Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tribeca Report No. 6

My seventh day at Tribeca began on an unexpectedly goofy note. I’m not sure what I was expecting from the new movie by Once director John Carney, but it surely wasn’t a full-on, laugh-out-loud spoof comedy from the Mel Brooks/Zucker-Abrams-Zucker school. Zonad isn’t exactly a parody of anything in particular—it opens with the heroic music and deep-voiced intro of a superhero movie, and its protagonist dresses the part. But the film is more of a sci-fi comedy, with broad jabs at provincial life thrown in. The target doesn’t really matter anyway; what Zonad captures is the free-wheeling spirit of those Brooks and Z-A-Z movies, where anything goes, and no laugh was too cheap to lunge for. It’s all so good-natured and cheery, even the gross-out jokes don’t spoil the party. Zonad is a delightfully silly movie, sweetly ribald and funny as hell.

Next up was Gerrymandering, Jeff Reichert’s documentary on the crooked, dirty process of re-districting, and if that sounds like a dry topic, believe me, it’s not. The United States is basically the only civilized government that lets the politicians themselves re-draw the lines, well, they’re often re-drawn to the advantage of that politician and/or their party. We see clips of presidents from JFK to Obama decrying the process, but it’s not stopped, because it’s in the best political interests of whoever is in enough of a majority to stop it—and, in many cases, it’s a quick and easy way to rig the process in your favor. The more you hear about the process, the more steamed up you get—though the film is far from an angry political screed. It’s snappily paced, smartly assembled, and frequently funny, while commentary (from political figures like Howard Dean, Ed Rollins, Governor Schwarzenegger, and his predecessors Pete Wilson and Gray Davis) is pointed and valuable.

One of the more controversial films in the festival is Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me, a tough, hard-boiled little picture, cold and brutal and efficient. Its violence and pathology will, no doubt, disturb some audiences (and already has). But the fact of the matter is this: the craftsmanship on display is undeniable, and the black-hearted storytelling, true to the noir novel (by Jim Thompson) on which it’s based, pulls in those with the stomach for it. The photography is lovingly rich, but it’s not just designed to look like noir; it feels like it, unfolding with the same nightmare precision. As complications stack up around him, the “hero” keeps is cool, and Winterbottom does the same—he resists the temptation to overcook the scheme spinning out of control, relying instead on his measured, calculated direction. It’s a difficult movie, but absolutely worth seeing.

Though it sports a stellar leading turn from Melissa Leo, an actor who couldn’t play a false note if her life depended on it, Travis Fine’s The Space Between was the day’s weakest film. Iwants to be a great movie; it’s clearly aching to be one. It wants it so bad, you want it too. But it’s not a great movie. It takes a very good idea—a ground-level view of 9/11, as seen by a jaded stewardess and the Muslim “unaccompanied minor” in her charge—and plugs it into yet another “road movie” structure. In its closing scenes, you start to see what Fine was going for, and where he wanted to arrive. If he’d have found a more interesting way to get where he was going, then he might’ve really had something here

We’ve got an interesting mix on tap for tomorrow: the teen comedy Beware the Gonzo, the martial arts epic Clash, Richard Schiff in The Infidel, and James Frano in William Vincent.

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