Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival
“Tetsuo: The Bullet Man” was a rare TFF misfire.
Tribeca Film Festival reviews
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TETSUO: THE BULLET MAN (-)
Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto
71 minutes. In English and Japanese with occasional subtitles
BY SCOTT STIFFLER
What is it with the third installment of sci-fi film franchises? They almost always disappoint (see the Star Wars, Matrix, and Terminator trilogies). Add Shinya Tsukamoto’s “Tetsuo” series to that shameful list of narrative dynasties that, by episode three, have sputtered to an inglorious conclusion or repeated their original formula with none of the originality that made us love Part I.
That’s too bad; because the first installment of the “Tetsuo” trilogy — 1989’s “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” — still has the power to dazzle, surprise, impress and amaze. An intense tale of revenge, it involves a Japanese salary man who accidentally hits another man with his car, then dumps the body. Said body returns to arrange for his hit-and-dump-and-run perpetrator to gradually become a metal war machine. 1992’s “Tetsuo II: Body Hammer” tells us more about the sinister origins of the transformation, this time with a new hero/victim who once again goes on a revenge spree after transforming into metallic machinery/weaponry. While these first two films were more concerned with fantastic visuals, “Bullet Man” relies much more heavily on a conventional storyline.
The first film’s style, imagery and themes were signs of things to come — and come they did! Countless cyberpunk films, novels comic books and Internet musings have since begged, borrowed and stolen from director Tsukamoto. It’s all the more sad and ironic, then, that the brain behind “The Iron Man” would cloud “The Bullet Man” with so many tired, overworked clichés. They include (but are not limited to) the use of breakthrough science for military applications; the quest for vengeance after a loved one is killed; and the hero’s struggle to calm the beast inside. Tsukamoto even finds time for daddy issues.
When first we meet Anthony, he’s a Caucasian Tokyo-based salary man with a wife and young son. He’s a portrait of serenity cloaked in Clark Kent glasses; all soft mutterings and quiet contemplation — but not for long. After tragedy strikes on the way home from a father/son blood test administered by his overly protective father, Anthony goes ballistic — literally. Deadly machinery springs forth from his body, turning the once-docile everyman into a deadly weapon whose full destructive power just might do a number on Tokyo that would make Godzilla’s rampage seem quaint.
The action, such as it is, is set largely in a secret hidden space in the apartment of Anthony’s mad scientist father — a claustrophobic waste of the Tokyo location. Once transformed, Anthony isn’t allowed to run rampant through the streets like his predecessors did in Parts I and II (a shame, since that’s the real source of fun and excitement).
That said, it’s likely fans of the first two “Tetsuo” films (and there are many of them) won’t be showing up for — or too concerned with — the narrative and its many shortcomings. They’re still likely to be disappointed, though. This third installment lacks the ferocious nihilism and furious pace that made the first film a standard-setting cyberpunk trailblazer.
I saw this film on its opening night — the world premiere of a re-cut version. Shame on Tribeca Film Festival’s director of programming, David Kwok — who showed up to introduce the film and gush about how happy he was to have it in the festival. The several people who walked out during the screening— and those who were muttering after walking away at the end — didn’t seem to share his enthusiasm.
OUR CITY, MY STORY (+)
BY STEPHANIE BUHMANN
One of the lesser-known, but more inspiring events during the Tribeca Film Festival, was the screening of “Our City, My Story.”
Curated by the Tribeca Film Institute, this annual event is now in its sixth year and showcases the best of New York City’s youth-made media. The program is set up to teach young people how to make a film, be it in the context of their schools or independently. This year, the screening featured a diverse selection of 13 short films that involved over 60 filmmakers from all five of the city’s boroughs.
The films could not be more eclectic in style and approach. Most focus on what is at hand; New York’s landscape and texture — establishing a portrait that captures many of this city’s facets, fascinations and hardships.
In “Lippy,” Aishah Abdullah focuses on the city’s vast array of people by simply shooting individuals of different color, gender and size before a blank backdrop. It is a potent contrast between color and minimalism. Zooming in further, “Make it Happen” by Caroline Handel, Rayhan Islam, Milo Finnegan-Money and Rhakwaun Seymour follows three individuals in New York City, who have become non-traditional activists. Through seeding wildflowers in Bedford-Stuyvesant’s many vacant lots, altering the city’s public advertisements or providing the homeless with water, each individual has impacted the urban community in an inspiring fashion.
One of the most touching stories comes in the form of intimate personal accounts. “Teenage Motherhood” is told by Jacquelyn Gutierrez and Erick Echevarria. It focuses on Ashley Gutierrez — a new, sixteen-year-old mother who shares her joys and problems. She talks about how she tried to conceal her pregnancy at first; how she feared judgment and how the baby has changed her daily routines. Her only support system is her own mother, whose main goal is to help Ashley finish school.
In “The Image of My Perception,” Ashley Turizo talks about the pressures of growing up in the Lower East Side with a single mother and two brothers, of whom one is in prison for drug charges and the other is at home and openly violent. She is about to graduate from high school and might be the first member of her family to go to college. As she struggles to choose her path, her film is a manifestation of her belief that she can change her reality through changing her perception.
A smart, charming and funny film is “Little Dominica NYC” by Jose Valdez, Dionis Quezada, Slimane Rabout — in which we follow the adventures of a teenage boy in search of Dominican culture and history in New York City. Various encounters and clever interviews lead him to Washington Heights, making a trip way Uptown more enticing than ever.
NICE GUY JOHNNY (+)
Directed by Edward Burns
BY PAULA ROSENBERG
At a Q&A session which followed a screening of his latest movie “Nice Guy Johnny,” Edward Burns was asked why he is so passionate about making independent features. Burns answered: “You do it because it’s who you are and what you love to do.”
As the title suggests, nice guy Johnny Rizzo (Matt Bush) is a pleasant soul in his mid-twenties who’s being pressured by his overbearing fiancé Claire (Anna Wood) to give up his dream job as a sports talk radio host for a better paying gig.
Johnny flies to NYC to go on an interview for a managerial position — an interview arranged by his future father-in-law. Johnny’s philandering Uncle Terry (Burns) convinces him to spend the weekend before the interview in the Hamptons. Terry introduces him to Brooke (Kerry Bishe) — an effervescent beauty who immediately senses Johnny’s discontentment with the direction his life is taking.
This film falls into the trap of having supporting characters that are more interesting than its leads. Wood is delightfully disdainful as the tyrannical Claire, but the audience is left wondering what Johnny saw in her in the first place. Burns even admitted, “You can see it’s a lot more fun to play Uncle Terry then Johnny.” It is hard to bring charm and charisma to someone who is juggling multiple affairs with married women; but Burns pulls it off so well that it is impossible to pay attention to anyone else when Terry is in a scene. It is easy to see why Johnny is attracted to the breathtaking Brooke — but there’s a lack of chemistry between Bush and Bishe.
Fortunately, the story isn’t about Johnny having to choose between Brooke and Claire. The plot revolves around him evaluating what truly makes him happy and having to decide between following his aspirations and meeting other people’s expectations. The film becomes much more engaging and plausible during its second half, as Johnny begins to assert himself.
Shot on location in Easthampton and Manhattan, Burns once again proves he can put a polished film together on a shoestring budget. The film’s soundtrack, by P.T. Walkley, is the perfect backdrop to Johnny’s conundrum. His songs — including “Aquarius,” “What’s What” and “Something More” — are fresh and interesting. Despite some flaws, “Nice Guy Johnny” is worth checking out.