Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tribeca Film Festival - 1st weekend

I haven't been keeping up with writing every day, so I'm going to sum up my first half of the festival in one post. Last weekend I saw the following films:

My Last Five Girlfriends was a British movie about one guy's perspective on his recent love affairs. It's a very stylized film, with some fantastical storytelling elements. Most of them work pretty well, but there's a carnival metaphor that gets stretched a little thin by the end. His take on the relationships feels very authentic, such that I left feeling it was kind of in the vein of High Fidelity, without being so winkingly clever. 

I saw two NYC documentaries which had some interesting overlaps. Burning Down the House: The Story of CBGB gave a historical perspective on the infamous music venue, but also covered the recent attempts to save the place from being shut down. Blank City was about the independent film scene of New York in the late '70s and early '80s. Because the filmmakers in those movements (primarily No Wave and Cinema of Transgression) tended to also be artists and musicians, and also tended to have no money, they converged at downtown hangouts like CBGB. Jim Jarmusch, Debbie Harry, Fab 5 Freddy & Thurston Moore appeared prominently in both movies. Even some of the same footage was used - in Burning Down the House it was used to show one of the bands who would frequently play at CBGB, and it was used in Blank City because it was filmed by one of the filmmakers being discussed. It was really interesting to see these two aspects of NYC history, side-by-side. 

I saw a pair of narrative movies - Stay Cool and Serious Moonlight - that are difficult for me to assess objectively because both of these stories had odd overlaps with some things going on in my life, or in the life of someone close to me. I've probably already said too much, but let's just say I was very distracted by thoughts like, "Oh, that's not how it would happen." Ha! 

In Stay Cool, a guy goes back to his home town after 20 years to give a commencement speech, and his interactions with friends, family and the principal and a teacher from his high school take place as if he was still a high school kid, despite the fact that he's 37. This is not a magical realism thing, like the Zac Efron movie. It's more like an acknowledgment of the way we fall back into old patterns of behavior when we get in those situations. I like that. But the way the film references the '80s, it feels like an attempt to preserve the decade in some kind of pristine pop culture museum exhibit. (Even the casting, which includes a bunch of '80s icons, like Dee Wallace, Michael Gross, Chevy Chase, Winona Ryder and Jon Cryer.) 

I saw Serious Moonlight mainly because it was written by Adrienne Shelly. This dark comedy was entertaining, but a lot more disturbing than I think it was meant to be. In part, this is because I found it impossible not to draw some eerie parallels between the story and Shelly's tragic demise. I was also disappointed in the choice of Meg Ryan as the lead. I don't normally enjoy her performances because she tends to play such simpering, cloying characters. At the beginning of the film I was optimistic because she seemed to be playing a very different kind of role. But just a few minutes into the plot she completely reverted to type.

The last film I saw on the first weekend was TiMER - a sort of science fiction romantic comedy. I loved the characters and the performances, and what the story was trying to do. It felt like a very well put together movie. There were some issues with the script, and as people asked about them during the Q&A, director Jac Schaeffer would laugh and say, "I had nightmares that someone would ask me that. Thank you." But the movie was so good spirited, and she was so good spirited about it, I would still recommend it, despite these minor flaws in the story.

Many more movies to come this weekend...