Tag Archives: Tribeca Reviews

Tribeca 2021: Larry Flynt for President (***½)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 19. 2021)

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Director Nadia Szold’s wild documentary about the Hustler magazine publisher’s infamous 1983 bid for the White House makes Milos Forman’s 1996 biopic The People vs. Larry Flynt look like a Saturday morning cartoon.

An ever-polarizing public figure, Flynt (who died earlier this year) was paralyzed from the waist down after a would-be assassin shot him in 1978. After several years of painful recovery, Flynt began to incorporate more sociopolitical satire into Hustler, which led to his presidential campaign. He ran as a Republican (with a rather progressive agenda and a healthy sense of irony).

Szold had access to a trove of previously unreleased footage by a film crew that followed Flynt around on his campaign trail. She also documents his high-profile First Amendment court battle with religious Right demagogue Jerry Falwell. At turns hilarious and harrowing (harrowing in the sense of how Flynt’s purely performative flirtation with politics presaged Donald Trump and the MAGA cult).

Tribeca 2021: Wild Men (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 19. 2021)

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Every film festival has at least one quirky road movie (it’s a rule). Danish director Thomas Daneskov’s (wait for it) quirky road movie concerns Martin, a white-collar worker who flips his lid and heads to the Norwegian hinterlands to gather nuts and berries (sans wife and kids). After a day or two, failing to bring down any wild game with his homemade bow and arrow, he’s craving protein and heads for the nearest convenience store (looking like a cross between Dilbert and Hagar the Horrible). Unfortunately, he’s forgotten his wallet and despite honest intentions ends up in an altercation with the manager and ultimately on the run from the cops. Fate puts him on a path with an injured drug runner, and a male bonding/buddy film ensues. An entertaining dramedy with a Coen Brothers vibe, mixed with typically deadpan Scandinavian humor.

Tribeca 2021: Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 19. 2021)

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Nothing against Ben Fong-Torres, but I approached this film with trepidation. “Please, god,” I thought to myself, “Don’t let ‘Fortunate Son’ be on the soundtrack.” Thankfully, there’s credence, but no Creedence in Suzanne Joe Kai’s documentary, which despite the implications of its title is not another wallow in the era when being on the cover of the Rolling Stone mattered, man.

OK, there is some of that; after all, journalist and author Ben Fong-Torres’ venerable career began when he first wrote for Rolling Stone in 1968. By the following year he was hired as the editor and wrote many of the cover stories. Fong-Torres quickly showed himself to be not only an excellent interviewer, but a gifted writer. His journalistic approach was the antithesis to the gonzo stylists like Lester Bangs and Hunter Thompson in that his pieces were never about him, yet still eminently personal and relatable.

Just like her subject, Kai’s portrait is multi-faceted, revealing aspects of Fong-Torres’ life outside of his profession I was not aware of (like his activism in the Asian-American community, and how it was borne of a heartbreaking family tragedy).

Tribeca 2021: The Price of Freedom (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 19. 2021)

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From a 2016 piece I wrote in the wake of the Orlando nightclub mass shooting:

You know what “they” say-we all have a breaking point. When it comes to this particular topic, I have to say, I think that I may have finally reached mine. I’ve written about this so many times, in the wake of so many horrible mass shootings, that I’ve lost count. I’m out of words. There are no Scrabble tiles left in the bag, and I’m stuck with a “Q” and a “Z”. Game over.

I wrote that five years ago; if anything, it seems gun violence in America has increased. Let’s put it this way…it’s an ongoing and complex issue. This timely documentary from Judd Ehrlich focuses on the political angle, more specifically the political influence of the NRA. How did the gun lobby become so powerful?

Taking an evenhanded approach, Ehrlich has politicians, victims of gun violence, and NRA representatives all weighing in. He also offers an absorbing history of the NRA, pinpointing how the organization transitioned from hobbyists to lobbyists. There are no easy solutions; but as Ehrlich reminds us, there is a generation of young people like Parkland school-shooting survivor-turned activist Emma Gonzalez who are out there providing light at the end of the tunnel.

Tribeca 2021: Settlers (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 19. 2021)

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Writer-director Wyatt Rockefeller’s sci-fi drama is Once Upon a Time in the West on Mars. The story centers on 9-year-old Remmy (Brooklyn Prince), who lives with her settler parents (Sofia Boutella and Jonny Lee Miller) at a remote homestead. Following an attack by hostile parties and subsequent arrival of a drifter who claims that the homestead rightfully belongs to him, Sofia’s life (as well as the family’s dynamic) changes drastically. The story takes place over a 9-year period; with Nell Tiger Free playing 18-year-old Remmy. Not wholly original, but smartly written and well-acted, with great production design and cinematography (exteriors were filmed in South Africa).

Tribeca 2021: Father of the Cyborgs (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 19, 2021)

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The story of pioneering neuroscientist Dr. Phil Kennedy is like a real-life version of Michael Crichton’s The Terminal Man (with more than a touch of Blade Runner). Kennedy invented the “neurotrophic electrode” brain implant device-a tiny glass cone with gold wires designed to artificially process and interpret brain signals. Ideally, the function of the implant is to enable activation of critical pathways that might be otherwise blocked by motor disease or paralyzing injuries.

In the 1990s, Kennedy famously tested his invention on a young man who had complete “locked-in” paralysis, teaching him to control a computer with his mind. This prompted ethical debates, which ignited anew in 2014 when Kennedy had electrodes implanted in his own brain (all in the name of science). David Burke’s documentary recounts Kennedy’s experiments and delves into all the associated issues in this fascinating profile.

Tribeca 2021: Creation Stories (**)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 19, 2021)

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Nick Moran’s manic, hyper-kinetic biopic about Creation Records founder Alan McGee (who spearheaded the Britpop explosion of the 1990s) plays like a mashup of 24-Hour Party People and Trainspotting. This is not surprising considering the screenplay is co-written by Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh (with Dean Cavanagh). The narrative is framed by McGee (Ewen Bremner) telling his life story to a journalist. Cue the flashbacks, starting with McGee’s modest early successes in the 80s with acts like The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine and culminating with his mentorship of Oasis in the mid-90s.

The film moves too quickly for its own good, giving you no real sense of who McGee is (apart from establishing that he is an “outsider”). Another major hurdle is Bremner, who remains the most unintelligible actor in the English-speaking world (even for a Scotsman). Subtitles really would have helped. As much as I dug Moran’s 2009 Joe Meek biopic Telstar, I am afraid this one is a letdown.

 

Tribeca 2021: Buddy Guy: The Blues Chase the Blues Away (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 19, 2021)

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If this straightforward, by-the-numbers documentary about blues man Buddy Guy seems destined for PBS…that’s because it is (set to premiere in July as an episode of American Masters). Not that there’s anything wrong with that; especially if it helps introduce the man and his music to a new generation of fans. A “musician’s musician” (especially for guitar players), he is one of those artists whose influence is more recognizable than his name (e.g. Hendrix, Clapton and SRV). The Louisiana-born Guy recounts how he was initially inspired by John Lee Hooker, then developed his own fiery blues style working the Chicago club scene (cutting his teeth with the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Otis Rush). Admirers like Carlos Santana and John Mayer also chip in. A solid bio of a great player.

Tribeca 2021: Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road (***½)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 19, 2021)

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It’s been a long, strange trip for Beach Boys founder/primary songwriter Brian Wilson. After a 2-year streak of hit singles about sun, surf, cars and girls (beginning with the 1963 release of “Surfin’ U.S.A.”), Wilson hit a wall. The pressures of touring, coupled with his experimentation with LSD and his increasing difficulty reconciling the heavenly voices in his head led to a full scale nervous breakdown (first in a series).

Still, he managed to hold the creeping madness at bay long enough to produce the most innovative work of his career (Pet Sounds, in 1966). Wilson’s roller coaster ride was only beginning, with a number of well-documented ups and downs (personal and professional); but his unique creative faculties remained intact. Considering what he has been through, it is amazing Wilson is even alive to tell the tale.

Brent Wilson’s documentary borrows the “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” concept, following Rolling Stone editor Jason Fine and Brian Wilson as they cruise around L.A., listening to Beach Boys tunes. Fine gently prompts Wilson to reminisce about the personal significance of various stops along the way. Most locales prompt fond memories; others clearly bring Wilson’s psyche back to dark places he’d sooner forget. What keeps the film from feeling exploitative is the fact that Wilson demonstratively trusts Fine (they are longtime friends). A sometimes sad, but ultimately moving portrait.

Tribeca 2021: Bitchin’-The Sound and Fury of Rick James (***½)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 19, 2021)

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They broke the mold when James Ambrose Johnson Jr. (aka Rick James) came into the world. In his documentary (headed for Showtime later this year), Sacha Jenkins wisely debunks the caricature popularized by Dave Chappelle (“I’m Rick JAMES, bitch!”) right off the bat, clearing the way for an honest, down-and-dirty portrait of the gifted (if maddeningly self-destructive) singer-songwriter-musician-producer (he died in 2004).

Viewers only familiar with his personae from the late 70s onward that yielded hits like “You & I”, “Mary Jane”, “Bustin’ Out”, and “Super-Freak” may be surprised to learn about his formative mid-60s Canadian period, when he hung with the likes of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and explored folk, psychedelia and hard rock (all of which he later incorporated into his unique brand of “punk-funk”). Slickly produced, fast-paced and thoroughly engrossing.