By Joe Bendel. If Ed Wood finally had an epiphany telling him to step up his technical game, imagine what he would have produced. That is sort of-kind-of the challenge two amateur filmmakers looking to go pro (or at least semi-pro) set for themselves. The production of their ambitious, new zero-budget science fiction short film is well documented in Myles Kane & Josh Koury’s Journey to Planet X, which screens during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.
Eric Swain and Troy Bernier are genuinely credentialed, buttoned-down scientists. Like many of their colleagues, they have always been attracted to science fiction. For years, Swain was essentially a hobbyist filmmaker, employing cheesy 1990’s technology. An invitation to appear in one of Swain’s films led to a fast friendship and a close creative collaborative relationship between the two. However, cognizant of the advances in digital technology, Bernier is no longer content with their current level of professionalism. He convinces Swain that it’s time to produce a film that can compete on the film festival circuit.
Swain and Bernier (or Bernier and Swain) proceed to make that film, to the best of their abilities. The plot of Planet X (a.k.a. Planet X: The Frozen Moon, a.k.a. Planeta Desconocido, a.k.a. who knows what) remains rather baffling even after watching the co-directors shoot nearly every scene. However, they do seem to improve on a technical level, upgrading to HD and switching from an old blue screen to the more digital friendly green. They have a legitimate casting call and hire a small but professional crew. Whether they pull it off or not, they are really going for it, which is cool to witness.
Simply the notion of producing a feature length documentary about the behind the scene making of an upstart short film will sound odd to many people. Frankly, it also rather sporting of Tribeca to select Journey, considering both co-directors are co-founders of the Brooklyn Underground Film Festival and Bernier’s efforts courting South Florida’s Geek Film Festival factor prominently in the third act. Good for them, but they are missing out by not scheduling a special screening of Planet X (or whatever it’s called now) as well, because anyone who sees Journey will immediately want to watch Swain and Bernier’s film, on the big screen, in all its raging glory.
Kane and Koury (or Koury and Kane) capture a lot of drama in Journey, but it is the right kind of drama. The audience sees a lot of lunacy going down, but it never feels intrusive or voyeuristic. Ultimately, it is a film about two only slightly mad filmmakers’ friendship and their shared passion for sci-fi and movie-making. An endearing documentary, Journey is enthusiastically recommended for genre fans and those fascinated by the filmmaking process when it screens again this Saturday (4/28) as part of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.
LFM GRADE: A
Posted on April 24th, 2012 at 12:47pm.
By Joe Bendel. If you haven’t heard, there are a fair number of Catholics in Belfast who are serious about their faith. As a result, a couple of luckless lowlifes think it would be a good idea to hold-up the fish market on a Friday night. Naturally, the caper quickly descends into chaos in recent Academy Award winner Terry George’s thoroughly entertaining Whole Lotta Sole, which screens during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.
It was Joe Maguire’s profound misfortune to marry the manic daughter of a Boston mobster bearing a strong resemblance to Whitey Bulger. Fearing for his life, he is hiding out in Belfast, minding his uncle’s antique shop. Though still quite jumpy, he starts cautiously courting Sophie, a beautiful Ethiopian refugee managing the record store across the street. Sad sack Jimbo Reagan thinks Maguire might be a figure from his past, but he is more concerned with the 5,000 pounds he owes the local paramilitary-turned-gangster Mad Dog Flynn.
Out of desperation, Reagan holds up the fish market, Whole Lotta Sole, but this turns out to be a bad idea. If you remember the Fulton Fish Market’s pre-Giuliani reputation, you will get the idea. With both the cops and Flynn out to get him, Reagan takes Maguire and Sophie hostage. From there, plenty of complications and miscommunications ensue.
Like Goldilocks, George (who just walked away with the Oscar for his gently forgiving short film, The Shore) maintains a tone than it light but not inconsequential. He injects plenty of humor into the story, but resists saccharine sentiment and self-conscious quirkiness. His sensitive treatment of Maguire and Sophie’s budding relationship is particularly refreshing, keeping them fully clothed throughout, while generating real sparks between them.
As Maguire, Brendan Fraser looks a wee bit young for the part, but he exhibits a kind of world weary everyman presence (really not seen in his prior films) that works quite well, nonetheless. Indeed, he establishes some genuine chemistry with the luminous Yaya DaCosta, whose smart, down-to-earth turn as Sophie ought to bring her to a new level of international recognition. Capping the picture off, Colm Meaney is perfectly cast as cranky but honest and decent Det. Weller. Sure, he has played many roles like this before, because he has such a flair for them.
Whole Lotta Sole is just a pleasure to watch. For a pure, broad-based crowd-pleaser, it is probably the pick of this year’s Tribeca. Highly recommended, it screens again tomorrow (4/25) and Saturday (4/28).
LFM GRADE: A
Posted on April 24th, 2012 at 12:46pm.
By Joe Bendel. Prepare yourself for an act of slumming as performance art. If you were somewhat bemused by James Franco’s decision to play a recurring guest-starring role on the soap opera General Hospital, you will wonder why you wondered after watching Francophrenia (Or: Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is), the actor’s latest extended middle finger to his ever more beleaguered fans, co-directed with Ian Olds, which screens during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.
Evidently, a baby has been kidnapped from the famous fictional hospital, but Franco (and presumably Olds) considers that plot line too trite to bother explaining for Francophrenia’s audience. All we need to know is that James Franco magnanimously lent his prestige to the soap, as long as he played a killer also called Franco. Ostensibly, Francophrenia documents the production of an extra special episode filmed on location at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, but anyone expecting a candid behind-the-scenes look at the show will be sorely disappointed.
Instead, we watch long sequences of the clearly disinterested subject signing autographs and sitting in make-up, while voiceovers try to pose a dichotomy between Franco the actor and Franco the character, calling into question which is ascendant in any given scene. The problem is that neither ‘Franco’ is sufficiently established to create any dramatic or aesthetic tension between the two. All we know is that Franco the construct is a murderer, whereas Franco the NYU film school grad co-directed Francophrenia – which is absolute blue murder to watch. Essentially, this film is like the old Airplane! sunglasses gag. When you peel away one Franco smirk, you only find another smirk underneath.
Frankly, Francophrenia never deconstructs or subverts soap operas (or documentaries) in any meaningful way. We simply watch Franco float above it all on his cloud of hipster superiority. While allegedly an experimental film, Francophrenia suggests that the co-directors have only a cursory familiarity with the genre. The mere fact that Franco would deign to associate with such low brow daytime dramatic fare is thought to be sufficiently intriguing in and of itself. Indeed, the only real take-away from the film is the nauseating contempt Franco (the actor or the construct, it hardly matters which) so obviously has for fans of the show. However, he might just miss those rubes when they are gone.
Ultimately, Francophrenia is not a film, nor is it a concept. It is simply another manifestation of Franco’s continuing fascination with his own celebrity. Franco’s fans should be strongly dissuaded from seeing it, because it might be a rather bitter experience for them. They will find the joke (if it can be called that) is at their expense. Of course, there is no reason for the rest of us to endure it either, but for those looking to masochistically stoke their anti-Franco resentments, Francophrenia screens again tonight (4/24) and Saturday (4/28) as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.
LFM GRADE: F
Posted on April 24th, 2012 at 12:44pm.
Check it out above. The film stars Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock, Bruce Willis as the original ‘Joe,’ Adrianne Palicki as Lady Jaye, Channing Tatum as Duke, Ray Park as Snake Eyes and Jonathan Pryce as the President of the United States.
It’s going to be a busy summer …
Posted on April 24th, 2012 at 12:43pm.
By Joe Bendel. Francois Augiéras definitely painted for posterity. After vandals destroyed a set of his desert bunker murals, he painted another, deliberately burying all signs of it in the sand. The European expatriate painter would only trust future generations to respect his work. Both a fictional Malawian and Spain’s leading contemporary artist Miguel Barceló search for those lost murals in Isaki Lacuesta’s odd hybrid The Double Steps, which screens during the San Francisco Film Society’s 2012 San Francisco International Film Society.
Augiéras does not appear directly in Steps, but his spirit appears to inhabit Abdallah Chambaa, a former soldier, mustered out of service by his commanding officer uncle, with whom he was involved in an incestuous relationship. Chambaa soon becomes as bandit, as former soldiers often do, but he also has a compulsion to paint. Periodically, Steps also follows Barceló in real life Mali, producing new work inspired by Augiéras and searching for the legendary murals.
Frankly, Steps is probably more interesting to read and write about than to watch. In no way should it be thought of as Raiders of the Lost murals. Feverish in tone, it has a loose narrative, featuring frequent shifts in time that are sudden, yet ill-defined. Lacuesta also simultaneously shot a documentary about Barceló that probably offers more of the historical and artist context many viewers might be wondering about.
Lacuesta’s hazy style keeps his cast at an emotional arm’s length from the audience. At least Diego Dussuel’s breath-taking cinematography somewhat pulls them back in, capturing the rugged beauty of Mali’s landscape, especially the cliffs Barceló explores looking either for Augiéras’ murals or his own inspiration. Steps is a film anyone seriously dealing with art cinema will eventually have to take into account, making it a completely appropriate, even valuable, programming selection for the festival. However, those looking for an unpretentious film to get caught up in should probably look elsewhere.
In fact, there are some great films to choose from at this year’s SFIFF, including the inspiring and infuriating Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Hong Sang-soo’s characteristically clever The Day He Arrives, the intriguing interconnected German trilogy Dreileben, the outstanding documentary-lament for Cambodian cinema Golden Slumbers, Mohammad Rasoulof’s timely but intimate Goodbye, the surprisingly effective true story of French injustice Guilty, the breezy profile of the festival’s honored guest Pierre Rissient: Man of Cinema, the cerebral science fiction fable Target, Andrea Arnold’s challenging adaptation of Wuthering Heights, and Carol Reed’s always classic The Third Man. Undoubtedly an interesting work best appreciated self-selecting cineastes, The Double Steps also screens again tonight (4/24) as part of this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival.
LFM GRADE: C+
Posted on April 24th, 2012 at 12:42pm.