“Over the past 12 years, the Tribeca Film Festival has shed and tried on multiple identities,” begins Vulture‘s Bilge Ebiri. “But in recent years, it seems to have found one that sticks: It’s a festival where you go to see some of the most exciting documentary work around.” And he’s got capsule reviews of sixteen features, beginning with Below Dreams: “Improvisatory, glancing, and gorgeous, Garrett Bradley’s film is a slow-burn beauty. It follows the lives of three people making their way back to New Orleans in search of a better life, but it does so in a way that’s as much about the textured quality of the imagery—lovingly shot on celluloid, of course—as it is about character development or class conflict.” Filmmaker‘s Scott Macaulay has five questions for Bradley.
The New York Times‘ Stephen Holden seems to think a bit more of artistic director Frédéric Boyer’s narrative lineup than Bilge Ebiri: “Lou Howe’s wrenching first feature, Gabriel, for example, imagines a modern-day Holden Caulfield adrift in New York City during a short leave from a mental hospital. There’s not a false note in its portrait of a desperate, floundering young man, indelibly played by Rory Culkin…. The movie is one of 55 world premieres in the festival and should be considered a front-runner in the world narrative competition.” More from Movies.com‘s Erik Davis: “There’s this uncomfortable, punishing sadness that you can’t stop feeling while you watch Gabriel, and all of it comes from Rory Culkin’s tremendous performance.” Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn gives the film a B+ and Valentina I. Valentini interviews Howe for Twitch. Nigel M. Smith talks with Culkin for Indiewire.
Introducing Slant‘s Tribeca 2014 feature, Ed Gonzalez notes that “the festival launches with the world premiere of the Nas documentary Time Is Illmatic, directed by multimedia artist One9, and closes with writer-director John Carney’s Begin Again, a music industry-set dramedy starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, and Hailee Steinfeld that’s ‘set to the soundtrack of a summer in New York City.'” The first review in the package comes from Gerard Raymond, who finds that Midi Z’s Ice Poison “is a stark view of Myanmar, so unrelenting that it could tax the patience of the most empathetic audience member.” Earlier: A few notes from the Berlinale.
Flavorwire‘s Jason Bailey previews ten films, among them Bright Days Ahead: “Fanny Ardant is a revelation in this very French comedy/drama, as a striking 60-year-old whose stint at retiree social club results in an affair with a much younger instructor. Writer/director Marion Vernoux’s style is tender, sexy, and sunnily evocative… Ardant creates an indelible portrait of an unapologetic lover, savvy and wise, and her closely observed work gives focus to this lovely, light, likable picture.”
Time Out also recommends ten films. For Keith Uhlich, Five Star is definitely one to catch: “Brooklyn filmmaker Keith Miller follows up 2012’s terrific Welcome to Pine Hill with a stellar doc-fiction hybrid, set in the projects of Kings County. Newcomers James ‘Primo’ Grant and John Diaz play variations on themselves, the former an alternately tough and tender gang leader, the latter a tenacious teen he mentors. The film adeptly avoids clichés at every turn.” Sarah Salovaara has five questions for Miller at Filmmaker. It’s a “a low-key but powerfully affecting urban drama,” finds Variety‘s Scott Foundas. 2.5 out of four stars from Jesse Cataldo at Slant: “Miller’s most interesting motif remains the revelation of cities within cities, discrete communities operating with their own distinct sets of rules, and how little overlap exists between these worlds. This gets lost in the focus on violent legacies, a topic that, while thematically related, ends up limiting the film’s scope, reducing public-housing dwellers to the same stock roles they occupy in less thoughtful films, limiting their stories rather than allowing them to develop.” But Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn gives the film an A-.
And Joshua Rothkopf recommends Regarding Susan Sontag: “Sharp as a scalpel in print and often as prickly in person, Sontag was the last of the dazzling New York intellectuals—to many, her name is still incendiary. (A courageous essay published only days after September 11, 2001, incited citywide fury.) Nancy D. Kates’s profile does well by the early years, critical texts and novels, but gets even further into the writer’s evolving private persona: unsatisfied, unbowed, unapologetic.”
“A schlocky queer thriller or a German-language neo-giallo about desire, dreams and Doppelgangers, Till Kleinert’s small-scale but impressive debut feature The Samurai (Der Samurai) could be described in numerous ways,” writes Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s no small feat that the novice feature director, who here combines elements from sources as varied as Heimat productions, werewolf movies, slasher films, Japanese revenge pictures and another small dozen genres besides, manages to quickly establish a tone that allows for all the influences to not only harmoniously co-exist but also feel like something quite unique and self-contained.” Slant‘s Ed Gonzalez: “Genre fiction can open up playgrounds of escape for the oppressed, though it isn’t clear if the gates of this metaphorically muddled fantasy have been thrust open by a victim of bullying or the bully himself. And it’s that lack of clarity that gives Der Samurai it’s only real sense of danger.” More from Drew Taylor (Playlist, B).
Variety‘s Jay Weissberg: “A slick, stylish drama, Human Capital starts as a class critique wrapped around a whodunit, and though the mystery elements have overtaken the social assessment by the final third, the pic remains an engrossing, stinging look at aspirational parvenus and the super-rich they emulate. Perfectly cast with actors who give life to very recognizable Italian types, Capital confirms Paolo Virzi as one of the more dynamic directors on the peninsula, blending biting commentary with expert narrational skills.” John Anderson gives it a B+ at Indiewire. Elise Nakhnikian at Slant: “Human Capital gives the tired trope of cutting between overlapping stories a welcome shot of adrenaline, using it not just to compare and contrast tangentially related stories, but to show how people caught up in their private dramas can overlook or misinterpret the people around them—especially those who have less power, whether because of their gender, their class, their age, or some combination of the three.”
At Hammer to Nail, Noah Buschel, whose Glass Chin starts is screening at Tribeca, talks with Khyentse Norbu, not so much about Vara: A Blessing as about meditation, Ozu and more. Amie Barrodale for Harper’s on Vara: “It’s a love story, but it is also a love poem to classical Indian dance and its traditional practitioners, the devadasis.”
Meantime, you’ll find lists of anticipated but as yet unseen films at the Playlist and Indiewire, which has also been interviewing filmmakers with work at the festival. Variety‘s Gordon Cox reports on Tribeca’s expansion of its online offerings and, for Film International, Gary M. Kramer interviews short film curator Sharon Badal.
Updates, 4/17: Just one day into the festival, it’s not too late to post another quick round of previews and lists of most-anticipated films: Bryan Adams (The Credits; five hot docs and five female directors to watch), John Anderson (Thompson on Hollywood), Erik Davis (Movies.com), Leslie Felperin (Guardian), Stephanie Goodman (NYT), Jeff Labrecque (EW), Andrew O’Hehir (Salon), Scott Macaulay (Filmmaker), Twitch and Sam Weisberg (Voice). And at Indiewire, Paula Bernstein talks with Jane Rosenthal, TFF Co-Founder and CEO, while Eric Kohn talks with both Rosenthal and Robert De Niro.
So, on to the reviews. “No modern American music genre reflects its environment better than hip hop, which is why documentaries about its history have proliferated over the years,” suggests Eric Kohn. “In some cases, a well-honed treatment of the scene actually has the ability to open up the insulated community to a broader range of listeners… But others merely stick to their base with less thrilling results for anyone already onboard. It’s this category where Time Is Illmatic, a slim overview of the conditions behind the recording of rapper Nas’ seminal debut album Illmatic on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, neatly fits in. Tom Hawking at Flavorwire: “In one respect, it’s great that Illmatic is being appreciated for the 24-carat classic that it is, and that it’s the subject of such an excellent documentary. But the very existence of the album in the first place is testament to a profoundly broken society, one that has only become more broken in the last two decades—and its continuing relevance is proof that nothing has really changed in the last 20 years.” More from John DeFore (Hollywood Reporter), Nolan Feeney (Time) and Scott Foundas (Variety).
“Alonso Ruiz Palacios is aware enough of his place in Mexican cinema’s new wave to include a couple of jarringly meta references in his otherwise fourth-wall-preserving debut film, Güeros, first popping into the frame to ask one of the actors what he thinks of the screenplay and then giving another character a speech about ‘fucking Mexican movies,'” writes Elise Nakhnikian. That aside: “The film’s social commentary unspools quietly in the background while the narrative focuses on the ennui, free-floating anxiety, and inchoate longing for meaning experienced by two or three privileged young people from the middle- to upper-middle classes.”
Also in Slant, Kenji Fujishima on Tsai Ming-liang’s Journey to the West (more here): “Tsai’s cinema has always been founded on discovering the beautifully surreal in the seemingly everyday, often without the safety net of dialogue. Consider this short but sweet new work of his, then, a near-wordless statement of purpose.” Vadim Rizov at Filmmaker: “[T]une in and pay close attention: this is a rewardingly compact incentive to focus.”
“Malika (a charismatic Chaimae Ben Acha), the lead singer of the eponymous all-girl punk rock band at the center of writer-director Sean Gullette’s debut feature, Traitors, is a representative of the restless generation in the Moroccan port city of Tangiers,” writes Gerard Raymond at the House Next Door. “Apparently, Malika is following the spirit of a Moroccan proverb that’s quoted in the movie: ‘If you are a nail, endure the knocking. If you are hammer, strike.’ There’s no question about which side of the equation Malika falls. By the end of the movie, she has scored several strikes—for women’s liberation as well as against the drug mafia.” Filmmaker‘s Vadim Rizov has five questions for Gullette.
At Artinfo, David D’Arcy recommends three films, Josef Wladyka’s thriller Manos Sucias (Dirty Hands), Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s The Newburgh Sting and Frederic Tcheng’s Dior and I: “There are two dominant personalities here. Christian Dior himself, as a voice-over narration gives us the late designer’s perspective from his autobiography, and there is Raf Simons, a Belgian ‘minimalist’ who arrives from Jil Sander, presumably to rejuvenate the old fashion house.” Then “the team in the atelier has enough unrehearsed spontaneous personality for a Preston Sturges film. Every one of them is s character actor, although they are not acting. Now they have their 15 minutes. You’ll want to see more.”
Updates, 4/19: “Despite following a broken-down boxer’s tense foray into Manhattan’s seedy underworld as his work as a trainer inadvertently leads to criminal activity, the only gun to be found in Noah Buschel’s Glass Chin resides on a bedside table as the base of a lamp,” writes Stephen Saito at the top of his interview with the filmmaker. “For the washed-up prizefighter Bud Gordon (Corey Stoll), the sparkly glock atrocity is a gaudy reminder that he’s probably out of his depth when in a Manhattan apartment far away from his apartment in the sticks. For Buschel, it’s a chance to remind audiences that a film can convey something more dangerous in simply establishing a certain aura than if that gun were somehow able to go off…. Glass Chin is both slick on the surface and pugnacious underneath, another evolutionary step for the filmmaker who’s established himself as one of the most exciting to watch in recent years with such films as the Michael Shannon-Amy Ryan PI adventure The Missing Person and the tender romance Sparrows Dance.” Filmmaker‘s Scott Macaulay: “Since he’s already written an essay for us about the film itself, we sent Buschel a set of five questions.” Frank Scheck for the Hollywood Reporter: “Although the film is redolent of any number of ’40s- and ’50s-era thrillers, Buschel is less interested in the plot mechanics than in conveying a despairing mood.” Chris Cabin for Slant: “The story is familiar, but the director undermines the tight, expected narrative turns of such a film by focusing on the cast’s worn-in and jazzy repartee and expressing a perfectly modulated sense of self-awareness.” More from Brandon Harris (Indiewire, A-) and Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, B+).
“A documentary is often only as good as its subject,” writes Nick Schager at Slant, “and Art and Craft has a truly unique and astonishing one. Mark Landis is a balding, soft-spoken middle-aged man who lives in a messy Laurel, Mississippi apartment where he drinks wine, smokes cigarettes, watches old movies on TV, and makes forgeries of artwork that he then donates to Southern museums free of charge, convincing the institutions to take them via wholly phony stories and by using various made-up aliases.” Three out of four stars. The directors are Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker is credited as a co-director.
Mike Hale surveys the Midnight section for the New York Times. One of the highlights: “The maintenance of mood is the goal in the Irish haunted-house film The Canal, written and directed by Ivan Kavanagh. The premise is classic—a pregnant couple buy the wrong house despite the presence that the husband senses. Mr. Kavanagh’s twist is that the husband is a film archivist, and the investigation and pursuit of the house’s spirits are carried out with the help of antique cameras and film. As he tells a group of students visiting the archive, watching a movie is like watching living ghosts.” But Slant‘s Ed Gonzalez gives it just 1.5 out of four stars, noting “how parched this handsome-looking freakout is of imagination.” More from Joshua Chaplinsky at Twitch.
Onur Tukel’s Summer of Blood “attempts to reposition vampires in Brooklyn, and the results are simultaneously satisfying and insufferably smug,” finds Drew Taylor at the Playlist, but for Mike Hale, it may be “shaggy around the edges but [it] has an appealingly offhand rhythm and style. It captures the feeling of walking along Broadway in Brooklyn or climbing down from a distant stop on the J train long after you should have been in bed. And it has vampires.” Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn gives it a B+. 2.5 out of four stars from Kenji Fujishima at Slant.
“There are two types of intolerable people, and they’re both present in [Susanna Fogel’s] Life Partners,” writes Gabe Toro at the Playlist. “Responsible Paige (Gillian Jacobs) has a regular 9-to-5 position at a law firm and social gadfly Sasha (Leighton Meester) toils away at a thankless receptionist job… This shorthand complicates a potentially fine source of drama, because Paige is straight and Sasha is gay…. Ultimately, it’s the sort of film where music montages are used like wallpaper to take narrative shortcuts and minimize messy conflict.” Toro gives it a D. Jesse Hassenger at the L: “The laugh lines sometimes come off as glib or sitcommy—maybe not surprising, considering the three major characters are all TV pros, and a couple of SNLers turn up in smaller roles—but more often Jacobs and Meester nail the conversational rhythms of smartassed but unassured women.”
“After serving as a producer on films including Afterschool and Two Gates of Sleep and directing three shorts, Andrew Renzi is transitioning to directing features with not one but two films in 2014,” writes Vadim Rizov, introducing his interview at Filmmaker. “First up is Fishtail, a portrait of life on a Wyoming cattle farm shot in a mere four days. Speed doesn’t mean sloppy haste: Fishtail makes full use of its 16mm widescreen frame, carefully capturing agricultural processes that connect the present to the old American West. Later this year, expect Renzi’s Richard Gere-starring drama Franny.”
“Manos Sucias is the story of two young men from Buenaventura, an impoverished town on Columbia’s Pacific coast, who pair up to take a fishing boat on a perilous drug run for a ruthless drug lord,” writes Elise Nakhnikian at the L, where she talks with director Josef Kubota Wladyka “about the film and the true stories it was based on.”
The Hollywood Reporter‘s John DeFore: “An ensemble week-in-the-country film in which two struggling actors (Michael Godere and Ivan Martin) attempt to write a screenplay amid assorted distractions, Adam Rapp’s Loitering With Intent trades the artificially escalating mayhem one m