American agent.

All three Trips are consistently funny films, but they also offer a bittersweet, deeply humanistic portrayal of middle-age and its related insecurities. Frankly, the trilogy makes us willing to forgive Coogan for What Goes Up, whereas Brydon still has plenty of good credit accrued from his voice-work in the Julia Donaldson animated specials (The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom). Recommended like the return of a slightly balmy old friend that always raises your spirits, The Trip to Spain screens again tonight (4/24), as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Tribeca ’17: Blues Planet Triptych (screening & concert)

If you grew up in the early 1970s, you might be more familiar with the blues legend Taj Mahal than you realized, thanks to his soundtrack for the hit film Sounder. Since then, the real deal bluesman and his music have graced many films and soundtracks, including The Hot Spot and Once When We Were Colored. As he approaches his 75th birthday, Taj Mahal racked up another screen credit in Wyland’s short documentary, Blue Planet: Triptych, which celebrated its world premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival with a special post-screening concert by the Phantom Blues Band, fronted by Mr. Taj Mahal himself.

Awkwardly, the film itself, written, produced, directed, and featuring uni-named environmental artist and activist Wyland, is pretty much a big nothing. We see Wyland mope around the mucky aftermath of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and listen to his platitudes, like “it will take all 7 billion of us to save this planet” (in which case, we’re done for, since the 2.5 billion people of China and India, or at least their governments, clearly aren’t on board). However, he tantalizes us with scenes of the Phantom Blues Band recording the forty-eight environmentally themed blues songs he wrote, in a New Orleans studio.

Technically, the film is rather unremarkable, to put it diplomatically, but it is well worth sitting through if you get to hear Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band play afterwards. It is a heck of a band, including NOLA’s Jon Cleary on keyboard, Willie K (“the Hawaiian Jimi Hendrix”) on guitar, and perennial jazz poll-topper Steve Turre (known for his long tenure in the Saturday Night Live band) on trombone and shells.

Despite some quickly resolved sound issues, “Dirty Oil” was an appropriate tune to kick off the set. It certainly highlighted Wyland’s eco message, but more importantly, it really brings out the Delta in Taj Mahal’s voice. “Going Back to the Ocean” sure sounds a lot like another well-known Blues standard, but there’s certainly a long “cut-and-paste” tradition in Blues, so who cares, especially when the Phantom Blues Band digs into it. “My Home is Your Home” nicely dialed it down for Nick-I Hernandez’s vocal turn and Cleary’s solo, both of which were quite eloquent. Throughout the set, Cleary laid down some tasty lines on a Roland trying to sound like a piano, while a chugging Hammond gave it a firm bottom, all of which is just such a kind combination of sounds.

Arguably, “Little Ocean Pearl” was the highlight of the set, featuring Taj Mahal on harmonica, Willie K on uke, and Turre on the shells. It is indeed fitting Turre’s shells had a feature spot, given the ocean theme. In this case, his solo was especially melodic and rich in sonic color. “Queen Honey Bee” also sounds like a hummable cross-over hit, with a lovely melody and “honeypot” lyrics that definitely suggest “blues” connotations. There was actually a surprising degree of textural and rhythmic variety in the set, with the pseudo-calypso “All Gone Now” aptly summing up Wyland’s message at the end.

At one point, an audience member shouted out “sound good,” to which Taj Mahal replied “after fifty-five years, you’d better sound like something.” He then added: “I’m just waiting for those rappers to get to 75.” Frankly, it looked like the blues legend could have played all day if they would have let him, and he sounded so good leading the Phantom Blues Band, it is a shame Tribeca didn’t just let him go. As a film, Blues Planet: Triptych is what it is, but getting to hear Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band play afterward is a treat you shouldn’t miss if you have the chance. Viewers will get a hint of what they missed when Wyland’s film also screens as part of the Shorts: S.O.S. program tomorrow (4/25), Wednesday (4/26), Saturday (4/29) and Sunday (4/30), as part of this year’s Tribeca.

Ariela's brief take on ICE MOTHER (2017) which is one of her favorites at Tribeca 2017

Ice Mother is the story of Hana who lives alone and has weekly visits from her two sons and their families. Hana still helps a lot by doing a lot for them. One day Hana is watching her grandson, Ivanek, and he wanders off. She finds him and winds up meeting a group of ice swimmers. They swim and race in 3-5 degree water. She befriends them and in particular befriends a man named Brona, who has a best friend as a hen, and they begin a relationship with each other. Ivanek, who is picked on at school, also befriends the ice swimmers. The two of them now have a new group of friends.

The film is in Czech with English subtitles. The movie was really sweet. The scenery was beautiful. There were definitely moments of ridiculousness and a sex scene I could have done without, but overall I really enjoyed and recommend this film.

Tom of Finland (2017) Tribeca 2017

It may sound odd but I have always loved Tom of Finland's art. I am not a gay man, however in running across his work in bookstores I was always drawn to his line work. I still remember my first encounter seeing a cover and wondering why it was listed as adult- and then I opened the book and realized why. Ultimately though while his his work is very much about sex is also pieces of high art.

Dome Karukoski's cinematic biography of Tom, whose real name was Touko Laaksonen, is a really good film. While the film can be graphic in its depiction of sex, the film is really about the man, his art and the man who he fell in love with.

Beginning in the second World War the film follows Touko as he cruises parks and makes art. We watch as he tries to have the life he dreamed of but finds that society isn't understanding. As time goes on he and his art begin to get noticed and eventually he becomes well known around the world.

While we come to understand "Tom" and what inspired him, we also see the changes that have come in society over the last 70 years. Its a frequently moving trip.

As much as I like th film I do have to quibble about the pacing. Much of the first 70 minutes is Touko living his closeted life and having legal trouble. It is a deliberately paced film that takes its time setting everything up. The problem for me was that once Touko sends pictures to the US and his work begins to be printed the film races to the end. A great deal happens and not all of the whys and wherefores are covered. Its not fatal but it reduces several moments that should have been even more emotional. (Though the hand holding with the yellow curtains crushed me)

Definitely recommended for anyone who won't be bothered by the subject or the art.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tribeca Day 4 post is coming

I was at seven screening/talks today and I am exhausted. I will have reviews up soon of:

The Whoopi curated groups of animated films
LITERALLY BEFORE AARON (Ariela's review will go up soon)
The Kobe Bryant/ Glen Keane talk (and it has to be said DEAR BASKETBALL will win the Oscar- I cried all three times I saw it- twice at the talk and once during the Whoopi collection)
ROCK AND ROLL (Ariela is taking lead)

The reviews will be soon because I'm too tired and I have another long day tomorrow.
Kobe Bryant and Glen Keane (more pictures are coming)

I do want to say that I never in a million years expected to hear some one wonder if they were seeing me while passing me in a car going down 23rd street. It was my friend Sam Juliano from Wonders in the Dark who was heading in for a day of films. While I have known Sam on line for six or seven years we have only met once in person-fleeting last year at a Tribeca screening. While pictures of Sam are around- pictures of me are scarce so that he recognized me while zooming at speed is surprising.

In any case the meeting was a happy occurrence an I now have what I have wanted for a while now- photographic proof we both exist. (I'm on the left and Sam is on the right)

In Brief: Cop Watch (2017) Tribeca 2017

A look at the use of cameras and cellphones to record police activity and particularly arrests in the wake of the Oakland and Baltimore. The film is also a look at the people who serve the community by watching the watchers.

How you react to the film will depend upon how much you know of cop watching. If you are well versed in the incidents that have made national headlines and you have seen reports on the people who record arrests then you may less likely to be in love with the film than if you only have a passing knowledge.  This isn't a knock on the film, rather its simply point  out that while it hits all of the right notes, if you have been aware of the movement there is very little new here.

As a primer this is very good but beyond that the film is just okay, despite being an incredibly important film.

Ariela spies on THE BOY DOWNSTAIRS (2017) Tribeca 2017

The Boy Downstairs stars Zosia Mamet who is from Girls, plays Diana, and Matthew Shear who I was unfamiliar with but who is adorkable(think I made up that word but I like it), plays Ben.

Diana is recently back in New York City after spending some time in London. She is looking for an apartment and finds the perfect one with the perfect roommate. Perfect until she finds out that her ex boyfriend Ben, who she broke up with before moving to London, is her downstairs neighbor.

They have an awkward first encounter where she tells Ben she wants to be friends, but he clearly has no interest. What continues is a series of awkward moments. The film goes back and forth between the past and present. The past showing us what their relationship was like. The film deals with thinking about their past, present and future relationship. As someone who just went through some heartache myself, I was able to relate to this film and was glad I had tissues nearby. This film isn't the most unique, but I thought it was sweet. I'd say see it when it comes out on Netflix or whatnot.

Psychopaths (2017) Tribeca 2017

The press screening for PSYCHOPATHS  was a strangely quiet affair. Despite being packed the audience simply sat in their seats and stared at the screen as if it was a average domestic drama. I mention this because normally during a horror film you can see people reacting to starts, shifting in their seats and genuinely being moved by the film. With PSYCHOPATHS they just seemed to sit and when it was done they just filed out. This is odd because more than any other type of film horror films provoke talk and there was none.

I know that is a weird way to begin a review but PSYCHOPATHS is a weird film, Its an atypical horror film that is more a thriller than a scare machine. Its a film that might have been something but which is ruined by narration which promises something that never materializes.

The film is supposed to be what happens on the night a serial killer named Starkwether (Larry Fessenden) is put to death. Paying as a kind of demonic Le Ronde, we watch as the various killers and sickies crisscross each other on the night the narration is called the Great Chaos.

The problem is that the interview clips of Starkweather and the narration promise some sort of grand evening of madness and instead its just a some unremarkable madness, nothing on the order of "Great Chaos".  Watching the film I kept waiting for something "great" to happen. I wanted real chaos. What I got was a killing for money story, a psycho home invasion tale and table is turned on a killer tale, all are good, but none are "great chaos".  This all would have worked if the narration and references to the dead serial killer were chopped out.

There is a good film here, the music is great, the camera work is amazing but at the same tim the film kind of slides off the table.

I blame writer director Mickey Keating who has been turning out genre films with regularity. While he has made films that had moments (DARLING anyone?) he usually either can't pull it together or he does things that cut his own legs off. (Even if the narration didn't kill the film the long haired LA cop with four days beard growth would have).

Worth a try but I'd wait for streaming or cable.

(I do need to say that the narration-in and of itself is really good but its so good it works against the rest of the film)