Monday, April 25, 2011

#TribecaFest 2011 Report: Day 5

It’s difficult to pan a movie at a film festival like this one, because—as odd as it sounds—there’s a chance the filmmaker might actually read it. Indie directors are more likely to seek out feedback from people who are covering the festival, and it’s kind of a key moment for a small film, and it pains me to write a bad review of a small movie—not because I actually have the power to crush a movie (let’s be honest), but because I don’t like the idea of hurting hard-working director’s feelings. I used to be one of those guys. I remember the bad reviews. I can still quote them to you.

But everybody’s at the film festival with a job to do, and mine is to write about the films, and sometimes they’re terribly. I saw a really bad one today, so I wrote about how bad it was. During the pre-festival screenings, I saw a couple of real turkeys, and I’ve sat on those reviews, because it pains me to put them out there. Then again, I know people who are considering going to see some films that are not very good, and I have a responsibility to them too.

I don’t mean to get all pompous and self-important. I saw a couple of movies, and wrote down why I didn’t like them. Let’s get on with it.

* * *

The best film of today’s bunch was the documentary Despicable Dick and Righteous Richard, which follows Dick Kuchera through the eighth and ninth steps (y’know, apologies and amends) of a 12-step program. His work is cut out for him: he was, by all accounts (including his own) a really terrible human being for most of his adult life. But here’s the trouble with steps eight and: some people don’t want to be reminded. Kuchera visits his first wife Nola to apologize for his many infractions. At the beginning of the film, she says, without a trace of irony or malice, “I wish I’d never met him.” When he starts listing all of the things he did to her, she pulls back: “I didn’t want to remember some of this.” And there you have the paradox of this kind of thing—to some extent, it’s not actually for the recipient of the apology and/or amends. It’s to unburden the offender, not the offended. “It’s better to remember the good times,” Nola insists. She may have a point.

At the end of the film—in what may or may not be a contrived attempt to create a “climax”—Dick gathers his entire portfolio of dysfunction (exes, kids, etc.) for a trip to Vegas and the Grand Canyon. It goes surprisingly well—and then there is an incident in the car on the way back, during which he is prickly and mean and irritating. It’s like a little reminder: lest we forget, he’s actually impossible. He’s trying, though. You’ve got to give him that much.

* * *

God Bless Ozzy Osbourne is propelled almost entirely by our fascination with his peculiar personality—with how funny he is, how ballsy he was, and (to no small degree) how tragic he is now. It tells his story in a pretty standard, VH1 Behind The Music style—in fact, there is some question as to why it even needed to be made, since that program covered most of the same territory with about the same depth.

More often than not, directors Mike Fleiss and Piscitelli trot out the old star-profile-documentary warhorses; if I have to watch one more celebrity drive around his hometown and visit his childhood home, I’m going up to the booth and setting the print on fire. We’ve been there; we’ve done this. The film was produced by Ozzy’s son Jack, and that kind of connection can result in either a) full access for a penetrating and thoughtful portrait, or b) a puff piece. The trouble with God Bless Ozzy Osbourne is that it thinks it’s the first when it’s clearly the second.

* * *

Chit-chat is not dialogue. Slice-of-life is no excuse for dullness. Style is not the enemy of naturalism. These and other hard lessons are taught in Roadie, a maddeningly inert indie drama from director Michael Cuesta. The raw ingredients are promising—good cast, interesting premise, so on—but the plodding script and Cuesta’s lead-footed direction prevent it from going much of anywhere, including the viewer’s memory. Six hours after it ended, I’m sprinting down the corridors of my memory to summon up much to even say about it. Most of the dialogue amounts to reminiscing and exposition; there’s no wit to it. It’s all just small talk, and after a while, we’ve tuned it out. It’s all directed in a TV-movie style, unimaginative coverage (two-shot, rotating close-ups, etc.) shot at a dragging pace. Roadie is aimless and dull, and then it’s over. You’ve been warned.

UPDATE 4/27: And as if on cue, here's an email from producer Mike Downey:

I read your review of 'Roadie' is a classic hatchet job. Michael Cuesta is a supremely talented director, the performances are spot on and the film is honest and real.

I wish you had ground you ax somewhere else - we made a great little film.

I'm sure you wish you could say the same - that is usually the impetus for reviews like yours.

In its simplicity Roadie is a Rorschach test that tells you quite a bit about the viewer, even more about the critics.

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