Well, the Tribeca Film Festival is over and everyone is going home. I saw plenty of films, in fact, it’s somewhat overwhelming. But rather than overwhelm you, too, with full length reviews of these fest films, here are snapshots of what I saw.
The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin - Whenever someone says “bitcoin”, I am immediately interested, followed by immediately bored. If you have ever been curious about this digital currency but could never stay awake, then this film is just for you. Directed by Nicholas Mross, the audience is taken on a history lesson from Bitcoin’s mysterious creation by a still unknown programmer, through the companies and full functional markets that spawned from it, and the potential future. Economics can be hard to grasp, but the filmmakers managed to explain concepts excellently with visual metaphors, explaining how the currency is slowly digitally mined and released to the public through literal miners. But of course, there’s always a drawback. Most of the time innovation moves too fast for regulation and those that regulate decide what becomes legal. Many of the entrepreneurs have had their financial lives ruined by bitcoin, getting involved with illegal laundering and fraud. However, bitcoin is not dead, its future has potential. Perhaps it will be the second wave of users, after proper laws have been put in place, that will truly get things rolling. This film introduces the idea that we could be using completely virtual money sometime in the not-so-distant future.
Manos Sucias - Welcome to a hard-hitting, unglorified look at the drug trade in Colombia. Director Josef Wladyka shot this film on location to accurately depict the harsh reality of this world. The film follows Jacobo (Jarlin Javier Martinez) on his last job and Delio (Cristian James Abvincula) on his first, as they work together to cross rivers and oceans to deliver drugs. They face paramilitary, gunfights and the darkness within themselves. High praise is deserved by Wladyka and his crew for shooting so well on open water (anyone who knows how much a hassle shooting Jaws was, will understand). It’s a film that proves that no matter how good your intentions, evil begets evil. As hard to look away as it is hard to watch, Manos Sucias, is a triumph of filmmaking.
City Limits - How do you show shorts in a festival of features? Clump them together in a 90 minute showcase. City Limits is just that - four short films shown back to back, all sharing a theme of life in the city. The one that stood out the most was Of Many, a mini-documentary about the formation of the movement of the same name, a company formed in the wake of 9/11 by a Jewish Rabbi and an Islamic Imam to help bring members of both faiths together to help those less fortunate. It’s a touching story that inspires hope, shows that differences can be put aside and that the friendships of our children can change the world.
Loitering with Intent - This is one of those pictures that encompasses several genres, making it a mix of comedy, with a slice of life. Two barkeeps/wannabe screenwriters get their big chance when they pitch a script that doesn’t exist to an interested producer. With only 10 days to write it, they head to the country to work in peace, but instead find a house full of distractions in the form of unexpected family and guests with their own problems to deal with. Well shot and acted, the story still could have used a little bit more work. One of the main driving forces in a plot is change, unless your story is about being stuck in a rut, which seems to be this movie’s intent. However, you still need at least one likable character and Loitering with Intent has none to be found. Everyone keeps getting in the way of another’s goals by focusing on their own problems and dark past. Exploring the past is a basic building block for creating some interesting characters but we still need someone to latch onto and identify as the normal person in this insane world. The story itself loses its direction, never coming back to what was supposed to be the main plotline of writing the script until the final 20 minutes. Two side characters served such little purpose to the plot that they could have easily been replaced by a distracting phone call. Surprisingly, our two main characters, the writers, seem to get the least amount of development. I learned more about their out-of-it sister-in-law and her strange love life with a traumatized war vet, than them. Finally, when it decided to abruptly end, nothing was accomplished and none of the stories had a clear conclusion, making for an extremely frustrating movie. I don’t recommend this movie and don’t expect to see it anywhere else.
1971 - In the 1960s, Americans were furious about Vietnam and demanded change. Protests happened daily but things seemed to remain the same. So, a group of freedom fighters broke into an FBI office and stole every document in an effort to reveal the truth. They sent copies of the documents to the press, revealing the FBI’s illegal spying on citizens and continued attempts to thwart First Amendment rights of those deemed as “against” America. The thieves were never caught but instead decided to reveal themselves and their stories in this thrilling documentary that goes hand in hand with Silenced (see below). Both a history lesson and a 1960’s caper film, though not as action pack as Ocean’s 11, it’s the type of film that gets the viewer more than ready to protest.
Intramural - This film proves that world of Intramural Flag-Football is (believe it or not) a serious one. Our hero, Caleb, wins a championship but at the cost of his best friend’s legs. Four years later, Caleb is obtaining his law degree, engaged to a rich, controlling woman, and never touches a football. But, of course, he suddenly needs to get the band back together and win the championship. Why? Because. I’m not dodging the question, that’s how it really happens. He’s working towards his degree, runs into an old friend, and they decide to go for the championship. There’s no real reason other than a possible 20 year old having a midlife crisis. This is a sport film that makes fun of sports films; outright explaining the training montage as a montage. Usually, these kinds of films resort to childish fart jokes and pratfalls, but Intramural shows some comedic ingenuity, building up jokes across the story for a satisfying punch line. While this is definitely not the next greatest comedy, it is a fun time.
Glass Chin - Once a great boxer, now a trainer, Bud has an ordinary boring life and he wishes for the excitement of the glory days. This leads to him to deal with people he shouldn’t and he gets sucked into the dark underground, which he can only hope to get away from. Framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Bud has no choice but to obey every word of a power crazed maniac or spend the rest of his life in jail. On a technical level, entire scenes were one continuous shot of one or two characters, centered frame, making the cinematography reminiscent of Wes Anderson. Whereas Anderson uses this style to make his worlds strange and different, here it almost reflects the dark, mundane, never-changing world that Bud wants to escape. While slow at times, the movie had an interesting story to tell.
Silenced - Since 2008, eight American citizens have been charged under the Espionage Act. However, there is a difference between being a whistleblower and a traitor. This documentary follows the journeys of two “traitors”, revealing that what they actually did was point out the lies and illegal activity of the Justice Department, the CIA and the NSA. You all know these cases. They were all over the news a few years ago. Seeing this film a day after 1971 (see above) paints a dark picture of our history, showing that the government’s ability to cover up their transgressions and punish their citizens for trying to expose them has not changed. Instead, it has modernized with today’s culture. And in today’s fast-paced, what’s-next culture, these stories would most likely be forgotten if not for this film. Will anything come from these people speaking up? According to this movie, no.
Black Coal, Thin Ice - Chopped up human body parts appear in several provinces across China all on the same day. Set a few years ago, this neo-noir follows a disgruntled detective as he tries to solve the one case that got away. Seeing so many movies in one lifetime can make the plotlines seem similar or repetitive. That’s why it’s refreshing and sometimes odd to watch a foreign film. Those non-American cultural differences can make a story you’ve seen a thousand times feel unique. Well-written and directed, Black Coal, Thin Ice, shows audiences a part of the world many on this side of the planet are not privy to. The film was engaging until the end, which was the strangest ending I have ever seen. The bad guy is caught, the mystery is solved (the answer to which was far more convoluted than I originally thought), and as the killer points out the evidence to the police, someone starts setting off fireworks on a roof. Fireman start climbing up to stop the show, cut to black. The end. I’m not sure if it was symbolic or something to do with chinese culture I don’t understand. Either way, it was a complete tonal shift that took away from the film but didn’t ruin the overall experience.
Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary - My final film of Tribeca was a light-hearted, happy-go-lucky documentary about LEGOs and their amazing influence across the world. It proves how it is amazing what a simple toy can do. There are enough LEGO bricks in the world for every person on the planet to own 100, and they’re currently being used for everything: from toys, to fairs, to buildings, to films, to therapy, to life-size X-wings. The documentary is fun, with tongue in cheek narration from Jason Bateman. It does feel scattered at points, not knowing on which part of LEGOs to focus, which is understandable due to the large volume of content to cover. I gained a whole new perspective on the seemingly simple bricks. Maybe I’ll break out my old set.