The Elephant King
Seth Grossman / Discovery
Seth Grossman’s tale of brotherly love and rivalry begins promisingly. Shy young Oliver Hunt (newcomer Tate Ellington, doing a terrific job) lives with his parents, working a dead-end job, dreaming of becoming a writer, and slowly sinking into deep depression. His older brother Jake (Jonno Roberts), meanwhile, is living it up in Thailand, where he went initially to do anthropological research and wound up indulging in the country’s infamous sleaze industry, doing some occasional kickboxing, and spending a lot of time with a beautiful young bartender named Lek (Florence Faivre). Jake invites his younger brother to exotic Southeast Asia, and amazingly, Oliver agrees. That director Seth Grossman would have the moxie to set his low-budget debut feature in Thailand is impressive enough; and for a while, as these two very different siblings reconnect, it works: Helped along by his conflicted and flamboyant older brother, introspective Oliver begins to open up to this strange new world around him. And then, slowly, it all begins to fall apart—both narratively and conceptually. Grossman begins to rely on stock fraternal jealousy to move his plot along, and Roberts begins to overdo the whole drunken self-loathing bit. There’s also some unfortunate symbolism (in an act of drunken goofiness, Jake buys a baby elephant, thus making sure that many of the scenes between the two brothers literally have an 800 lb. elephant in the room) and a climax that feels like it’s in the wrong movie. Director Grossman, who won a short film award at the 2004 Tribeca festival, is definitely someone to watch—but the strained dramaturgy nearly does him in here.—B.E.
Ash Christian / Discovery
A lot of the Tribeca selections feel as if they’ve been filmed by 20-year-olds, but this promising debut actually was. Ash Christian writes, directs, and stars in this rough but warm coming-of-age tale about a slack-faced gay teen in a dipstick Texas town who discovers that “we’re all fat girls.” With his true “fat girl” friend (the very funny and crass Ashley Fink) and Cuban-refugee sidekick (Robin de Jesus), Christian sets off on a series of misadventures, some quite funny, some crassly derivative, and eventually bonds with his teacher, Jonathan Caouette, who at nights impersonates Liza Minnelli (in a wonderful performance that fans of Caouette’s marvel Tarnation must see). Many of the jokes don’t quite hit, but this is the kind of low-budget, homegrown indie that deserves a look. Christian shows some real comic talent here, and despite his film’s flaws, it’s miles more interesting than Tribeca’s A Very Serious Person, a musty, mothball of a coming-of-age film by gay theater icon Charles Busch that is one of the festival’s greater disappointments.—L.H.
Follow My Voice: With the Music of Hedwig
Katherine Linton / NY, NY Documentary Feature
How can you not be absolutely crazy about John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s anthemic transsexual rock odyssey Hedwig and the Angry Inch? Like almost anyone who saw the show onstage (and later onscreen), I can sing along with every word of “Wig in a Box” and “Wicked Little Town” (though, admittedly, terribly). So I enjoyed watching Rufus Wainwright, Frank Black, the Polyphonic Spree, Jonathan Richman, and others cover these songs in the studio sessions filmed for this documentary, particularly since it was for an album benefiting downtown’s once-besieged Harvey Milk School, which rather famously has a strong contingent of gay, lesbian, and transgendered students. If you’re a fan like I am, you’re likely a fanatic too (again, how can you not be?), so you probably won’t mind that the thin biographies of four Harvey Milk students get lost in musical montages from time to time and don’t quite jell with cast-recording footage that seems to be three years late (the album was released in 2003, and much of this film seems more suitable to an extended DVD release packaged with that album). The structure here, studio session meets soul-baring teens, seems to favor the musicians at the expense of the students and rather limits its appeal to newcomers, who will likely be baffled by this film from start to finish. But if you’re a Hedwig-head, you’ll just savor another opportunity to turn on the 8-track and pull your wig down from the shelf.—L.H.
Adam Green / Midnight
Adam Green’s homage to seventies horror flicks wants to be the next Halloween, but it’s actually the next Wet Hot American Summer. A couple of guys partying during Mardi Gras take a lame haunted boat cruise on the bayou; they and their fellow oddball passengers wind up getting stuck when the boat sinks, and they’re pursued and hacked down by a deformed, axe-wielding maniac named Victor Crowley. Sounds pretty basic, but the devil is in the details. The castaways here aren’t the usual assortment of fun-loving teens, but a wannabe porn producer with his dim “stars,” an insufferably nice midwestern couple, and an incompetent Asian captain with a fake Cajun accent. Hatchet, it turns out, is a comedy—perched somewhere between the wink-wink self-awareness of Scream and the wide-open goofiness of Club Dread. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to know it—or, more accurately, chooses to ignore it, in favor of copious (copious!) amounts of gore and, in the final act, a lot of purposeless running around and shrieking. Green is a talented comic director with confident timing. However, despite his obvious enthusiasm for the horror genre (the film is choc-ka-block with cameos and references to other flicks) he’s a lot less sure-footed when it comes to suspense. As a result, the second half of the film loses much of its momentum—it’s more interested in rubbing our faces in the free-flowing blood and innards than keeping the comic energy going. There’s a very funny movie in here struggling to get out, but by the time it’s all over, that funny movie has been impaled, gutted, and had its head ripped off its torso in excruciating detail. It’s enough to make you scream.—B.E.