Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tribeca 2007: Day Seven

-Black Butterfly
Francisco J. Lombardi's Black Butterfly well befits its name. From the shrouding grime of Lima, Lombardi never wavers the delicate focus of his film, nor the deliberate struggle of his protagonist, Gabriela (Melania Urbina) a fragile and beautiful schoolteacher, to revenge herself on the corrupt dictator who had her fiancé brutally murdered. Along the way, she unites with Ángela (Magdyel Ugaz), a gum-chewing semi-gumshoe of a reporter who is trying to lose herself in men, only to get caught up in Gabriela's innocent charms and desperate plot.

This is not a tender story, nor (for all the beauty) is Lombardi a forgiving director. From staggering shots of casket-covered walls rising fifteen feet in the air (an aboveground catacomb) to the escort service of the elite, he finds beauty in death and darkness in life, a paradox that has delightfully befuddled audiences for years. Alonso Cuetos, the writer, dips deep into both before stirring the pot, and his elegant touch is to force Gabriela into a relationship with Dotty (Yvonne Frayssinet), a dotty but powerful matriarch of high society that plays against type with a grace and sincerity that makes Gabriela into a manipulator.

At one point, Ángela quips that as a reporter, she "can make up a whole life in a second." But the careful camera work of Francisco J. Lombardi reminds us that it takes more than a second to make life linger on past the final frame.

-Charlie Bartlett
An altogether upbeat, likable comedy, Charlie Bartlett never manages to escape from being overscripted, but succeeds on personality and charm. Anton Yelchin, who plays the title role, is a rare breed of multiple talents, which is why he's perfect to play this rich and culturally astute boy who, in his attempts to become popular, winds up playing psychologist and pharmacist both. His rising star clashes with the principal, a stringent Robert Downey Jr., and it doesn't help much that he's dating the man's daughter (Kat Dennings). The film adds as many eccentricities as it can, from cabaret numbers to Ritalin-induced rampages, and finds a lovely balance in Charlie's manic mother, played by a very loose Hope Davis.

Though it's no surprise that Charlie gets the girl, resolves his issues with his jailed (and therefore absent) father, and helps the principal realize the error of his ways, Gustin Nash's script makes it jibe with high school rather nicely, and Jon Poll's very professional filming manages to remove the director's fingers from the frame, keeping the focus entirely on the kids. Say what you want about Charlie Bartlett: it's got character(s).

-King of Kong
While it's no surprise that Taxi to the Darkside beat King of Kong for best documentary (which is no surprise, given the relevance of torture), this is my pick for the most enjoyable flick of the entire Tribeca festival. Seth Gordon's material is so perfectly eccentric, and contains such a solid narrative in its coverage of the world records of classic video games, that it seems scripted. As is, Billy Mitchell is the charismatic, cocky, self-made Donkey Kong champion who has ruled the roost since 1985, and Steve Wiebe is the unemployed, doubting, family man who is trying to snatch away the title from a seemingly unbeatable 880,000+ score. Walter Day, now officially acknowledged by the Guinness Book of World Records as an official judge of these sorts of events, comments at one point that their rivalry is right up there with the Yankees/Sox . . . and after watching a compressed version of their passive history, there's certainly an epic scope -- something of the King Kong grandeur in the King of Kong gaming.

In any case, Steve Wiebe is the hero of the film, a nice guy who is repeatedly cheated of his victories after the console on which he breaks the record is discredited (by a sinisterly shot Mitchell), and then again after his live, in-tournament record is disrupted by a secret video distributed and set up to steal Wiebe's thunder (and entry into the 2007 world records). Says Mitchell of his tape (of many quotable lines): "Not even Helen of Troy had that much attention." From his unctuous "apprentice," Brian Kuh (who is heartbroken to not be the first person to get a "kill screen" at Funspot), to solid associates like Steve Sanders, there's a conspiracy channeling cabal of gaming elites that draw definitive lines of good and evil across the documentary. Billy is the golden boy of gaming, and therefore practically a Jedi by their standards -- but he's portrayed here as a Sith Lord, full of evil and an unwillingness to back up all his talk with a face-to-face playoff with Steve. "No matter what I say," comes another golden Mitchell line, "it draws controversy -- like the abortion issue." Come on! That's priceless.

Whether or not Billy is really an asshole who "chumpeized" Steve, or whether Wiebe has OCD or mild autism -- these things aren't the point. The point is that Seth Gordon has managed to glorify a new "sport," and entertain us greatly in the process (cheesy 80s music like "You're the Best" only makes it better). Thank god for Steve's young daughter though, who keeps things in perspective: "Some people ruin their lives to be in [the Guinness Book of World Records]." Whether or not this is wasting your life or not, well . . . you'll have to judge for yourself.

No comments: