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After weeks of seeing nonstop movies and writing about them (it’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it), I am sad that the 5th Tribeca Film Festival is nearing its end. For a glass-half-full perspective, at least I’ll be reacquainted with an old, long-lost friend: sleep.
Thankfully, for my final report, I celebrate three movies that I thoroughly enjoyed. The TV Set is a satire about a pilot gone awry, Just Like The Son explores unlikely friendships and life-changing events, and Lockdown USA details a war—on the war on drugs. But don’t wave your hand and say goodbye just yet: Ed will complete our coverage with a final report in a few days. In the meantime, check out three films that are worth your time and dime.
The TV Set (International Narrative: Comedy)
Writer/Director: Jake Kasdan
Cast: David Duchovny, Sigourney Weaver, Ioan Gruffudd, Lindsay Sloane, Fran Kranz
“Original scares me; you don’t want to be too original.”
Brief Summary: In the era of must-see-TV, Mike (Duchovny) writes a personal show that has all the makings of a heartfelt hit. When Network Executives Lenny (Weaver) and Richard (Gruffudd) read his pilot, they are terribly excited—and ready to commercialize and sell it out faster than you can say High Nielsen Ratings. Right away, Mike smells trouble, when they cast a hammy actor (Kranz) in the part of the lead, and urge him to cut the brother’s crucial death out of the show (“Suicide is depressing to 82% of viewers,” Lenny points out). Will Mike save his wonderful script from the predators, or sell out for the big green?
My Thoughts: The TV Set is really funny stuff. It’s a satire in the vein of Noises Off and Day For Night, shifting its focus to small-screen tribulations. Basically, it shows the grueling process of bringing a good idea to life, and watching a million things go wrong along the way.
Duchovny has never had the stellar movie career he deserves, and hopefully The TV Set will turn the tides in his favor. He does a great job playing a (bearded) man who struggles while watching his baby get devoured by money-grubbing sharks. There are some humorous scenes that seem derived from other movies (i.e., the actors performing perfectly in rehearsal and then dreadfully when cameras roll, echoes Living In Oblivion), but not everything has to be original to do the trick. A good laugh is a good laugh, whether recycled or not.
The film plays a bit like an inside-joke among people in the entertainment industry, so it may ring true for a lot of them, and play like a silly parody to everyone else. I’ve never worked on a TV set before in any fashion, but it seems completely (and tragically) plausible that things operate in this manner. The next time you see a really horrible scripted show on television, just imagine what it could have been—and probably was—before the executives got to it.
Just Like The Son (NY Narrative Feature: Drama)
Writer/Director: Morgan J. Freeman
Cast: Mark Webber, Antonio Ortiz, Rosie Perez, Brendan Sexton III
“I’m a great starter and a terrible finisher.”
Brief Summary: In the eyes of the law, Daniel (Webber) is a juvenile delinquent with a problem keeping his hands out of other people’s pockets. His stealing habit lands him another arrest and a stint doing community service at a NYC elementary school. It is here that he meets Boone (Ortiz), an adorable kid who is in and out of foster care, without a stable home life. Deciding to do the “right” thing for once in his life, Daniel kidnaps Boone from the latest facility he is dumped. They take a road trip together to find his sister, who can give him a promising new beginning. Daniel, on the other hand, looks like he has another jail cell lurking in his near future.
My Thoughts: Just Like The Son is a movie that fell under the radar at the festival. After reading a brief synopsis, I went in expecting a mushy, sentimental flick about the world’s cutest kid and the world’s biggest loser somehow hitting it off. Preparing for a super-saccharine experience that would undoubtedly give me a sugar seizure, I kept my expectations low. But I stand corrected.
As it turns out, Just Like The Son is the biggest surprise at Tribeca. It is a bittersweet tale about friendship, self-sacrifice, and doing what you think is right even when all logic (and the law) would steer you otherwise. Writer/director Freeman (Hurricane Streets shoots the film with subtlety and raw passion for the material. In a way, it’s this year’s Garden State, telling an honest story about two people who stumble into each other’s lives and leave an imprint. There is no overhead narration, no preachy monologues, nothing the faintest bit nauseating. It’s also got a great soundtrack, full of tunes from “Iron & Wine”, Woody Guthrie, and “The Elected”, to name a few.
The best thing about the movie is how you really care about the characters. Boone is a sweet kid, but he is challenging and can be a handful—like when he wanders off in a crowded carnival. Daniel has been dismissed by society as a bad kid, and he certainly has his fair share of issues. But there is a depth to his eyes and a kindness to his actions that suggest he has hope; if not for himself, then at least for the kid. Just Like The Son is a quiet movie that says more with a single glance than many films say with pages of dialogue. It’s a real delight, and one of the best hidden treasures at Tribeca.
Lockdown, USA (NY Documentary Feature: Political)
Writer/Director: Rebecca Chaiklin, Michael Skolnik
Cast: Russell Simmons, George Pataki, 50 Cent, P. Diddy, Mariah Carey, and many other hip-hop artists.
“You can’t go around lying, splitting the truth.”
Brief Summary: In 1973, the no-nonsense Rockefeller drug laws were passed and never repealed. They state that any drug offender caught with 2 ounces of a narcotic to sell, or 4 for personal use, gets a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life in the slammer. (This applies even for first-time non-violent offenders). Since the main community being busted and slapped with the harsh sentences are minorities—wealthy, white wall street types probably get released and high-fived—hip hop guru/political activist Russell Simmons decides to get up and stand up for his rights. Lockdown USA is a documentary that begins shooting in 2003 and trails his quest to change the obsolete laws that encourage social prejudices.
My Thoughts: The war on drugs, so far, has cost over $200 billion of taxpayers’ money. George Bush Sr. has gone on record encouraging the death penalty for drug kingpins, and Bush Jr. has suggested that drug money finances terrorism (zzz). Wherever you stand on drugs—and I’m pretty sure most people are not in favor of putting them in vending machines at schools—there has to come a point where enough is enough.
Lockdown USA is not pro-drugs in any way, but it is pro-fair sentencing. Many of the people affected by these laws are completely innocent, as in the case of Darryl Best: a law-abiding family man who signed for a wrong mail package, and got busted for 15 years for drug possession. Since the sentences are pre-determined, there is no jury ruling and no exceptions. Simmons meets with Governor Pataki and launches a huge rally near City Hall—loaded with stars like 50 Cent and Mariah Carey—to get the word out, raise public awareness and try to get the laws reformed.
With documentaries of this nature, there are generally few surprises. We know that since he is filming his plight and showing it to us, something good is likely to come out of the experience. In this case it does, to a very small degree—but hey, you can’t win a race before putting a foot forward. It’s an interesting and informative movie with jamming music and cute brief, animated tutorials.
One thing Lockdown could have done better is diversify its focus. The Best family gets a lot of attention, but what about all of the other families impacted? It would have been helpful to show a case where the person actually was guilty, and how the law was still too harsh. Even if its focus can sometimes use expanding, its heart is always in the right place. The War on Drugs will probably never be a real victory except for politicians pushing their agendas—but thankfully there will always be activists holding signs somewhere, fighting for a better world.
Ed will soon wrap up our coverage, with a glimpse at a few more films and a daily report of fun at the Family Festival. Thanks for sticking with us and reading our exclusive musings at Tribeca Film Festival, 2006.