Saturday, April 30, 2011

#TribecaFest Report: Days 9-10

So remember all that big talk in my last Tribeca Report about going to see Scorsese and all that? Yeah, I got sick. Correction: I’d been sick, since I woke up Tuesday morning with a monster sore throat that refused to dissipate, but fuck that, it’s Tribeca week, I’ll fight through that shit. But when I got up Friday morning, it clearly needed to be a sick day. So I stayed home and streamed a couple of titles, and ventured back out today. All of the ones I’ve written about are good. There’s one more, which I didn’t write about—later for that.

John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard recalls In Bruges, not just in its Irish settings and the big, open face of star Brendan Gleeson, but in the snappy dialogue, quick and dirty, which moves at such speed that the filmmaker takes it on good faith that audiences will keep up. The resemblance is not just superficial, it is fraternal—In Bruges writer/director Martin McDonagh is this filmmaker’s brother. They put something in the water in that house.

The Guard may be dismissed, as In Bruges was in some quarters, as yet another riff on the Tarantino talk-talk-bang-bang school of screenwriting, but McDonagh has a unique voice in his dialogue, which is a clever mix of insults, callbacks, put-ons, understatements, and cheerfully inventive profanity. It’s a smart, funny, dark little treat of a movie, and Brendon Gleeson—overflowing with vices, yet somehow also brave and honorable—is a wickedly enjoyable leading man.

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Well, Abigail Breslin has arrived. She’s worked steadily since her breakthrough five years ago, in the title role of Little Miss Sunshine, and has done plenty of good work in that time, but Janie Jones feels like it was custom-made as a vehicle for what she can do. She sings (well), she cries (convincingly), she acts (naturally). This is not a cute-kid role, as many of her previous ones were; Janie Jones is only 13 years old, but she’s dealing with some heavy shit. Breslin has moments in this film that she plays with more depth and sensitivity than actors twice her age; there’s not a hint of contrivance to her performance, and that goes a long way towards making this very conventional story into something fresh and engaging.

And then there is Alessandro Nivola, an actor whom I think we were all told would be the next big thing but never quite became that—primarily, it would seem, due to a) his insistence on doing interesting films, and b) his tendency to underplay, and do it so deftly that he almost disappears into the pictures he appears in. He’s never been better than he is here; watching him, we get how infuriating this guy must be to everyone around him, since he can be absolutely unbearable one moment and imminently engaging the next. There’s a nicely unpredictable quality to his acting, which (again) helps counterbalance the basic familiarity of the material. This isn’t the most innovative or unpredictable storytelling. But the warmth that develops between these two fine actors is just lovely; witness the wonderful scene that finds the two of them, perched on Laundromat washers, each with a guitar, as he walks her through the chord changes in one of his songs. Anyone who can watch that scene and complain about the obviousness of the narrative arc has clearly got a heart of stone, and I’m not that guy. You may have seen Janie Jones before, but the picture has such a shambling charm, and the performers are so endless likable, that you just kind of roll with it.

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There are people—writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers—who change their art forever, and whose imprint on that art is felt within the world around them, which is indelibly changed. And then there are those who circle in their orbit—the friends, lovers, spouses, protégés—who end up spending their lives functioning as a kind of footnote. They are defined, to many, less by who they are than by who they knew. Carolyn Cassady is one of those people, and in her very first pre-title interview in the documentary Love Always, Carolyn, she is up front about it. She was married to Neal Cassady and lover to Jack Kerouac, and “that’s all the interest is in me,” she says, matter-of-factly. “No one has ever cared about anything else.” The film, directed by Maria Ramström and Malin Korkeasalo, attempts the tricky feat of caring both about who she knew and who she is, and mostly succeeds.

It is a far from comprehensive film; it’s rather slight (running a meager 70 minutes) and flits about a bit, touching on some intriguing subjects (particularly the questions of estate, legacy, and monetizing) without really getting anywhere with them. But as an artifact, Love Always, Carolyn has its pluses (the old home movies are priceless), and as a character study, it is endlessly fascinating.

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While out sick, I also watched She-Monkeys, which won the Jury Prize on Thursday for World Narrative Feature—the closest thing, really, to a Best Picture prize at Tribeca. That prize was the main reason I watched it, and the main reason I decided not write about it. It’s kind of like when I left the media screening of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives scratching my head; this is clearly an acclaimed film, and not a bad one, but I clearly don’t know enough about the culture—real culture or film culture—of the country of origin to have the foggiest idea what the fuck is going on in it, and to attempt to write a full review of it will only make me look like an even bigger numb-skull. So yeah, She-Monkeys. Many people liked it!

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Tomorrow is the final day (sob) of Tribeca; I will do my best to make it out to a couple of the award winners before my “Franklin Media Pass” expires at 3pm and I turn back into a pumpkin who has to pay to see movies again.

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