Friday, April 23, 2010

Tribeca Report No. 1

So I only managed to take in four movie on my first full day of Tribeca 2010; there was an odd dead spot in the middle of the day where nothing much of interest was screening, hence the staggered reviews today (they’ll usually all come at the end of the day). Overall impressions are that they audiences seem enthusiastic, the volunteers and staff are friendly as all get out, and the Village East Cinema, which I’ve always considered a lovely off-the-track venue that never got its due, seems to be housing the festivities nicely.

Today’s slate was a half-and-half mix of documentary and narrative films, though (surprisingly), the docs were the weaker half. Thieves by Law offered up a fascinating glimpse at the Russian mob and the logistics of their brand of organized crime, and the impressive access to three prominent gangsters (all memorable characters with a fascinating story to tell) is the film’s greatest virtue. But it plays more like an overlong TV special than a feature documentary; it mostly just skims the surface; we know all about what these guys have, and what they’ve done, but very little about who they are and what makes them tick. But its got some good stuff in it.

Chuck Workman’s Visionaries, an examination of the American avant-garde cinema movement, is beautifully assembled by Workman (the gifted editor who cuts the montages for the Academy Awards telecast). The vintage clips are fascinating (burning with energy and passion) and they are sometimes, at the same time, unbearably pretentious—and the same goes for some of the filmmakers in Workman’s viewfinder. He stumbles badly with some misplaced intellectual snobbery here and there, but there’s still much to admire in his detailed documentary.

Jacob Tierney’s The Trotsky is an uncommonly smart and funny indie comedy; it is predominately about teen characters, but it’s not a “teen movie”—it’s brainy and mature, and put together with smooth professionalism. Jay Baruchnel gets the leading role just right, and he is ably supported by a talented cast of welcome character actors and impressive new faces. The Trotsky isn’t quite a great movie—it’s too off-pace, a good fifteen minutes too long, and it puts a few too many bows on at the end—but it’s an enjoyable one. And it’s got a heart, which it reveals subtly and unexpectedly. It’s a grin-inducing and rather irresistible picture.

The best picture of the day, though, was Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs, a delightful little fun house of a movie and a welcome return to form for the playful French filmmaker. It’s an utterly charming picture that takes a dark tale and puts a whiz-bang spin on it—a valentine to the cinema, particularly to the silent comedies of Chaplin and Keaton, full of clever bits and go-for-broke sight gags. Jeunet is up to something tricky here—he savvily navigates whimsical comedy with gunplay and explosions, and I can’t think of a single other filmmaker who’s done that (or, frankly, one crazy enough to try it). The results are masterful. Micmacs is a real treat.

On the slate for tomorrow: the documentary portrait Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Renee Zellweger and Forest Whitaker in My Own Love Song (press notes: “with original music by Bob Dylan.” Bailey: “YES!”), and the British thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed.

To bed, then. What a day.

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