Wednesday, January 19, 2011

film review: THE DOUBLE HOUR

MEMENTO meets BODY HEAT mind bending seduction.

Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport), a young Slovenian woman who works as a chambermaid, goes to a speed dating club and meets Guido (Filippo Timi), a soulful-eyed, former cop who waits for her after their apparent disappointing evening without making a love connection. Their chemistry, however, is instantaneous and their connection immediately jump starts with a "double hour" timeframe (hours, minutes momentarily, numerically frozen for whoever notices) signifying an extraordinary moment like a shooting star upon which a wish is made. All lovely and romantic for two lonely people and it just might turn into something more before the night is over. That's where these niceties end because from then on, Director Giuseppe Capotondi lets go of the wheel and takes the audience for a wild ride into mind-playing tricks full of convoluted passages and secret chambers where "nothing and nobody is what it seems."

When Sonia goes away with Guido into the country, he takes her to a secluded mansion where he works as a security guard for a wealthy art collector. It turns out that Guido is a widower, still not over his wife's death, but just as Sonia gets closer and breaks down his barrier, the estate is overrun by burglars ransacking the place. Guido gets shot and killed while the bullet that goes through him gets planted into Sonia's forehead.

After that traumatic scenario, Sonia's memory and present frame of mind blur as she feels Guido's presence everywhere she turns. Her imagined sightings and whispers take over, creating confusion especially when Guido's friend who is a detective keeps asking her questions about the tragic event as well as her past in her home county, Slovenia.

Adding to this male-female connection is the blending of different cultures and their clashing values. As younger generations escape from former repressive societies, they emigrate into the bottom rung of low paying jobs and often find themselves jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. They fall into schemes for quick money without remorse until their consciences surface to overturn their unethical practices that are camouflage as tactics for survival. In the end, decisions are made for survival of the fittest, the craftiest and those whose ethics remain intact.

Clever twists and interconnecting turns with thriller-punctuated music have the viewer in its grips, waiting for the inevitable convergence and have all loose ends neatly tied. That doesn't happen in this tightly woven tale of suspense that still has you guessing until the very end as to whether the mind is as brilliant as scientists say it is or just a trap that collects bits and pieces of collective memories, rearranging their meaning for a convenient end-all.

The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2009 where Rappoport won the Volpi Cup award for Best Actress and screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. It opens at select theaters April 15.

Friday, April 30, 2010


My first Tribeca Film Festival was in 2006, the fifth year and normally I allot a film festival this amount of time to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. There were already over a thousand submissions and emphasis was placed on Hollywood style premieres, celebs and red carpets. I hated being corralled in with the jostling elbows along that heinous red carpet because that's not what I was about as a writer and podcast producer. The "press" was lumped into one writhing pit of despair and the "Franklin Pass" was getting me nowhere.

Tribeca Film Festival quickly outgrew the Tribeca Cinemas and got very big, very fast at that time with growing pains along the way. After unintentionally alienating the independent media, changes were made to accommodate those solely interested in the indie films and filmmakers who worked their tails off getting films completed and submitted. Since then, the festival found a happy medium by creating two theaters, (Cinema Village East and Chelsea Clearview Cinemas) along with the School of Visual Arts theater, devoted to film reviewers as well as the general public. This effectively has turned one aspect of Tribeca Film Festival into a desired "people's film festival".

People come to the morning screenings, mingling locals and out-of-towners waiting on rush lines. Conversations about films already seen and ones read about can be heard throughout the crowd swelling out into the street after a screening and towards the next theater, walking distance away. This is the real deal and film festival feel especially for indie diehards. It's not unusual to see the likes of Michael Moore looking for a seat at an afternoon screening of PLEASE, GIVE or Kiefer Sutherland in a row of rocking drummers and air guitarists in the RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE screening (also the only time in a theater where I witnessed a line outside the men's restroom). This is the pulse for a film festival, so it surprised me when the Tribeca Virtual festival was started apparently for those who can't make the screenings, but in effect it's a trendy gimmick growing more couch potatoes. Getting out for the anticipation-heightened crowd buzzing about their film experiences is the best.

In 2006, Tristan Bauer's ILUMINADOS POR EL FUEGO (BLESSED BY FIRE), a riveting account of a veteran from Argentina's disastrous Falklands War won the Best Narrative Award and WAR TAPES, digitized images taken by U.S. National Guards in Iraq directed by Deborah Scranton, won Best Documentary. The Audience Award went to CATS OF MIRIKITANI directed by Linda Hattendorf. Stories like these continue to come out and programmed into the festival lineup. While production value is visibly important like a calculated bodysculpt, good stories and storytelling remain the heart and soul no matter what the budget allows. This 2010 Tribeca Film Festival attests to what it takes as several good indie films and filmmakers shine through at the award announcements.

The first film I saw that took my breath away, WHEN WE LEAVE, written and directed by Feo Aladag, won the Best Feature in the World Competition category (film review on Eye On Indies at and Sibel Kekilli won Best Actress for her performance as an abused wife confronted by strict social and cultural rules. Another great film I saw, BUDRUS, directed by Julia Bacha, a story of a nonviolent demonstration movement worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize won a Special Jury Mention. After briefly meeting Clio Barnard at the "Meet and Greet" for documentary filmmakers, I made a point to see THE ARBOR and was impressed by the interpretation in storytelling. While not the first of its kind, it's innovative and effective and Barnard won Best New Documentary Filmmaker.

Short films are always an audience favorite because it is can be so eclectic and quick to the point. There were quite a number with weak stories and mediocre storytelling efforts; however, production values remained high so I suppose that's what got them in. The ones I liked excelled in these categories and my favorite grouping was "Wishful Thinking" which included A BORDER STORY (Tobias Louie), DELILAH BEFORE (Melanie Schiele), THE POOL (Thomas Hefferon), EDGAR (Fabian Busch), EPIC FAIL (Ragnar Agnarsson), CRIED SUICIDE (Lauren Palmigiano), THE WAKE (Gemma Lee), THE DINNER PARTY (Peter Glanz). My favorite short film, THE CRUSH, written and directed by Michael Creagh, follows a six year old with a ten year plan to marry his teacher Miss Purdy as he confronts her undeserving fiance. A Special Jury Mention for this filmmaker's debut short film. Well done.

Finally, I still have to see AMERICAN MYSTICS this evening and will cap it off with a second viewing of RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE for a midnight screening. I'm sure the entire theater will be rocking by the end of an extraordinary 106 minutes and I'll put my money on this film to win the Audience Award. I can't help but love the film festival experience LIVE in New York. It's the only way to fly.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tribeca Shorts: THE NEW TENANTS

Trying to escape from a busybody/new neighbor is a nightmare in itself without the rest of past interconnected characters showing up at the door of THE NEW TENANTS, a fast-paced, chain-reactive, chain-smoking, day-in-the-life of two men and their first day in an apartment that has an unnerving "dead man" history. Joachim Back received the 2009 Oscar for Best Short Film, Live Action which has Vincent D'Onofrio and Kevin Corrigan balancing the other talented and superbly cast actors, Jamie Harrold, David Rakoff, Liane Balaban many of whom were at the Tribeca screening including "the Grandma".

Quick wit and perfect timing every time the doorbell rang, makes this film a high-end, stand out from the otherwise low-end, disappointing shorts segment Hardcore previously known as New York, New York. Most of the the films in this grouping were mediocre, student films with some technical merit but not holding up to the top notch anchor film with weak story lines, little character development, trite dialogue and cliched acting. It was surprising to see this lopsided programming in a prime Saturday afternoon time slot where the full-house, crowd emptied quickly opting to miss out on the filmmaker Q&A. Hopefully, the other shorts groupings are better suited in their respective segments.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tribeca film review: WHEN WE LEAVE

WHEN WE LEAVE is a social drama. A young woman brought up in a traditional, conservative Turkish family in Berlin is married to a husband who beats her and bullies their son. She is a repressed soul, a walking dead living far away in Istanbul. Her in-laws cannot protect her or her son from their family member who swings between rages and warm paternal gestures. How long before it is time to go?

Making their escape, Umay (Sibel Kekilli), hopes to find comfort and support from her family back in Berlin only to find opposition and a surprising reaction as she is confronted by the strict, cultural rules of the community that directly affects her parents and siblings. Her brother threatens to take her son back to his father and Umay attempts to leave the family home that becomes a locked fortress. She calls the police who escort her out, thus causing humiliation for the family.

Smart and resourceful, Umay finds a job and goes back to school. She even learns to flirt with a coworker. Yet she yearns for her family, once very close and supportive especially for her young son who eventually becomes the brunt of shunning and an ensuing custody battle outside of the legal system. Her moments of simple every day life and pleasures are small victories that turn into brick walls between her past and the present she continually attempts to overcome. Where it all can end is anybody's guess.

WHEN WE LEAVE won the Europa Cinemas label as Best European film in the Berinale's Panorama section. Written, directed and produced by Austrian actor Feo Aladag, who has a Master's Degree in Journalism and a PhD in Philosophy, this film becomes an incredible labyrinth of human emotions, beliefs, contradictions, love and loyalty. The decision when to leave comes from an internal switch that flicks off as the last semblance of defeat emerges into an indomitable spirit with a will to survive. If it makes it out in time.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

film festival 2010: TRIBECA

The Tribeca Film Festival press conference is going on now, Tuesday, April 20 with the Festival starting Wednesday, April 21 through Sunday, May 2. New York remains the indie film capital with an equally independent-minded audience despite economic downturns, cuts, merged, and shuttered distribution outlets and funding evaporations. As an accredited media person at Tribeca since 2006, I've seen its transformation from a local, neighborhood-friendly, downtown-centric film festival into a megabeast that needed taming from its out-of-control expansion catering to mainstream media turning into an internationally recognized tour de force welcoming voices from independent media outlets.

Much of the credit can be attributed to Tammie Rosen, vice president for communications at the festival who listened to those of us not interested in red carpet arrivals and celebrity sightings, instead keeping an eye out for that indie gem that shines its way through the hoopla. A seasoned veteran handling film festival media, she understands the difference between media groups and is instrumental in the accommodations made accordingly. The Franklin Pass permits entrance at two designated theaters to film screenings during daytime hours making an integral part of film screenings- audience reaction and filmmaker Q&A - an accessible and critical element for film reviews. Currently, the communications group must still be scrambling, rerouting filmmakers who may be stranded without air transportation because of the volcano erupting last week in Iceland. Technology will most likely step in with virtual connection and while it provides a connection, it still needs attention to detail from production management for each event.

Another streamlined direction is having one guide book that holds all Tribeca Film Festival information. Unfortunately, the graphic designer apparently lacks experience and broke the number one rule in print production - readability. The text, in 6 point type, light gray ink on white stock, is impossible to read, fading into a grayed-out block. Too bad. It could have been a solid handbook. However, I'm happy to gather available and legibly-printed handouts of film groupings - Narrative Documentaries, Road Trip, Horror & Suspense, Romance, Social Issues, Human Rights, Politics, War, Families, Youth, Hispanic & Latino, Irish, Middle Eastern, Health, Environment, (East) Asian, Comedy, Literary, Biography (Narratives and Documentaries), Animated, Art, Women (Films Centered Around) -must still be a special interest group, I guess- Returning Directors and Female Directors.

This brings me to the festival fact sheet for the 2010 director information with 96 as the the total number of feature-length directors in the festival- 19 feature-length female directors; 77 feature-length male directors; 8 first-time female directors, 32 first-time male directors; 9 returning female directors, 11 returning male directors. No matter how you look at it, it's been forever lopsided since the directing days of the first woman director, Alice Guy Blache.

Finally, total submissions for Tribeca Film Festival in 2010 was 5,050. Along with the Tribeca/ESPN Film Festival (7 documentaries), submissions included 1,260 feature narratives, 1,073 feature documentaries, 2,295 narrative shorts, 422 documentary shorts. There will be 44 world premieres, 7 international, 15 North American premieres, 6 U.S. premieres, 12 New York premieres and 1 revival. In twelve days, 496 films will be screened in locations throughout Manhattan. Looking forward to it.

Friday, April 9, 2010


A retired court investigator in Argentina who cannot forget a case gone cold twenty-five years earlier, reopens more unresolved issues than he intended while writing a novel without an ending.

The story alternates between past and present beginning in 1974 Buenos Aires, during a dark political time. Court criminal investigator, Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) is intent on solving the rape and murder of a beautiful young woman, but his search for the truth puts him at odds with the judge and a high-ranking member of the secret police as well as the object of his unrequited passion, Irene (Soledad Villamil), a woman beyond his reach, an upper class, well-educated secretary to the court on an established path for a brilliant career.

Benjamin is moved by the pain and suffering of Morales, the grief-stricken husband. His tenacity, along with sidekick, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), alternating between deducing brilliant observation and drunken imbecility, find the murder suspect, Gomez, through the one thing a man cannot change about himself no matter what or for how long and that's his passion.

During questioning, Irene at first objects to, then helps gain Gomez's confession. However, Benjamin's past transgressions wrought vengeful retribution from the repressive secret police eventually allowing the confessed murderer to go free working on their behalf. With their lives in danger, Irene and Benjamin continue to walk the tightrope of a hot, budding romance. Supported by a powerful family, Irene sends Benjamin away to safety to the Andes where her extended family reigns as feudal lords. The farewell train station scene ends their story.

Until the present where Benjamin finds Irene successful as a judge but miserable in mediocrity. The romantic tension is renewed as the pair resume in their game of obsession through the unfinished novel, the unresolved ending of murderer and court case and romantic memories for each other. It is a love story, first and foremost, with the summation that "Memories are all that we have left. Pick the nice ones".

Director Juan Jose Campanella co wrote the screenplay and his deftness keeps the intertwining story focused and emotionally stirring just as the music score (notably violin) by Frederico Jusid. Cinematography is exceptional comparing and contrasting the characters and their emotions against the enormously staid court gallery within an openly corrupt political system against the expansive passion of Argentina's massive crowds in the soccer stadium.

THE SECRET IN THEIR EYE won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, winner of the Goya Awards for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film and Best New Actress. It keeps moving until the final memory becomes resolved at 129 minutes. A Sony Picture Classics release, it opens Friday, April 16 in New York and Los Angeles. In Spanish with English subtitles.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


The set up is a murder mystery where Henrik Vanger, patriarch of the wealthy and powerful Vanger clan, continues a forty year search of his favorite niece, harriet, who disappeared during a holiday gathering on the family island. Foul Play is suspected- the killer could be one of the tightly knit but mutually despised family members. a tenacious reporter is given the opportunity to try to solve the mystery and as Henrik puts it, he suspects no one and suspects them all. This is a top notch thriller, tense with dark secrets threading through the story line connecting the loose ends including Lisbeth, the girl with the dragon tattoo.

Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), is the disgraced expose journalist for the leftist MILLENNIUM magazine and found guilty of libeling a corporate executive. Before having to serve his sentence, he is hired by Vanger to discover the truth and sets up his research center in a cottage on the estate where he sometimes spent summers as a young boy, cared for by Harriet, then a teenage girl. When techno geek, hacker yet emotionally-troubled, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), employed by a security company and assigned to find the dirt on Mikael, she comes up instead with the discovery that he was set up. While hacking straight into his computer and the Vanger investigation, her interest is piqued and she comes up with a possible answer to a clue no one has been able to crack. Blomkvist is furious at first, then enlists her help. Together, they link Harriet's disappearance with a number of murders connected to the secretive clan with everyone telling them to leave the island and the mystery to its own end.

But the pair become obsessed, first with the case and the picture the clues seem to be putting together, then to each other, first physically followed by elusive, deep down secrets. As Lisbeth puts it, "Everyone has secrets". She starts off as a victim, tough and terse yet vulnerable as a young woman whose delinquent past forces her to concede to the demands of an unscrupulous guardian. However, she fights back, avenging herself and ultimately becoming an unlikely hero, a saviour and avenger for the other victims who had no champion to stand up to them. The acting is exceptional, action tight and smart with archival photos and footage creating mnemonic clues for the story's convergence.

Taking on the Millennium Trilogy, (Stieg Larsson novels that have become a global sensation), is a challenge in itself with the film title presenting a conundrum as to why this character is in the title. It is a murder mystery after all. There is violence (brutally enforced) throughout, but not the gratuitous sensationalism some contemporary directors decide to celebrate. instead, the story unfolds darkly, stealthily guiding viewers along a bone chilling, labyrinthian thoroughfare of techno trails that takes on the beast, past and present purporting an unpredictable future.

As with many foreign films, it seems a bit too long to get to the point - 152 minutes. That's two and a half hours of intense viewing making the audience jump in their seats on several occasions. Yet, the film is extremely well done and well received winning the Guldbagge Awards (Sweden's Oscars) for Best Film, Best Actress (Noomi Rapace) and Audience Award for Best film and Winner of the Palm Springs International Film festival Audience Award, Best Narrative Feature. Unrated. In Swedish with English subtitles.