Lita On Film

Posts Tagged ‘Tribeca Film Festival 2011’

She Monkeys (2010) Tribeca Film Festival 2011 WINNER * Best Narrative Feature *

In Film Reviews on May 16, 2011 at 7:46 pm


Danish director Lisa Aschan’s feature debut follows a teenage girl, Emma, as she becomes a member of a competitive vaulting (gymnastics on horseback) team.  She soon develops an unusual connection with Cassandra, a fellow team member, and the two begin a relationship of sorts; however, their friendship has a sinister undertone and soon their every interaction becomes a struggle for power.

“She Monkeys” is primarily about the tension between female sexuality and control, which exists not only in Emma and Cassandra, but even (in a stunning performance) in Emma’s 8 year old sister Sara.  However, far from being another tragic portrait of the “mean girl” phenomenon, Emma and Cassandra’s relationship is rendered in far more complex, nuanced terms.  Emma isn’t merely a hapless bystander or victim, and as the film progresses the balance of power gradually shifts between the girls, something that would never happen in a more conventional film.

Aschan focuses very closely on the girls’ natural surroundings in semi-rural Sweden, primarily as a metaphor for their budding sexuality—there are beautiful shots of woods and shores, frequently being buffeted by unpredictable winds.  Similarly, much attention is paid to the girls’ relationship to their animal companions: Emma’s obsession with control and perfection, which she can’t quite attain in the vaulting team, is expressed in her constant training of the family dog.

Many times in the course of the film, the girls’ physical vulnerability is highlighted—whether it’s vulnerability to the force of gravity or the presence of strange men—and this generates enormous suspense.  “She Monkeys” is best described as a psychological thriller, though it lacks the complete hysteria of some other recent girl-on-girl psychodramas.  Unlike, say, “Black Swan,” Aschan doesn’t have to rely on visual tricks or supernatural forces to bring her narrative full-circle.  Her actors perform so flawlessly that just a glance between Emma and Cassandra speaks volumes more than all the fever-dream frippery packed into your average American thriller.

Congratulations to Lisa Aschan and her cast and crew!  This was well deserved!!

This concludes my coverage of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival – thanks for reading, tune in next year!

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Angels Crest (2011) – Tribeca Selection 2011

In Film Reviews on May 16, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Director Gaby Dellal, best known for her 2005 film “On A Clear Day,” has a new feature that’s about as tragic as they come.  Adapted from the novel of the same name, “Angels Crest” follows the fallout in a tiny Montana town after a 3-year-old accidentally freezes to death after wandering away from his father’s pickup truck.  With a good pace and tremendous acting, “Angels Crest” was one of the best films I saw at this year’s Tribeca festival.

Young father Ethan (Thomas Dekker) is implicated by the local authorities after finding his son dead in the snow.  In such a tiny town everyone knows everyone else, and soon all the residents are sounding off on Ethan’s situation.  His drunk, no-good ex Cindy, who’s also the toddler’s mother (played expertly by Lynn Collins), really flies off the handle at the terrible news, but by the end of the film it seems that this tragedy may be exactly the catalyst she needed to finally pull herself together.

Jeremy Piven plays the prosecutor bringing charges against Ethan, and though we never get the full story (something that actually makes the film more, rather than less intriguing) it seems that this character also lost a child once upon a time.  Piven balances his character’s legal zeal and personal ambivalence well, though his role is relatively small.  Kate Walsh also has an excellent turn here as a no-nonsense lesbian who has trouble finding sympathy for Ethan.

Though the film’s plot points can feel a bit like a sad soap opera—Ethan discovers his best friend is sleeping with Cindy, for example—overall “Angels Crest” manages to delve into the grief and rage that power the film with out being overwhelmed by them.  It’s both a portrait of small-town life, with all the poignancy you would expect from a Richard Russo novel, and a detailed character study which, amazingly, holds up until the final devastating scene.

Though I initially had doubts about Dekker’s casting (he just doesn’t look like a father to me), I ended up being very impressed with the rawness of his emotion and his totally un-showy performance.  All the actors in “Angels Crest” are self-effacing and dedicated to their roles, and it really shows.  In other hands, with a different cast or different script, this film could have succumbed completely to campy melodrama.  Instead, it somehow manages to be life-affirming even as it charts the effects of a very untimely death.

The Bleeding House (2011) – Tribeca Selection 2011

In Film Reviews on May 16, 2011 at 7:30 pm

When is a horror film not a horror film?  When it’s not scary?  Or when it’s self-aware enough that it belongs in another category entirely?

First-time feature director Philip Gelatt’s “The Bleeding House” is both of these: it’s a horror film about what makes horror films tick, and while it has a sprinkling of suspenseful moments, it’s oddly measured and calm most of the time.  Fortunately for viewers, this doesn’t make it any less fun to watch than your average postmodern splatter flick—in fact, it makes it better.

The story follows a family, the Smiths, living isolated in their huge house in the woods after having endured some terrible event.  After overhearing several conversations, the audience can glean that the mother did Something Bad that the local townsfolk won’t forgive the family for, and that the daughter is totally crazy.  When the mother puts a padlock on her knife drawer, you know nothing good is going to happen.

Eventually a stranger in a white suit shows up (Patrick Breen, perfectly cast) claiming to be lost with a broken down car.  As soon as the family lets him into their home, all hell breaks loose, of course.  But the way in which it happens is what makes the film more than just an empty bag of scares with nothing real to say.

Breen’s character is an interesting amalgam of horror traditions: he’s a serial killer, a sociopath, a religious fanatic, an evil doctor and the Angel of Death with a Southern drawl (why do those last two always seem to go together?).  His character clearly draws from many famous horror flicks, all the way from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to “Funny Games.”  What makes him compelling as a character is the fact that he explains his every action to the people he’s torturing, and specifically locates himself in the pantheon of American horror tradition as a symptom of our culture’s lust for violence and retribution.  He is what he is because we, the audience, want him to be.

Of course, this strategy could easily tip over from gravitas into camp—it’s as easy to laugh at Breen’s character as it is to be scared by him.  But I found exactly this tension to be what made the film interesting, in the end.  The crazy Smith daughter, Breen’s character’s foil, is eventually made out to be a more “pure” sort of killer, but that part of the story is even more predictable than the whole evil-doctor schtick.  In the end it’s Breen’s show and, for what it is, “The Bleeding House” succeeds admirably.

“The Bleeding House” will be available on VOD nationwide through June 23, and will have a limited release beginning May 13, 2011.

The Good Doctor (2011) – Tribeca Selection 2011

In Film Reviews on May 16, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Orlando Bloom stars as a dour, disillusioned young doctor in this thriller by Irish director Lance Daly (“Kisses,” 2008).  Just starting out as a resident in a Los Angeles hospital, Bloom’s character, Martin Blake, is lonely, far from home (he retains his delicious British accent throughout), and close to his psychological breaking point.  After he is repeatedly shunned and disrespected by people he sees as his inferiors—a feisty nurse (Taraji P. Henson) and a suspicious orderly (Michael Pena)—Blake tries to ingratiate himself to the chief resident (Rob Morrow), but even that doesn’t work.  The only person who takes him seriously is a young female patient with a kidney infection (Riley Keough).

Soon, Blake has developed a full-blown obsession with his patient, and things only go downhill from there.  In classic thriller tradition, one bad turn leads quickly to another until it seems impossible for Blake to escape from the web of deceit he’s woven himself into.  However, Daly’s film resists the reductive tropes that are often deployed to resolve this sort of conflict.  There is no confession or courtroom drama, and despite a very emotionally overheated scene in which Blake contemplates escaping the situation entirely, he is eventually left to simply contemplate his actions and go on with his life.

“The Good Doctor” has a lot to say about men in the medical profession; some of Bloom’s best scenes are those in which he visibly covets the lives that the accomplished doctors around him have made for themselves.  It’s clear that Daly and screenwriter John Enbom are well aware that medicine is often as much about ego as it is about helping others, and this tension is perfectly expressed in Bloom’s performance.  Throughout the film Bloom’s acting is nicely understated, at least until he encounters some of the more histrionic moments in the script.

Overall, this is a solid film—its only shortcomings arise from the friction it tries to balance between its very restrained protagonist and the almost hysterical emotion that bubbles out of its climactic scenes.  The soundtrack gets similarly overblown in many places.  It’s problematic because it feels artificial: Blake doesn’t seem the type who would suddenly fall into such an infatuation with a patient, and after he’s done that he suddenly seems capable of many other things not in line with his character.  Of course, that’s often the point in thrillers like this—people do things we never thought they would.  But there’s an element of what could be described as magical realism in “The Good Doctor” that left me, at least, more perplexed than fascinated.

“The Good Doctor” has yet to reach a distribution deal in the US.

Grave Encounters (2010) — Tribeca Selection 2011

In Film Reviews on May 16, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Mix equal parts “Paranormal Activity,” “Blair Witch” and “The Shining,” and you’ll find yourself with “Grave Encounters,” the first feature from aspiring shock-jock writer/director team the Vicious Brothers.  25 year old twins who edited their first feature on laptops in their (or their parents’) living room, the Brothers are just the sort of shoe-string, guerrilla-style filmmakers I usually love to champion.  Except that in this case, the film they made ended up going from promising to tedious to just plain laughable.  And I was sorry to see it go.

The film follows a TV crew filming a new episode of one of those “Ghost Hunter”-type shows (the eponymous “Grave Encounters”).  Their location is an abandoned state mental hospital supposedly in Maryland (actually shot in Vancouver).  To try and capture some of the facility’s ghostly goings-on, the crew gets voluntarily locked inside for the night.  Naturally, what happens is not at all what they expect.

Though there are some strong performances from all the actors involved, the script is where the film really falters.  After some initial “gotcha!” moments that are fairly effective, the film’s suspense really fizzles out as one crew member after another gets picked off by the building’s malevolent presence.  It just feels like “Grave Encounters” is a little late to the party–now that we’ve all seen first-person, found-footage horror movies a dozen times, even the effects shots in this one lack the electric-shock quality you really want out of a good haunted-house film.  Once we know the various boogeymen are there to stay, it’s only a matter of time until they pop out and do their best, like a bad Halloween show, to scare us.  The problem is, we already know everything that’s going to happen before it does, and there’s nothing less scary than that.

If the brothers Vicious had wanted to make this a truly new, innovative take on the found footage horror movie, they could have focused more on the beginning of their story, when we get to watch the crew filming and the stars of the show-within-a-film trying to stay in their various overblown characters without bursting out laughing (particularly good is a male medium named Houston, who overplays his role to perfection).  However, as soon as the mayhem starts all we see are sickly green night-vision shots of endless hallways and terrified faces with glowing eyes.  Once the characters start getting picked off, it’s almost something of a relief.  Here’s hoping the Vicious brothers truly live up to their name—which truly I hope is real—next time around.

“Grave Encounters” is available nationwide on VOD through June 23, 2011 and will have a limited theatrical run this summer.