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Tribeca Film Festival
Reviews
April 25 - May 7, 2006

 

 




Photo Credit Evan Sung


Todd Stephens’
Another Gay Movie
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

From the very first vibrant and colorful frame of Todd Stephens’ ironically titled Another Gay Movie, it’s quite obvious that the audience is about to enter very gay territory indeed--But NOT traditional gay movie territory. Not by a long shot.

Another Gay Movie is a teen comedy specifically tailored for gay male tweens (but very likely to appeal to gays of all ages). Envision Porkys and American Pie, only gay.Think Not Another Teen Movie or Scary Movie, only gay. Are you getting the lavender picture?

Now, the stunner: the gay-ness is accepted, even celebrated in every frame. Imagine a queer flick where no character feels angst or shame about their sexuality. Gay is not only good, it’s the only way to fly!

Now, before one sounds the groundbreaking Brokeback-bell, the movie is also silly, gross, risque’ and raunchy. It features lots of yummy pretty boys, graphic nudity (how many of you homos are already hard?) but also contains scenes of scat, vomit, enema-related troubles and many other gross out sequences.

The good news is that as spoofs go, these scenes are side-splittingly funny, especially a moment involving the main teen, Andy, meeting up with his teacher, who’s online name is Rodzilla.

The basic plot is your basic teen sex comedy plot--with a gay twist, of course (have you been paying attention?) Four senior high school friends make a vow that they will finally have sex before Labor Day. The gaggle include: Andy (Michael Carbonaro) a ravenously horny bottom who’s mother’s garden vegetables keep vanishing; Jared (Jonathan Chase), a buff Varsity jock with a “small” problem; Griff (Mitch Morris) the nerdy romantic obsessed with bettering his butt-size and Nico (Jonah Blechman), the nutty and swishy movie fan. The film follows the outrageous antics of the gayboyz as their deadline date approaches.

Written with gay glee and deftly & deliciously directed by Todd Stephens (Gypsy ‘83), Another Gay Movie creates a new sub-cinema genre: the gay teen gross-out comedy farce. Like last year’s Hellbent, which sprinkled fairy dust on the horror flick, this film is a splendid creation for a huge niche’ audience. Marketed correctly, AGM should have young poofs lining up for blocks to see it!

All four actors have charm and comic-abilities to spare and, thank the gay gods, there is nothing tentative about their performances. Special kudos go to the commandingly capable Michael Carbonaro who is a hilarious scene stealer and facial contortionist and Jonathan Chase who brings a surprising poignancy to the stock jock part.

The supporting cast, which includes: Scott Thompson; John Epperson (Lypsinka); Stephanie McVay and George Marcy, all have a crazy-ass gay time of it. (Just how many times can a critic use the word gay in a review do you suppose?)

How can you not love a film with lines like: “All Catholics are bottoms” and “What’s a boy gotta do to get some mansnatch?”

See it for the hottie boys. See it for the steamy sex and naked butts. See it for the kink and raunch. Or see it because it isn’t just another gay movie, it’s a fabulously gay movie written and directed by an out and proud gay man celebrating all things...well...gay...





Q Allan Brocka’s
Boy Culture
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Boy Culture is that rare gay film that does not strictly exist to show pretty boys having sex. Now, while it does, indeed, feature pretty boys having sex, but these hotties happen to be richly nuanced, complex human characters. That alone sets it apart from your standard homoflick.

A pungently satiric voice-over permeates the story of X, a sexy and unapologetic male escort (to twelve, mostly elderly, clients) who is living in a quasi-Noel Coward-esque situation with his two gay roomies. Joey is a promiscuous teen deeply in love with X who has his own crush on newly-out hunk Andrew. X has recently begun to service an agoraphobic older gentleman named Gregory whose stories of his amorous past force X to face a few emotional truths about himself.

One of the chief joys of Boy Culture is that it refuses to force traditional heterosexual romance notions on it’s homosexual characters, the way most queer films do. These are gay men and an important part of their culture is having sex. Hipgayhooray to Brocka for realizing this.

The central performance is key to Boy Culture’s success and while Derek Maygar smolders with raw sexual intensity, he is more than capable of the range of emotions needed to take us inside X’s paradoxically narcissistic and yet uncertain head.

The other two leads aren’t quite as strong as Maygar. Daryl Stephens’ Andrew appears a bit too tentative and Jonathan Trent overflits a bit too much as the crowd-pleaser, Joey--which isn’t to say they don’t have solid moments. Patrick Bauchau delivers a potent and memorable performance as Gregory.

Boy Culture represents a nice step forward in queer cinema.


Nelson Pereira Dos Santos's
Brasilia 18%
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Reviewed by Brian Shirey

One of three Brazilian films at Tribeca this year, Brasilia 18% is a moral thriller about a coroner who is incessantly pressured to make a certain identification of a woman’s murdered corpse. We learn that he has been recently widowed, and images of both dead women (often blatantly nude) haunt him during his private time. But who’s actually dead, anyways?

It’s an important question: The film is set in Brasilia, the “administrative capital” of Brazil, amongst the upper crust of the country’s politicians. As it turns out, the dead body’s actual identity could set off a national scandal, and everybody is a little too quick to blame the death on a local filmmaker, who supposedly acted in a jealous rage.

It’s worth noting that Nelson Pereira Dos Santos, the 77 year-old (!!!) director, started his career in the 50’s making social realist documentaries about the dire economic conditions in Rio de Janeiro. His first film, Rio 40 Degrees, attacked corrupt politicians and the Brazilian bourgeoisie. Yes, he’s a leftist, and it’s not much of a leap to see Pereira Dos Santos projecting himself into the character of the helpless accused killer.

To the film’s credit, however, instead of being a polemic, it is engaging as a crime thriller, and also as an examination of the mind-set of someone who constantly deals in the question of death. Coroner as main protagonist is a great idea, and we visit the peculiar dilemmas of the medical examiner in ways I haven’t seen since Quincy went off the air. Dr. Balic leads the action in Brasilia 18% as the classic man of integrity caught in a vortex of duplicity, coercion, and blackmail.

The film is visually conservative, and the exposition is a bit clunky. There’s a lot of info provided through TV news reports, and if a certain limo driver had not been listening to his passengers so carefully, nobody would be able to figure out anything. But Balic’s visions, and the uncertainty that plagues him all the way to the finale, keep Brasilia 18% off balance in a very refreshing way.

Many foreign films make it to festivals not because they’re excellent, but because they provide the noble service of revealing some part of the culture of the country in which they were made. And no, Brazil does not have a prominent film industry. Brasilia 18% is good because it performs this function; we get some insight into the tenuous relationship between government men, civilians, and the ever-present potential for scandal. But it also works as a rather sensual mystery, and that’s a 100% good reason to check it out…


 


Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's
Brothers of the Head (UK)
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

 

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Brothers of the Head, the poignant and affecting fiction feature debut from Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe (Lost in La Mancha) exhilarates the viewer with it’s frenetic camerawork, oddball docu-storytelling and intense performances.

This oddball work appropriates from several distinct genres to create it’s own. Imagine blending Zelig with Velvet Underground with The Elephant Man with Reds with Twin Falls Idaho, and (here’s the paradox) coming up with something alltogether original and dazzling.

Brothers of the Head takes you on a rocu-journey inside the lives of conjoined twins Tom and Barry Howe (real life identical twins Harry and Luke Treadaway), who are discovered by an 1970’s music promoter and fine tuned into a pop/rock act. Their story is told via “old footage” from a documentary that was shot at the time of their career genesis, along with present interviews with those who were closest to them.

It is an easy sell that these boys actually existed (plot spoiler--they did not) since the film unfolds in a most extraordinarily real manner. Definitely NOT a mock-umentary (a la This is Spinal Tap), the characters and situations are given quite serious due and envelop the audience into complete belief capitulation.

Both Treadaway brothers (in their film debut) deliver immensely searing and impressive performances. Luke is mesmerizing as Barry, the brazen, difficult one and Harry is perfectly piercing as Tom, the quiet ticking timebomb. The entire ensemble are to be applauded as well.

Tony Grisoni has crafted a clever and disturbing script based on the novella by Brian Aldiss who gets kudos for imagining this strange and surreal saga.

The original songs are reminiscent of the glam/punk early 70’s but have a style all their own. The lyrics are simultaneously satiric and sometimes sentimental.

Brothers builds to a truly haunting final image that makes quite an impression. This is an alltogether absorbing film that piques the viewers curiosity. You find yourself desperate to know more about the Howe twins...if only they actually had existed.




Brian W. Cook’s
Colour Me Kubrick

2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

If Philip Seymour Hoffman can win an Oscar for impersonating Truman Capote then, by God, John Malkovich must win one for impersonating Alan Conway impersonating Stanley Kubrick!

One of the great joys of the Tribeca Film Festival so far, Colour Me Kubrick is a wickedly yummy, semi-truthful account of an audacious and quite unbelievable story.

Director Brian Cook and screenwriter Anthony Frewin (both of whom are past Kubrick collaborators) have crafted one of the most original works in recent memory, perhaps since--ironically enough--Being John Malkovich.

Around the time of the making of Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut in the late 1990’s, a man by the name of Alan Conway got away with pretending to be the elusive auteur, despite the fact that he looked nothing like Kubrick and never really bothered to educate himself about the master’s body of work.

The real Kubrick lived a hermetic existence in the last three decades of his life.

In the film, Conway sweet talks to bed young guys as well as con many other folks out of money, time and amenities.

Using many an odd American accent and wearing the most outrageous frocks, Malkovich delights as the charlatan with no moral conscience. This is the performance of his career and Malk is a marvel frame after delicious frame.

The self-reflexive jokes are hysterical as well. At one point in the film Conway (posing as Kubrick of course) is asked what he is working on next. His reply: “3001: A Space Odyssey with John Malkovich in the lead.”

Cook pays homage to the great Kubrick by using the same rich colors he used in his films, even borrowing the same music. Camerawork, art direction and costumes are all superb. The pic is cut together masterfully and Bryan Adam’s original score soars.

Colour Me Kubrick is the reason festivals like Tribeca exist: to introduce the world to refreshing, innovative films that defy genre and easy description but provide cinema-goers with a richly rewarding experience. Kudos to the filmmakers for their daring; to the real Conway for his unapologetic chutzpah and to John Malkovich for his unabashed fearlessness.





Michele Placido’s
Crime Novel (Romanzo Criminale)
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Italian cinema appears to be experiencing a Renaissance. Perhaps a censorial neo-fascist government does indeed beget an outpouring of impressive creativity. (Come to think of it, US indie films and stage plays are at a peak as well...hmmmm.)

If the challenging and compelling Romanzo Criminale (Crime Novel) is any indication, Italy may soon prove to, once again, be a world cinema force that demands our attention.

Based on the popular Italian novel by Giancarlo De Cataldo, Michele Placido’s sweeping saga chronicles the rise and fall of a gaggle of gangsters spanning two significant decades in Italian history. The filmmakers are admirably uncompromising in telling this multi-layered “true-ish” story of power, passion, betrayal and revenge.

Romanzo Criminale specifically depicts the life and crimes of three ill-fated and misguided friends and their followers as they kidnap, money-launder, drug-traffic and murder their way through Rome in the 1970’s and well into the 1980’s. We are privy to their ruthless and ambitious climb up the criminal ladder, aligning themselves with the Mafia when they need to.

The film is both unrelentingly brutal and visually beautiful. Placido is a master at keeping things moving (you never feel the 2 and a half hour length) and he obviously places a lot of trust in his actors, a decision that is fully and richly rewarded.

The entire ensemble are to be commended for their outstanding work beginning with the dynamic Kim Rossi Stuart who is simply smashing as the conflicted and seemingly aloof, Freddo (Ice). As he proved in Keys of the House, Stuart is an amazing actor who commands the screen.

The character, Lebanese, is a dark and diabolical figure. But as portrayed by Pierfrancesco Favino, he is also complex and intriguing. A nasty thug who admires dictators such as Mussolini and Stalin and hubristically compares himself to Roman Emperors, Lebanese is redeemed by his deep love for Freddo. Favino’s work is intense and astounding.

The gifted Claudio Santamaria rounds out the trio as the congenial and clever Dandie.

Stefano Accorsi has the difficult role of the proud Inspector Clouseau-eque Captain Scialoja and manages to bring depth and intelligence to a man insanely obsessed with bringing down these hoods.

As Patrizia, the whore Dandie loves, Anna Mouglalis steams up the screen and captivates with a savvy and sincere portrayal of a woman hellbent on surviving, no matter the cost.

Jasmine Trinca and Riccardo Scamarcio, both featured in the superb film Best of Youth, provide great eye candy, yet prove they’re more than just pretty. They are quite excellent.

Luca Bigazzi’s cinematography is stunning. He dares to fill the screen with revealing closeups that are mesmerizing. The score, costumes, production design and editing are all outstanding.

The film brings to mind the best of Pasolini and Leoni, as well as Scorsese and P.T. Anderson, but stands on it’s own as a great piece of cinema.

Romanzo Criminale does not currently have a U.S. distributor which is sad and downright crazy when one considers the crap that does get released here. Hopefully that will change so Americans will have a chance to see one of the best films of the year.




Julie Walters and Rupert Gint in Jeremy Brock's Driving Lessons

Jeremy Brock’s
Driving Lessons
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

From her spectacularly profane and marvelously wacky first moment onscreen in Driving Lessons, Julie Walters metaphorically grabs the film, and the Rupert Grint character, by the balls and never lets go. And thank the thespian gods for that! Walters plays the hell out of the role of eccentric Dame Evie Walton and reminds us why she is simply one of the finest actresses working today.

Ms. Walters also happens to be brilliantly discerning since Driving Lessons stands as one of the best coming-of-age films in recent memory. Nothing feels forced or contrived, which is surprising since the movie is culled from real events in the life of it’s gifted writer/director, Jeremy Brock.

Based on Brock’s actual experiences with the extraordinary stage and screen legend Dame Peggy Ashcroft (Oscar winner: A Passage to india), Driving Lessons tells the story of Ben (Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint), a terribly shy seventeen year old, who lives with his hypocritical Jesus-freak mother (an effectively bitchy Laura Linney) and too-quiet vicar father (Nicholas Farrell). Ben goes to work for once-celebrated actress Evie (Julie Walters) and slowly begins to bond with this passionate, whirlwind of a woman.

Ben’s initial apathy shocks Evie: “For a boy of seventeen you have a lamentable lack of curiosity!” But Ben soon finds himself entranced by her and the two embark on an oddball friendship that leads to both finding out certain important personal truths about themselves.

Grint is quite impressive. Adorably dubious at first. Decidely weird and confused. It’s a layered and convincing portrait of what forced Evengelical life can do to a child and how the perfect bad influence can help point out it’s incongruities. Grint has fantastic screen chemistry with the dazzling Ms. Walters.

Driving Lessons is filled with gorgeous moments including our duo gazing at a transcendent view of Scotland. The view is indeed gorgeous but the beauty lies in the expression on the faces of the two leads. Who’d have thought that the best screen couple of the year may very well be an awkward young boy and a bizarre older actress!







Seth Grossman’s
The Elephant King
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Jake is a detached alcoholic whoremonger living in Thailand (so as not to face a jail sentence in the U.S.). Oliver is his introverted, possibly-suicidal younger brother. Jake coaxes Oliver to visit him in the land of the paradox. Glitzy American-influenced sleaze exists amidst stunning ancient temples. And before you can say: “I love you long time,” Oliver has fallen for sexy Thai-gal Lek. Back at home, the boy’s overly concerned mom is not very happy.

The Elephant King is an unusual and emotionally enveloping film that features a fascinating fraternal relationship at it’s core (although the brothers’ history could have been explored more).

Shot in a contemplative style reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, Elephant has quite a few inspired scenes--most of which involve an actual elephant! As a matter of fact the manner in which the elephant is treated reflects greatly on the characters and can be seen as a metaphor for the way the United States treats the rest of the world--never really bothering to learn about a culture and, instead, forcing ours on the respective country.

The film features a fierce performance by Jonno Roberts as the self-destructive Jake. Tate Ellington impresses as the quiet Oliver. And Ellen Burstyn delivers a thoughtful performance as their perpetually worried mother.

Rarely does a Western film address Buddhist notions of life’s impermanence and death as rebirth. And while The Elephant King could have explored these themes a bit further, it stands as a captivating curio.




Theo Avgerinos's
Fifty Pills

2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org


Reviewed by Brian Shirey

Another indie twist on the young man coming-of-age subgenre, this one stars Thumbsucker Lou Taylor Pucci. He’s a bit more grown up now, at college and getting involved in drug dealing among a number of colorful lowlifes in downtown Manhattan.

The star plays Darren Giles, who (again) happily narrates his crazy life for us, only this time he actually looks at the camera. It’s a precious technique, but Pucci is nothing if not likeable, and our identification with him is quick and easy. In Fifty Pills, 50 pills is the source of Darren’s trouble: Ecstasy left behind by his delinquent dorm roommate, which Darren must sell in one day to pay a sudden deficit in his college tuition. None of it is the poor guy’s fault.

In this premise, Darren takes the role of the straight man, and the rest of the cast play the comic foils. Fifty Pills proceeds as a series of hilarious skits. We see our sane young hero negotiate E-sales with a manic computer entrepreneur (Eddie Kaye Thomas, from the American Pie movies), a dominatrix with a grandma complex, two hot chicks looking for a threesome, and his frat-boy cousin from Long Island. At the same time, Darren of course must appear responsible to his button-cute girlfriend (Veronica Mars’s Kristen Bell), while avoiding a turf war instigated by the trigger-happy dealer named Eduardo. Michael Pena, most recently seen in Crash, virtually steals the movie in this role; the guy is energetic, scary… and an idiot.

Fifty Pills is a perfect Tribeca film. It was shot all over downtown, and the dry humor derived from the criminal behavior, which is an indie-film staple since Tarantino first appeared, gives the film the appropriate “edge.” More delicious dark comedy, but this time, it’s New York-style.

(For more tips on how to get rid of Ecstasy pills to avoid having your ass thrown out on the street, please see the first 30 minutes of 1999’s Go. Nobody does it better than Sarah Polley.)


 




Mark Fergus's
First Snow

2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Starring: Guy Pearce; Piper Perabo; William Fichtner; J.K. Simmons; and Shea Whigham

Reviewed by Brian Shirey

Existential angst is put into overdrive in this new psychodrama, and the presence of Guy Pearce isn’t the only thing that will remind you of Memento. Placed in the TFF’s “Discovery” section, First Snow is a sharp little movie that gets on your nerves – in a good way.

Pearce plays Jimmy Starks, a slick traveling salesman who alternately hocks flooring and jukeboxes. As First Snow opens, fate intervenes in classic form (engine trouble), and Jimmy is forced to hang out at a dirty rest stop somewhere in New Mexico. Here, he kills time by getting a reading from a fortune-teller who has parked his camper nearby; one shyster meets another, apparently. The only problem is, the old mystic actually sees something.

In a very tensely directed scene (featuring great acting by J.K. Simmons, as the fortune teller), Jimmy learns that he’s basically supposed to buy the farm – when the first snow hits. (I guess the film takes place in the New Mexican mountains, although I didn’t see any.) What commences might best be described as a paranoiac thriller. On one hand, it seems as if Jimmy is too cynical to actually believe his bad fortune. On the other, Pearce shows us a man with a dubious past, and it’s easy to see that beneath his cool veneer, a haunted conscience may have taken residence.

First-time director Mark Fergus spins us into a mood of increasing dread -- mixed smartly with weather reports about lowering temperatures and possible precipitation. Jimmy has a fight with a co-worker, gets a sinister package, and learns that an ex-business partner has just gotten out of jail. Shea Whigham, as the hapless ex-con named Vincent, gives an unsettling performance (and amazingly, at least half of his work is a disembodied phone voice) There’s an unnerving scene half-way through the film, as Jimmy, unable to sleep, wanders his shadowy house while talking on his cell with Vincent... who may be nearby.

Pearce seems to get even gaunter; he starts looking over his shoulder, literally and figuratively, and the girlfriend (Piper Perabo, in a role that’s a bit wasted) remarks that he’s “acting weird.” The darkening color scheme, the cramping camera compositions, the increasingly drab locations – they all contribute to a sense of inevitable doom. But is it all in Jimmy’s mind?

First Snow is told in standard linear fashion, but like Memento, it profoundly implicates the viewer in the consequences of decisions made by the hero, because there is such sensitivity in the story about what may be coming next. Is it possible that Jimmy is bringing on exactly what he’s trying to avoid? By the same token, the film shows how one man’s conscious actions may strike another as lightning bolts of destiny. Ultimately, First Snow works brilliantly as a story of two people on a collision course.

A word about Guy Pearce: He’s on screen now in The Proposition, the Australian Western in which he is appropriately (for the genre) laconic, still, tense, and virtually wordless. Jimmy Starks is busy, moving, wild, and fast-talking… and I barely recognized the guy. Let’s hear it for an actor who’s pretty enough to play heroic leads, but who has the sense and talent to go for nihilistic grime instead. Or does he? Next up, I’ve read, is Andy Warhol in a film about the Factory. Tribeca Film Festival 2007, I bet!


 




Benjamin Chavez, Russell Simmons and P. Diddy

in
Michael Skolnik and Rebecca Chaiklin’s
Lockdown, USA
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

News From the Front

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

How’s it going with the war on drugs? Any victories in the field? Hey, wasn’t this thing supposed to be over in 1973 when then Governor Nelson Rockefeller decided to get tough and had the legislature pass the “Rockefeller Drug Laws,” - the drug laws which require mandatory fifteen year prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs.

Well, that war’s not going so well if you are a poor black male who lives in the projects. If so, you have an excellent chance of spending your young adulthood in jail as punishment for same the kind of “dumb fuck” kid behavior that has white suburban parents hauling their kids off to rehab.

Lockdown USA tells the stories of this war and covers a group of activists who attempt to get Governor Pataki and the legislature to overturn the law. The organizers covered in the documentary range from civil rights icon Ben Chavez to politician Andrew Cuomo to Hip-Hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons to whacked-out activist/comedian Randy Credico to Wanda Best, a wife and mother who finds herself raising five children by herself after her husband was sent to prison for fifteen years for signing for a cocaine-filled Fed Exp package while he was working a construction job. (Best refused to take a deal of less than a year in prison because he insists that he is innocent).

The documentary follows Russell Simmons as he holds a rally against the laws, featuring artists like P. Diddy and Mariah Carey. It show Russell’s numerous (back and forth, back and forth) helicopter trips to Albany to talk to Governor Pataki, Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno (as nice looking a group of successful middle aged white men as you could hope to see anywhere – all white teeth smiling and silvery suits gleaming). And smile they did as they played sucker poker with Simmons, supposedly agreeing to a deal after an all night session, then remembering things a little differently the next day.

The documentary also shows the dirty underbelly of these drugs laws: the small towns who have embraced prisons as a new industry to replace lost farms and whose local politicians lobby vigorously against repeal. We also hear from prosecutors who say they need the threat of these laws to make small time offenders turn on drug kingpins. But if you turn off all the rhetoric and just look at who is actually in prison, one could certainly conclude that the real reason all of these “powers that be” do not want to repeal the laws is an underlying belief that anything that keeps a bunch of young black men off the streets can’t be all bad.

And in the end there is some hope. Some of the more draconian provisions of the laws have been repealed and Darryl Best has been released from prison. But mandatory sentencing still remains – people are sentenced to prison by the weight of the drugs they carried and judges still have their hands tied and are unable to make common sense decisions. Everything is left in the hands of young twenty- something Assistant District Attorneys, who are trying to make their bones by showing how tough they can be on crime. And I bet a lot of these young DA’s are going to grow up to look just like Pataki, Silver and Bruno and they will smile just as big as they dance their little side step.




Claudia Llosa's
Madeinusa
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Reviewed by Brian Shirey

Just in case Mini’s First Time gave you the impression that incest (or near-incest) was all fun and games, Madeinusa comes along to give us the grim reality.

This film (and yes, the title is correct, with no spaces or punctuation) is TFF’s only offering from Peru. It’s also one of the best films in the Festival this year. The story surrounds a young woman who is matter-of-factly shown sleeping with her father, BEFORE being forced to go through her tiny Peruvian village’s Holy Week religious festival as the “White Virgin.” Irony, you say? How about this: She is named Madeinusa, which her dirt-poor parents happily borrowed from a tag on a T-shirt.

Madeinusa is all culture shock. With startling confidence, first-time director Claudia Llosa creates a primitive village in which we fully believe that Madeinusa is expected to accept her ugly situation. But there’s hope, because the girl does have a spark. As the film opens, a drifter stops in town during the Easter weekend, when from Friday PM til Sunday AM, the doctrine states that “all sins” are allowed. How’s that for an invitation to trouble? Madeinusa develops a sexual attachment to the man, just as she is supposed to be playing this sacred role for her fellow villagers.

The consequences are surprising, and very moving. I was amazed by the detail Llosa captures in showing the village’s adherence to ritual. There are some extremely well observed bits involving neckties and a very exhausting clock, and the camera is attentive to small things -- like the way a dead rat lies in the grass.

In the end, however, the star of the film is Peru itself, if only because it is a region that is so seldom seen in movies. The lead actress, Magaly Solier, is a non-professional native who gives a heartbreaking, and strangely sly, performance. She makes us believe that for Madeinusa, independence (represented to her by Peru’s capital city of Lima) is found, quite simply, in where you live.





Brian Kirk’s
Middletown

2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006

www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Middletown --the name of the small town in the gritty new film by Brian Kirk--is an unrelentingly grim yet powerful tale of two Irish brothers: one strongly persuaded, at a young age, to be a man of the cloth, the other stuck in the working man’s life of strife and survival.

Beginning in a deliberately mundane but compelling manner, this highly personal drama slithers itself under your skin and then explodes in astonishing ways as the favorite son returns home and we slowly witness the Old Testament spouting religious zealot he has become. Never has a priest or preacher in a non-horror movie appeared so frightening, so monstrous.

As the arrogant, hubristic Gabriel, Matthew Macfadyen is wholly unrecognizable from his formidable and sexy leading man turn in last year’s highly successful Pride and Prejudice. Here Macfadyen seethes with a growing wrath that is genuinely hair-raising. And while we are never really privy to why Gabriel has gone maniacal (although strict adherence to scripture is hinted), Macfadyen provides us with enough of his inner life that the real answers are probably too terrifying to touch.

Middletown is admirably directed from a minimalist script by Daragh Carville. The camerawork is perfectly stark and evocative .

Daniel Mays is excellent as Gabriel’s far more human brother and Eva Birthistle proves formidable as his pregnant wife, but the film is, ultimately, a tour de force for Macfadyen.




Nick Guthe's
Mini's First Time
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Reviewed by Brian Shirey

In her first starring role since 2003’s Thirteen, Nikki Reed is the ultimate LA bad girl in a biting dark comedy that plays like a cross between Heathers and Body Heat.

The title is accurate, but it’s not what you think. Mini is way beyond virginity; in fact, she doesn’t think twice, as her wry voice-over informs us, about spending her high school nights part-timing at an escort service. Mini’s First Time is a character study of a young woman who finds that life is in ALL the first-time experiences, and morality, compassion, and remorse should not get in the way.

Writer-director Nick Guthe sure knows how to exploit the premise: He gives Mini a trashy actress mother (Carrie-Anne Moss), a scumbag PR guy stepfather (Alec Baldwin), and a snazzy sports car. Then he sets the whole thing in the homes of the SoCal super-rich, and lets Mini loose in a hot-red string bikini. Mini’s First Time is the kind of film that makes you laugh because the shallow people are so willfully mean (and it conforms to what a lot of NYers think about LA, anyways). Mini gets sexually involved with her own stepfather, of course, and together they devise a sick plan to get rid of Mom.

In his manic, befuddled way, Baldwin gives another memorable performance; he’s a master of subversive comedy. Reed is heartless from start to finish, but beneath it all, she creates a sharp sense of what unloving parents can do to a kid. The movie looks great, especially the ritzy sets; you see the kind of moneyed world that seems to encourage depraved behavior.

Most of all, Mini’s First Time is a wildly entertaining LA satire with smart writing… and we can see it all from the calm safety and sanity that is New York City!

 


 

 



Alex Steyermark’s
One Last Thing
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Cynthia Nixon is an amazing stage, film and television actress. She has proven her extraordinary diversity in such varied projects as: Sex and the City; Warm Springs (as Eleanor Roosevelt); Robert Altman’s Tanner on Tanner and her recent Broadway triumph in Rabbit Hole.

She is so good that I longed for her when she wasn’t onscreen in One Last Thing.

Now one can argue that the movie is about Dylan (Michael Angarano) and his last dying wish. That Cynthia’s Karen is merely his mother, but as I watched the saga of Dylan, my thoughts kept going back to Karen, who apparently lost her husband (a fleeting and unbilled Ethan Hawke) at a young age and is about to lose her son as well. I kept wanting to know more about her despair and pain. I couldn’t give a damn about the superficial supermodel (Sunny Mabrey) who Dylan ‘wishes’ to sleep with. and her stereotypical self-destructive behavior. (Are there ANY happy supermodels as portrayed in films?)

I kept craving more relationship-developing scenes with Karen and the football hottie (Johnny Messner) instead of being subjected to the inane antics of Dylan’s idiotic, insensitive friends (Matt Bush & Gideon Glick). With buddies like these, death must seem like a relief!

And while I appreciated Angarano’s performance, it was obvious that only Ms. Nixon was able to rise above the 80’s movie-of-the-week trappings dictated by the script.

I applaud director Alex Steyermark for trying to avoid the maudlin, but somewhere along the way sympathy was sacrificed. Except for Cynthia Nixon’s Karen whose face registered so much in one simple (seemingly invasive) moment of hurt than this film had the right to capture.





Denis Henry Hennelly and Casey Suchan’s
Rock the Bells

 

"Anything with Dirty makes me nervous," Chang Weisberg

Starring: Chang Weisberg, Carla Garcia, Brian Valdez, Wu-Tang Clan, Redman, Dilated Peoples, Sage Francis, Chali 2na + DJ Nu Mark (Jurassic 5), Eyedea + Abilities, MC Supernatural + Haj

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Have you ever wanted to know what it would be like to produce a rock concert? How it would be to the “man,” the guy who deals with the talent, the venue, local officials and the investors (his mother)? Or how about this: Just what would it be like if you were the guy who got all the original members of the Wu Tang clan together on a stage at a “sold out” rock concert at a grungy rock pavilion in San Bernardino, California?

Well, watching Rock the Bells is your chance to experience the entire thing from the comfort of an air conditioned theater seat. The documentary follows rock promoter Chang Weisberg (of Guerilla Union) in the summer of 2004 as he plans a hip-hop concert - to his realization that he has now invited almost “all” of the original members of the Wu Tang Clan so why don’t I just go for all of them - through to the sold-out-out-of-control-almost-a riot concert featuring RZA, GZA, ODB, Method Man, Ghostface, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, U God, and Cappadona (the unofficial 10th member of the Wu Tang Clan).

And filmmakers Denis Henry Hennelly and Casey Suchan were there for the entire ride. We see Chang at work in LA, promoting rap stars such as the totally bizarre white-boy-with-a-wig-rapper Sage Francis (who likes to say it with broccoli). We meet Weisberg’s wife, his mother and his loyal assistant – the three strong women behind the man. We see him mortgaging his house and his life to put together the money to finance the concert. And we see the freaked out planning, as Weisberg relentlessly tries to put his dream together. The camera men even follow him to his meeting with the San Bernardino city council planning committee, where he tries to convince the powers-that-be that he is not going to inflict an Altamont on their city. Right.

And finally it is the day and Hennelly and Suchan have twenty cameras working in what is reported to be 115 degree heat. There are huge lines of disgruntled fans that were forced to wait for hours in the broiling sun to get through the turnstiles, which are seemingly manned by high-school-drop-outs temping as security guards. The cameras follow Weisberg’s assistant and his mother as they sell thousands of dollars tickets from a ticket booth that looks like a tin box and must have felt like a brick oven. And we see the out-manned security guards peeling passed-our concert goers out of the crowd and hauling them outside to be revived with oxygen tanks. There are also moments of bizarre humor: Sage Francis looking like he dropped in from the documentary next door and Redman insisting that he had to have some weed before he would talk and then getting some and talking, all while the camera rolled away.

The day was filled with suspense; a suspense which is surprisingly compelling considering that it was mainly created by the need to get one of the rappers, a drugged-out Ole Dirty Bastard, out of his hotel bed where he is busy entertaining some new female acquaintances and performing pharmacological experiments. The cameramen interview Dirty’s clueless manager, who was seemingly hired for his job precisely because he did not have the skill set necessary to toss the hos’ out and throw Dirty in a cold shower. And we see rapper Rza, whose attitude at first was, “I’m here, why can’t he get here,” reluctantly consenting to act as an elder statesman and negotiate Dirty’s appearance and thus prevent a riot from the thousands of fans in the over-sold arena.

In the end, Dirty finally agrees to show and perform with the Clan and we are treated to the sight of Dirty sitting comatosely on the stage in all his cracked-out majesty, occasionally waiving a finger at the out-of-control crowd. Because in the end, it was show business and the show must go on and it did. And the Wu Tang Clan did perform together for the very last time because Ol’ Dirty Bastard (Russell Tyrone Jones) died four months later of “unknown” causes. Rest in Peace to Mr. Jones (AKA Ol’ Dirty Bastard) and Bravo to the filmmakers and Chang Weisberg - you pulled it off and lived to tell us about it.


 

Jake Kasden’s
The TV Set

2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006

www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

The attempt to define satire is a key theme in Italian filmmaker Sabina Guzzanti’s scathing documentary Viva Zapatero! Satire can be political, as in Guzzanti’s very funny expose’, it can also be keen without being necessarily nasty. Sidney Lumet’s Network, one of the best films of the 1970’s, managed to be scathingly comedic as well as prophetically and wildly dramatic.

Jake Kasden’s The TV Set could be called the gentler cousin to Network. Where the Lumet masterpiece was dark and fearless, Kasden’s pic is calmer, almost sweet in it’s portrayal of the maniacal world of network television. And in that calm, lies the the truly frightening realities of who and what govern what gets to ultimately air.

The TV Set focuses on one particular sitcom pilot, ‘The Wexler Chronicles’, created by struggling writer Mike Klein (David Duchovny). From the get go he is forced into a series of compromises which begins to turn this highly personal project into another generic show. Klein must please Lenny (Sigourney Weaver), who is the head of the network and has some very definite ideas about what will work. The film follows the sitcom through forced changes and disastrous shootings leading up to the decision about whether it will make it onto the coveted Fall schedule.

Like Faye Dunaway’s Diana Christensen in Network,, Sigourney Weaver’s Lenny lives and breathes television. Lenny may not be powermad like Diana, but she’s an outrageous, ballsy bitch in her own right. Brilliantly embodied by Weaver (the part was originally written for a man and no dialogue was changed when Siggy came on board), Lenny is a frightening modern creation. Like Diana, she is pure television. From her very first line demanding: “Couldn’t we get Lucy Lawless?” to her appraisal of why the reality show “Slut Wars” is such a success: “If you can’t sell fourteen sluts in the Caribbean, you’ve got problems” to the way she sweetly tries to manipulate Duchovny’s character into seeing things her way: “Original scares me a little, you don’t want to be too original.” Weaver has a ball with this part and we have a ball watching her!

Duchovny is perfectly angst-ridden as the forever suffering (he literally has back spasms) Klein. Ioan Gruffudd brings a certain humanity to the role of Lenny’s recent BBC-acquired flunkie (hired to “class up the network.”) Newcomer Fran Kranz is hilarious as every writer’s worst nightmare actor. The entire ensemble work extraordinarily well together.

Son of genius filmmaker Lawrence Kasden (The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist), Jake has obviously had his own insane experiences with TV execs and proves he knows how to parlay that into good, biting cinema.

The TV Set is a glimpse into how utterly preposterous the industry has become and sheds light on the reasons why there have not been any remotely innovative sitcoms on network television in over two decades.



Charles Busch’s
A Very Serious Person
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Starring: Charles Busch; Polly Bergen; PJ Verhoest; Dana Ivey; Carl Andress; Julie Halston; and Arnie Kolander.

Reviewed by Terry Maloney

In his directorial debut, Charles Busch has also managed to give his best performance ever as Jan in A Very Serious Person. Although I must admit, it is difficult to compare his "very serious" character with a vampire lesbian from Sodom or with Theodora, the she-bitch from Byzantium.

OK, Jan does have a pony tail and is most definitely gay (in the modern meaning of the word only, however.) But the melancholy Dane who comes to the Jersey shore to nurse the dying Mrs. A (Polly Bergen) and to mentor the flamboyant thirteen-year old Gil (PJ Verhoest), is all business - at least for the first two-thirds of this excellent little film.

Verhoest, in his first screen role, is amazing as Gil, a boy who would rather stay indoors and watch a video of Gone With the Wind with grandma than take swimming lessons. But he learns from Jan, the emerging father figure, that perhaps it might be best to do both.

At first, Jan battles with housekeeper Betty (Dana Ivey) over the proper care and feeding of Mrs. A. But he wins her over with his healthy concoctions and the support of Gil, who has begun to look upon Jan as a kindred spirit.

Although Jan and Gil grow closer as the film progresses, there is never (and I mean never) the slightest hint of an inappropriate relationship between the fortiesh Jan and Gil, not even a suspicious glance. When the boy innocently sits on Jan's bed, he is kindly, yet firmly, told to leave the room. My point here is that the Jan/Gil relationship is simply that of a childless middle aged man and a fatherless child, who meet and provide emotional support for each other. Their sexual orientation is irrelevant.

But the emerging sexual identity of young Gil becomes an issue between Jan and hairdresser Lee (co-writer Carl Andress), who encourages the boy to experiment with makeup and tells the concerned Jan to just let Gil "be who he is." Jan explodes at Lee, telling him that the boy needs to survive high school and not become a target for verbal abuse or worse.

Longtime fans of traditional Busch roles will be happy to hear that he does don women's clothing, albeit briefly, as he, Gil, Lee (now reconciled) and Glenda (Busch ingénue Julie Halston) prepare to put on an extravagant show for the ailing Mrs. A. Unfortunately, the show is cancelled when the old woman takes a turn for the worse.

The title of the film, ostensibly describing Jan, takes on a dual meaning near the film's conclusion when Gil becomes the realistic, practical one after Jan makes a heartfelt and well meaning, although quite impossible, proposal to the boy. It is now Gil's turn to be that "very serious person."

The wonderful film actress Polly Bergen is very convincing as the cantankerous, yet loveable Mrs. A. Although I must say that for a dying woman, she looks pretty damn good! Arnie Kolander, another longtime Busch co-star, is amusing in a small role as Lee's clumsy boyfriend.

This is a film not only for Busch fans but for anyone who might enjoy a heartwarming, coming of age, very human tale of strength, frailty and love.




Marc Evan’s
Snowcake
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Starring: Alan Rickman; Sigourney Weaver; Carrie-Anne Moss; James Allodi; and Emily Hampshire.

Quote from the press release: “Snow Cake is a film about friendship, snow, acceptance, obsessive cleaning, a dog called Marilyn, and about finding the warmest of friendships in the coldest of places.”

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams


Marc Evan’s entry in the Tribeca Film Festival, Snowcake, tells a story of a tragedy as seen through the eyes of Alex (played by Alan Rickman), a repressed Englishman who was driving through a snow-covered Ontario Province when his SUV is hit by a tractor trailer. Alex had just picked up Vivienne (played by Emily Hampshire), a young hitchhiker who had the innocence and charm of a precocious child. Vivienne was killed instantly while Alex survived without a scratch.

The accident wasn’t Alex’s fault, but he is nevertheless overcome with remorse and wishes to talk to Vivienne’s mother. Clyde (played by James Allodi), the local cop is suspicious of Alex, not because he thinks he caused the accident but because he has checked Alex’s background and found out that he was just released from prison for manslaughter.

Nevertheless, Alex goes to Vivienne’s mother’s home in Wawa, Ontario with the intention of apologizing to her for the inadvertent death of her daughter. Alex arrives at her home only to find that Linda (played by Sigourney Weaver), Vivienne’s mother, is a highly functioning autistic who knows her daughter is dead (Clyde told her), but is incapable of knowing what that means emotionally. Linda lives in her own world of ritual, illuminated by her fantastic love of light patterns and sounds. Linda also loves to eat pristine snow, thus the name Snow Cake.

Alex is a decent man and he can immediately tell exactly what the loss of her daughter means to Linda: no one to plan the funeral; no one to take care of the dog; no one to handle the intrusive callers: and no one to take the garbage from the immaculate home (Linda does not do garbage). Linda’s parents are out of town and cannot be reached, so Alex reluctantly agrees to stay until after the funeral so he can “take out the garbage.”

The story then leaves the land of frozen snow and hearts; we see the thaw. Alex is pulled out of his shell to take care of all the human emotional needs that Linda cannot comprehend, much less handle. He arranges the funeral and deals with the remorseful driver of the truck that killed Vivienne. And in his search for someone to care for Marilyn, the dog, he meets and falls for a charming neighbor, Maggie (played by Carrie-Ann Moss).

Unlike many movies of this heart-felt-human-drama genre, Snowcake never fails to charm: it is even quite funny in places. Much of the film's success is due to Rickman’s beautiful quiet performance. He is totally believable as a man who has suffered two recent losses, but still has the capacity to open his heart to strangers. Sigourney Weaver also shines as Linda; she gives a very skillful portrayal of a highly functioning woman from what appears to be an entirely different world. Carrie-Ann Moss plays, Maggie, the local “good time girl” with a restrained elegance. And Emily Hampshire’s brief portrayal of Vivienne is a charming revelation. This is a young actress who has the talent to make it big. Bravo to Marc Evans’s for making this beautiful little film.


 



Sabina Guzzanti’s
Viva Zapatero!
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Sabina Guzzanti’s bold, biting and ballsy new documentary, Viva Zapatero!, depicts (former) Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as a neo-fascist power-monger hellset on silencing anyone who doesn’t agree with him. And for quite a while he could indeed, do just that, since he controlled most of the tele-media in Italy.

Anyone following the recent Italian elections know just how crazed this dictatorial leader is. After he lost the most recent election for Prime Minister, he refused to relinquish his seat, finally capitulating a few days ago

Berlusconi has overseen the longest-surviving Italian government since World War II and has a monopoly on both the public broadcaster RAI and the private chain Mediaset.

In 2003, Guzzanti created a satiric television show for RAI, but it was canceled after the first episode (which almost didn’t air) due to a multi-euro lawsuit claiming defamation of character.

Viva Zapatero! goes on to show how these lawsuits are a commonplace way for the Berlusconi regime to force non-right-wing supporters off the air (since most cannot afford such lawsuits) and how the administration recklessly fires respected journalists who dare disagree with the conservative powers-that-madly-be.

Guzzanti goes after these titans with Michael-Moore-meets-Jane-Fonda chutzpah/daring and her simply asking media moguls and government officials a few questions provoke a bombardment of retaliation. So much for free expression!

And that is precisely the point of her film, as the terrifying rise of censorship in Italy unfolds before our eyes.

Mussolini parallels can be drawn as well as similarities with the goings on with the media here in the current love-it-or-leave-it US-of-A! That makes it must-see cinema.

Although the film is a political documentary, it’s molto hilarious. Guzzanti impersonates Berlusconi with dead on precision and finds the humor in even the most worrisome situations.

Censorship is the key theme in the film and one of the most ominous moments comes with the reaction of Italian press to the cancellation of her show. A ludicrous but entertaining debate about the definition of satire ensues. But most disturbing is that instead of challenging the obvious censorial nature of the decision, the print media blamed Guzzanti and the show’s content for the cancellation.

Scary stuff, indeed!
Viva Sabina!


 



Nicholas Hoult and Emily Watson in Wah-Wah

Richard E. Grant’s
Wah-Wah
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Richard E. Grant’s Wah-Wah is a warm and loving remembrance piece that is rich with rewarding moments and stellar performances.

Actor turned writer/director Grant's first feature is quite assuredly helmed and although his script tends to lean too much towards the facile and cliche’, the fantastic cast are able to rise above it with ease.

The film is set is Swaziland, Africa and begins in 1969 during the final era of British rule there. The story follows young Ralph (at ages 11 and 14) and his coming-of age. The boy witnesses his mother’s adultery first hand and goes on to survive his parent’s divorce which leads to his father’s alcoholism and eventual remarriage. Along the way, Ralph matures and learns quite a bit about love from the mistakes all the adults around him make.

Wah-Wah pungently pokes fun at the silliness and snootiness of the upper class and their feelings of superiority. The title comes from new (American) wife Ruby’s disdain for the hoity-toity Brit slang that is constantly being used like: “toodle-pip” and “hobbly-jobbly.” To Ruby it all sounds like “wah-wah.”

As Ralph’s father, Gabriel Byrne works overtime to underplay his role and show us the struggle his character has with the bottle--and he succeeds magnificently. Miranda Richardson’s tormented mother, in less capable hands, might have come off as a one-dimensional bitch. Yet the luminous Ms. Richardson forces us to look past the obvious. Julie Walters, always a joy, makes the most of a far-too-underwritten part.

Playing the older Ralph, Nicholas Hoult has a winning smile and manages to hold his own opposite some of the best in the business--and that is saying a great deal about his talents.

But Wah-Wah belongs to Emily Watson who is finally able to sink her dramatic and comedic teeth into a part where she isn’t playing a tortured soul. Her Ruby is much more a thundering loon...an infectious one. It would be a just reward if Watson was able to snag a Supporting Oscar nomination come January.

The film ends far too abruptly as the focus is erroneously taken away from the central character.

Still Wah-Wah is a treat. The production values are all first-rate. And Grant should feel proud of his accomplishment and especially blessed to have assembled such an extraordinary group of actors on his maiden cine-voyage.



Marwan Hamed’s
The Yacoubian Building
2006 Tribeca Film Festival
April 25 - May 7, 2006
www.tribecafilmfestival.org

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Welcome to Cairo, its' the Paris of the Middle East, but inhabited by down on their luck aristocrats, religion spewing newly-rich moguls, Islamic fundamentalist, closeted homosexuals and hordes of poor.

Marwan Hamed’s film, The Yacoubian Building, tells a story in the style made famous by Robert Altman. Based on the novel by Alaa Al Aswani's (an Arabic-language bestseller already in its 12th printing), the film follows the stories of various residents of a seedily elegant building in downtown Cairo.

Here is a quote from their press release:

“The most expensive Egyptian film ever made, The Yacoubian Building is a sprawling, star-studded epic that spans all the social classes populating contemporary Cairo. In three fast-moving hours, it dramatizes topical issues like adultery, political corruption, Islamist terrorism, and the hitherto taboo subject of homosexuality. First-time director Marwan Hamed crafts a gripping drama out of Alaa Al Aswani's novel, an Arabic-language bestseller already in its 12th printing.

"The famous Yacoubian Building was constructed in downtown Cairo in 1937 to house the city's upper crust. Today the tenants of its spacious apartments are a bit down-in-the-dumps, while its rooftop laundry rooms have been converted into homes for the poor. The main characters include Zaki Pasha (Adel Imam), an aging playboy who represents a vanishing world of gentility; a French singer and his former love Christine (Yousra); and Bosnaina (Hind Sabry), a pretty, disillusioned girl who lives on the roof. The growing influence of Islam in Egypt is dramatized through two controversial storylines. The doorman's son Taha (Mohamed Imam), frustrated in his attempts to move up in society, turns to religious fanaticism and ends up training for jihad in a desert camp. Meanwhile, the religious piety of Haj Azzam (Nour El Sherif), who has risen from shoeshine boy to rich businessman, is exposed as a sham that hides only self-interest. The film's frank treatment of homosexuality in the relationship between a newspaper editor and a young soldier is revolutionary in the context of Egyptian cinema. These interwoven dramas are as satisfying and enjoyable as a good, long read.” Deborah Young

In Yaucoubian, the architecture of the building serves as a metaphor. With the poor segregated on the roof and the so-called rich in the formerly elegant apartments below, the building is a main character in the story. It is a classic upstairs downstairs story, but in reverse.The building and everyone in it is down on their luck and longing for the elegance of a past era. The inhabitants of the formerly rich downstairs apartments long for the grandeur that was Cairo in the 1930’s. And the poor on the roof long for centuries old grandeur when the Islamic world rivaled the Christian world. Everyone wants something they can no longer have and it is very telling that one of the most satisfying moments in the film occurs when an old man marries a girl young enough to be his granddaughter. But for her the marriage is an incredible gift; she is now off the roof and has a chance to live a life of faded elegance that she could only dream of before.

The film is beautifully filmed and acted. Viewing The Yaucoubian Building gives the movie-goer a chance to visit a world and a life that they will (most likely) never see any other way. And The Yaucoubian Building is most definitely worth the trip.

 


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