“Welcome back to Tribeca, Tribeca,” writes Aaron Hillis in the Voice, noting that, after 14 years, the festival seems to have “realized what was making it hang cockeyed,” cut back on the sprawl across NYC and brought its center of gravity back to the home neighborhood. Aaron covers a lot in his overview, but “two of the strongest and most entertaining films in the World Documentary Competition are Leah Wolchok’s Very Semi-Serious, and In Transit, co-directed by vérité master Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens), who passed away last month at 88. The former feature treats audiences to a breezy insider’s ride through the process of how the New Yorker selects its trademark single-panel cartoons from an eccentric herd of optimistic freelancers (most of whom will be rejected), placing the magazine’s editorial voice in the timely context of modern politics and the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. Always in motion, as its title suggests, Maysles’s swan song embeds itself with the huddled masses on Amtrak’s Empire Builder line, where strangers chat intimately, poetic moments are caught, and cross-country adventures are had by all. Nobody could mine the humor, humility, and humanity in the mundane like Maysles, for whose many fans this film will serve as a fitting elegy.”
Updates, 4/19: For the Hollywood Reporter, Chris O’Falt reports on the premiere of In Transit: “Producer Erika Dilday introduced the film, informing the audience that she screened its final cut for the ailing Maysles just five days before he passed away. ‘I didn’t think he’d be able to watch the whole film,’ she explained at New York City’s Regal Battery Park Stadium. ‘But he said he wanted to see it. He perked up, and had me and his caregiver carry him in his chair, right in front of the screen. He watched it and said, “That’s good.”‘”
Reviews: John DeFore (THR), Kenji Fujishima (House Next Door), Jordan Hoffman (Guardian, 2/5), Eric Kohn (Indiewire, A-) and Sheila O’Malley (RogerEbert.com). Critics Round Up rating: 100/100.
For Benjamin Sutton at Hyperallergic, Very Semi-Serious “has precisely that pitch-perfect balance of truth and comedy that makes for a great New Yorker cartoon. It also makes for a seriously excellent documentary.”
The L‘s Mark Asch: “Beyond the corporate money and celebrity flash in the top-billed panels and special events this year, the eclectic programming of Tribeca’s humbler precincts has, also like the city, become a reliably supportive showcase, in particular, for young, local artistic talent—including a number of a familiar faces from the city’s independent film scene. One such face is Kate Lyn Sheil.” With director Zachary Treitz, she’s co-written Men Go to Battle, the “story of two brothers, Henry and Francis Mellon, scuffling farmers in Kentucky in the first year of the Civil War.”
Asch interviews Sheil and Treitz, and the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody calls Men Go to Battle “an instant-classic Western.” Updates, 4/19: “For those viewers brainwashed by Hollywood spectacle storytelling, Men Go to Battle might seem too understated for its own good, but to mine eyes that’s its greatest asset,” writes Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. And Sarah Salovaara interviews Treitz and Sheil for Filmmaker. CRU rating: 92/100. Update, 4/25: “It’s easy to imagine some growing restless with the story, as it plays out more in body language and unspoken dialogue rather than conventional plot points,” writes Ryan Vlastelica at the L, “but for those who are on its wavelength, there may be no more quietly devastating film on hand.” And Stephen Saito interviews Sheil and Treitz.
Brody also writes about Paolo and Vittorio Taviani‘s Wondrous Boccaccio, which takes us back to “the plague year of 1348, when ten young Florentines take refuge in a country villa and pass the time by telling stories. The film, based on Boccaccio’s Decameron, dramatizes both the storytellers and their tales. The Tavianis place the action—which ranges from the pathos of a woman revived by a lover’s touch to the comedy of a craftsman who’s the butt of a metaphysical practical joke—in ancient buildings and landscapes that seem to vibrate with erotic passions inflamed by the presence of death.” Update, 4/25: For Chris Cabin at the House Next Door, “though Wondrous Boccaccio isn’t the Taviani brothers’ strongest film to date, it’s one that feels uniquely at peace with the limitations of art and depiction in the face of oblivion.”
“The dominant mood of the feature selections is almost uniformly dark and pessimistic,” finds Stephen Holden in the New York Times. “A number of the best have already been previewed at the other festivals. Arguably the most powerful is Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill, a gripping docudrama about drone warfare starring Ethan Hawke in one of his deepest performances.” The AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd, though, finds it “heavy on speeches and light on actual drama.” More from Robbie Collin (Telegraph, 3/5), Richard Corliss (Time), David Ehrlich (Little White Lies), Jessica Kiang (Playlist, B-), Tommaso Tocci (Film Stage, C-) and Stephanie Zacharek (Voice).
“Close to half the festival’s roughly 100 features are documentaries,” notes Mike Hale, also in the NYT. “Within that abundance of nonfiction films, some tendencies can be seen, reflecting the tastes of the Tribeca programmers and possibly overall trends in the field. The documentary-fiction hybrid, a hot item just a few years ago, is virtually absent, and it’s a sparse year in general for self-consciously cinematic, art-first works. The documentary selections are overwhelmingly story-based and straightforward: slices of life, biographical portraits, true-crime tales, exposés of social ills. Content is king, sentimentality is rife and the lineup is full of potential crowd-pleasers, or at least niche-pleasers.”
Tribeca 2015 opens tonight with a doc, in fact, Live From New York!, crunching 40 years of Saturday Night Live in to 84 minutes. It’s the first feature from Bao Nguyen, and Gregg Kilday interviews him for the Hollywood Reporter.
Updates, 4/19: Mekado Murphy talks with Nguyen for the NYT. NPR’s Linda Holmes: “There is essentially no treatment of backstage drama between cast members, there is no eulogizing of the dead or close studies of the living to see who’s most brilliant. John Belushi is treated largely as simply a part of the original cast; Tina Fey is treated largely as part of the era to which she belonged. In large part, this becomes a film about work. The work of comedy, but work nevertheless.” More from John DeFore (THR), Jesse Hassenger (L) and Ronnie Scheib (Variety).
Kilday also talks with Abigail Disney, whose documentary The Armor of Light, about an evangelical minister who addresses gun violence, and with Erin Lee Carr about Thought Crimes, a doc that “deals with the notorious case of Gilberto Valle, dubbed the ‘Cannibal Cop’ by New York’s tabloids.”
Back in the Voice, Nick Schager: “A post-Wikipedia biographical documentary, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck—premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday, April 19, with a post-screening Q&A with its director and Courtney Love—finds Brett Morgen constructing a feature-length collage of notebook entries, demo tapes, rehearsal footage, home movies, archival photos, and drawings and artwork by the late Nirvana frontman. It’s an impressive, comprehensive assemblage, designed to impart not a point-by-point historical account but, instead, a larger sense of why Cobain was who he was.”
Update, 4/16: Clayton Dillard at the House Next Door: “When the film tips away from offering footage and music as a symbiotic expression, it flirts with offensive moments of voyeuristic access that, especially in Love’s moments of nudity and Cobain strung out on heroin, uncritically fosters the sort of peep-show mentality that much of the film elides. Yet this is a rather brief portion of the film’s larger tapestry of cultural anarchy, seeking less to canonize Cobain as an ‘acne superstar,’ as he writes of himself in a letter, than constructing a forcefully cinematic presentation of Cobain’s appeal.”
Update, 4/25: Sean Nelson talks with Morgen for the Stranger, where Emily Nokes has “Three qualms: (1) The visual ADHD can get exhausting, in terms of both pace and intensity. (2) I’m never that keen on animated reenactment footage. (3) Oh my god, the cringeathon that is a choral rendition of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ playing over slo-mo outtakes of the video shoot. However, Montage is—or at least feels—honest.”
Lists of recommendations are, of course, everywhere. Sampling from a few of them, we begin with Jordan Hoffman‘s ten for the Guardian. Scherzo Diabolico, for example: “Mexican-based Spanish director Adrián García Bogliano is one of the most exciting names in unpredictable, ‘smart’ horror. His last film, Here Comes the Devil, was eerie and terrifying and loaded with unshakable imagery. This new one, which no doubt also blends comedy with nightmares, is about a kidnapping that goes awry.” Update, 4/25: Well, Hoffman‘s review is in at the Guardian: Two out of five stars.
From the Playlist‘s “20 Most Anticipated,” Meadowland is the “directorial debut of terrific indie cinematographer Reed Morano (The Skeleton Twins, Kill Your Darlings) would be on our radar no matter the project, but this story sounds complex and provocative, and she has attracted one hell of a cast [Olivia Wilde, Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Elisabeth Moss, John Leguizamo, Juno Temple] to bring it to screen. Not only that, but Wilde, who also produces the film, recently tweeted that she had “never been more proud of a film.'” Update, 4/16: Gary Kramer interviews Wilde and Morano for the House Next Door. At the Film Stage, Jordan Raup gives Meadowland a B-. Update, 4/25: Four out of five stars from Jordan Hoffman in the Guardian: “It’s every parent’s nightmare: you turn your back on your kid for two seconds and they disappear. They aren’t playing around, they aren’t hiding in the next room, they have vanished. In the first scene of Meadowland, it happens in a gas station bathroom that has a second exit into an empty garage, which leads to the parking lot, then an upstate New York roadway just busy enough that no one would notice a stray car creeping along. The undercurrent of dread created by this first gripping scene never quite goes away, but it does mutate and change.” More from Elise Nakhnikian (House Next Door) and Sheila O’Malley (RogerEbert.com).
From Jessie Heyman‘s eight in Vogue: “Vanessa Hope had wanted to make a film about the relationship between China and the U.S. for at least ten years. When former Utah governor Jon Huntsman was appointed United States Ambassador to China in 2009—bringing his entire family, including his adopted Chinese daughter—Hope knew that the time was right. All Eyes and Ears follows Huntsman and his family during his time as ambassador and uniquely places Huntsman’s daughter in the role of the narrator.”
Time Out New York on Requiem for the American Dream: “Were you expecting something more upbeat from political analyst Noam Chomsky? Interviewed over four years in a wide-ranging conversation that touches on power, money, democracy and his own career, 86-year-old Chomsky nails down a creeping but perceptible shift in societal thinking since the 1960s. His critique extends beyond left and right (or Democrat and Republican), resulting in a lucid analysis that’s breathtaking in its simplicity, and all the more scary for it.” Update, 4/25: In the Hollywood Reporter, John DeFore argues that this “short, sharp, smart essay-film makes excellent use of Chomsky’s insights while serving as one of the best entry points to the discussion of inequality popularized by the Occupy movement and furthered with Thomas Piketty’s unlikely best-seller Capital in the Twenty-First Century.”
Indiewire‘s been interviewing directors with films at Tribeca for a couple of weeks now and they’ve posted nearly three dozen as of this writing. From its list of “12 Must-See Films“: In Anesthesia, written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson, “a Columbia University professor named Walter, played by Sam Waterston, is violently mugged. The film examines the chain of events that led up to the attack, intertwining the stories of Walter’s son, played by Nelson, his daughter-in-law (Jessica Hecht), a student (Kristen Stewart) and more. Nelson has assembled a stellar cast, which, in addition to the aforementioned, also includes Glenn Close, Gretchen Mol and Michael Kenneth Williams. With these powerhouse performers, Anesthesia looks to be an intriguing drama of interconnected lives.”
From the Hollywood Reporter‘s “9 Must-See Films,” The Driftless Area: “Based on the novel by Tom Drury, director Zachary Sluser’s first feature film is based on a love affair in a small town. After his parents’ death, bartender Pierre Hunter (Anton Yelchin) returns to his childhood home where he falls for Stella (Zooey Deschanel). Their affair unveils a mystery that ripples throughout the entire town. Also starring Frank Langella and Aubrey Plaza.” Update, 4/16: At the Playlist, Rodrigo Perez gives the film a C-. Update, 4/25: More from Elise Nakhnikian at the House Next Door.
Updates, 4/19: “Set in the not-too-distant future, Carleton Ranney’s debut feature Jackrabbit observes two young hackers living in City Six, a dystopian urban environment still recovering from The Reset, an event which caused the city to literally go back to square one,” writes Erik Luers introducing his interview with Ranney for Filmmaker. “An Orwellian fable, Jackrabbit is steeped in political paranoia and a fascination with the impersonal implications of a corporatized America.” At the Film Stage, Jared Mobarak gives the film a B+.
“Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi’s Among the Believers takes viewers to the frontlines of an ideological battle playing out in the Islamic world that receives little coverage in the Western media,” writes Oleg Ivanov at the House Next Door. “Capturing both the desperate poverty of rural Pakistan and the claustrophobic urban sprawl of Islamabad, the film portrays the ongoing struggle between Islamic fundamentalism and moderate secularism in the Pakistani educational system.” Jordan Hoffman in the Guardian: “While much of what’s on screen may reassure the reactionary Fox News crowd, the tone is a world away from hate-fueled infotainment. Alas, the sequences outside of the classrooms, while of great geopolitical importance, are a bit dry as cinema.” More from Casey Cipriani (Indiewire, A), John DeFore (THR) and Sheila O’Malley (RogerEbert.com).
“Ido Mizrahy’s Gored is a survey of hard knocks and the terror of dying dreams,” writes Jeremy Polacek at the House Next Door. “Its subject is the death-defying, dogged, and spirited Antonio Barrera, the most gored bullfighter in modern matador history. After years of battles and heartbreak, he prepares for his final performance in the bullring, and Mizrahy’s camera is there, ready to capture the last throes of a legacy built through blood. Even for those who consider bullfighting a nasty, anachronistic sport (something for the Hemingways of old), Mizrahy’s account of Barrera may still surprise and move, focused as it is so narrowly on a man as vulnerable and endangered, it seems, as the bulls he goes to fight.” More from Jordan Hoffman (Guardian, 3/5), Brent Lang (Variety), Sheila O’Malley (RogerEbert.com) and Frank Scheck (THR).
“James Franco works so prolifically these days that he’s bound to repeat himself now and again,” writes Guy Lodge for Variety. “In The Adderall Diaries, for example, he chalks up his second performance this year as an emotionally and creatively blocked writer processing profound reserves of trauma. Sadly, Pamela Romanowsky’s jumbled, affected adaptation of Stephen Elliott’s autobiographical 2009 book is no more enticing a showcase for its producer-star’s wounded-intellectual side than Wim Wenders’s inert Every Thing Will Be Fine.” More from Emily Buder (Indiewire, C+), John DeFore (THR), Kate Erbland (Playlist, B) and Jesse Hassenger (L). Update, 4/25: For Vulture, Stephen Elliott writes about “The Strange Experience of Having My Memoir Turned Into a Movie.”
Sheri Linden for the Hollywood Reporter: “Like any self-respecting, self-righteous vigilante, Gennadiy Mokhnenko harbors no doubt when he says, ‘I don’t need permission to do good deeds.’ The Ukrainian pastor is well known on his home turf not just for his rehabilitation center for drug-addicted kids, but for the unceremonious night raids he conducts to scoop them off the streets. By turns off-putting and charismatic, he makes for a compelling subject in Crocodile Gennadiy, the sophomore documentary by Steve Hoover, who chronicled another figure committed to helping children in Blood Brother.” More from Casey Cipriani (Indiewire, A-). Update, 4/26: For Film International, Gary M. Kramer interviews Hoover and pr