Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tribeca (Online) Film Festival

This year, the Tribeca Film Festival is really pushing its online component, offering up six feature films in a configuration meant to mimic the actual festival experience. Each movie has three separate "screenings," 24-hour windows in which they are available to watch online. The screenings have limited spots that can be reserved, and you have to "check in" early on to keep your spot. It's a neat way to approximate the event feel of a film festival for people at home, and since it's free (as opposed to last year's experiment that involved paying for an online pass), there's incentive to check out movies you might not otherwise bother with.

Only one of the six films (New York Says Thank You, a documentary about people inspired by 9/11 to help others) looked like something I really wouldn't want to see, so I picked the two most intriguing ones and signed up for the first screenings to see how the whole experience would go. The sign-up process was easy, and I was pleased that I was able to start the movies just before the screening window ended and still finish them after time expired (since I'm not always great at getting things done on time). The actual movie streaming was a little choppy, with some stops and starts, but that may have been the fault of my internet connection. Overall it was a worthwhile opportunity to get a taste of the film festival without actually being there, and if I have some more time this week (the screenings continue through May 1), I might check out some of the other offerings. As for the movies themselves:

Rabies (Navot Papushado & Aharon Keshale, Israel) Billed as Israel's first horror movie, Rabies has been getting mostly positive reviews from both horror fan sites and critics in general, but I was a bit underwhelmed. It starts like your typical slasher movie, with a group of young pretty people getting stranded in the woods and a killer apparently on the loose, and there are malfunctioning cell phones and cars that refuse to start. But writer-directors Papushado and Keshale take things in a different direction, and while that made the movie unpredictable and unconventional, it also made it a little frustrating, with characters behaving sometimes inexplicably. The title implies a sort of madness spreading among the characters, and that seems to be what's happening, although nothing is ever explained, and the movie ends with several plot threads unresolved. Various reviews mention social satire and postmodern genre deconstruction, but I mostly just got confusion and disappointment, albeit produced with suspense and style.

Neon Flesh (Paco Cabezas, Spain) This is such a morally bankrupt movie that it's hard to enjoy its achievements in empty style. Writer-director Cabezas mimics Guy Ritchie pretty heavily in his story of a small-time street hustler who decides to open his own brothel as a sort of misguided gift for his mother, a former prostitute who gave up her son when he was 12 and is about to be released from prison. The protagonist is meant to be sympathetic, I guess, and he's less evil than the other characters, but he still threatens and abuses a bunch of illegal immigrants that he purchases to populate his brothel, kidnaps the daughter of a corrupt cop and kills his underworld rival. Cabezas plays such unsavory plot elements as human trafficking, Alzheimer's disease and videotaped rape for laughs, and there's no sense of ironic distance or social commentary. The movie has a slick, propulsive style, but it's mostly cribbed from more entertaining films, and deployed in service of a rather despicable story.

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