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John Crowley’s
Boy A
2008 Tribeca Film Festival

April 23 - May 4, 2008

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

John Crowley’s Boy A is the best narrative feature I’ve seen at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. If handled correctly (delicately), it could be (should be) an indie sleeper. Granted the film does not have the comic uplift of a Juno or a Little Miss Sunshine but it does have some important and thought-provoking things to say about our society and the world we live in and how we view rehabilitation and redemption. It also contains an incredibly nuanced, star-making performance by newcomer Andrew Garfield (seen last year in the underrated Robert Redford gem Lions for Lambs).

The film opens with a 24-year old “boy,” about to be released from a British juvvy prison, choosing a name as he sits with his devoted caseworker. As the film flashes back and forward, we become privy to his unbelievable story. At the age of ten, Boy A was involved in committing a heinous crime and was hauled away. A decade later, the case is still fresh in the minds of the public as well as the media so “Jack” must start afresh and live his life carefully and wary of revealing who he really is to anyone.

The pic meticulously takes us into Jack’s daily life as he nervously makes new friends and even begins dating a co-worker (an impressive Katie Lyons). Jack is obviously still a young boy in a man’s body. He is forever haunted by memories of his past, and worried about whether he is even deserving of a second chance.

His caseworker, Peter (the always extraordinary Peter Mullan), has been his champion, mentor and protector but must now deal with his own mess of a son moving back in.

As the movie moves towards an inevitable reveal and people’s predictable reactions, the film keeps true to it’s bleak but honest themes about the difficulty of forgiveness and the dangers of the mob (and media) mentality. Jack may very well be a changed boy, but will he ever be allowed to live any type of normal life?

Based on the novel by Jonathan Trigell, the screenplay (by Mark O’Rowe) is smartly structured and probes the complexities of Jack’s impossible situation. We grow to like him and then we flashback to the murder, which makes our feelings all the grayer. Along the periphery the film also examines class and how that effects the boy’s situation.

Throughout the film, Garfield holds our attention, showing us Jack’s fears and newfound joys. We watch how he learns about the world anew (never having heard of a dvd), experiments with drugs (a hilarious scene with him dancing on Ecstasy) and clunkily stumbles through the awkward moments of falling in love for the first time. It is a truly remarkable performance.

Boy A does omit an important part of Jack’s story (possibly deliberately). We are never shown any moments from his time in prison. I would have loved a glimpse of his world and what it was like to be inside his head during some of the defining period of adolescence. But then that’s what a really good film does. It makes us want more.


Richard Ledes’
The Caller
2008 Tribeca Film Festival
April 23 - May 4, 2008


Starring: Frank Langella; Elliott Gould; Laura Harring; and Anabel Sosa.
Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams


The Caller is advertised as a psychological thriller, a neo-noir film. The film tells the story of Jimmy Stevens (played by Frank Langella), a corporate executive with an international energy firm who “blows the whistle” on his bosses for their human rights abuses in Latin America. Stevens is well aware that this betrayal will be viewed as a capital offense by his corporation, so he hires a private detective to follow him around and document his life. But when he hires the private detective, he does so over the phone using a device to distort the sound of his voice. The private detective, Frank Turlotte (played by Elliot Gould), then begins following Stevens around town. Since Turlotte does not know that Stevens is actually his client, he befriends his prey (with more than a little help from the prey himself). Turlotte also befriends Steven’s lady friend (played by Laura Harring) and his housekeeper’s daughter, Lila (played by Anabel Sosa).

The story is interspersed with flash backs to Stevens' childhood in France when he and his best friend, Lulu, are forced to flee to the forest when German soldiers attack their village. In the forest, they pass a dying soldier and Lulu insists on staying with the soldier until he dies.

This film has many fine points. The performances by the lead actors (Langella and Gould) are a pleasure to watch. Laura Harring (Mulholland Drive) does a fine job portraying Steven’s love interest and Anabel Sosa does an enchanting turn as Lila, the housekeeper’ daughter. And New York looks incredibly beautiful; the cinematography is rapturous.

But wonderful acting and cinematography aside, the film suffers from a weak contrived plot. It was as though the screenwriter and director knew where they wanted to go (the reunion of the old friends, the re-enactment of the scene in the forest, the use of black-and-white photos a la Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup) and wrote a paint-by-numbers plot to get from one pre-decided plot point to another. According to the film notes, “the plot of The Caller was originally conceived by a respected French psychoanalyst, Alain, Didier-Weill, who, along with director Richards Ledes, is also credited as the co-writer of the film.” But psychological nuances cannot alone propel a film-noir thriller and when this film reaches its climax, the whole thing fizzles. It is beautiful and poignant, yes, but totally improbable. I simply did not believe it. We were at the end of the film because that is what was written in the script, not because the actions of the film had propelled the characters to their final resolution.



Isild Le Besco’s
Charly
French with English Subtitles
2008 Tribeca Film Festival
April 23 - May 4, 2008

Starring: Julie-Marie Parmentier and Kolia Litscher

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Charly tells the story of unmotivated and listless fourteen-year-old French boy, Nicolas (played by Kolia Litscher), who lives with his perplexed grandparents in a lower (very lower) middle class home in rural France. Nicolas stumbles through life; one day he follows one of his teachers into a café and when the teachers leaves, he leaves a copy of Spring Awakening, a play about alienated teenagers who discover the thrill and agonies of sex. And inside the book is a postcard that depicts an oceanfront scene in Belle-Île, a remote Breton island off the French coast.

Nicolas whimsically decides to journey to Brittany to find the island, hitchhiking his way. One driver leaves him in a village, where, sitting in the town square he is discovered by Charly, a young hooker wearing a rabbit fur bomber jacket. Charly asks him for a cigarette which he does not have. She gives him a quick look over and asks if he would like to follow her home. He does want to and he does, following her home like a forlorn puppy dog.

Charly then leads Nicolas down the road to a lane to her home, a ramshackle trailer. Nicolas moves in with Charly and then the training starts. Charly is a determined mistress and carefully house breaks her new house pet. There are very specific housekeeping rules which Charly enforces with a rigid hand. Charly gives instructions and forces Nicolas to repeat them by rote. All of this training and enforcement of rigid housekeeping rules is extremely funny to this viewer when juxtaposed against the realization that not wanting to follow rules is exactly what made Nicolas hit the road in the first place.

Charly and Nicolas also read Spring Awakening aloud, reenacting some of the scenes. Then the film reaches its conclusion or shall I say climax? Nicolas is now a changed young man and is ready for further journeys.

The two actors, Julie-Marie Parmentier and Kolia Litscher, do a great job of portraying their characters; they are totally believable in their parts and I can only hope that the Litscher is not actually fourteen. The film itself tells a poignant and quirky coming-of-age story. And it’s French, what more can I say?

Note: The film’s director and writer, Islid Le Besco’s, is a well know French film star. According to the press release, this is the twenty-five-year-old Le Besco’s second Tribeca film; her film 1/2 Price played at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2004



José Luis López-Linares’s
The Chicken, the Fish and the King Crab
(El pollo, el pez y el cangrejo real)
2008 Tribeca Film Festival

April 23 - May 4, 2008

Starring: Jesús Almagro, Pedro Larumbe, Alberto Chicote, Sven Erik Renaa, Serge Vieira, Jose Maria Arzak

Reviewed by Marguerite Daniels


Foodies and gastrophiles rejoice! New Yorker’s can finally tune out the Food Network’s endless reruns of Sandra Lee and Rachel Ray, and turn to a witty, lighthearted film about world-renown chefs battling for the ultimate prize in cuisine: the Bocuse d’Or. José Luis López-Linares’s documentary film The Chicken, the Fish and the King Crab (El pollo, el pez y el cangrejo real) making its US film debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, is an absolute carnivore delight! (Sorry vegans. Many of the films graphic and candid images of fish and poultry may not be suitable for your faint sensibilities.) The film follows Jesús Almagro, a sweet, yet hapless chef whose valiant attempt to compete at the Bocuse d’Or, is chronicled. Almagro is no slouch in the kitchen; he is an award-winning chef who has most recently been awarded Spain’s National Award as Best Cook of 2007. But the Bocuse d’Or is no ordinary competition.

Named for and founded by legendary chef Paul Bocuse, the Bocuse d’Or pits twenty-four of the world’s greatest chefs against each other in a contest where they create succulent meals, marrying three key ingredients; in this case, Bresse chicken, halibut, and king crab. The chefs are given just five and a half hours to create delicacies that will wow a panel of the most discerning judges, elder statesmen of cuisine and former Bocuse d’Or winners. They will be judged on food preparation, taste and above all presentation. As if that is not enough pressure, the competition is televised while the chefs are cheered on to victory by their fellow countrymen. Call it the Olympics of cuisine! The competition is swift, harsh and cruel, and there are favorites. France, for one, has the home court advantage and often takes home the prize, while Spain hasn’t had a truly decent showing in the competition’s 20-year history. Poor Jesús Almagro not only has to carry the weight of his own high hopes, but the gastrological dreams of the entire nation, which is difficult, since Almagro never planned on being a chef, and has achieved greatness through tenacity, skill, and a bit of luck.

But the Bocuse d’Or isn’t the type of competition that is won on chance, and we watch Almagro as he trains daily for the ultimate contest that will establish him as the greatest chef in the world, and bring his homeland glory. Almagro is immensely affable. He is no arrogant egotist, or a profanity-laden, self-anointed demigod of cuisine, but a hard and earnest worker desperate to bring honor to his country. He humbly endures criticism from fellow Spanish chefs and former Bocuse d’Or competitors alike, and the audience can’t help but swell with compassion as Almgro’s large and expressive brown eyes fill with tears of frustration and hope.

But the film isn’t only a tale of hopes and dreams. Director José Luis López-Linares inserts rather funny interludes about the key ingredients, and by the end of the film the audience will know Bresse chicken, halibut, and snow crab as well as Almagro. Knowing about each ingredient gives added insight to the unique challenges Almagro will face, and will leave no doubt that in Almagro, Spain finds a worthy and genuine competitor.



Delphine Kreuter’s
57,000 Kilometers Between Us

2008 Tribeca Film Festival
April 23 - May 4, 2008

 

Reviewed by Allison Ford

They speak without communicating; hear without listening. The characters in Delphine Kreuter’s 57,000 Kilometers Between Us, currently showing in the Tribeca Film Festival, all grapple with the ways in which people fail to communicate, and how they can be so close to one another, yet so far away.

The space between them is temporal, not physical, and the characters in the film attempt to close the emotional distance between them. The family communicates almost exclusively via computer screens– Margot and her husband Michel are fanatical about filming their lives for their webcam show. Thirteen-year-old Nat is addicted to the internet, and strikes up strange relationships online, including one with a grown man who likes to wear a diaper. Nat’s father Nicolas/Nicole is a transsexual, who lives with her new lover and passively watches her former wife and daughter online. The characters have no trouble connecting digitally; it’s in person that they fail. Their ineffectiveness is sometimes comical, and sometimes heartbreaking; the facades they put up and the silly costumes they wear broadcast their insecurities. They seek to convince the world of the person they want to be perceived as, but never reveal any honest truth about themselves. When Margot and Michel bicker over how to increase hits for their webpage, they try to use the phrase “My love” more often, since “it proves that we love each other.” To these characters, the selves they broadcast on the internet are the truer ones.

The most heartbreaking subplot is Nat’s burgeoning relationship with Adrien, a boy she meets in an online game…he is dying of leukemia in a hospital not far away. He lives in isolation, with his only human contact coming from his computer. Adrien’s mother refuses to visit and will only engage in web chat with her son when the screen is dark – she can’t look at his face.

Although the film is engaging in its second act, the extensive use of symbolism is, at times, inelegant. Margot and Michel’s inability to communicate offline; Adrien’s longing for companionship, while sequestered in a sterile hospital room; Margot’s two young adopted children playing only with beeping plastic phones and computer toys; these are all meant to represent the decay of human communication in the digital world, but are at times clumsy metaphors.

57,000 Kilometers Between Us is obviously a statement about today’s globalized digital lifestyle – webcams, online gaming, fashionable foreign adoption, and alternative lifestyles are all represented. The film itself is shot on a shaky handheld cam, which lends a feeling of voyeurism, detachment, and digital isolation to the viewer. This is an intimate look into the lives of people who are longing for contact, but no longer remember how to communicate on a human level. In the end, the characters attempt to bridge the divide, and the film offers hope through its young protagonists. As Nat and Adrien plan to meet up and play a game, they have a choice between playing as avatars and playing as themselves. Nat decides, “Let’s stay human…it’s more fun.”



Hunter Hill & Perry Moore’s
Lake City
2008 Tribeca Film Festival

April 23 - May 4, 2008

Starring: Sissy Spacek; Troy Garity; Rebecca Romijn; Dave Matthews; Drea de Matteo; Colin Ford; and Keith Carradine

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

There are two completely different films being force-cut into one in Lake City, written and directed by Hunter Hill and Perry Moore. The first is a deeply affecting domestic drama about the psychological and spiritual damage a family tragedy has on a mother and a son many years after the fact. The second is a cliché-ridden, badly executed crime thriller about stolen drugs and one-dimensional bad guys. The fact that the former is able to eclipse, if not eradicate, the latter is a tribute to a handful of sharp and absorbing performances that overcome the defects of the screenplay and direction.

The basic plot finds Billy (Troy Garity) on the run with the son of his drug-addict girlfriend. He is forced to return home to his mother (Sissy Spacek) and confront certain demons from the family past.

Spacek, who should have won her second Oscar a few years back for her searing turn in In the Bedroom, delivers a complex raw portrayal of a mother living with the worst kind of guilt. Her Maggie is an atypical survivor who manages to continue her life despite it’s low lows. She’s a ‘steel magnolia’ born more out of sheer will than necessity. It’s the type of dynamic work that could get her that seventh nomination.

As Billy, her troubled but redeemable son, Garity shows great vulnerability and screen charisma. In a heartbreaking confrontation near the end of the film, Spacek and Garity take us to a very real and disturbing place. (I couldn’t help but wonder what he and his mother, Jane Fonda, would have done with the scene or a scene like it—perhaps one day they will work together and we will we find out.)

The film could have used more scenes like the one just mentioned where the writing and direction had a powerful restraint.

Rebecca Romijn impresses as the local law with a deep connection to Billy. Keith Carradine and David Matthews (yes, songster Dave Matthews!) provide brief but sterling support. Drea DeMatteo tears things up in a tiny but potent cameo. And young Colin Ford does excellent work as a boy caught up in a lot of adult mess.

And speaking of mess, the chief problem with Lake City lies in it’s laughable and unnecessary drug plot, with a denoument so ridiculous and amateurishly done it provoked unintentional laughter at the press screening I attended. I have a hope that the directors will go back and rethink/recut the film and reduce the crime crap drastically because what would remain is a moving and incisive film about communication, forgiveness and salvation.


 


Tribeca Film Festival
Dan Castle’s
Newcastle
2008 Tribeca Film Festival

April 23 - May 4, 2008

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

The first shot of brooding, angst-ridden teen Jesse (Lachlan Buchanan) in Dan Castle’s surf-filled drama, Newcastle, reveals the boy’s stunning eyes--deep blue like the clear blue waters of the oceanic Australian town where the film takes it’s name. The sideways closeup also reveals a troubled sixteen-year old looking for a way out of what he sees as a dead-end future.

His one hope is to become a world-class champion surfer, but he must first overcome his fears and the obstacles placed in front of him. These include: his mates, who are happy to dwell in what they see as an idyllic seaside paradise and his older brother, Victor (Reshad Strik), once a surf champion, but because of an injury, washed up at 25 and now the town menace.

Jesse’s fraternal twin brother, Fergus (Xavier Samuels), is going through a sexual identity crisis and Jesse has little use for him or his travails. Fergus has a crush on hunky supersurfer Andy (an excellent Kirk Jenkins), who accepts him for who he is--unlike the others who call him Faggus.

Newcastle is not a superficial surfer story nor is it HBO’s clever but maddening John From Cincinnati. It’s a surprisingly powerful coming-of-age movie where a number of differing personal stories are told. We are made to feel a part of Jesse’s distress over his potentially dubious future unless he can surf his way out. We empathize with Fergus’ sexual awakening in a town that frowns upon any type of deviation. We even sympathize with Victor’s slow descent into his own personally-created hell.

Newcastle is a film where even the peripheral characters are given three-dimensionality. It was refreshing to watch teens onscreen that actually cared about one another for a change. And parents that go beyond the cliché’. The terrific cast goes a long way toward making that happen, especially the brothers.

The incredibly handsome Buchanan broods with the best of them but also shows tremendous acting promise. Strik has an animal intensity that frightens. I wanted to see more of this character/this actor. Samuels does shy-gay-goth-geek to perfection but allows us to see what is going on inside his head.

The camera takes up into the waves and back out in breathtaking fashion. Richard Michalak’s photography is absolutely mesmerizing—allowing the audience to experience the rush, the terror and the thrill of the surf. We are literally splashed into the waves via slow-mo and other techniques. It’s the first time I have ever seen a surfer film and understood the magnetic power of the sport.

Mega kudos to Castle for being able to balance the writing and directing duties and not letting characterization or film technique overcome the other.

Much will be written about the film’s generous amount of nudity. And truth to be told there is an unusual amount of bare male bums on display. But it never feels gratuitous since these guys are gods of the waves and, for the most part, feel comfortable displaying their bodies. It could be argued that it’s the only time they feel comfortable—which is quite the character reveal.

There is a scene near the end of the film between Jesse and Fegus that could be seen as an incestuous, homoerotic Blue Lagoon-ish moment for those who feel the need to go there. It can also be viewed as a sweet and rare sibling bonding moment between two very different twins that will, most likely, never happen again. So much of Newcastle occurs in the gray areas. And that alone is a triumph.

 



"Nuthouse"
Program of Short Films
2008 Tribeca Film Festival
April 23 - May 4, 2008

Reviewed by Allison Ford

There are many different ways to be crazy. “Nuthouse,” a program of short films at the Tribeca Film Festival, features eight short narrative entries, which range from quirky to lighthearted to terrifying.

Sometimes a short film can tell a more complete story than a feature. Without the luxury of time for the filmmaker to establish character or location, or to provide exposition of the story, the audience is forced to interpret the film quickly from well-placed visual and textual cues. Some of the shorts featured in “Nuthouse” were fully formed narratives, and some were briefer meditations on a single theme, but they were all surprising and engrossing pieces of cinema.

In The Money Shot, directed by Aaron Rapke, a student at NYU’s Kanbar Institute, a beat cop obsessed with movies gets his chance to be on camera. It’s a clever, hip, and slick vision of a con, but who’s left holding the bag turns out to be a surprise, and the cop learns that it’s never just about the money. Supply and Demand, by French director Frederic Farrucci, is the endearing story of a down-on-his-luck young man who’s finally found something he’s good at – being a morgue assistant. Now he’s just got to keep the business coming in. The guileless, innocent, and likeable protagonist makes the story uplifting and quirky.

Cupcake tells the surreal story of a woman named Candi, who confuses food with love, but is ultimately reunited with the object of her affection. Last Time in Clerkenwell is a short animated piece with music and cutout animation reminiscent of “Spy vs. Spy,” and in Zombie Gets a Date, a blind date isn’t quite a love match.

Not all of the shorts are lighthearted. The final part of the program explores the darker realm of the human psyche. From Sweden, Skeletons in the Closet, directed by Ulrik Friberg, is a dark and surprising story of a couple who wake up to discover something odd has happened to them, and has many surprising twists and turns. Night Light, an HD short by Mark Mollenkamp about the nature of dark, light, and fear, is effective in creating an unsettling tension, even if the narrative arc of the story is slightly weak. The final film of the evening, Ryan Spindell’s Kirksdale, directed by a student at Florida State University’s film school, is perhaps the most fully-realized film in the series. Set in a sinister asylum in the South, Kirksdale is a gruesome and terrifying story with disturbing scenes of violence inspired by today’s torture-porn horror aesthetic.

The films of “Nuthouse” explore the facets of insanity, and with each successive piece, the darkness grows. The films in the series prove that their artistry and filmmaking expertise is unparalleled, and that short cinema is just as affecting and audacious as features.

 

Gini Reticker’s
Pray the Devil Back to Hell
2008 Tribeca Film Festival
April 23 - May 4, 2008
World Documentary Feature Competition

Starring: Leymah Ghowee, Etweda "Sugars" Cooper, Vaiba Flomo, Asatu Kenneth, Janet Johnson-Bryant, Etty Weah

Reviewed by Marguerite Daniels


From 1996 - 2003 more than 250,000 people were killed during a war that ravaged Liberia. Citizens were held hostage, raped terrorized and killed as warlords encouraged by then president, Charles Taylor, ushered in the country’s second and bloodiest civil war. While most Liberians lost hope one woman, Leymah Gbowee, singlehandedly created a movement so powerful it would topple a government and change the course of Liberian and African politics forever. Gini Reticker’s Pray the Devil Back to Hell documents the Liberian women peace movement, from its humble beginnings, to the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female head of state.

Gbowee, who had witnessed both Liberian civil wars, proved so tired of war that one night she had a dream: "To get the women of the church together to pray for peace." With this simple premise, Gbowee set about encouraging the women of her church to form the Christian Women’s Peace Initiative. Gbowee proved a powerful and persuasive orator, and many women soon lost their fear and joined her movement. She was so persuasive, in fact, that Asatu Bah Kenneth, a Muslim woman asked, “Does a bullet know a Christian from a Muslim?” and the movement grew to include Muslim women becoming one of the first peace movements in Africa to incorporate more than one religion.

Under Gbowee’s leadership thousands of Liberian women dressed in white to protest the war. At first they just wanted to be noticed by Taylor, then they wanted to meet with Taylor, and when Taylor refused they introduced their plight to the entire African community. It became clear that Taylor and his rival factions no longer had the power to ignore the women, and peace talks commenced in Ghana. Instead of resting on their laurels, the women took their protest to Ghana, and staged a sit-in when it appeared that peace talks had come to a standstill. When peace was brokered, the women’s movement continued as they assisted the UN peacekeeping troops in disarmament efforts, and encouraging citizens to vote in democratically held elections. Their movement helped overturn Taylor’s government, exiling him from Liberia forever. (Taylor is now facing war crime charges by the International Criminal Court in the Hague.)

The women’s story is awe-inspiring, and Gini Reticker presents a beautiful and simple triumph of a film. One can’t help but be charmed by the women in this documentary. They are demure yet powerful, lovely in their humility, and their patriotism. They risked life and death for their beliefs. They love Liberia. It is their home and they want nothing more than for their countrymen to once again be free. In this film, Reticker captures the purest aspects of humanity: hope, love and peace. Pray the Devil Back to Hell does not shy away from the atrocities committed in Liberia. Reticker’s lens is unflinching, and she uses stock images and archival footage to present the films back story. But it’s the optimism of the present that the film captures best, and the belief that through love and hope anything can be achieved.


 

 



Robb Moss and Peter Galison's
Secrecy
2008 Tribeca Film Festival
April 23 - May 4, 2008

Reviewed by Allison Ford

There’s more than one war going on in America.

It’s easy to fight a war against a real flesh-and-blood enemy. What’s more difficult is fighting an ideological war within your own country.

The documentary Secrecy, currently screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, explores the consequences of governmental secrecy; those we can imagine and those we can’t.

Ostensibly, the film examines the practical consequences the war between the government and the public, as we fight to control information. The government closely guards state secrets, while journalists and the media vigorously fight to bring information to light. Secrecy examines our government’s policies toward information security, and how our protection of information led to “intelligence failures” such as 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. When the consequences are life-or-death, how do we balance national security with the freedom of information? The film includes excerpts from interviews with high-level former agents from the NSA, CIA, and other governmental organizations, who stress the need to protect information for the sake of the nation. Also featured are journalists, who argue that hoarding information isn’t making us safer, since secrecy prevents informed action. It’s not a clear decision, but the filmmakers seem to be on the side of the journalists, who believe in the power of information-sharing.

The real meat of the film is the discussion of the corruption and amorality that results from government secrecy. When a government operates in the dark, to whom are they accountable? Secrecy asks, “Is it right for the president to determine his own power?” Secrecy explores secret executive orders, military tribunals, prisoner abuse, and other scandals that have shown us how closely the executive branch guards its secrets, for it is from secrecy that power is derived. The treatment of the relationship between secrecy and power is complicated and nuanced, and comprises the much more fascinating act of the film. The heart of this story is the abuse of executive power in America during this time of war. The government protects its methods of intelligence gathering because the methods “are not necessarily consistent with the values of Americans.” The interviewees also acknowledge that “when you’re attacked at home, the gloves come off.”

Directed by Robb Moss and Peter Galison, both professors at Harvard University, Secrecy is an effective indictment of the Bush administration’s attempts to squash news, protect secrets, and protect their standard operating procedure. The film itself is deeply engaging and thought-provoking as it transitions seamlessly from idea to idea.

Secrecy posits that the real danger of the cult of confidentiality is how it allows those in power to make and break rules to suit their purposes. A government operating without oversight is a threat to democracy, as well as a threat to national security. The film challenges our demands for safety and security with our notions of what it means to be an American, along with the constitutionality of controlling information. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Secrecy argues that no state secret is worth deceiving Americans, or using our fears of terrorism in order to allow the president to operate with impunity. Our government’s secrecy is an attempt to bypass the checks and balances on executive power; fundamentally dangerous, and fundamentally un-American.



Rosa von Praunheim’s
Two Mothers
2008 Tribeca Film Festival
April 23 - May 4, 2008

German filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim had one hell-of-a-mid-life-crisis. Born during World War II, von Praunheim had grown up in post war West Germany and became a film maker and film teacher. And then when he was fifty-eight, his mother told him something that tilted his world and made him question everything about who he was and where he came from.

Here is a quote from the press releases: “Raised as Holger Mischwitzky before he adopted his stage name, Rosa von Praunheim, the prominent German filmmaker turns the camera on himself in this documentary about the search for his birth parents. At the age of ninety-five, von Praunheim's beloved mother, Gertrud, revealed that she had adopted him from a children's home in Riga, Latvia. After her death, with only that snippet of information to go on, von Praunheim and a team of dedicated researchers seek out what information they can about his origins. Von Praunheim must enlist the aid of scholars and historians in Germany and Latvia to narrow down the possibilities-is he Jewish? Illegitimate? A product of Aryan science.”

The documentary tells the story of von Praunheim’s search for his birth mother but in the search, Praunheim also examines the Germany of his parent’s generation when most good Germans were Nazi party sympathizers and where in a place like Riga “26,000 people could be exterminated in two days, as the Jews in Latvia were in 1941.” And von Praunheim has help in his search; he is assisted by his able film students and also by many of his friends who are historians.

In looking for his past, von Praunheim examines Germany’s past and asks many uncomfortable questions. And he is successful. He finds out who his mother was and where he was born. But there the search ends. When von Praunheim looks into the abyss and sees the possibilities of who may have actually fathered him, he wisely chose to stop his search.

Two Mothers tells a universal story about the desire we all have to know where we came from. And it also tells a painful story of an entire generation in Germany who would prefer to not look at their past. But the story resonates everywhere for anyone who has decided to “shine a flashlight” on their past. Maybe we have not found Nazis, but everyone who has done so has most certainly found humans.




Mary-Kate Olsen and Ben Kingsley
The Wackness

Jonathan Levine's
The Wackness
2008 Tribeca Film Festival
April 23 - May 4, 2008

Reviewed by Noelle Ashley

Sometimes a shrink saves his patient's life. Sometimes it's the other way around.

One of the more celebrated movies screened at the Tribeca Film Festival is The Wackness, a term referring to "the glass half empty."

Set in New York City in the hot, sticky months of 1994, it is a moving and witty story of a humorous therapist (Ben Kingsley) who needs even more help than the patient.

Drugs in a doctor's office are usually doled out by the psychiatrist, not a troubled teen. Now meet Luke (Josh Peck), who pays for doctor visits with the currency of weed. Luke, a likable 18-year-old from a dysfunctional family, forms a unique bond with Dr. Squires. Although their ages could make them father and son, their friendship resembles more of a brotherhood.

The two males stray even farther from the typical doctor-patient relationship as they set out on a quest for sex, drugs and money. Dealing drugs is Luke's source of income the summer before college. It's also one way to meet girls.

Union (Mary-Kate Olsen) is a luminous blonde who hangs out in Central Park and past-their-prime bars where she can make fun of "creepy old people." Dr. Squires takes a liking to her, for a few minutes at least. Luke, however, can only think about one girl: Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), his first love. She is an 18-year-old brunette who speaks in the language of slang and smokes cigarettes while her family fights. Yelling parents is a steady backdrop in both their lives, but Stephanie and Luke escape their problems one chemistry-filled weekend on Fire Island.

Ironically, Stephanie is Dr. Squires' daughter -- or step-daughter, as Luke reminds him.

The plot builds as a coming-of-age, character-driven picture that captures the spirit and the music of city kids in the '90s. The language of teenagers weaves into the dialogue, which flows to the beat of the soundtrack i.e., A Tribe Called Quest, Notorious B.I.G., Method Man, Raekwon and The Wu-Tang Clan. The audience is brought back to '94 as the characters talk about Mayor Giuliani cracking down on crime in New York. It was a time of pagers, before cell phones and laptops became ubiquitous, and a time when M.D.s still hesitated before prescribing medication for depression. In fact, Luke has to beg and plead and finally says, "Just give me the happy pills." Although he never gets his hands on legal drugs, he has plenty of the other kind, and he shares it all with Dr. Squires, who takes enough over-the-counter pills for both of them. These kind of character flaws elicited laughs from the audience.

The theme of youth emanates around the innocence of Luke. Despite his drug dealing, he is just like any other kid trying to figure out life and love.

After the film, the audience is left with the image on the movie's poster: Luke walking around with marijuana tucked away in its hiding place as he and Dr. Squires wheel around an ice cart. As the movie's tagline reads, "Sometimes it's right to do the wrong things."

Written and directed by Jonathan Levine, The Wackness is the winner of the Sundance Film Festival 2008 Audience Award (Dramatic). Its nomination for the Sundance Grand Jury Prize shows that this film could be more than a cult hit. Acquired by Sony Pictures Classics, The Wackness comes out in cinemas July 3, 2008.



Joshua Seftel's
War Inc.
2008 Tribeca Film Festival
April 23 - May 4, 2008

Starring: John Cusack; Marisa Tomei; Hilary Duff; and Dan Aykroyd.

Reviewed by Noelle Ashley

War Inc. sold out for all three of its screenings at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. Comedy is war and war is comedy in this smart and startling film, which stars John Cusack and Marisa Tomei. Written by John Cusack, Jeremy Pisker and Mark Leyner, the script satirizes the profitability of the war, the military's privatization and global commercialization, with memorably funny scenes as the former Vice President (Dan Aykroyd) has his private company take over a war-torn nation and hires a hit man to kill the competition.

The film makes a striking mockery of not only the government's spin on war, but also the treatment of women. Hilary Duff proves her acting talent in a comically brilliant role as Yonica Babbyyeah, teen heartthrob to all of Turaqi. Babbyyeah gyrates in dance videos to "I Want To Blow You Up" and "Boom, Boom, Bang, Bang, there's a war going on," lyrics that merged politics with pop.

Since their society values women for their virginity, Babbyyeah's fiancé has a money-making scheme that takes capitalism to a whole new level: videotaping their honeymoon night so the girl's first time can be purchased by millions. One ludicrous scene is available to YouTube fans who can download clips of her getting sexy with a scorpion.

War Inc. was filmed in Bulgaria, which had its advantages. The crew consisted of mostly Bulgarian locals and, on a budget of less than $10 million, director Joshua Seftel pulled off explosion scenes resembling a $60-$80 million film.

With fast-moving dialogue and parodies of politicians such as Dick Cheney, War Inc. received early buzz for achieving a laugh-out-loud political satire in a feature film.

War Inc. opens on May 23, 2008.



 


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