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Ruba Nadda's
Cairo Time
9th Tribeca Film Festival

Written by: Ruba Nadda

Starring: Patricia Clarkson; Alexander Siddig; Tom McCamus; Elena Anaya

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Ruba Nadda's Cairo Time is a slow-moving beautiful film, filled with subtext and words that cannot be spoken.

Patricia Clarkson plays Juliette, a New York magazine editor, who travels to Cairo to spend a week with her husband who is on assignment in Gaza with the United Nations.

When Juliette arrives in Cairo, her husband does not. He has been delayed by an uprising in Gaza and send a former UN employee, Tareq (played by Alexander Siddig), to pick her up at the airport.

Juliette is alone in Cairo; she stays at a beautiful hotel but when she ventures out into the city, she is overwhelmed by the immenseness of the city, both in size and cultural differences. While walking down the streets, the late fortiesh Juliette is accosted by men who mistake her for a loose woman because her hair is uncovered and she is wearing a sleeveless dress in the oppressing heat.

Not wanting to continue to be a stranger in a strange land, Juliette visits Tareq at his coffee shop, a men-only establishment. There she asks for his help.

The film then becomes an entrancing travelogue for the city of Cairo. Juliette and Tareq explore the city, visiting the markets, sailing around the city and even travel to Alexandria to attend the wedding of the daughter of an old friend of Tareq. Juliette is entranced by the culture of Egypt and even though she is happily married, she is also entranced by Tareq.

Cairo Times not an action filled film. The romance in the film is revealed more by looks and the words that are not spoken and is similar in tone to the films of Merchant Ivory.

I left the screening entranced by the story but also by the city of Cairo, the true star of the film.

 




9th Tribeca Film Festival
Richard Levine’s
Every Day

Written By: Richard Levine

Starring: Liev Schreiber; Helent Hunt; Carla Gugino; Brian Dennehy; Eddie Izzard; Ezra Miller

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Richard Levine’s first feature, Every Day, begins with great promise as it introduces us to a quirky family in crisis.

Ned, played in perfectly neurotic-mode by Liev Schreiber, is unhappy in his work as well as with his family life. His wife, Jeannie (Helen Hunt) is a negative energy bitch who’s dealing with having to take in her grouchy father (a fittingly nasty and cantankerous Brian Dennehy). Their oldest son (Ezra Miller) is an out-and-proud, underage gay teen who wants to attend a Gay Prom—much to the chagrin of his unaccepting dad.

Ned’s boss (a too-cartoonish Eddie Izzard) is obsessed with producing shocking television and his sexy co-worker (a fabulous Carla Gugino) is bent on seducing him.

The wonderful blend of angst and hilarity on display in the first hour, unfortunately, metamorphoses into a conventional dramedy in the last 30 minutes where lessons are learned (forced) and immorality and negativity are punished and/or tossed aside so everyone can behave well and/or do the right thing.

It’s a pity because the film is highly enjoyable and the characters well etched.

Ezra Miller does the best with his role and is able to find just the right blend of curiosity, fear, excitement and inner anxiety of a boy ready to explore his sexuality. It’s a shame Levine didn’t allow the character to truly do so.

Hunt is problematic. I’ve never been a fan and the reason is painfully on display in this film. She makes her characters so woe-is-me unappealing that it’s impossible to give a damn. A lovely riverside scene between Dennehy and Hunt is a good example of what her performance could have offered if she took the time to scratch beneath the surface, the pissed-off surface.

Every Day is a good film that coulda/shoulda been much better.

 



Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

9th Tribeca Film Festival

Starring: Joan Rivers

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Joan Rivers is a comic icon; at the age of seventy six, she is still working with the same determination that drove her from a childhood in Westchester through college at Barnard to becoming the first female guest host of The Tonight Show.

I did not say that Rivers was a beloved comic icon. That would be impossible. Rivers has tried too hard, fighting her way to the top by clawing up the backs of anyone who was in her way. Rivers has worked like a dog to develop her act. She can be excruciatingly funny but IMO looses the ability to be beloved when she attacks Elizabeth Taylor and jokes that if her daughter had shown the full monty when she posed for Playboy, she would have made more money, money they supposedly needed.

Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work show all sides of Rivers. We see a lady who willingly flies to the midwest at the crack of dawn to perform at an Indian Reservation casino that I have never heard of. We see her feverish desire to win Donald Trump's The Celebrity Apprentice (she did). The film also shows Joan's love of glamour with scenes set in her palace-like apartment. (Supporting her apartment alone, will mandate that Rivers never retire.)

There are many poignant scenes such as the one where Rivers states that since the sixties, someone has always sent a limousine to pick her up. The scenes where Rivers is working with her makeup artists are especially evocative. Rivers is the product and the product must be polished to perfection. (She looks damn good.)

Stephen Sondheim was thinking about women like Rivers when he wrote "I'm Still Here": "Good times and bum times, I've seen them all and, my dear
I'm still here. Plush velvet sometimes, Sometimes just pretzels and beer, But I'm here..."

A Piece of Work shows Rivers in all her warts and glory, aptly depicting River's obsession with all things superficial like celebrity and beauty but also inspiring the viewer with Rivers determination and drive. And when she isn't throwing someone under the bus, the lady is f'ing funny.

breakthrufilms.org



9th Tribeca Film Festival
Ferzan Ozpetek’s
Loose Cannons (Mine Vaganti)

Written By: Ferzan Ozpetek & Ivan Cotroneo
Starring: Riccardo Scamarcio; Nicole Grimaudo; Alessandro Preziosi; Ennio Fantastichini; Lunetta Savino; and Elena Sofia Ricci

In Italian with English subtitles.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

It takes courage to hold a mirror up to a people and force them to see themselves and their paradoxical behavior.

It takes fortitude to explore the ridiculous repression of homosexuality in a country where the practice is only accepted as long as it’s hidden.

It takes passion to make a film about love and family, even when the definition of family is blurry at best. And to try and comprehend the demands a parent makes on a child and the reasons why.

It takes genuine artistry to create a motion picture that tackles so many important and highly personal themes and still make a hilarious and thoroughly entertaining work.

Ferzan Ozpetek is one of the few Italian auteurs working today who is unafraid of presenting the foibles and hypocrisies of the Italian culture—especially when it comes to depictions of human sexuality—in an honest and brave manner. Yet his films do not attempt to wave a finger or indict a people, they simply present situations in an honest way, not the "surface" way most Italians would like them to be depicted.

And he does so with a satiric flair Billy Wilder would be proud of.

Italy is steeped in centuries of Roman Catholic influence that has created a ulture of subjugation, guilt, confusion and fear of eternal damnation.

In Loose Cannons, Ozpetek does not mention religion. He doesn’t have to. Even those who do not consider themselves religious are affected by the repressed nature inherent in the culture. And Southern Italy is especially conservative. Ozpetek’s gem of a film takes place in Lecce, located in the Deep South.

Tommaso (Riccardo Scamarcio) is a struggling writer who lives in Rome with his boyfriend Marco (Carmine Recano). His family has no idea that he’s gay or that he’s a writer (they think he’s in business school). He is about to come out and come clean at a family gathering. The night before, he confesses this to his estranged brother Antonio (Alessandro Preziosi). At dinner the next day, before Tommaso can speak, Antonio beats him to it—announcing his own homosexuality. Their father (a perfectly embarrassed Ennio Fantastichini) instantly kicks Antonio out of the house, then has a heart attack but not before telling Tommaso that he must now run the family pasta making business. Tommaso must now decide whether he should step in and save the family business or be true to himself, at the risk of losing his family for good.

Scamarcio is one of Italy’s most talented actors. He’s delivered terrific turns in Romanzo Criminale (Crime Novel), L’uomo perfetto (The Perfect Man) and Texas, to name a few. Here he anchors the film as the delightfully conflicted Tommaso. He nicely conveys Tommaso’s struggles, not just with not wanting to disappoint his family but with feelings he begins to have for his working partner Alba (the beautiful Nicole Grimaudo). Ozpetek knows how complex human sexuality is and is daring enough to present many areas of these complexities.

The entire ensemble work magnificently together, lending their tremendous talents to tell a multi-layered, and mosaic-like story of a family trying to hold their secrets at bay while presenting a plaster-perfect veneer to gossipy outsiders while trying to hold their own world together. Ilaria Occhini has a particularly poignant and amazing final scene.

The screenplay, by Ozpetek and Ivan Cotroneo deftly blends a splendid mix of comedy and drama, never overdoing either. The use of music is fantastic as is Maurizio Calvesi’s camerawork.

Ozpetek is a master filmmaker and deserves more acclaim for his penetrating work that truly transcends language. His films are universal without being cliché. His observations are dead on, without being didactic. Loose Cannons is his best work to date and easily one of the best of the year.


 

9th Tribeca Film Festival
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s
Micmacs


Written By: Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant
Starring: Dany Boon; André Dussollier; Nicolas Marie; Jean-Pierre Marielle; Yolande Moreau; Julie Ferrier; Omar Sy; Dominique Pinon; and Michel Cremades

Sony Pictures Classics

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Fresh from the insanely delightful and maddeningly wonky head of French film director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who is responsible for Amélie, A Very Long Engagement, Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children as well as Alien: Resurrection, this brazen satire takes aim at the arms industry and, mostly, blows it to smithereens!

This typically surreal Jeunet gem does not have the intensely frenetic narrative of some of his other films and is a bit more confusing but the payoff is worth the wait.

Dany Boon splendidly embodies our loon of a hero, Bazil, who has the worst luck with weapons. First his dad is blown to bits by a land mine and then he is shot in the head with a bullet meant for someone else. The latter plot twist renders him homeless and he is taken in by a group of lunatic misfits. The ensuing comedy is admirably black and true to Jeunet form.

As with all Jeunet flicks, the production design is top-notch within the bizarre milieu created.

Micmacs is a bit convoluted, the characters are a bit too broadly drawn and the politics can bit slightly didactic, but the world he creates is remarkably riveting.



9th Tribeca Film Festival
Andrew Paquin‘s
Open House


Written By: Andrew Paquin
Starring: Brian Geraghty; Rachel Blanchard; Tricia Helfer; Anna Paquin; Stephen Moyer; and Gabriel Olds

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Open House, Andrew Paquin’s bizarre and refreshingly original thriller, is certain to become one of the most divisive and talked about films of the year. At the screening I attended the walkouts were plentiful which can sometimes be a good thing…at least you’ve affected your audience.

Paquin shows a self-assuredness in his directing debut that is rare. The film could draw comparisons with Michael Haneke’s Funny Games as well as the works of Lars von Trier. Don’t get me wrong, Open House is not a masterwork by any stretch but it’s definitely provocative, inventive and damned disturbing.

As the film opens we meet Alice (Rachel Blanchard). She seems nice enough. And she’s just broken up with her boyfriend (Stephen Moyer, having some fun). So she’s placing her large home on the market. After an unusual prologue, Rachel’s friend, Jennie (Anna Paquin, also enjoying herself) is brutally murdered and Rachel is bound, gagged and tossed away into a crawlspace. We then meet David (Brian Geraghty), the man committing most of the violent acts (with ease) and his girl, Lila (Tricia Helfer) the reason he seems to be doing it.

We soon learn that Lila is evil personified—a vile and twisted sister who delights in humiliating David by seducing others and then having him aid in their deaths usually while she’s in the carnal act. She then expects him to clean up. Yep, fun for the whole family!

David begins to have feelings for poor prisoner Alice who is trying desperately to manipulate an escape, even if that means cozying up to him. As the corpses pile up, more psychological nuance is revealed and Paquin keeps true to his film and does not compromise his ending.

Helfer has a ball with Lila, squeezing out every ounce of bitch juice she has stored in her…and it’s pretty bountiful.

Geraghty, who is so creepy and good in Easier with Practice, plays this one with a peculiar and macabre grace and subtly. He’s a fascinating and unique actor who should be around a very long time.

Open House may not be for all tastes but cinephiles will delight in this offbeat and gruesome depiction of a most unhealthy kind of relationship.




9th Tribeca Film Festival
Nicole Holofcener’s
Please Give



Written by Nicole Holofcener
Starring: Catherine Keener; Amanda Peet; Rebecca Hall; Oliver Platt; Ann Morgan Guilbert; Sarah Steele; Lois Smith and Thomas Ian Nicholas.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Nicole Holofcener has previously helmed the endearing Lovely and Amazing, Friends with Money and Walking and Talking—all excellent works. Her filmic output is less than prolific. Her latest, Please Give, is her best effort yet.

Holofcener is a clever and incisive writer who creates quirky and flawed characters who don’t necessarily behave the way we expect them to (thank God!) She also casts her films impeccably well.

Please Give centers on a married couple, Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) who run an antique store. They mostly find their furniture and chachkes by preying on the loved ones of the recently deceased.

Kate and Alex have recently purchased the apartment of a 91-year old woman, Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), who is about as crotchety, caustic and negative as they come.

Andra has two very different nieces: Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), a sweet if shy gal who is devoted to her grandmother; and Mary (Amanda Peet) an obnoxious, self-centered woman who cannot wait for Andra to die.

Keener’s Kate is a hilarious comment on those well-off women with money who feel the need to constantly give to the needy. Yet we believe Kate’s pain and sadness as she encounters those she sees as less fortunate than she and her family are. Keener plays Kate from such a real place that we feel for her more than we judge her—even when her sympathies are misguided, as they often are.
Rebecca Hall is becoming one of my favorite actresses. Watching this introverted and complex character blossom as she begins to date a potential Mr. Right (the adorable Thomas Ian Nicholas) is a delight. Hall is simply (forgive me) lovely and amazing!

And who knew Amanda Peet could play bitch so well! “"Things don't get better. They only get worse," she barks at her grandmother. Peet tosses inhibitions into Hollywood’s face and gets nasty. And it’s freaking refreshing.

Peet and Hall play sisters who’s mother committed suicide and both show the lasting results of such a tragedy—in two very different females, in two very different ways.

So many of the laughs and, ultimately, the sadness in Please Give are the result of Guilbert’s Andra. She’s quite the horror of a grandmother, filled with bitterness and anger—and yet there’s a hint at a woman who may have once been happy that we only get a glimpse of. It’s a terrific performance and one we can all relate to because we’ve all met an Andra.

Holofcener’s wit and perspicacious way of looking at the lives of well-to-do Manhattanites remind me of a female Woody Allen. And that’s the best compliment I can give ANY filmmaker.



9th Tribeca Film Festival
Neil Jordan’s
Ondine

Written By: Neil Jordan

Starring: Colin Farrell; Stephen Rea; Alicja Bachleda; Derva Kirwan; Alison Barry

Magnolia Pictures

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Ever since his extraordinary performance in Tigerland in 2000, I have rooted for Colin Farrell. And he has stumbled quite a few times since then, mostly in typical Hollywood action fodder like The Recruit, S.W.A.T. and Miami Vice. I’m one of the very few who refuse to place Alexander among his missteps because the director’s cut of that much maligned Oliver Stone film (available on DVD and Blu-Ray) is actually very good and Farrell is more than respectable in it.

In the midst of the ordinary and mediocre and in between his own personal substance-abuse crises, Farrell has etched fantastic portrayals in indie gems like Intermission, A Home at the End of the World, Cassandra’s Dream and most recently, In Bruges (for which he won the Best Actor Golden Globe) and Crazy Heart.

Add Ondine to his that ever-growing list, proving Farrell isn’t just another trouble-making, talentless pretty boy but is actually an actor of substance.

That said, the latest Neil Jordan film is a mixed bag at best--an Irish version of Ron Howard’s mixed bag, Splash.

Farrell portrays Syracuse, a gruff, alcoholic fisherman in Ireland who nets (literally) a mysterious woman and breathes life back into her still body. It’s a pretty ambitious opening scene. Syracuse’s sickly daughter Annie thinks Ondine is a selkie (a mythological creature who begins life as a seal before they become human). I won’t give the plot away, suffice to say the joy is mostly in watching Farrell’s relationship with Alison Barry who plays his daughter. The reveals, while interesting, never quite gel with the spirit created in the film’s first reel.

Ondine is often too muddled—script-wise as well as cinematography-wise. For a film that wants to charm (and does so on occasion), the photography is quite murky and depressing.

Alicja Bachleda (who in real life recently had Farrell’s baby) is endearing enough as the title character, but doesn’t have the charisma needed to take the story to the mythically soaring levels it so obviously desires to reach.




9th Tribeca Film Festival
Mat Whitcross‘s
sex & drugs & rock & roll

Written By: Paul Viragh
Starring: Andy Serkis; Naomie Harris; Olivia Williams; Bill Milner; Toby Jones; Tom Hughes; Noel Clarke; Mackenzie Crook; Ray Winstone; and Wesley Nelson

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Andy Serkis justly received a BAFTA Award nomination for his role as Ian Dury in the frenetic film sex & drugs & rock & roll.

As well-crafted portrayals of drug-addled, alcoholic, singers/performances artists with polio go, this one’s for the books! What books, I’m not quite sure.

Dury was one of England’s most influential punk artists and his near-deranged determination and tenacity as well as his willingness to offend in order to say what he wanted to say in his work, gave him a rightful place in the rock history books.

The film itself is a mixed bag—it’s a non-linear (what is it with non-linear storytelling at Tribeca this year?) surreal blend of farcical comedy and intense drama that plays like Sid and Nancy meets Spinal Tap as directed by Terry Gilliam!

Dury had quite the difficult childhood. Diagnosed with polio at a young age he was dumped into a horrific institution by his father (Ray Winstone) and left there. Later he marries Betty (a grounded and superb Olivia Williams) who gives birth to his son while he’s in another room jamming with the band. The film follows his career ups and downs, his relationship with his son Baxter (Bill Milner) and his affair with groupie Denise (Naomie Harris).

It doesn’t all make sense or come together the way it should filmicly, but Whitcross is definitely a talent. It just feels like he is trying a bit too hard to defy the conventional biopic trappings. And in the end, we’re left with a strange and lunatic hodgepodge of a film that is saved by the dazzling and enveloping performance of Andy Serkis.



9th Tribeca Film Festival
Carmel Winters‘s
Snap


Written By: Carmel Winters
Starring: Aisling O'Sullivan; Stephen Moran; Pascal Scott; Eileen Walsh; Mick Lally; and Adam Duggan

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

As a playwright, Carmel Winters is hyper-aware of the power of words since writing for the stage is predominantly about effectively conveying story and character through what people say (and do not say).

Cinema, however, is a completely different medium where what the audience sees (and does not see) informs story and character far more potently than words could ever do.

Snap, Winters first feature, which she wrote and directed, certainly proves that she wholly understands the visual medium and the power the camera has to propel a narrative forward and penetrate a character, sometimes in uncomfortable and strangely revealing ways.

“I wasn’t cut out to be a mother. I wanted to be a nun,” says Sandra (Aisling O'Sullivan) , the rightfully angry and disturbed mother of a kidnapper accused of torturing a small child. She is speaking to a documentary crew taping her side of the intricate and fascinating story.

The film flickers from Sandra’s interview to flashbacks of her 15-year old son Stephen (newcomer Stephen Moran in an astonishing performance) with the abducted boy to more obscure and ominous home movies from their past. All these moshed together via different cameras. The film intersperses these “photographed” scenes with Sandra, Stephen and others in a real-time type of narrative. All the while the viewer is riveted, putting pieces of this creepy, unnerving and completely compelling puzzle together.

Aisling O'Sullivan is an absolute revelation as Sandra. Her performance is beyond brave-- it’s fucking fearless and when the final piece of the puzzle comes to light so much of the character groundwork she’s laid is revealed. O’Sullivan is without vanity as she allows the camera to pierce her surface. It may be too early for Oscar talk but if Snap is released in 2010, O’Sullivan’s gritty, fierce, no-bullshit performance should be remembered and considered.

Winters occasionally rewinds the Sandra-cam and quick-pauses or slo-mo’s it to great effect. And her ability to assemble the non-linear narrative elements into a revealing whole is amazing.

Snap is not a fun time at the movies. You will feel uncomfortable. You may get agitated. But you won’t want to look away, even when you do want to look away. And that’s the mark of great filmmaking.


9th Tribeca Film Festival
Jay Anania’s
William Vincent

Written By: Jay Anania
Starring: James Franco, Julianne Nicholson, Martin Donovan, Josh Lucas

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

I wanted to like William Vincent. I really did.

It dares to defy narrative convention. That’s refreshing.

It features terrific cinematography by Danny Vecchione. That make’s it fascinating to watch.

It stars James Franco, who is a gifted actor who also happens to be very nice to look at.

But, in the end the movie maddened more than intrigued.

Franco plays the title character (although it’s not his real name) and the story moves around in time as we discover how he came to be living the criminal life he now lives. Not much really happens in the film. We watch William eat (usually alone) in various Manhattan restaurants and we are deluged with overlong and annoying clips of nature specials (apparently his day job is as an editor).

The film is peppered with choppy, stilted and banal dialogue mixed with long, laborious periods where the camera simply follows William. And did I mention the nature specials???

The underrated Julianne Nicholson is given little to do as is Josh Lucas and Martin Donovan. The real sin is that Franco isn’t really allowed to create a three-dimensional character, but we do get a lot of mundane close-ups.

After a while it felt like I was watching an extremely long cut of a Saturday Night Live Digital Short. The only problem is those segments are deliberately funny, rarely dull and usually under five minutes in length.




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