My body’s selfish insistence on that sleeping bullshit prevented me from filing a report last night, so let’s take a look at the new Tribeca reviews from the last two days, shall we?
The strongest film I’ve seen since my last report was Dana Adam Shapiro’s Monogamy, which is that rarest of beasts, an actual grown-up movie about sexual desire, repression, and obsession. Chris Messina and Rashida Jones are astonishingly good in the leading roles, sharing an easy, relaxed chemistry and a sense of shared history—their dialogue has the natural rhythms of actual overheard conversation, full of inside jokes and shared history. Later in the film, when they have a fight, it feels like the real thing; the climactic scenes have the emotional brutality of a Cassavetes picture. In its own quiet way, it’s a marvelous picture.
Another great documentary (courtesy of festival MVP Alex Gibney) is My Trip to Al-Qaeda, a fascinating hybrid of performance film and documentary. Gibney uses an off-Broadway monologue by writer and terrorism expert Lawrence Wright as a framework, but also intercuts it with more conventional documentary footage of the writer at work and traveling, conducting interviews and accumulating his story. The film is packed with information without overwhelming the viewer—it is intelligent and thoughtful, Wright’s words and Gibney’s images painting a picture that is bleak and troublesome. My Trip to Al-Qaeda is powerful, thought-provoking stuff.
On the other end of the doc spectrum is Vidal Sassoon: The Movie, a bright, cheery pop confection that tells the tale of “how one man changed the world with a pair of scissors.” Director Craig Teper fills the film with stylish black and white interviews, colorful graphics, and inventive photography, all to pull in to Sassoon’s world, to understand the industry and the time, in order to put his particular achievements into context. This is what the best docs do—personally, I couldn’t care less about hairdressing, but the film is so well-constructed that you are involved in his work, drawn in to the jargon and politics of the biz. It’s a smart, fun film.
Every Day marks the feature film debut of writer/director Richard Levine, best known previously as a writer, director, and producer for Nip/Tuck, and while it’s enjoyable, it feels very much like the work of a writer/director best known for slick, well-made television. The script too often falls into the snappy-patter rhythms of a sitcom—the dialogue a little too clean and polished, everyone a beat too quick with a witty rejoinder. He’s dealing with messy lives here, with depression and adultery and sexual dissatisfaction and sickness and disconnection, but it all feels completely under control. The blow-ups and climactic events all arrive as if timed for commercials. On the other hand, the performances are good (Liev Schrieber is always worth watching) and the film does deliver, albeit it a rather shallow level.
Our latest vision of the bleak, rainy urban hell of our future is Metropia, Tarik Saleh’s animated tale of darkness, hopelessness, and mind control. It operates predominately as a cross between a futuristic sci-fi mindbender and a paranoid film noir riff—the former in its set-up, the latter in its payoff. The animation technique, a peculiar hybrid of photography and drawing, is a touch off-putting, particularly in the opening scenes; the characters’ slightly oversized heads seem distractingly out of proportion, and the choppiness of their motion takes some getting used to. Metropia is not entirely successful—the technique is somewhat distancing, and the film takes entirely too long to get cooking. But it holds your interest, which is never to be taken for granted.
Finally, we have Josh Sternfeld’s Meskada. It’s about the plain-spoken folks in small towns (it was shot in upstate New York), and writer/director Sternfeld takes great pains to capture the low-key interactions and deliberate rhythms of their lives. But for much of the picture, he forgets to provide a pulse. The representation of drab, small-time life is faithful—to a fault, perhaps. The woe-is-me dialogue is unfortunate, and the staging is colorless; in attempting to pump up the realism, he’s taken the air out of the picture. I’m all for a good small-town slice of life but this pacing is brutal. It’s not a bad film, but it is an insubstantial one; there’s not much to it besides mood and Nick Stahl’s muscular performance. It’s so muted and deliberate, it never really gets going.
On the docket for tomorrow—Kim Cattrall in Meet Monica Velour, the acclaimed British biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, and my second attempt to see Sons of Perdition (we’ll see if it works out this time).