Sunday, April 26, 2015


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E, Levine

When the famed comedy troupe Monty Python decided to do its first live performance in 34 years, it seemed only right to document the process.

Chronicling the reunion of the surviving members of the troupe in their first live performance since 1980, we learn that the catalyst is a lawsuit (unexplained) that has had a severe effect on some member's finances.  The result is a 10-day run at London's O2 stadium where they'll have a nightly audience of 15,000.

The film, by Roger Graef and James Rogan, shows the troupe dealing with media, getting reacquainted, rehearsing and performing shows that are nostalgic and where the audiences frequently know the sketches, line by line.

Between stage sequences, the documentary flashes back to the old days when the troupe was performing together.  While some of the material may seem dated now, or even less humorous than originally, the bonafide delight in each other's company is very evident.  Even after a hiatus of so many years, these troupe members genuinely like being together and performing together.

Well worth seeing, overall the documentary is nostalgic and funny and will be most appealing to die hard Monty Python fans

Friday, April 24, 2015


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E Levine

Actor Kevin Pollak goes after some answers to in-depth questions about whether some well-known comedians see tragedy as the basis for their going into comedy but fails to get those answers.

Instead, this documentary contains interviews with Tom Hanks, Jimmy Fallon, Martin Short, Christopher Guest, Larry David and Steve Coogan and humorous anecdotes about their lives and careers.  It doesn't, however, actually answer the deeper questions.

There is also an inconsistency about the answers and the quality of the conversations since other interviews are with more serious, less comedic actors.    Additionally, some interviews are brief and fleeting, while other interviews are much longer and fairly dominant without adding much to the film.

While a worthy effort and very entertaining, the dominant interviewees are basically from the old boys club while well known comics of color are not interviewed at all and women are barely onscreen.  In the current environment, Pollak misses his mark by skipping so many important, gifted comic minds.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E Levine

Matthew Heineman wrote, photographed and edited this film which focuses on two separate groups of vigilantes policing different fronts of the drug war.  It's a riveting film and frankly I was surprised he made it back to New York alive, without being imprisoned by the Mexican government or killed by one of the vigilante groups.

One group is a citizen's anti-cartel paramilitary organization in Mexico known as the Autodefensas and led by Dr. Jose Manuelo Mireles..  The other group is a self-appointed border patrol in Arizona known as the Arizona Border Recon that focuses on stopping the importation of drugs and illegal aliens. The Arizona organization is led by veteran Tim "Nailer" Foley.  In both cases, Heineman ingratiated himself into the organizations and focuses on their leaders.

Filming with a small crew and accompanying both groups on patrols and actions, the viewer can justifiably fear for the filmmakers.  As the film progresses we see corruption infiltrate the Mexican group and indications of corruption on the part of the Autodefensas.  On the American side we see racist elements infiltrate the Arizona Border Recon, which adds a sense of danger and in some ways negates the groups actions.

Heineman is a self-trained filmmaker who claims to frame and shoot scenes through intuition.  The photography on this film is terrific, with subtitles for the Spanish portions.  But the filmmakers were frequently in the crossfire and the film is scary.  Even scarier is the ongoing corruption which lends credence to the fact that neither of these groups can hope to be successful if the ongoing corruption can't be eliminated.


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E. Levine

This is a really exciting documentary focusing on the world's oldest horse race, the Palio.  Held in Siena, the ancient city in Tuscany, this race is dramatic and exciting and certainly rivals any of the other well known horse races.

Director Cosima Spender has done an outstanding job of filming the biannual event and certainly the characters she focuses on are as rich as any created for scripted sports stories.  They are real people but almost too rich as characters to believe.  Add to that the traditional banners and ceremonial garb of the contrades and the film takes on deep emotional and visual color.

Born to British artists outside of Siena, Spender is knowledgeable about the storied race which is held every July 2nd and August 16th.  After giving a brief history of Siena, a city divided into close-knit independent contrade or districts, Spender then immerses the viewer in the specifics of the Palio competition, where the jockeys are essentially free agents, contracted to represent individual districts.

However, the Palio is not just a race.  The races last only 90 seconds in Siena's Piazza del Campo but it's doubtful a fiction writer could author something as intricate as the Palio.  It's outcome is openly dependent on all types of intrigues, bribery and betrayals and even threats of physical violence.

While some archival footage is used, cinematographer Stuart Bentley has captured some new and exciting footage.  Anything goes.  Jockeys lash their steeds, bump into competitors during turns and frequently slam competitors into walls, causing pileups and injuries.  And when the race is over, dissatisfied district loyalists are known to get into physical rumbles necessitating police interaction.

The Palio is known as "a game of legitimate corruption" with Palio Organizers practicing shenanigans that will throw the race.  Basically they do everything to minimize luck as a factor in the race.

The characters, real-life trainers and jockeys, are rich in history and passionate in their desire to win the race, although their methods are questionable.  They both admire and resent each other and it all makes for a captivating film.


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E. Levine

Broad Green Pictures has offered an exceptional documentary directed by Shameen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schocken.

The city of Lahore, Pakistan has been famous for its music since the time of Pakistan independence.  When Pakistan became Ismalized in the 1970s most of the music was banned and it became increasingly difficult for musicians to continue to practice and play.

A group of very brave musicians has continued to play at Sachal Studios in Lahore and they have become world-reknown for their experimental music which fuses traditional music with contemporary Western innovation and flare.

When their rendition of Dave Brubeck's 'Take Five' attracts the attention of Wynton Marsalis, they are invited to play at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Highlighting their difficulty in practice and playing at home, the film traces their uplifting endeavors to culturally preserve their music and their heritage and to inspire global listeners.

Further, it shows them risking their own safety to travel to the USA, to practice and then perform with Marsalis and his band, the Jazz.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E. Levine

Written by legendary brothers Paolo Taviani and Vittorio Taviai, this is a period piece set against  14th century black plague stricken Florence.

Based on Boccaccios' 'Decameron', the story revolves around ten young aristocratic women and men who escape to a country estate and spend their days telling stories about life, love, fate and resurrection, in the hopes of taking their minds off the very real sense of their own mortality..

Visually exquisite, the stories are the real ones that emerged from one of Italy's darkest periods in history.  In this film the Taviani focus on 5 of the 100 stories that are in the book which is considered an Italian masterpiece.

During an interview session the Taviani brothers said that since the modern world is currently facing many economic and spiritual plagues, their new Decameron is meant to demonstrate escaping the ailments of society through the power of story telling and love.

However, while the stories told are interesting, they don't really show a parallel between society today and that of the 14th century.


A Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Selection

By D.E. Levine

Comedienne Lily Tomlin brings anger and sorrow to her character Ellie Reid, a septugenerian poet/ author and grandmother.

When the film opens, the tart-tongued Ellie is breaking up with her much younger girlfriend Olivia (Judy Greer).  She's never fully recovered from the death of her longtime partner Violet, hasn't written much since her death and has financial problems.

When her teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) arrives with the news that she's pregnant and needs Ellie's help to get an abortion.

Sage is broke and her mother, Ellie's daughter Judy (Marcia Gay Harden) has confiscated her credit card.  Ellie just finished paying off all her credit card debt and cut up the credit cards to make a wind chime and keep from racking up more debt.

The only solution is for Ellie and Sage to "hit the road" in LA in Ellie's vintage Dodge Royal and go out seeking the necessary $600.

With an interesting family background (Ellie came out as a lesbian long before it became fashionable and Judy had Sage through an anonymous sperm donor), the third generation, Sage, now has to make her own decision about her body and her pregnancy.

As they make their rounds trying to raise the $600, Ellie wreaks havoc wherever they go. Finally visiting Karl (Sam Elliott) a man from Ellie's past with deep pockets who may provide a solution but who, after taking Ellie on a journey down memory lane, proves himself as vulnerable and as much in pain as Ellie, due to decisions they made years ago which are still impacting their life.

Not wanting to give spoilers regarding the end of the film, we suggest viewing the 78 minute film for the outstanding performances by its cast and the intriguing story and characters.