Cinemaniac’s Tribeca Film Fest Picks: Part II

Dennis Dermody

Crackpot visionary Guy Maddin (The Saddest Music in the World) is leaving his beloved hometown of Winnipeg and decides to look back on his past and the town’s quirky, snowy, sleepwalking ways. He even hires actors to recreate family scenarios. The fabulous Ann Savage (Detour) plays his fearsome mother in these loony recreations. Some of his recollections are priceless -- a fire that caused horses to stampede and freeze to death in the river so that people came to pose next to the horse heads grotesquely jutting out of the ice. It’s poetically poignant as is bizarrely funny. This “remembrances of frigid past” is divinely deranged.

David Mamet’s supremely satisfying new film stars Chiwetel Ejifor as Mike Terry who teaches jiu-jitsu self-defense in a modest studio in West L.A. His business is bleeding money but he refuses to return to the ring to fight professionally because of his philosophy about fighting which he imparts to his loyal students. When he rescues a movie star (Tim Allen) during a bar fight, the actor takes a shine to Terry and he believes his life is about to change for the better. But this is Hollywood and deception and cons and sleazy fight promoters (Ricky Jay) force Terry to return to the ring to regain his honor. What’s fascinating about Mamet’s film is that it works as a martial arts action movie as well as an old John Garfield boxing movie where a character’s character is the plot of the movie. Fortunately an actor as dynamic and brilliant and Ejifor gives the movie a moral center that the audience identifies and passionately roots for.

Tom Kalin’s (Swoon) taste for transgresive tales continues with this perverse true crime saga of Barbara Baekland (Julianne Moore), the wealthy, beautiful, troubled wife of Brooks Baekland (Stephen Dillane), the heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune. When Brooks left his wife for another woman, mother and son traveled around Europe and entered into an incestuous relationship which ended in murder. Julianne Moore gives a brave, fierce performance to the defiantly disturbed Barbara -- there are scenes where she flares up at a dinner party and at the airport that are frighteningly revealing and exquisitely acted. A sequence where she wakes up in bed with her gay walker (Hugh Dancy) and son and starts merrily laughing is funny and deranged at the same time. Stephen Dillane gives a cold aristocratic fervor to Brooks and Eddie Redmayne is quite wonderful as the poor doomed Tony. He has the right prissy, privileged, attitude with that slight hint of decadence that makes the movie so sublimely twisted it should be retitled: Mommie Fearest.

There’s perverse genius in the documentary films by Errol Morris. No matter how dark and disturbing the subject matter -- Robert S. Macnamara in The Fog Of War or a portrait of an executioner in Mr. Death: The Rise And Fall Of Fred A Leuchter, Jr. and here about those notorious photographs at Abu Ghraib prison -- there’s an artfulness and beauty about the way he shoots his films. Not to mention the glorious score by Danny Elfman which haunts the corners of the frame. Here Morris examines in utterly compelling fashion the actual timeline of these pictures, with candid interviews with the soldiers involved and other assorted military officers. But it also gets at the essence of photography itself, and what we see as opposed to what’s behind the frame. There are things that horrified and newly shocked me -- from the video that was shot during the prisoner’s humiliation, and the cover-up of a detainee’s death, whose body was put on ice before conveniently made to disappear. It’s a truly important film, not so much for what it says politically but for what it dredges up emotionally.

The title represents the bleak world view of sad sack Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) in the stifling Rudy-Giuliani-reigning New York summer of 1994. Luke sells marijuana out of an Italian Ice cart, makes mix tapes of Biggie Smalls and A Tribe Called Quest, trades pot for sessions with wacko therapist Dr. Squires (Sir Ben Kingsley), while dreaming about losing his virginity to Squires’ mad/crazy stepdaughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby). This Sundance favorite by Jonathan Levine might have the right zeitgeist to make it an indie cult hit. With the rap soundtrack, the big, sweet, palooka charm of Josh Peck and the stoner sensibility -- it might just ring true to a great percentage of filmgoers. I just wasn’t buying it. There’s something phony and preciously contrived about it which kept turning me off.

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