There is almost no issue more important to the American public right now than the subprime mortgage crisis and the attendant bank collapses. So it would be wonderful to report that Leslie Cockburn's American Casino reveals just how it all happened. Somehow, that's not the case, even though Cockburn has a crackerjack story to tell. Her convincing thesis is that the world of investment banking is essentially a casino. Although a veteran of 60 Minutes and Frontline, Cockburn follows some Baltimore mortgage owners who found out too late what their crazily complex loans would actually cost. American Casino is sadly just about as arcane as its subject matter, never breaking down the baffling wall of terminology that separates most viewers from the wizards of Wall Street who created the problem. The film is an educational opportunity sadly missed. Similarly, Yoav Shamir's Defamation tackles a relevant subject, but comes up short when all is said and done (still, it won a Special Jury Mention). Shamir's stated goal was to make a movie about anti-Semitism (as an Israeli citizen, he says he's heard about this even if he hasn't experienced it). He tags along with Anti-Defamation League leader Abraham Foxman, as well as a group of Israeli high school students visiting Auschwitz, and interviews random people on the street in Poland and Crown Heights, and a couple authors accused of anti-Semitism. His methodology is hardly the most rigorous, and his meaningful zooms and edits, not to mention goofy background music to indicate when we're supposed to laugh, undermine the project's seriousness. Those looking for the lighter side of Tribeca probably tried to get a ticket to My Last Five Girlfriends, a mostly winning rom-com fillip that would have earned higher marks had it not taken several pages out of the Ally McBeal book of whimsy overkill. Julian Kemp's film starts promisingly, as lovelorn Londoner Duncan (Brendan Patricks, auditioning to play a Nick Hornby hero) is frantically penning a bitter letter to his last five girlfriends, just before swallowing vodka and pills. One quick rewind later and we're on a tour of those relationships and their painful implosions. It's somewhat rough going at first, padded with cutesy animations and symbolic fantasy sequences that wouldn't have made it onto an episode of Scrubs. The more serious second half does better, covering Duncan's last relationship with the tempestuous Gemma (Naomie Harris). Mining the source novel by Alain de Botton for a few sly insights into love, as well as a smattering of laughs at Duncan's expense, it is middling material shot too obviously on the cheap (much of it looks British cable-access quality) and not terribly deserving of its festival slot.
Rudo y Cursi
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