Tribeca Preview

25 movies that intrigued, annoyed, and greatly pleased our fest-happy critics

This year's Tribeca Film Festival (April 25–May 6) opens with earth mother Al Gore and his eco-themed shorts, ends with Central Park drapists Christo and Jean-Claude (Albert Maysles's The Gates), and kicks off the summer blockbuster season early with Spidey Fever In between there's a whole lot of, umm, other stuff, including some panel thingy with Debra Messing, a chat with Today show news (!) correspondent Tiki Barber, and the Goo Goo Dolls live at the Verizon Wireless lounge. But do not let the above distract you from what's really going on: 159 features and 87 shorts, many of which the Voice's film critics were excited to preview, thereby providing you with this 25-film overview of what lies ahead.

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Alexis Arquette: She's My Brother
Sister . . . brother . . . sister . . . brother . . . she's my sister and my brother! That pretty much sums up this weirdly appealing documentary, which follows Alexis Arquette—the semi-famous scion of a semi-famous Hollywood family—as he (now she) prepares for a sex-change operation. Our mercurial subject cycles between melancholy and flamboyance: At times she is reflective about her gender trouble; at times she retreats into a shell of drag-queen bitchery. The scariest scenes come when directors Matthew Barbato and Nikki Parrott juxtapose home videos of Alexis as a happy teenager with diary-style footage of her today, a drug-addled blonde who vacantly asks the camera, "Is there any celebrities in space?" JULIA WALLACE

illustration: Elizabeth Rosen


Tribeca Film Festival

Black Sheep
Or: Mutton Chomps. Genetically tweaked and dangerously pissed-off sheep turn rabid in this cheeky, campy Kiwi gorefest, loosely modeled by writer- director Jonathan King on countryman Peter Jackson's early dead/alive puppet gross-outs. Subtext—indeed, substance—is nonexistent, but King's sense of fun is as infectious as the disease of his zombie sheep; sharp-fanged stuffed animals tossed from offscreen toward the jugulars of various deserving victims. Bitten humans turn sheepish, too, which allows the FX department to uncork some old-school, American Werewolf–style flesh-ripping transformations. Karo syrup abounds, as does the irresistible spirit of juvenilia; the last few gags in particular are a gas. ROB NELSON

Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe
Recent biodocs have an unfortunate tendency towards desperate myth- ologizing ("Though today forgotten, so-and-so changed history"); this clips-and-interviews portrait of late collector-curator Sam Wagstaff is no exception, ornamented with breathlessly overwrought narration. But Wagstaff's life nevertheless holds up as the doc makes a case for his primary influence on the rise of minimalism and the market for vintage photography. His relationship with the much younger Mapplethorpe—an only-in–New York mixture of love, lust, mentorship, mutual inspiration, and careerism—provides the tale's fascinating core, much of it told through the reminiscences of close friend Patti Smith. ED HALTER

Bomb It
The first 15 minutes of the documentary Bomb It are a retread of the seminal 1983 New York City graffiti doc Style Wars, but once director Jon Reiss leaves the gritty streets of late-1970s New York, his film begins to pave its own way. Bomb It follows graffiti artists all over the world, most poignantly in the garbage-strewn shanty towns of São Paulo and Cape Town. In developed nations, graffiti is treated as desecration or extravagance, but in bleak corners of the earth, wall art is a true political statement. JESSICA GROSE

Half Moon
Bahman Ghobadi, Dogpatch fabulist and dean of Iranian Kurdish cinema, leads another magical mystery tour through his mountainous homeland—populated, per usual, by a small army of cute urchins, irascible wives, and garrulously self-important old goats. One of the latter, a renowned Kurdish musician named Mamo, visits a village where 1,334 women singers have been exiled and attempts to smuggle one into Iraq for a concert with him and his 10 sons. The music is, as always, terrific; the overall ethno-funkiness brings Ghobadi within hailing distance of such folk cinema maestros as Alexandr Dovzhenko and Sergei Parajanov. J. HOBERMAN

The Hammer
A surprisingly charming Adam Carolla anchors this likable comedy from the director and producer-star of Kissing Jessica Stein, Charles Herman-Wurmfeld and Heather Juergensen. Carolla plays Jerry Ferro, an out-of-work carpenter who rediscovers his talents as a boxer. The schlubby former host of The Man Show maintains a breezy on-screen persona that belies the hard work it surely took to become such a convincing pugilist (check out those skills on the jump rope!). The ending is predictable, but you can't beat that ironic "Eye of the Tiger" montage for pure comic gold. MATT SINGER

In the Beginning Was the Image: Conversations With Peter Whitehead
Experimental documentarian, political radical, jet-setting '60s hobnobber, and world-class falconer to Saudi royalty (!), British filmmaker Peter Whitehead is an unsung visionary of a breed only the Age of Aquarius could have produced. This lengthy two-part extended interview with Whitehead at times retraces its own steps, but director Paul Cronin's strategy of allowing Whitehead to expostulate freely on his life and philosophy nevertheless pays off, providing an entrée into an artist's mind at a level of detail rarely achieved outside of written biography. E.H.

The King of Kong
Seth Gordon's astonishingly good doc, featuring 25-year Donkey Kong champ Billy Mitchell, is as much about the perils of hubris as it is the price of heartbreak. Only one man has emerged since 1982 to challenge Mitchell: Steve Wiebe, a family man whose life thus far has been defined by his failures. All he's got going for him are a patient wife, a Donkey Kong machine, and the ability to beat every flaming barrel Kong throws his way. When Wiebe unseats Mitchell, the former No. 1 conspires against the upstart; Gordon's movie would play like dark comedy were there not such cruelty at its core. ROBERT WILONSKY

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