Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: The Wannabe, The Driftless Area and Meadowland

Set in Little Italy, executive-produced by Martin Scorsese, and "inspired by" a true story, The Wannabe is a solid but unexceptional addition to the growing canon of gangster movies whose mobsters are not glamorous, soulful antiheroes, but canny and unprincipled brutes. Not much is known about why the real Thomas and Rosemarie Uva chose to do something as risky and, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid as robbing mafia social clubs in Queens (the Daily News called them Bonnie and Clod). In last year's Rob the Mob, Thomas is portrayed as being angry at the mob for having beaten his father when he was late with his payments on a business loan, but The Wannabe's writer-director, Nick Sandow, shows him as motivated by a childlike obsession with the mafia in general, and John Gotti in particular. Desperate to be accepted into one of the families, this version of the man somehow convinces himself that robbing gangsters as they play cards is a good way to prove that he belongs. But then, thinking isn't exactly his strong suit.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: The Cut and Applesauce

The campaign of conscripted labor, systematic rape and murder, death marches, and displacement waged by Turkey against its Armenian citizens at the start of WWI, which resulted in perhaps as many as 1.5 million deaths, is marking its 100th anniversary this week. Yet it remains an extremely tender topic for Armenians, not least because the Turkish government has refused to acknowledge the extent of the calamity, sometimes even prosecuting and jailing Turkish citizens for citing the killings or calling them genocide. As a result, The Cut lived up to its title for me, creating two sets of strong, sometimes dueling reactions. The Armenian in me felt grateful to director Fatih Akın, an ethnic Turk who grew up in Germany, and his co-writer, Mardik Martin (Raging Bull), an Armenian-American, for taking on this charged topic and giving these gruesome facts a rare cinematic airing. But the film lover in me sometimes wished that The Cut, which often has the self-consciously art-directed, undead feel of a Natural History Museum diorama, were less encyclopedic and more irreverent, with more of the messy misbehavior and convincingly complicated characters that give Akin's best films, Head On and Edge of Heaven, a jittery sense of life.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: The Overnight and Man Up

Executive produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, Patrick Brice's The Overnight has a lot in common with the brothers' HBO dramedy Togetherness. Both explore the existential angst of being no longer young but not quite middle-aged yet, as experienced by a small cohort of middle- and upper-middle-class white Angelenos. And both create a sometimes cringe-inducing facsimile of the unpredictability of real life by mixing comic awkwardness with genuine tenderness and vulnerability, often in the same moment.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Monkey Kingdom

There's no proselytizing in Monkey Kingdom, the latest in Disneynature's conservation-minded documentaries. Unlike the teachers' guide Disney devised to go with it, the film never mentions that the toque macaques it depicts, who live in a picturesque sacred ruin in a Sri Lankan jungle, are part of an endangered species. Instead, the doc aims to cultivate empathy and admiration for these intelligent and highly social beings by filming them at home in their world—and by focusing on Maya, a sweet-faced underdog, and her baby, Kip, whose huge earlobes, gigantic eyes, and squeaky cry make him the epitome of helpless innocence, Gremlins's Gizmo minus some of the fur.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

100 Words On... To Sleep With Anger

Like Charles Burnett’s masterwork, Killer of Sheep, this tale of a tight-knit but embattled African-American family in the late 80s is a finely detailed work of poetic realism, but this film is shot through with a strain of surrealism as well. The hard-won bourgeois stability of Gideon’s (Paul Butler) and Suzie’s (Mary Alice) tidy home is threatened when their old friend Harry (a mesmerizing Danny Glover) comes to stay. A devil who can see into your soul and homes in on the dark parts, Harry is a semi-mythical figure who turns out to be the poison that acts as a purge, bringing together the family he almost blows up. The pace sometimes drags, but there are layers of African-American history and heartbreak in this near classic of generational conflict and the West African sense of community that proved strong enough to survive even slavery.

Written for The L Magazine