Tribeca

review kill team

Editor’s note: This is a rerun of a review that was originally published during the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. The Kill Team is the most daring documentary of the year so far. The production did not involve traversing the Pacific Ocean on a raft or dodging government censors, but filmmaker Dan Krauss’s military exposé is not that kind of audacious. Rather, this is an example of real journalistic bravery, both in its content and its composition. Its subject matter is among the most challenging in recent memory, the case of the Maywand District murders. At least three innocent Afghan civilians were killed by U.S. Army soldiers in early 2010, to be charged later that year. To even bring this story to the screen takes a certain amount of chutzpah. Yet the daring of The Kill Team goes beyond the simple presentation of this tragedy. Krauss hides nothing, nor does he get lost in horrifying images and testimonials. This is not a film about the sensational aspects of evil, the unapproachable sociopathy of a small number of soldiers. Rather, Krauss drives right into the ethical conundrum at the center of the murders, the inherent violence of not only the war in Afghanistan but of modern warfare in general. He doesn’t offer any answers. This is crucial. The Kill Team respects its audience, trusting us to rise to the occasion of witnessing these events, but it does not tell us which conclusions to draw.

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Tribeca Film Festival

This year there were well over 50 shorts screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. That’s quite a lot. Spread across nine programs, they’re a diverse bunch both in form and quality. They come from all over the world, too, though there’s a significant emphasis on home-grown New York City filmmakers. This variety makes any attempt at synthesis a little daunting, so instead of drawing any sort of overarching thematic conclusions I’ll just go ahead and tell you which ones are the best. Here are 12 of them, in alphabetical order.

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In Your Eyes at Tribeca

Joss Whedon was a busy man with The Avengers. But in between the writing and the shooting and the wrangling of a real, live Hulk (I’m assuming that was the real Hulk, right?), he also shot Much Ado About Nothing on his days off. Apparently Much Ado wasn’t enough, because Whedon actually had a third project in the works at the same time. In the early months of 2012, Whedon’s screenplay for In Your Eyes was being shot in New Hampshire. Not by Whedon, mind you, but by Brin Hill – and before you say, “Who?” Hill is known mostly for writing the competitive b-boy flick Battle of the Year. Somehow, Whedon found a way to oversee the production anyway, even if it was just through a tenuous psychic connection. Which, conveniently enough, is the very same plot device at the center of In Your Eyes. Starring Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) and Michael Stahl-David (the lead in Cloverfield), it’s a love story touched by a vague kind of movie mysticism. Kazan and Stahl-David fall in love despite the fact that they’ve never met and live on opposite sides of the country. Somehow, a metaphysical, psychic-ish connection is to blame. The film premieres this Sunday at the Tribeca Film Festival, and Entertainment Weekly has shared the first three minutes in case you won’t be in NYC but would still like to take a look. And why wouldn’t you?

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Time Is Illmatic

If you’re a working musician who has residential roots to New York City and you happen to have some sort of fraught relationship with your family, the Tribeca Film Festival has a spot for you: Opening Night. Last year, the festival opened with the debut of Mistaken For Strangers, a documentary about the band The National, with a tight focus on the band’s lead singer and his doofus brother as they attempt to coexist on tour together. This year, the festival bowed with the premiere of Time Is Illmatic, another documentary centered on a working musician (in this case, rapper Nas) who has residential roots to the city (he grew up in Queens’ Queensbridge Houses) who happens to have some sort of fraught relationship with his family (though nothing quite so tense as the relationship at the center of last year’s premiere). Time Is Illmatic is pegged to the twenty-year anniversary of Nas’ debut album, “Illmatic,” a hip-hop milestone that, as we are frequently reminded in the film, still resonates today. Nas tells us early on in the film that he sought to make “a perfect album” with “Illmatic,” and though it appears that he absolutely accomplished that, the majority of the film isn’t about actually making the album itself – it’s about making a way out of his existing life into a place where he could even dream of making such an album. Time Is Illmatic is primarily concerned with sharing Nas’ early life experiences (call that the “time” […]

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Rezo Films

On the outskirts of Tbilisi there is a enormous prison. It hovers over those who come to visit and the first images of Tinatin Kajrishvili‘s Brides are of this approach. Women stand on below, looking up at this aging monolith while they wait to be allowed inside. It is an eternal sight that echoes the women of Aci Trezza watching the sea for the return of their sons and husbands in the Neorealist classic La Terra Trema, though here cinematographer Goga Devadiani uses a more intimate framing. Grandeur can be found in the building itself, an imposition of state power. Its walls are so oppressive and its hallways so drab that a viewer unfamiliar with the nation of Georgia might mistake much of this film to be a Soviet-era period piece rather than a contemporary narrative. But back to those women. One of them is Nutsa (Mari Kitia), a young mother whose long-time partner is being held inside. She and those standing by her have visited as a result of a newly changed policy: the inmates are now allowed to receive visitors, but only legally recognized family. Nutsa and Goga (Giorgi Maskharashvili) have two children but no marriage license. The prison has granted this small group, including an elderly woman and a terrified teenager, the right to a brisk wedding inside the prison walls in order to cement future visitation rights.

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Most Anticipated Tribeca Films

Hey, look, it’s film festival time again! (It’s always film festival time, much like it’s always awards season time.) This time around, the films are unfurling at New York City’s own Tribeca Film Festival, and two of our very own NYC-based scribblers are on the ground to cover the best of what the festival has to offer. As ever, the festival offers a robust programming slate of brand-new premieres, holdovers from other festivals around the world (we recommend titles like In Your Eyes, Chef, and Begin Again, if you’re looking to play catch up), and some uniquely compelling titles just daring you to try them out (one word: zombeavers). The festival kicks off tonight with the premiere of the Nas documentary, Time Is Illmatic, and runs until Sunday, April 27th. For these next few days, Lower Manhattan will be jumping with the festival and its many offerings, and we dare say that our own Kate Erbland and Daniel Walber have picked out some of the best.

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Tribeca Film Festival

When the greatest city in the world (patent pending) is home to your film festival, it seems pretty obvious that said film festival should play plenty of films about said city — a love letter or ten, if you will — and this year’s Tribeca Film Festival appears to be taking that to heart. The festival, now in its thirteenth year, will hit New York City this April 16 through April 27, and the first half of the festival’s slate (the second half will be announced tomorrow) is very heavy on the Gotham-influenced fare. Think of it this way — at this year’s Tribeca, you can take in at least seven films about New York and its various neighborhoods, and then you can step outside into that actual city. Wild stuff, you guys. These seven films span the city and its far reaches, while also spanning a number of cinematic genres (there’s comedy here, but there’s also some hard drama), and covering topics from ballet to hot dogs and everything in between. Take a look at some of the New York City-centric films (narrative and documentary!) that Tribeca will be offering this year, along with some notes on offerings that — sigh – take place elsewhere.

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The English Teacher

Editor’s Note: This review originally ran as part of our Tribeca coverage, and as of today, the film is in limited release. In The English Teacher, star Julianne Moore plays an English teacher; I point that out, redundantly, because the character type is almost redundant. Everything that you would expect from a stereotypical high school purveyor of Charles Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne is true about Moore’s Ms. Linda Sinclair. She’s introduced as the obvious loner, a shy woman in love with the classics. She goes on blind dates with terrible men, who she imaginatively grades in her head like a student’s paper. The script even goes so far as to make sure she’s buffeted by voiceover narration, in an inevitably British accent. Yet Moore, and to an extent director Craig Zisk, do an excellent job at keeping Ms. Sinclair away from the frustrating blandness of the stock character, at least for the first act of the film. There isn’t necessarily more to her than meets the eye, but the people around her allow her to grow into something more interesting. The English Teacher has quite the admirable start, winning the audience over in spite of all of our preconceived notions about this sort of self-consciously charming indie movie. That’s how it begins, anyway. Ms. Sinclair is a bored English teacher in a small Pennsylvania town, somewhere in the vicinity of Scranton. She bumps into a former student at the bank. Jason Sherwood (Michael Angarano) is a playwright, or at least he went […]

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Tribeca Film Festival

Now that the Tribeca Film Festival has been effectively put to bed for the year (rest up, sweet festival), it’s time to reflect on what we loved best about New York City’s spring fling, from zombies to visual effects to more Sam Rockwell than might be advisable by most doctors. For a festival like Tribeca, which lately seems to being striving (and hard) to be more unique and more fresh than it might have been in the past, a traditional “best-of” list just didn’t seem right. After all, where in such a list would we write about geodesic domes and solid fashion choices made by pre-teen characters and, again, just like a lot of Sam Rockwell? The answer – nowhere – made this year’s listing wrap-up style obvious. We just wrote about what we liked best. So what were the twelve best things at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival? Let us tell you.

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Director Kat Coiro‘s (L!fe Happens) latest feature,  A Case of You will undoubtedly enter the pantheon of “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” movies. You know the kind – movies that glorify the precious nature of spritely, eccentric leading ladies who make their “normal” suitor’s heart got pitter-patter. Our MPG here is named Birdie Hazel (Evan Rachel Wood), a barista at a Brooklyn coffee shop – she wears fedoras, draws caricatures in Prospect Park, and takes ballroom dancing with a pack of admiring senior citizens. She also has an unparalleled taste in music literature, as she appreciates the likes of both Joni Mitchell and Walt Whitman. When struggling writer Sam (Justin Long, who co-wrote the film with his brother Christian Long and co-star Keir O’Donnell) falls for her, he looks to her Facebook page as inspiration and makes all of her quirky interests his so that she will fall for him.When Birdie does fall for Sam, will he need to keep up the façade forever so that he remains interesting in her eyes? A Case of You rests on this game of Sam’s, which is somewhat of a flimsy premise. This and other problems aside, Long and Wood are delightful to watch and have great chemistry, and on the whole, the film is, despite my better judgement, quite enjoyable.

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Rider and the Storm

As usual, Tribeca presented quite the diverse batch of shorts this year. There are plenty of new voices from New York City, a whole slew of international filmmakers, and a wide variety of documentary and experimental films. In the mix is some outrageous humor, heartrending human stories and a few uncompromising works of cinematic vision. Yet out of this wide selection, a handful inevitably rose right to the top. Here are the best ten short films from this year’s edition of the Tribeca Film Festival – in alphabetical order.

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Daniel Algrant’s Greetings from Tim Buckley is supposed to be Penn Badgley’s revelatory moment as an actor. Playing singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley, Badgley sings live on set and sounds eerily similar to Buckley as he goes into his upper register and harmonizes in abstract ways. Unfortunately, Badgley’s performance ultimately feels empty, as does the film as a whole. Despite being focused on real, complicated people with tragic lives (both at the height of their fame, Jeff’s father Tim died at 28 from an accidental overdose and Jeff drowned at 30), the film never allows the two Buckleys to come across as fully realized characters. It’s 1991 and Jeff Buckley is living in California, a struggling musician. Out of the blue, he gets a call asking him to come to Brooklyn to perform in a tribute concert for his father, who he only met twice in his lifetime. Jeff is bitter about the whole situation – celebrating the man who abandoned him – but he agrees to play nonetheless. While he is there, he is guided musically by his two of his father’s former bandmates, played by William Sadler and Frank Wood. He also forms an immediate connection with the venue’s intern, Allie (Imogen Poots, playing a fictionalized character) and she helps him come to terms with being his father’s son. Jeff’s story of prepping for the tribute concert is intercut with Tim’s (Ben Rosenfield) trip from California to New York at the start of his career in the 1960s.

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A Single Shot

A gun. A dead woman. A box of money. A (sort of) innocent man. A hunt. While David M. Rosenthal’s A Single Shot doesn’t shy away from some conventional-to-the-point-of-cliché plot points for his latest feature, the crime drama packs a punch thanks to its stellar cast, stunning cinematography, and a horror-tinged score that continually leaves its audience on edge. Oh, and the violence. Did we forget the violence? There’s violence. Penned by Matthew F. Jones (who adapted his own novel for the script), A Single Shot is a suitably intense showcase for star Sam Rockwell’s dramatic chops. As lonely loser John Moon, the film rests on the actor’s ability to engage and excite his audience, a feat that he mostly pulls off with ease. A near-wordless opening sequence plunges us deep into both John’s day-to-day life and the shocking event that will turn everything upside down for him, as John sets off to illegally hunt deer in the quiet woods near his home. It should be a day like any other, but a tired and emotionally drained John gets turned around while pursuing a deer, and one of his shots makes contact with something other than his intended prey.

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Frankenstein

What makes for a great midnight movie? It’s sort of hard to pin down, one of those “you know it when you see it” sorts of things. Yet looking at the best of this year’s Tribeca Midnight slate, a few commonalities emerge. Honestly, I think it boils down to one thing – a midnight movie needs to keep you awake. It’s got to be effortlessly entertaining, able to keep you energized well after your bedtime. Many of the best of them are hilarious, sending you into peals of raucous laughter almost nonstop. Others are frightful, using fear and the thrill of the cheap scare to keep you on edge.

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review wadjda

Films like Wadjda do not come around very often. Haifaa al-Mansour’s debut feature is not only the first shot entirely in Saudi Arabia by a woman director, but also the first feature film ever shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. On the one hand, this means its place in history is secured no matter what. Yet al-Mansour’s work didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere in the Arabian Desert. An almost superhuman dedication was necessary to make this film, both due to the nation’s lack of cinematic infrastructure and the logistical problems caused by the obstacles to mobility for Saudi women. More than that, however, Wadjda simply does not feel as if it popped out of the sand. al-Mansour’s work rests on shoulders of greatness, building from a century of international cinema. That’s a loaded point, obviously, but it’s impossible to watch Wadjda without thinking of everything from Italian Neorealism to Jafar Panahi’s films around the role of women in contemporary Iran. This combination of classic styles and a surge forward into a totally new national landscape is what keeps al-Mansour’s film exhilarating from beginning to end.

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Lenny Cooke, directed by Josh and Benny Safdie (Daddy Longlegs), is an astonishing documentary centering around promising basketball star, Lenny Cooke, who in 2001 was the highest ranked high school basketball in the nation, ranked above even Amar’e Stoudemaire, LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. Through happenstance and perhaps Cooke’s lack of motivation, Cooke was never drafted into the NBA, and now lives in obscurity in Virginia, overweight and struggling to get by financially. The impetus of Lenny Cooke came with the film’s producer, Adam Shopkorn, who was followed the headlines about Cooke in 2001 and convinced the rising star to be the focus of his documentary. When Cooke didn’t make it to the NBA, the project was temporarily shelved, but then Shopkorn approached the Safdies to help finish the film. The Safdies and Shopkorn then went to Virginia to film Cooke in the present time, and they bridged the older footage with the new to create a meditation on Cooke’s life trajectory. Per my review, I loved the film and was excited to sit down with the Safdies and Shopkorn to discuss bridging Shopkorn’s footage to the Safdies’ new footage, and the Safdies’ transition from narrative to documentary. They also go into great detail over one of the film’s standout scenes: Cooke celebrating his 30th birthday party at home in Virginia, during which time he drunkenly and tenderly serenades his fiancée with a Mario song. That scene is devastatingly powerful, for you almost forget that a camera is even present. It’s […]

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The Rocket

If there was any doubt that this year’s Tribeca Film Festival featured one heck of a varied slate, last night’s awards ceremony put that question to rest. The festival’s many winners included films about rockets, Flemish bluegrass music, an Internet-popular dwarf cat, Oxycontin, Hurricane Sandy, and Thomas Haden Church (well, sort of). The night’s big winner was Kim Mordaunt‘s feature, The Rocket, an Aussie entry that picked up both The Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature and Best Actor in a Narrative Feature Film for young star Sitthiphon Disamoe. Other standout winners include The Broken Circle Breakdown, Whitewash, Oxyana, and The Kill Team. You want variety? Tribeca has got variety in spades. After the break, check out all the winners of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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Most women who become pregnant with the man they’re deeply in love with would see it as a joyous experience. In Laurie Collyer’s (Sherrybaby) Sunlight Jr., Melissa (Naomi Watts) certainly is deeply in love with her boyfriend Richie (Matt Dillon) when she discovers that she is expecting a baby, and is initially excited about the entire prospect of being a mother. Though when the reality sets in that she and Richie barely make enough money to get by living in a dank motel room, in addition to a bevy of other problems, a dark cloud rolls in over the otherwise happy news of pregnancy. Collyer’s film features great performances from Watts and Dillon, and the film’s cinematography is a standout, though it suffers somewhat from perhaps an overly literal depiction of the lower class.

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Horror fans rejoiced at the prospect of V/H/S, a horror anthology film directed by several up-and-coming indie genre directors, centered around a band of criminals watching VHS recordings of terrible happenings. Even before V/H/S was released, the wheels already began to turn on the film’s sequel, V/H/S/2, which is currently playing at the Tribeca Film Festival. Much like it’s predecessor, V/H/S/2 is comprised of a framing device and four short films (compared to the original film’s five). Simon Barrett (A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next), directed the film’s framing device, “Tape 49,” about a private investigator and his assistant breaking into a house and going through all those terrifying VHS tapes. Barrett also wrote the segment directed by Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next), “Phase 1 Clinical Trials,” in which Wingard starred as a rich boy whose bionic eye makes him see ghosts. Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale (The Blair Witch Project) directed “A Ride in the Park,” which is a largely comic chronicle of a biker’s metamorphosis into a zombie and the havoc that ensues after he is bitten. And Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun) directed the self-explanatory “Alien Abduction Slumber Party,” recorded from the POV of a little dog attached to a camera. The film is rounded out by Gareth Evans’ and Timo Tjahjanto’s Lucio Fulci-inspired “Safe Haven,” about reporters to record the inner sanctum of a cult, which involves both zombies and monsters. I sat down with the rather chatty group of Barrett, Eisener, Sanchez, and Wingard, mid-snack session, as they discussed what they learned from the first V/H/S, and how […]

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Red Obsession

You know what makes for really exciting cinema? Agriculture. I kid you not. Two of the best documentaries at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival prove it, and a third film does the same for commercial fishing. You’re shaking your head, I can tell, but some of the most intriguing cinema of the year so far is overflowing with reindeer, herring and wine. We’ve had a miniature renaissance recently in a genre I would call “Agrarian Minimalism.” Films like Le Quattro Volte, Bestiaire, Sweetgrass and Leviathan take humans almost completely out of the picture. They remain about the relationship between the environment and humanity, but they get there with a silent emphasis on the former. Tribeca films Red Obsession, Raw Herring and Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys move the focus back toward our end of things, balancing a cinematic eye for the beauty of the natural world with an incisive and observant understanding of how these varied food sources anchor or unsettle local communities. The flashiest is Red Obsession, an Australian documentary (narrated by Russell Crowe) about the rapidly fluctuating wine market and its impact on the historic chateaux of Bordeaux. For hundreds of years these vineyards have perfected the art of viticulture, no more famously than the five “Premier Grand Cru” chateaux: Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion and Mouton-Rothschild. In 2009 they had perhaps their best year ever, a happy accident of the weather. Prices shot up so high that the entire wine world had to re-calibrate its priorities. […]

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published: 12.23.2014
B+
published: 12.22.2014
C-
published: 12.19.2014
A-


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