It’s back to the Big Apple with another batch of some of the most compelling titles that this year’s Tribeca Film Festival has to offer. This time around, we’re zinging over to Thailand for an eye-opening spin on the crime noir (no other film this year will make you want to invest in a helmet more), before zipping back to the U S of A and over to the left coast for two films about life in Los Angeles, relationships on the rocks, and cinematic twists that both surprise and sustain. Which one of these films marks the voice of an exciting new independent director and which will leave audiences begging for more, of all things, gimmicky behavior? As is the best part of all film festivals, let’s discover something new.

Check out our latest batch of mini-reviews for Headshot, Caroline and Jackie, and Double or Nothing after the break.

Headshot

At any festival, there are always a handful of titles that skate by and rouse interest based on one small element of their plot – for Pen-Ek Ratanaruang‘s Headshot, that’s the “dude sees upside down!” conceit. The Thai crime noir stars Nopachai Chaiyanam as your standard good-cop-turned-deadly-assassin, Tul, who takes a bullet to the noggin during a job gone wrong, and wakes up with his vision flipped upside down. Classic story!

After introducing us to Tul and his situation, the film flashes back to tell Tul’s “how he got here” story, which while necessary, ends up filling up most of the film’s runtime. After the film’s heart-stopping opening moments, it’s a bit of a letdown to get a straight-forward story. And while it may be a relief, visually speaking, that the majority of the film is not shown upside down, it’s slightly disappointing that we don’t see more of it. Sure, the headshot thing is a bit of a gimmick, but it’s a cool one and the film never fully capitalizes on it.

The film is appropriately moody, and if there’s one thing that Ratanaruang nails, it’s atmosphere and tone. The film is brutal and grim, and even if the rest of it feels a bit been-there-done-that, the world that Ratanaruang has created for Tul and his demons (literal and figurative) is consuming and helps the film’s inflated running time of 105 minutes go down quite smoothly. Headshot is woven through with a strong Buddhist influence to bolster it a bit, but it’s often a touch too spot-on to have any real impact (for one, the film frequently features Buddhist monks, which certainly makes the religion’s influence feel too obvious to provide any unexpected take-away).

The burned man trying to make sense of his life plot has been done before (and better), but Ratanaruang’s film benefits from its plot’s added (if criminally underused) flair – seriously, the dude sees stuff upside down!

Caroline and Jackie

If family dramas have taught us anything, it’s that unexpected dinner parties are never a good idea. Fortunately for writer-director Adam Christian Clark and his debut feature film, Caroline and Jackie, his characters’ suffering through a terrible dinner gathering and its protracted after-party ends up paying off immensely for the audience.

Starring Marguerite Moreau (who continues to be astoundingly adept at telegraphing big emotions with just a flicker of a facial expression) as Caroline and Bitsie Tulloch as her younger sister Jackie, the film opens with a reunion between the obviously close siblings. Caroline arrives at Jackie’s house for long-needed visit, where she almost immediately sets off her long-suffering sister, much to the chagrin of Jackie’s latest boyfriend Ryan, (David Giuntoli, fans of the show Grimm will recognize both Tulloch and Giuntoli, who also co-star on that series). While the sisters clearly love each other, something is obviously amiss between the pair. Long-standing issues and gripes are revealed swiftly, but Caroline and Jackie swing between tiffing with each other and skipping down a street and singing childhood songs together within moments. Their relationship is obviously a complicated one – but it feels steeped in truth and the knotted roots of all families. The sisters’ relationship will prove even more complicated than first imagined during the course of the film’s slim and swift 85-minute runtime.

The film’s opening credits have a lingering sense of unease to them, which is capitalized on as soon as Caroline and Jackie arrive at the “surprise birthday party” Caroline as planned for Jackie (despite her birthday having passes two months prior and it actually being Carolines birthday) – where the dynamic between the pair (and Ryan, to some degree) is pushed out to the larger group, ratcheted up by rapid cuts and lingering looks between Jackie’s friends. But it’s not just a surprise dinner party that Caroline has put together – when the group ends up back at Jackie’s place, the real “party” is revealed. It’s an intervention for Jackie, headed up by Caroline, who hopes that she and Jackie’s friends can help her with a variety of issues – anorexia, pill abuse, alcoholism, and even sexual promiscuity.

When Jackie inevitably flees the house, much of the tension of the film is deflated, but it does allow deeper character reveals, with Caroline making a move on another intervention attendee (or two), Jackie taking off for a bar, and every one of Jackie’s supposedly worried friends acting like complete assholes. Clark uses some noticeable and basic plot tricks – pulling people apart and putting them back together, mixing up interactions between different characters, changing locations – but they all serve his aim, which is to slowly unfold the story in a believable way.

The film sets the sisters up as opposing forces, and a question quickly arises – just who do you believe? Is Jackie in denial or is Caroline lying? Is Jackie sick or is Caroline even sicker? Is Jackie coping with alcohol because she’s a drunk or because she needs a stiff one after a terrible night? And just what will finally transpire between the two at the film’s conclusion? You might see some of it coming, but you certainly won’t see all of it, and that’s a credit to Adam Christian Clark’s deft hand and his crafty little film.

Double or Nothing (short)

While the last thing that people might find time to see at a big festival like Tribeca is some USC grad’s ten-minute thesis film that stars his sister, Nathaniel Krause‘s Double or Nothing has a tremendous amount going for it that recommend the short for a quick watch and some sustaining laughs. After all, it’s the only film at Tribeca that’s written by Neil LaBute. You’re paying attention now, right?

The film stars Adam Brody (who will next be seen in another LaBute-penned feature, Some Girls) and Krause’s sister Louisa (whose name you might know from King Kelly, an unexpected hit at this year’s SXSW Film Festival) as a young couple who have issues to spare. All is not well in their young romance, and that’s about to be hammered home when they begin to argue outside a bar late at night, with an eagle-eyed homeless man (Keith David) watching their tiff unfold in real time. Just like in Caroline and Jackie, audiences won’t see the climax or conclusion of Double or Nothing coming, though the short comes with plenty of laughs to lessen the blows.

With one wicked little short, director Krause proves to be a talent to watch, while also showing just how much Brody has progressed beyond his years as The O.C.‘s Seth Cohen.

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