Film

Tribeca Film Festival
May 1-9, 2004, Lower Manhattan

Brianna Leigh Hansen
Brianna Leigh Hansen
Photo Wendy R. Williams

In 2002, the Tribeca Film Institute successfully launched the First Annual Tribeca Film Festival. Created by Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro, the mission of the Tribeca Film Festival is to enable the international film community and the general public to experience the power of film by redefining the film festival experience. The Tribeca Film Festival was founded to celebrate New York City as a major filmmaking center and to contribute to the long-term recovery of lower Manhattan.

For information about tickets and package deals log onto www.tribecafilmfestival.org.


The Other Tribeca Press
Photo Wendy R. Williams

Wendy R. Williams, Diedre Kilgore and Brianna Leigh Hansen are reviewing a select group of films for newyorkcool.com. We really wish we were able to see every film but cannot. We live in New York and are under court order to see our therapists and have our nails done. We encourage everyone to log onto the Tribeca website for information about the many wonderful films being shown this year.


John Turturro and (cousin) Aida Turturro
Photo Wendy R. Williams

Randel Cole's
2BPERFECTLY HONEST
Sunday May 2nd @ 8PM Pace University
Wednesday My 5th @ 3PM UA Theater 4

Starring: Adam Trese, Andrew McCarty, John Turturro, Michael Badalucco, Aida Turturro and Robert Vaughn

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

2B tells the the surreal story of Frank (Adam Trese), a young man who loses all the trappings of the good life when the ad agency he owns with his partner Josh (Andrew McCarty) fails and he is forced to move home to live with his parents (Robert Vaughn and Hayley Mills). Frank then embarks on a Kafkaesque journey in his search to reinstate his standing in the material world. He spends time with Sal (John Turturro) the owner of a chess store who dispenses a bizarre tossed salad of advice. Sal then send Frank to see a she-wizard (Aida Turturro) who uses a 8 ball to see the future and also to decide whether she should sleep with Frank.

Then we come to the another part of the story, where Frank seemingly falls through a rabbit hole and enters a different world. Frank visits an old acquaintance of his father to ask for some advice. He is then sent off on a quest that culminates in a scene that is a blood and guts send-up of Scarface. There are three layers to this story that seemingly fold in on each other and it is not until the end that we can tell where we have been.

2B is fun. Everyone in the cast gives a great performance (and what a cast it is) and the script is quite clever. Telling spoofy non- linear stories is the charming genre of independent film. And to be perfectly honest myself, 2B is a jewel of a little independent film. Good job!


Liz Mermin's
The Beauty Academy of Kabul
Tribeca Film Festival


Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Beauty parlors have an historic place in the lives of women as a haven where they can cheer themselves up by getting a new haircut and as a sanctuary where they are free to be their true selves. Both during the Taliban reign in Afghanistan and after the recent war, people everywhere were very curious about the women of Afghanistan. What was hidden under those burkas? What did they look like? Who would be revealed when the women finally threw off those shrouds.

Liz Mermin's The Beauty Academy of Kabul is a documentary about a beauty school that opened in Kabul in July 2003 under the banner "Beauty Without Borders." Staffed by a group of American hairdressers, the school is funded by American beauty industry giants like Vogue, Clairol, M.A.C., etc. The documentary follows the lives of the first class of students, some of whom risked their lives to feed their families by operating underground beauty parlors during the Taliban regime. We see them attending school and visit in many of their homes. I was especially struck by how these Afghan women were able to laugh when they told their stories of deprivation and oppression, showing their absolute determination to experience joy.

Beauty is a beautiful documentary. It portrays the legendary physical and spiritual beauty of the women of Afghanistan; but we also view the gorgeous, war-ravaged country, and experience the horrendous effects that so much devastation had on the city and the land. There is one especially poignant moment when the beauty school staff attends a countryside picnic as guests of a student's family. There a man shows the teachers the ruined compound (similar to a fort or small castle) where he used to live and points off into the distant countryside to other ruins, where his neighbors and other members of his family used to live. Then, gesturing to all the children playing in the ruins he says, "I am the only one left with a memory."

One of the teachers states that her goal is to heal, one woman at a time. By teaching the women how to support themselves and enhance their natural beauty, she is also helping to heal the country, making future memories better.


Léa Pool's
The Blue Butterfly
Mariposa Azul
U.S. Premiere

Starring: William Hurt, Pascale Bussières and Marc Donato

Reviewed by Diedre Kilgore

The Blue Butterfly is a wonderful family film that illustrates the beauty of taking risks in the pursuit of life. A fantastic cast of actors, each bringing incredible dimension and emotional wealth to their characters in this breath-taking journey through Costa Rica’s rainforest and rare world of insects.

The Blue Butterfly tells a metamorphic story about the quest for answers in an unfair world, in the attempt to gain a microscopic understanding of the true essence of creation. Based on a true story, 10-year old Pete Carlton (Marc Donato), suffering from terminal brain cancer with only months to live, has one dying wish. Watching with envy as his classmates play outside without a care in the world, Pete, who has found refuge among the insect world, wishes to travel to Costa Rica with life-long hero and insect specialist, Alan Osborne (William Hurt) in search of the Blue Butterfly. His mother, Teresa (Pascale Bussières) already having lost her husband, and is now facing the imminent loss of her son, will stop at nothing to give Pete as much joy as possible during his time left. Enlisting the reluctant help of Alan Osborne, who is emotionally disengaged, due to his regret for abandoning his daughter at an early age, finds solace and peace in the non-human world of insects. Seeking the mythical magic of the Blue Butterfly, the characters ultimately discover that life itself, in its simplicity, holds the magic that they’re seeking.

The Blue Butterfly is an inspirational film, showing that life’s answers are more likely to be found in the journey, rather than the eventual destination.


David Yarovesky's
A Funny Thing Happened at the Quick mart
(Film-block: Bedtime Stories)
May 2004 Tribeca Film Festival

Starring: Joey Kern and Rachel Nichols

Reviewed by Brianna Leigh Hansen

Of all the amazing films I saw at the festival this year, the Bedtime Stories film-block was undoubtedly my favorite. Each one of these creative shorts kept me guessing till the very end. Among the treats I got that night were stories about; a demonic refrigerator, an anonymous wheelbarrow, an adorable little Nazi, a hit man with a heart of gold, a necrophiliac with a gift for song and a secret admirer, and an incident involving two brothers and a case of glass eyeballs. I must say, however, that the film that stuck most was one involving a taser, an all night bodega, and a crowded car trunk. (Should I be offended that I was sited as a member of their target audience?)

Ladies, if you are ever accosted on the street by David Yarovesky (writer/director of A Funny Thing Happened at the Quick mart) run for your life. I mean this in the most flattering way possible, if such advice can be flattering. I will explain this later, but first the film.

Jay (Joey Kern) is a really nice guy with a poisonous inner monologue. While shopping for some late night necessities at the quick mart, he encounters a lovely young woman named Jennifer (Rachel Nichols) who has set about the same task. Serendipitous? Jay thinks so. He contemplates his options; should he look at her, follow her, speak to her, help her shop, tell her a joke about cancer, laugh maniacally? Yes, he decides, all of the above. This succeeds in making the now very frightened Jennifer run from the store. Luckily for him he catchs up with her outside the quick mart. Unfortunately for him, she starts screaming. So he is compelled to gag her. Unfortunately for him, she has a taser. Fortunately for him. he turns the taser against her. Unfortunately for him, he now has the limp body of an unconscious girl on his hands. What is a poor dumb bastard to do…but keep the nice girl in the car trunk while until she comes to. However, when he later on opens the trunk, Jay finds a little more than he’d bargained for.

Shot on 16mm and, in Yarovesky’s words, “a budget of begs and pleads”, Quick Mart had the most entertaining shenanigans I witnessed all festival long. For a 10 minute short on a shoestring budget, that’s not bad. Aptly cut and fittingly cast, the film has flawless comic timing. Just when you think you know how things will turn out, in comes a low flying ball from left field.

The cast seems a particularly agreeable little bunch. Abductions, tasers, car trunks, duct tape, they survived it all. Kern turns in a colorful performance as Jay. As creepy as he is charming, Kern manages to make his inexpiable behavior seem born of naiveté and ultimately justifiable. Not to be forgotten is co-star Nichols as vulnerable young Jennifer. We see a little bit of every woman in her as the situation escalates from normal to outrageous. Nichols captures that fear with uncanny precision.

When asked where the hell he came up with the idea for this film, Yarovesky did not plead insanity. He simply gave a little chuckle and blamed his ex-girlfriend. Perhaps I should be thanking her for this wonderful piece of cinema.

So ladies, do run for your lives, do be afraid, but don’t miss this film. After all, what’s in your trunk?


Unsu Lee’s
Happily, Even After
World Premiere
Tribeca Film Festival

Do you believe in magic?

Starring: Jason Behr, Marina Black, Fay Masterson, Michael Goorjian, Ed Asner and Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Unsu Lee’s Happily, Even After is a charming ambiguous fairy tale about Katie (played by Marina Black), a down-on-her-luck writer/director in San Francisco who has just lost her day job as a waitress. (Hey, it’s hard to support yourself as an artist even in beautiful San Francisco.) Katie has a supposedly chance encounter with Elizabeth, a successful ad executive (Fay Masterson), who is searching for a fairy godmother to straighten out her slacker brother Jake’s (Jason Behr) life.

Katie accepts the job only to discover that she and Jake have a history, an encounter in her former restaurant/laundromat which ended when she threw a plate of pasta with red sauce on his clothes in a washing machine. This act of culinary defiance resulted in Katie losing her job, becoming a muffin delivery person and meeting Elizabeth.

But Katie is a very persistent fairy godmother. She quickly overcomes Jake’s resistance and soon has him working for her theater company, building and painting beautiful sets. Nature takes it course and Jake is soon in love with Katie. Then just as his life is turning around, Katie disappears - but not before telling Jake the reason she cannot stay. Katie actually is a fairy godmother, not just an unemployed waitress looking for another day job. Now that her job is done, she needs to move on.

Of course, Jake is devastated, even though just knowing Katie has had a magical effect on Jake’s life. In the end there is hope, like there always is all good fairy tales. And there is redemption, like there always is in all good love stories. And ultimately there is magic - a good story told by a talented director and cast.


Ivy Meeropol’s
Heir to an Execution
Sunday May 2nd @ 8:45PM UA Theater

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Ivy Meeropol has made a thoughtful and heartbreaking film about the death of her grandparents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were executed for treason in the 1950’s, at the heart of the McCarthy era, for supposedly passing the secret of the atom bomb to Russia. While stopping short of proclaiming her grandparent's innocence, Ms. Meeropol seems to ascribe to the present day “elevator story” that her grandfather certainly did not pass the secrets of the atom bomb to the Russians, but it does look like something may have been going on. Heir follows Ms Meeropol’s journey as she tries to find to answer to a very perplexing question about her grandparents: “Why would they keep their silence, knowing that it might lead to their execution, when they had two young children (Meerool’s father and uncle) who loved and needed them?”

Heir is a very personal documentary. We watch Ms Meeropol interview her father and uncle, two nicely spoken middle class men who are obviously still suffering from the loss of their parents. We also see Ms Meeropol trying to reconnect with her extended family, many of whom are still unwilling to talk. Heir also tells a little about David Greenglass, Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, the man who betrayed his sister and brother-in-law to save himself from execution. According to Ms. Meeropol, the Greenglass family was so traumatized by this event, they have changed their name. After all, no one names their children after Aaron Burr.

I have always been fascinated by the way children can be traumatized by family crises that occurred long before they entered the world. Wars, untimely deaths and scandals reverberate through generations, changing the way we are raised and how we are perceived by ourselves and others. We all need our stories to know who we are, where we came from and what we stand for as a family.

The execution of the Rosenbergs is a prime example of how we as a nation go on a collective “bender," such as the Salem witch trials, McCarthyism, the internment of Japanese citizens and on to the present day incarceration of enemy combatants, the ones we are today denying the constitutional right to counsel. We go out as a group and “tie one on.” And only years later do we sober up and say, “Whoa, what was that all about?”. The answer always is, “You don’t understand, you weren’t there, we were afraid, there were witches, Communists, Japanese, Arabs and on and on.” But we show who we truly are, not by how we act when everything is okay, but by how we act when we are scared.

Heir tells the story of how Ethel and Julius were passionately in love, both with each other and with their cause - and how they so valued this love they refused to “rat out” each other or anyone else to save their own lives. We hear from many of the Rosenbergs’ friends who tell the story of how the Rosenbergs saved them by refusing to give up their names. One of Ethel’s friends keeps saying over and over, “She had no choice.” This is the legacy the Rosenbergs left to their granddaughter Ivy – a willingness to be executed rather than betray their love for each other and their cause. And this is the story of Ivy Meeropol’s family - and how her grandparents acted when they were very scared.


Brett C. Leonard’s
Jailbait
89-minute Feature Film
World Premiere

Featuring Michael Pitt (The Dreamers) and LAByrinth cofounder Stephen Adly Guirgis (Our Lady of 121st Street)

Reviewed by Diedre Kilgore


Jailbait is a meditation on the unjust oppressive nature of an American institutional concept; illustrating the absurdity of the 3-strikes you’re out law, in its elimination of freedom and its affects on humanity. Jailbait is a gripping tale intertwining the opposite lives of two sudden prison cellmates; one, a murderer serving a life sentence; the other, a naïve youngster serving 25 years after committing 3 reckless crimes. The film acts as a psychological microscope, peering into a desperate human condition similar to that of a fly who unwittingly gets caught in a spider’s web. Jailbait tells the powerful story of Jake (Stephen Adly Guirgis), a demented convict, who weaves a gradual web of emotional, psychological and physical control over frightened young Randy (Michael Pitt), facing the horrific concept of becoming an adult in prison.

Nearly the entire film is set within the claustrophobic world of a prison cell, and therefore requires a well-written script that could keep an audience’s attention. Writer and Director Brett C. Leonard became so engrossed with the subject matter; once he sat down to write the first draft, he was finished within 12 hours. This passion is apparent, in a brilliantly composed script, filled with explosive twists and moments of heart-stopping silence, immersing the viewer in a suffocating trap of the characters’ increasingly volatile emotions.

The cast of actors is incredibly strong as well, all worthy of note in their own right. Laila Robins, is worth considerable mention in her powerful performance as Randy’s mother. Although her scene is somewhat brief, she allows you to enter her torment, worry and heartbreak she’s desperately trying to hide in her fight to stay strong. Michael Pitt delivers an intensely subtle performance, masterfully revealing a child-like vulnerability mixed with hatred and despair.
Watching Stephen Adly is like riding on an emotional rollercoaster in an explosive performance of unpredictable levels that could make your head spin.

Jailbait is a wonderful film that raises vital questions surrounding America’s “correctional” programs. After seeing this film, I am eager to check out The Public Theatre’s production of “Guinea Pig Solo” in May, also written by Brett C. Leonard and starring Stephen Adly Guirgis, in a politically themed piece about a soldier coming home from the Iraq war.


Tricia Brock's
Killer Diller
May 2004 Tribeca Film Festival

Saved by the music!!!!

Starring: William Lee Scott, Lucas Black, Fred Willard, W. Earl Brown, Niki J. Crawford and Mary Kay Place.

Reviewed by Brianna Leigh Hansen

In a half-way house in a sleepy little town down south, a group of misguided youths is subjected to a daily regimen of quiet prayer and choir practice, in an attempt to both save their troubled young souls and keep them out of prison. Ned Sears (Fred Willard) is the proud head of this wayward household and the director of their embarrassingly bad choir. Everything seems like it will remain the same forever until Sears takes in Wesley (William Lee Scott), a former car thief with a fiery spirit and a kick ass steel guitar. Wesley sees more than meets the eye (and ear) in the kids from the halfway home and covertly organizes a blues band while Sears believes they are practicing playing hymns. There’s just one thing missing…enter Vernon (Lucas Black), an autistic kid who, to everyone’s surprise, has a gift for the piano. Thus the Killer Diller Blues Band is formed and takes this sleepy little southern town by storm. And by forming this band the kids are able to rescue themselves.

Killer Diller is an utterly charming film and a joy to watch. Under Tricia Brock’s skillful direction, the film is both hilarious and meaningful. She skillfully pushes the story to it’s conclusion - where the kids are saved by the thing they love the most. I hardly know where to begin with acclaim for the cast, they were all so believable. Scott, with his James Dean like quality, is subtle and rebellious which creates an interesting dynamic juxtaposed to Black’s unconvention clever portrayal of Vernon. Willard is lovable and hilarious as the Bible thumping, unwittingly duped house master and the supporting cast of Niki J. Crawford, Mary Kay Place, John Michael Higgins and Robert Wisdom is absolutely wonderful.

The real treats, though, were the hot Blues tunes that strung the both the story and the characters together. Crawford’s voice will blow you away…can we say record deal? I hope to buy the soundtrack soon. At the after party we were graced with performances by Keb’ Mo’ and the Killer Diller Blues Band themselves. This film left me feelin’ good and ready to get down.


Jacob Gentry’s
Last Goodbye
May 2004 Tribeca Film Festival

Starring: Cast: Faye Dunaway, David Carradine, Clementine Ford, Liam O'Neill, Chris Rydell, Sara Stanton, Chad McKnight, Alex A. Quinn, Domink García-Lorido, Kansas Carradine, and Maggie Blye.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

There has been a lot of press about this film. It was produced by Pop Films, an Atlanta based film company formed by Jacob Gentry and Alexander Motlagh, who have a background in short films and rock videos. Here is a quote from their website, http://www.lastgoodbymovie.com/ - Jacob Gentry, the twenty-four-year-old writer/ director of Last Goodbye, speaks of the Atlanta underground film scene: “It’s really a punk rock community of filmmakers who show movies like bands play clubs…”

Here is the synopsis from the press release: “A hot summer day in Atlanta is the backdrop for the interweaving lives of a famous TV actress, a rock band, a lonely nobody, a young girl and her father. Roland's alcoholic visions push him towards Jen, an ingénue who has run away from home and longs for the singer of the band, Peter. Peter and his band mate Seymour struggle for the attention of Agnes, a hot young actress on a Vampire TV show, "Southern Gothic," who has a hidden connection to Roland. As the day unfolds a delusional Bible salesman (David Carradine) and a pretentious film director (Faye Dunaway) become guides in revealing the true nature of these relationships. Told through the hallucinations of alcoholism, the bravado of the band's music, the camp of "Southern Gothic," the tenderness of home video flashbacks, and the harsh reality of these people’s lives, Last Goodbye is a mosaic of young people struggling to make an emotional connection.”

And here is the hook: Faye Dunaway saw the script and thought it would be a perfect vehicle for her son Liam O’Neill, who plays Peter, the hot lead singer of a local rock band. And there the idea was born – cast the film with the children of film stars. The theory was that the talent would undeniably be there (and it was) and they already have a name - so they also cast Clementine Ford (Cybil Shepherd’s gorgeous daughter) and Sara Stanton (Harry Dean Stanton’s talented niece). And then it was on to more second generation Hollywood talent: Chad McNight (Harry Dean Stanton’s nephew); Chris Rydell (Mark Rydell’s son); Alex A Quinn (son of Anthony Quinn); Dominik García-Lorido (daughter of Andy Garcia); and Kansas Carradine (daughter of David Carradine). This so called nepotism casting created so much buzz, 20/20 did a segment about the film on February 6, 2004.

The Last Goodbye is a loosely constructed rock video of a movie which features a rocking sound track by the band, Altruistic. The movie is based on the book Last Goodbye From Way Down Here by Patrick Kaye, which was described in the Birmingham Star as a group of interweaving stories. And in true rock video style, multiple images and bits and pieces of these stories are edited together to create the mood and feel of a mosaic, giving the aura of a story without an actual story line. Looking at the end product is a similar to viewing a piece of abstract art - sometimes you aren’t sure just what you are looking at, but you do want to see it.


Dick Rude’s
Let’s Rock Again

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Dick Rude’s Let’s Rock Again is a fun rock-me-baby documentary that follows legendary musician Joe Strummer in the last year of his life. Strummer died of a sudden heart attack in 2002 at what was a very young age of 50. Let’s Rock Again follows Strummer as he tours to promote his second record with the Mescaleros, the group he founded after he took a 13 year hiatus after the breakup of the English punk band Clash. We see him touring the world, wildly greeted in Japan, ignored in Atlantic City and then playing New York where he is visited in his dressing room by fans such as Steve Buscemi and Jim Jarmusch.

Here are some loose quotes from Stummer about the creative process: Strummer on being asked “Does inspiration just come pouring into you?” “Hell no, you beat of out of your head.” He then goes into a riff about crossroad puzzles writers and how those writers do the same kind of work and there is no award ceremony for them. As he says, “It’s work.”

And being asked about opinions he says “I don’t have opinions. Some guy said if you have opinions you can’t see.” And “I write the lyrics as late as possible so they can be fresh – about what’s happening now.”

Watching the tour footage I was struck by the music, how very sexy it was, yet during most of the documentary I saw very few women. There was only one hell-of-a-nice guy busting his ass to make sure that his second record with the Mescaleros made a profit for his record company. The documentary follows Strummer and the band as they work, setting up, handing our flyers in Atlantic City, banging on the door of radio stations to ask for interviews. If this was a sex- drugs-and-rock-and-roll-tour, I sure did not see it on the screen. Those guys were working it and working it hard.

What I did see is a really great guy, one who loved the music of both Nina Simone and Woody Guthrie (the song Johnny Appleseed is his homage to Guthrie). It was bittersweet for me to watch this documentary because I was probably the only out-of-touch writer who did not realize that Strummer was dead. So I watched it and thought, boy they can really play, I need to start following them, buying their CD’s etc. etc. and then at the end of the documentary there is the final screen - Joe Strummer, 1952-2002. Ouch!


Zak Tuckers's
Poster Boy
May 2004 Tribeca Film Festival

Starring: Karen Allen, Michael Lerner, Jack Noseworthy, Matt Newton, Ian Reed, Kessler and Valerie Geffner.

Reviewed by Brianna Leigh Hansen

Henry (Matt Newton) has spent the better part of his life playing the part of his father’s family icon and his father’s last priority. His father (Michael Learner), a vehemently devout right-wing Senator, needs someone to symbolize the upstanding family values he’s dedicated his life to promoting, but not upholding. His only son is the natural candidate. But, there is one problem, Henry’s father doesn’t know that his son, whom he thinks is the all American family poster boy, has only one desire in life - to settle down with a nice boy and start an upstanding family of his own. After running to the other side of the country and attempting to corrupt the little minions his father sent to fetch him, Henry ends up being blackmailed. So Henry finally agrees to introduce his father, when his father gives a nationally televised speech at a local college.

The plot turns again when Henry becomes involved with Anthony, an activist with a track record of one night stands, and Anthony’s mildly neurotic best friend Izzie, who has contracted HIV from her recently deceased boyfriend. In a subsequent series of unfortunate events, Henry learns that he can’t keep hiding from the truth and that the truth can’t be hidden from the public any longer.

Screenwriters Ryan Shiraki and Lecia Rosenthal’s voices are heard very clearly throughout Henry’s narrative. They are smart enough to give us lovable characters, who we care about despite some of their despicable deeds. Rookie director Zak Tucker provides the film with a humorous outlook to a potentially dark subject, resulting in wonderfully tender moments. With actors like Michael Lerner, Jack Noseworthy, Matt Newton, and Ian Reed Kessler. the cast is outstanding. I particularly enjoyed watching Valerie Geffner, who gave a manic portrayal of Izzy, and Karen Allen, who portrayed Henry’s mother. Their poignant relationship is the icing on the cake of this remarkable cast. This film’s humorous political banter is sure to hit home, wherever your home might be.


Paulo Sacramento’s
The Prisoner of the Iron Bars – Self Portrait
Prisoneiro da Grade de Ferro – Retratos
123-minute Brazilian Documentary
Portuguese with English Subtitles
North American Premiere

"I Love Life, I Date Death” – A tattoo shown on one of the inmates.

Reviewed by Diedre Kilgore

The Prisoner of the Iron Bars is a visually disturbing documentary of the world’s most notoriously overcrowded and neglected prison in Sao Paulo, Brazil, known as Carandiru. This is extremely rare footage shot just months before the prison was imploded in December of 2002, due to horrific conditions.

The film is a bit too long, but certainly gave me, as a viewer, the rather uncomfortable and dreadful feeling that I myself was trapped with those inmates inside of Carandiru. Since that seems to be the intended affect, I am able to forgive the length, but be warned, it is not an easy film to sit through.

Paulo Sacramento’s brilliant decision to hand over the cameras to the inmates gives us a rare glimpse behind the bars of prison life, at it’s most extreme. There is graphically disturbing footage of neglected medical conditions, grotesquely overcrowded cells (sometimes up to as many as 14 people), and photographs taken of corpses stabbed hundreds of times, some missing body parts, some with slit throats.

Despite the unsettling nature of this film, The Prisoner of the Iron Bars is a fascinating view into prison life and demonstrates how human beings that are placed in unbearable conditions find ways to not only survive, but band together to make the best of a severely hopeless situation. Through this film we become witness to the underlying emotional need for these inmates to feel human again through a unique look into their day-to-day activities.

We watch rap artists perform various rap songs about the injustice of Carandiru to a crowd of followers. We listen to several inmates, some who just want to be reformed. We see the ways in which drugs and alcohol are secretly produced and sold. We are shown the infestation of rats and the abusively drunk prison guards. There are at times quiet moments of loneliness and despair through poetry and song. We are invited along on the simple journey one inmate takes us, peering out the window at the envied subway, past the boarding house of flirtatious girls, to the rising sun of a new day, a new anxiety. We see the separated gay division of the prison, where most of the men have found it valuable to their survival to become whores. Cigarettes are their currency. The parole officer listens to people daily, and denies them in such a routine manner; you have to wonder if he wears earplugs. It makes HBO’s Oz (a dramatization of prison life) look like a luxurious resort.

The Prisoner of the Iron Bars is a shocking, disturbing and compelling film that made me feel thankful for my life. Afterwards, I found the need to take a long walk to appreciate that little thing of freedom that is so often taken for granted.


Jeff Lieberman’s
Satan’s Little Helper
World Premiere

His ass is fucking grass”
Starring: Amanda Plummer, Alexander Brickel, Katheryn Winnick, Wass Stevens, and Stephen Graham

Reviewed by: Diedre Kilgore

Satan’s Little Helper is a tongue-in-cheek, campy slasher flick that can best be described as a film which would pair nicely with a glass of chianti and a good batch of brownies. I was pretty sure what to expect, as the film’s synopsis calls it a horror-comedy. I was, however, pleasantly surprised in that unlike so many other films of this genre, Satan’s Little Helper is completely original, and the humor comes from the absurdities of the individual situations, as opposed to the now formulaic method of spoofing classic horror films.

Satan’s Little Helper tells the story of rather simple characters in a sleepy New England town clumsily stumbling along a path of bizarre misunderstandings, naïve to their imminent danger. Amanda Plummer stars in the role of Merril Whooly, an open-minded, drug-induced, psychotic mother oblivious to the potential dangers of exposing her children to sex, drugs and Satan Worship. Merril and her husband Dean (Wass Stevens) give their 9-year-old child Douglas (Alexander Brickel) a video game called Satan’s Little Helper, in which the hero of the game runs around attacking innocent people on the street. High scores can be obtained from massacring blind people, old ladies with canes, etc. Douglas becomes so obsessed with the game that he begins to idolize Satan. Can you blame him? I mean, as Douglas so eloquently puts it, Satan “is cool”.

Having a rather inappropriate crush on Jenna, his scantily-clad older sister (Katheryn Winnick), that no one seems to find strange, Douglas’ jealousy of Jenna’s new boyfriend Alex (Stephen Graham) turns into hatred. Therefore, like any young Satan-worshipper worth his salt, Douglas wanders the town on Halloween day to find a Satan to kick it with.

As luck would have it, Douglas finds a sex-starved serial killer dressed up for Halloween in a Satan costume wandering around in broad daylight with bloodied townspeople, propping them up as various Halloween displays. Of course this is normal to the townsfolk, and everyone just thinks that these are elaborate special effects. In awe of Satan’s utter cool “special-effect” work, Douglas asks Satan if he wouldn’t mind killing his sister’s boyfriend to eliminate his competition. And as we all know, Satan just wouldn’t be Satan if he declined such an offer, so the duo embarks on a ridiculously funny and often-times politically incorrect killing spree.

This is all well and good until someone gets an eye poked out, or in this case their guts pulled out. So Douglas comes to the embarrassing realization that he has placed his own family in grave danger. What?. In a divine balance of humor and graphic violence, Satan’s Little Helper is a decadently fun yet suspenseful film, packed with laugh-out loud situations and a plentiful buffet of blood and guts to sink your teeth into.


Paolo Franchi's
The Spectator
A feature film in Italian with English subtitles
World Premiere
at the Tribeca Film Festival

Reviewed by Diedre Kilgore

The Spectator is a story of voyeurism that intertwines three solitary lives, each afraid to love, within their own unique circumstances. Placing the viewer inside the film as a voyeuristic fly on the wall, The Spectator is a stunning film that leaves a haunting affect of melancholy, vulnerability, longing and aloneness. The actors do such superb work, they make the viewer feel somewhat like an emotional thief, invading their innermost thoughts.

The Spectator begins in Turim, Italy with Valeria (Barbora Bobulova) a young woman obsessed with an older man, Massimo (Andrea Renzi). She spies on him regularly, and, when he decides to move to Rome, Valeria follows him there and befriends his emotionally unavailable girlfriend, Flavia (Brigitte Caitillon), gaining work as an assistant in Flavia’s home. Through an eventual build of friendship between Valeria and Flavia, Valeria finally meets Massimo under a series of uncomfortable circumstances. An underlying sense of intimacy and jealousy among this potentially explosive triangle is left to the interpretation of the audience’s imagination. It is this room for interpretation that acts as a key ingredient, making this film so emotionally engaging. The tables eventually turn in such a way that Massimo becomes obsessed with Valeria to a degree that disrupts Valeria’s comfortable sense of control and distance.

What makes The Spectator so enticing is its complexity. Celebrating the romance of a throbbing heart, this film offers an abundant bouquet of sensuality stemming from longing; meanwhile harboring a piquant flavor of emotional chaos, resulting from the fear to love.

Cinematographer Giuseppe Lanci’s work is gorgeous, expertly conjuring visually prevalent tones of sensuality and despair. As The Spectator is Paolo Franchi’s first feature, I have no doubt that this film will be a launching point for a successful career. Bravo.


Jim de Sève’s
Tying the Knot
Tribeca Film Festival

The Union that’s Dividing America
A feature documentary about same-sex marriages
“ Homosexuals…have freedom to behave in the way that they do, but they cannot be a family”
-James Dobson, President of Focus on Family

Reviewed by: Diedre Kilgore

Tying the Knot is a politically charged film that questions the unnatural selection of freedom in America. A disturbingly intimate look into the civil rights issues of homosexual couples fighting for the right to legally marry, Tying the Knot is a vital film that takes us on an emotional and political journey surrounding an increasingly volatile civil rights movement in our country about same-sex marriage. It educates us as well, by using actual footage of both sides of this issue, thereby making this film less biased than might otherwise be. The prevailing theme for Tying the Knot is stated in the form of a question from the following quote by Steve Gunderson, Republican congressman from Wisconsin. “Why shouldn’t my partner of 30 years be entitled to the same health insurances and survivor’s benefit that individuals around here, my colleagues with second and third wives, are able to give to them?”

Good question. The film shows an upsetting series of rebuttals to that basic question by politicians that believe that allowing same-sex marriages will “destroy western civilization” as we know it. It sounds like a dramatization, but actually hearing these politicians utter such bizarre statements raises a few eyebrows, at the very least. What makes this film so fascinating is the manner it jumps from real life struggles to political platforms and debates. The arguments seem to be motivated by two separate things, one of humanity and love, the other of power and fear.

In the following speech from John Lewis, African American Democrat from Georgia brought up in the segregated South of the 40’s and 50’s, it is pointed out to us just how this is a basic human rights issue. “We are talking about human beings, people like you, people who want to get married, buy a house, and spend their lives with the one they love. They have done no wrong.”

Amidst the political debates, we are invited into the very vulnerable lives of two people, embarking on a life-struggle for equality. We witness the absolute pain and anger of Tampa Police officer Mickie Mashburn, married to recently deceased Lois Marrero, trying to collect on a pension that she feels is owed to her, and would certainly belong to her, if she were in a heterosexual marriage. We also find ourselves in a similar though more dismal situation in the decaying home of Sam, a farmer in Oklahoma, who suffers the aftermath of recently deceased husband of 22 years, Earl. Through prejudice and fear, Sam is a constant victim of financial sabotage, vandalism, theft and ridicule.

Tying the Knot interviews common citizens, as well, all with varying opinions and sexual preference. Although varied in opinion, they appear to care far less than the government, about whether or not it should be legal for homosexuals to marry, which brings a most poignant comment by a legally married gay citizen of Holland, Adjied Bakas. “In Holland we have a saying that a civilization can be judged on the way it treats it’s minority. If it treats it’s minorities well, then it’s a civilized country.” Ouch. But painful in the right place.


Luna's 'Whore'

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Whore, produced by Delores Pictures and directed by Luna, is a staged "documentary" about the world oldest profession. The movie is based on a novel by Isabel Pisano (Yo Puta) which is a bestseller in Spain and Italy. There are two parts to the story; very believable sounding practitioners and customers are interviewed in their native languages (with English subtitles) and then there is a loosely constructed cover story woven throughout the interviews about a doctoral student in Los Angeles (Denise Richards) who is supposedly conducting this research about prostitution. The character played by Ms. Richards also receives advise about the ins and outs of the profession from her call girl next door neighbor (Daryl Hannah). And when Denise Richards leaves her LA apartment to conduct research, everyone she interviews speaks a foreign language, slightly unusual even for today's Los Angeles. There are also some compelling scenes where a pornography producer, played by Joaquin De Almeida, interviews prospective actresses, including the character played by Ms. Richards.

But dramatic convention aside, Whore is a provocative and compelling movie - very stylish and cool. The cinematography is beautiful and so are Ms. Richards and Ms. Hannah. During the "documentary" portion of the film, the practitioners describe their lives in vivid and fascinating detail and seem quite happy with their choice of profession. After all, prostitution is the world's oldest profession so it has to have something going for it to make it last this long (sorry, I couldn't resist).


John Schultz’s
When Zachary Beaver Came to Town
Based on the award-winning novel by Kimberly Willis Holt
New York Premiere
May 2004 Tribeca Film Festival

“It’s not the end of the World, it just feels like it”

Principle Cast: Jonathan Lipnicki, Eric Stoltz, Kevin Fitzgerald Corrigan, Jane Krakowski, Sasha Neulinger, Cody Linley

Reviewed by Diedre Kilgore

A valuable lesson of the heart, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town is a charming story about three young boys who unwittingly embark on a spiritual adventure in a sleepy Texas town. With several fantastic camera angles, many of which were shot upward, the viewer is given a sense of the wonder and challenges of being a child in the world.

Toby (Jonathan Lipnicki) and Cal (Cody Linley) are 12-year old best friends. Toby’s mother (Jane Krakowski) runs away to pursue her dreams of being a famous country singer, leaving Toby’s father Otto Wilson (Eric Stoltz) at home to care for Toby by himself. Through a gradual build of denial, pent-up anger and rebellion, Toby does all he can to escape his dwindling family life, through his friendship with Cal. Toby and Cal’s lives change when 12-year old Zachary Beaver (Sasha Neulinger), accompanied by legal guardian and business partner Pauly (Kevin Corrigan), suddenly arrive from New Jersey. The duo makes a grand entrance in an air stream trailer, setting up a roadside attraction, showcasing Zachary Beaver as the “Largest Boy in the World”. Keeping Zachary Beaver in the trailer, the town pays money to come inside to catch a glimpse of him. The townspeople’s reactions vary from shock, disgust, disdain and pity. Eventually Toby and Cal befriend Zachary Beaver despite his seemingly tough exterior. Through suspenseful, humorous and tragic moments, Zachary Beaver becomes the fertilizer that enriches the heart and spirit of a mundane town.

Director John Schultz was so positive Jonathan Lipnicki (Ray Boyd in Jerry Maguire) would be the perfect choice to play Toby Wilson, the production halted for a year so young Jonathan could grow into the role.

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town is a wonderfully fun film for children and adults alike.


Josh Sternfeld's
Winter Solstice
May 2004 Tribeca Film Festival

Starring: Anthony LaPagia, Aaron Stanford, Mark Webber, Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, Michelle Monaghan

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Winter Solstice is a slice of life story, a window into the life of a very ordinary family, one with all too ordinary problems. Here is the press release "In this poignant family drama made in the tradition of Ordinary People, Jim Winters is a suburban widower in his early 40's struggling to raise two sons. While dealing with his older son's decision to leave home and his younger son's delinquent behavior, he becomes increasingly attracted to his new neighbor, Molly."

Solstice is blessed with very good actors who give beautifully subtle performances. I totally believed them as they told their story of loss, both the loss of a mother to a sudden early death and the loss of a son who desperately feels the need to just move on.

Solstice has a small town feel to it, it gives us an intimate look into the lives of the kind of family that could be anyone's next door neighbor. But neighbors and stories like this are lost in the vast world of cities, where we walk on by and never see. And telling these simple intimate stories is where Independent Film excels. Here we can see and hear the stories that are always around us but unheard, the kind of stories we used to hear when we returned home and said "So, tell me, what's going on in town?"


Reverge Anselmo’s
Stateside
May 2004 Tribeca Film Festival
Opens Nationwide on May 21, 2004

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Reverge Anselmo’s film Stateside is a charming quirky love story, set in the early 80’s. A rebellious rich kid, Mark Deloach (played by Jonathan Tucker), turns his life upside down one night when his drunken high school prank results in a car crash that injures both his friend Sue Dubois (played by Agnes Bruckner) and the headmaster of his school (Ed Begley, Jr.). Mark is angrily assaulted by his father (Joe Montegna) and prosecuted by Sue’s equally angry mother (Carrie Fisher), who discovers her daughter’s promiscuity when she learns about the circumstances of the accident.

Mark is sentenced either to join the Marines or go to jail. Choosing the former, Mark dutifully arrives at Paris Island, where he is whipped into shape by a sadistic drill sergeant, Skeer (the marvelous Val Kilmer playing the usual Ed Harris role).

Marks returns home to discover that when Sue’s mother confronted her about her promiscuity, Sue became so hysterical that her mother had her committed to an insane asylum. Mark visits Sue and has a chance meeting with Sue’s roommate, Dory Lawrence (played by Rachel Leigh Cook). He promptly falls in love.

A kooky romance begins. Dory is suffering from schizophrenia, which has derailed her budding career as a rock and movie star. Mark drifts in and out of Dory’s life, returning on leave and then being shipped out to fight overseas (Lebanon, etc.). His behavior disrupts Dory’s life and angers her therapist, who ask Mark to let her go so Dory can get better. But love wins in the end, as it always does in true love stories.

But in the end, war and schizophrenia aside (are these words synonyms?), Stateside is a traditional love story told by a talented director and a charming, talented cast. After all, what could be more traditional than falling in love with the roommate of an old high school friend? Good Job!

Stateside recently won the Best Independent Film Award at the 2004 Sonoma Film Festival.


Takeshi Kitano’s
Zatoichi
Japanese with English Subtitles
Tribeca Film Festival
Miramax
US Opening

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Zatoichi, written and directed and acted by the very talented Takeshi Kitano, is a spoofy fun romp about a blind masseur who is both a skillful gambler and a deadly swordsman. According to the press release, films about this blind swordsman ruled Japanese cinema from the 60’s through the 80’s. Takeshi Kitano, who has worn many hats as a stand-up comic, actor and director, has now revived the story of Zatoichi, a monk-like nomad who travels the countryside carrying a cane which conceals a hidden sword.

Here is the synopsis from the press release:

“Zatoichi is a 19th Century blind nomad who makes his living as a gambler and masseur. However, behind this humble facade, he is a master swordsman gifted with a lightning-fast draw and breathtaking precision. While wandering, Zatoichi discovers a remote mountain village at the mercy of Ginzo, a ruthless gang-leader. Ginzo disposes of anyone who gets in his way, especially after hiring the mighty samurai ronin Hattori as a bodyguard. After a raucous night of gambling in town, Zatoichi encounters a pair of geishas – as dangerous as they are beautiful – who’ve come to avenge their parents' murder at the hands of Ginzo. As the paths of these and other colorful characters intertwine, Ginzo’s henchmen are soon after Zatoichi. With his legendary cane sword at his side, the stage is set for a riveting showdown.”

This story is both ancient and modern, a myth populated by quirky characters like a cross-dressing geisha who enjoys a dip in a communal hot tub. Blood squirts and dismembered arms and legs fly but even the most sanguine scenes are hysterically funny, so who cares? It doesn’t seem real, and that is the charm. Bravo!


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