Sundance ’11 Day Three: The Interrupters, The Cinema Hold-Up, A Tribe Called Quest and Higher Ground

And on the 3rd day, the Movie Gods of Sundance said there are still more movies to see… So here we go, I watch 3 hour documentary on Chicago gang violence, a cinema hold up by some cool Latino kids, and stayed up way late to watch the bumpin’ documentary about those midnight marauder’s A Tribe Called Quest. Also, Robert Levin checks in with his first review, taking on Vera Farmiga’s first work as a director.

The Interrupters

Filmmaker Steve James, of Hoop Dreams fame, returns to the streets of Chicago after a 15 year hiatus in this long but heartfelt documentary about a city dealing with a street violence epidemic. The title refers to a group of former Chicago gang members called Cease Fire, who literally interrupt on possible violent events in their neighborhoods.

James and a small crew focuses on a year in the lives of Cease Fire members: Ameen, Cobe, and Eddie as they try to help the struggling community and come to terms with their own violent past. The observational camera style gives us a character view that doesn’t cheat or try to be preachy. When violent scenes are caught on camera it is matter of fact and not glorified.

The weakness of the project lay is its commercial appeal. The length of the material can be felt at the halfway of where it feels like PBS viewing than a cinematic experience. An idea would be to divide this film into 4 hour long episodes. That isn’t to say this film will not move you as real life individuals are faced with life or death situations in the streets of Chicago. James and his follow to urban Chicago gives us a film that is worth watching if you have the time to spare.

The Cinema Hold-Up

One of the few Latin American film pieces at the festival focuses on a group of Mexico City teenagers who decided to rob their local cinema. This is a film that you might think would be a fast-paced and hip thrill ride but surprisingly moves at a slow and quietly mature pace .

The film follows best friends Negus, Chale, Sapo, and Chata as they wander about Mexico City, t tagging walls and skating to various family issues. As the group becomes more bored with the city life, they humorously talk about robbing a place. A youth version of Ocean 11 proportions that gains in strength as we get to know this close knit group of teens.

Since the crawling pace makes you focused on the characters than the heist, yet once the heist comes onto the screen. It is cut to a pace that is as thrilling and smart, that will put you upright in your seat and hold onto the cup holders.

Director Iria Gomez Concherio debut feature film is focused on the critical heist but takes the time to develop more minute details about friendship, the families, and atmosphere of the urban neighborhood. Concherio shows a dynamic of character driven storytelling and dry wit in the mood of Jim Jarmusch that is one of the many gems to be found at Sundance.

Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest

Can I kick it? Yes, you can…as actor/director Micheal Rapaport delivers a fun and diaspora on the most influential rap group in modern history, A Tribe Called Quest.

This is a first-class ride along with the crew of Q-Tip, Phefe Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and hype man Jarobi White from their humble beginnings in Queens, New York to 4 studio albums and the controversial break-up in 1998 and reunion in 2008. This film does not disappoint or back down on answering the questions about their break-up. It wasn’t drugs or money like most Behind-the-Music would point to but pride and perfection that music creation put them through.

Rapaport fills the screen with honest and at-times hilarious interviews from De La Soul, Common, The Roots, Beastie Boys, and how Quest effected their talents. Its not a revolutionary documentary but the way we view documentaries or cinematic storytelling style but it does gives entertaining and insightful look on a group that should be in the rock and roll hall of fame.

The music of classics like Buggin Out, Bonita Applebum, and Can I Kick It? Will have your head nodding and brain smiling about the days when Yo, MTV Raps was back on the tube.

Higher Ground

Reviewed by Robert Levin

Vera Farmiga makes a strong directorial debut with Higher Ground, a compelling depiction of a woman’s lifelong struggle with her Christian faith, based on Carolyn Briggs’ collection of memoirs “The Dark World.”

Structured in chapters delineating the various phases of protagonist Corrine’s (Farmiga) life as they relate to her search for God, the movie is a patient, perceptive character study centered on a fundamentalist world without ever mocking it, or treating it with thoughtless condescension.

Rife with honest moments, spurred by Farmiga-the-filmmaker’s keen eye for shading various relationships in loving, authentic ways, the film transcends the specificity of its setting to evoke the joys and pains of everyday life, and the proverbial search for the meaning behind it.

Reject Pick of the Day: Beat, Rhymes, and Life because it’s a cool and honest look on the real hardships that talented artists go through. Plus it has the best soundtrack to any film at this year’s festival.

Click here for more from Sundance 2011

Benji Carver is a fetus of many great 80s action movies, that is trying to escape his Sam Shepard past. (Don't believe him? Just ask his ex-girlfriend.) Benji claims to be from the wild streets of Oakland, CA but really is from the rolling hill of Morgan Hill-which currently supplies much of the non-magic mushrooms of the West. Now a recent transplant to LA, where he is yet awaiting his first high speed chase and shoot out, a make out session with some celebrity chick, throwing a type writer out a window, and meeting his idol Jean Claude-Van Damme.

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