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The second part of our coverage flaunts the trademark diversity found in Tribeca’s film program: A story of sexual awakening intertwined with writing novels, an offbeat town where everyone is a champion, an 80-year-old Japanese homeless man with a knack for painting, and conjoined twins who become a punk rock phenomenon. At least nobody can ever accuse the film festival of being too mainstream-friendly.
Mentor (Discovery: Drama)
Director: David Carl Lang
Writer: William Whitehurst
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Matthew Davis, Dagmara Dominczyk, Susan Misner, Matt Servitto
“To write you have to live, and to live you have to risk everything.”
Brief Summary: Sandy, a brilliant novelist/college professor, takes a new wide-eyed student, Carter, under his wing and gives him more than a lesson in writing. (Like, say, the complexities of sleeping with a professor’s girlfriend while he is conveniently writing a novel on people using sex to avoid intimacy. Ta-da!) The film flashes from present to past, where Carter—following his lead and teaching at a university—learns that his mentor has died, and revisits their twisted love triangle 8 years earlier in a series of flashbacks. Oh, the way we were.
My Thoughts: Mentor is essentially a pseudo-intellectual sex movie, often resembling a mid-day soap opera with more bite. But that doesn’t keep it from being mildly interesting, in a ‘fun to laugh at’ kind of way. Besides all the random spurts of sexual ambushing, it’s a hoot to watch Carter (Matt Davis) age nearly a decade simply by putting some grey streaks in his sideburns.
Movies about troubled writers have been done a zillion times over, and this one doesn’t really offer any new insights, just more of the usual: novelists are some of the wackiest people around. If you see one, throw on your Nikes and make a mad dash in the opposite direction. It’s a shame that the movie doesn’t work better as a whole, because the acting is pretty good, especially by Rutger Hauer (Batman Begins) who can somehow look intense even while wearing chick-colored reading glasses. Too bad his talent in choosing scripts escaped him, when he decided this should be his next project.
The Shutka Book of Records (Showcase: Documentary)
Director: Aleksandar Manic
Cast: Assorted colorful civilians in a Balkan town
“Only in Shutka can you be a champion.”
Brief Summary: In the quirky European region of Shutka, dwells a little-known community called the Romani. The religious townies break conventions with their odd ways of life: the police cause them fewer problems than vampires, a popular soap opera dictates their culture, and everyone is a master at something. From boxing, grave robbing, and love-making (by a 75 year old, no less), the townspeople each have a special trait that makes them feel like champions.
My Thoughts: Shutka Book of Records is the type of bizarre film that feels too fake to be real, but this is no fantasy land. Director Aleksandar Manic visits the area and has one of the residents—Dr. Koljo, the greatest fisherman—narrate the film and introduce us to the key players. Among these people are Uncle Sali (the greatest horse lover, even though he sometimes beats it with a shovel), Feruz (owner of the largest porn collection), and Rasim (a guy who can’t stop drumming because, um, a genie entered him as a child).
As you can tell by now, nobody in the movie has any true talents; they’re all self-created, like when your mom tells you as a child that everything you do is fabulous. It’s likely you’ll outgrow this notion over time, but the people in this town never really let that one slide. If they have one undeniable quality, it’s that they’re all a bit nutty: most of the town is dirt-poor, but they spend $20,000 for public circumcision ceremonies, where little boys get the clip without anesthesia. The greatest champions are the ones who spend the most money, even though it never seems to be on education.
For a film that is ripe with eccentricities, it gets boring pretty fast. There are only so many times a person can dance, chase genies, and hunt vampires before it begins to lose its spice. The director thought the material would speak for itself, but there is just no story and they act more like flopping SNL skits than real people. To their defense, nobody in Shutka claimed to be a champion at making a good documentary.
The Cats of Mirikitani (NY Documentary Feature)
Director: Linda Hattendorf
Cast: Jimmy Mirikitani, Linda Hattendorf
“I used to see him all the time; I thought he was just an old homeless person.”
Brief Summary: Jimmy Mirikitani is an elderly, but lively Japanese homeless man who lives near Washington Square Park in Manhattan. He playfully refers to himself as “Grand Master Artist” as he creates beautiful, purist paintings that attract attention from crowds gathering on the streets. In his youth, he was forced to spend 3.5 years in a Japanese internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor (despite being born in the U.S.), and the wrongdoing inspires a large portion of his art. He refuses any monetary help from the government, but after 9/11, documentarian Linda Hattendorf takes him in and helps him build the type of life that the spirited man deserves.
My Thoughts: The Cats of Mirikitani is the type of documentary that makes you want to be a better person. That may seem like a bold statement, but the film begins about a quirky old man on the streets, and quickly transforms into a story of survival and hope. Linda Hattendorf doesn’t just point a camera in his face and exploit his situation; she literally changes his life. And it’s a beautiful thing to witness.
Jimmy Mirikitani—who spends time playing with and painting Linda’s cat while she is away—is vivacious, stubborn, and unintentionally funny. He, at times, acts like an elderly man-child: in a hilarious trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, he frequently wanders off the path, and pulls one of their plants out of the ground—claiming it as his own—while Linda scolds him. It’s adorable to watch him worry about her when she is out too late, like a neurotic grandpa sitting in his rocking chair, eyeing the ticking clock. In their own way, they become each other’s new dysfunctional family.
While he has a difficult past between internment camps and losing family to the Hiroshima bombings, he copes by making art and never taking his days for granted. By the end of the film, his life is as colorful and rich as one of his paintings. Equally moving and funny, Cats is a small movie with a big message.
Brothers of the Head (Showcase: Drama)
Directors: Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe
Writer: Tony Grisoni
Cast: Harry Treadaway, Luke Treadaway, Sean Harris, Tania Emery
“I never exploited anyone who didn’t want to be exploited.”
Brief Summary: Two conjoined teenage twins, Barry and Tom Howe, live a quiet life in England circa 1975. That is, until a legendary rock promoter scoops them out of their home and transforms them into a singing act, hoping to cash-in on their freak show appeal. The brothers launch a band called “The Bang Bang” and prove to be a wildly popular addition to the punk rock movement. However, trouble arises when Tom (the quiet one) begins dating a pretty journalist, and Barry (the manic one) feels like the odd man out. The permanently-entangled brothers reach their boiling points and begin to contemplate the bittersweet taste of independence.
My Thoughts: The little-seen 1999 film Twin Falls Idaho deals with similar subject matter—conjoined twins, bizarre love triangles, and tragic decisions—but does so in a way that really grabs you by the heart. Brothers of The Head, while flashy, musical, and at times riveting, seems oddly lacking in depth or feeling. Only at the halfway mark do we really get to know the boys by their individual traits, and even then, they never seem particularly well-rounded. Tom is the mellow one who likes to sing mushy songs to his girlfriend; Barry is the erratic one who sometimes likes to whack him in the head.
Brothers of the Head, adapted from a book by Brian Aldiss, is told in a mockumentary style using actors to relay different angles of the story. Personally, I can’t stand this type of movie-making, since it relies primarily on telling over showing—not to mention how incredibly false it rings most of the time. The film would have fared better if it just told the story and spent time developing it, instead of showing flashy clips and quips from various irrelevant people. Luckily the lead actors play their roles well, and the Rick Springfield-resembling Treadaway brothers do a great job of pretending to be conjoined. But ultimately, I need more than a birth defect to keep me entertained.
More Tribeca coverage is on the way. Check back regularly at CinemaBlend.com for coverage throughout the festival. We’ve got plenty more in store.