Friday, April 24, 2009

Black Sheep @ TRIBECA

So, this is what it's really like. I've been to film festivals before, sometimes with press access and sometimes without. TRIBECA is however, the first major film festival I have been to outside of Montreal, the island I call home, with full press access. It is a little overwhelming, somewhat frantic to manage and absolutely satisfying despite all of this. As I write this first of a number of posts direct from the festival, I am sitting in the filmmaker's lounge, just across from Union Square in New York City. It is a large open space, lowly lit, with a number of eclectic couches for sitting, a bar with free lunch and coffee and, as I am actually able to post, free wireless access. I just came from the press center, just a few blocks south of here. I sat in on my very first roundtable discussion with Mark and Michael Polish to discuss their latest film, STAY COOL. While I was packing up my gear, Geena Davis sauntered into the room for the next roundtable for her latest work, ACCIDENTS HAPPEN. That lady is tall and striking, let me tell you.

There are actually movies to see at the Tribeca Film Festival too, believe it or not. I have now seen three and have two more to watch before the day is out. The first film I saw yesterday was AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK, from director, Richard Laxton. In 1975, John Hurt shot to new heights of fame, when he played Britsh eccentric, Quentin Crisp, in THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT. More than 30 years later, he returns to the role in what is both a heartbreaking and thrilling turn. The film itself is sadly held back by flat cinematography and mediocre dialogue but Hurt is so transfixing as Crisp that you cannot help but be taken in regardless. Everything that comes out of Hurt's mouth is gold and I couldn't help but be struck by his experience as an aging queen who moves to New York City in the 1980's as he approaches his own 80's. Here you have a man displaced in New York City, writing film reviews and realizing how these crowded streets allow the chance for everyone to shine. It was the perfect film to usher in the festival for me. Well, Woody Allen's world premiere of WHATEVER WORKS, which opened the festival the night before, would have been the perfect film but I couldn't sell a kidney for a ticket to that one.

Coming straight from Sundance, IN THE LOOP, a fiercely sharp and biting political satire about the onset of the Iraq war, was the next film I caught. Hilarious. I was roaring in the middle of the press screening and I was not alone. The language is as telling as it is shockingly foul. The film just recently opened in the UK to wide praise, which means good things for first time feature filmmaker, Arnando Iannucci. Having also had a hand in writing this fantastically dry and witty screenplay, Iannucci will most certainly establish himself as a director to be watched in the next few years. The ensemble cast spans the bridge between the UK and the USA, with parts as diverse as politicians, army generals, political aids, public relations people and foreign ministers. While one might expect their worlds to be quite formal and underhandedly evil, instead Iannucci gives them to us as a bunch of power hungry pawns who spend the majority of their time simply running into walls and each other and who are still somewhat evil. For American audiences, James Gandolfini may be the only easily recognizable face but his turn as an aging general with half hidden political aspirations is simply hysterical; he could not look like he is having any more fun. Again, hi-la-ri-ous.

The Polish Brothers have now been there for many a first for me. My first review for both The National Post and The Movie Network was the brothers' last film, THE ASTRONAUT FARMER. And now, my first ever roundtable interview was again with these wonderful twin brothers for their latest film, STAY COOL. The film itself was written by and stars Mark Polish and was directed by Michael Polish. To sit at a table with them (and supporting actor, Sean Astin, casting director, Kelly Wagner and executive producer, Nick Byassee), I would describe Mark as the scruffier brother, stylish but casual and Michael as the well-maintained brother. I would also describe them both as genuine artists, interested in making movies without having to deal with all the trouble associated with doing that through the Hollywood system. For that reason primarily, comparisons to the Coen Brothers are entirely unfounded. Not that they wouldn't mind making a big movie (I believe the idea of redoing THE GODFATHER III came up); they just enjoy the liberty that comes with independence. STAY COOL is an 80's throwback and homage to the period. It almost feels like it is trying hard to be cool at first and figures out along the way that it was cool all along.

Tomorrow, more films, more interviews, more e-mails, more walking, more writing and less sleeping. I will check back in with you as soon as I get a chance.

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