Tribeca 2013

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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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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Tribeca Film Festival

The Tribeca Film Festival seems to be in a constant state of figuring out its identity. It’s only ten years old, so that’s understandable. Yet while it tries to solidify its place on the international film festival circuit by tinkering with its selection of films, it’s also got the intriguing problem of situating itself in New York City. How do you cement your identity in a city that is constantly shifting around you? And, perhaps more importantly, how do you find a physical home for your festival on an island overflowing with movie theaters?

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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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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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Clark Gregg’s 2008 Choke may be the lesser known of the cinematic world’s big screen Chuck Palahniuk adaptations (it is, after all, hard to compete with names like Fincher, Pitt, and Norton), but the multi-hyphenate’s directorial debut adeptly translated the author’s trademark black humor to the screen without a hitch. For his second feature, Gregg again goes in for funny stuff with a truly dark edge and, for at least its first half, Trust Me is more brutally and bruisingly amusing than just about any other current comedy around. But Gregg’s stellar first half ends with one hell of an abrupt, tone-changing twist, and he’s never able to fully reconcile his dark humor with true darkness. Trust Me takes its audience inside the twisted world of dealmaking amongst Hollywood elite – specifically, the twisted world of dealmaking amongst Hollywood elite trying to capitalize on the talent and ability of would-be child stars. Gregg is still interested in trafficking in regular guys with extreme problems – while his Choke centered on Sam Rockwell’s otherwise-average-beyond-that-crushing-sex-addiction Victor, Trust Me focuses on Gregg’s Howard, a sad sack Hollywood agent trying to find the next big kid thing. It’s not easy and it’s not fun and Howard’s particular career path seems like the most weirdly soul-crushing career path imaginable. But Gregg’s Howard doesn’t know any better and he doesn’t know anything else – he’s been in the game since he was just six years old, back when he was a child actor himself, and it’s […]

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In God We Trust

Perhaps the only thing bigger than the capacity for human greed is the capacity for human stupidity. Victor Kubicek and Derek Anderson’s feature debut, In God We Trust, a somewhat enlightening documentary about the financial misdeeds of financier Bernie Madoff, spends just as much time chronicling the negligence and inattention that allowed Madoff to rob his clients of billions as it does trying to unravel just why he actually did it. The film centers on the journey of Madoff’s personal secretary of 25 years, Eleanor Squillari, who has made it her mission to complete her own investigation into just what her boss did, how he did it, and who else was involved. While the majority of In God We Trust focuses on the heartbreak and fallout from Madoff’s crimes – and there’s plenty of heartbreak and fallout to mine here – its final third crumbles into aimless finger-pointing and raising questions it is in no way equipped to answer, trading emotion for hackneyed investigation.

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Bluebird

Comparisons to Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter will likely plague Lance Edmands’ Bluebird, thanks to the films’ similar subject matter – both are set in snowy small towns, both center on a tragedy that occurs on a school bus, both find their drama in the aftermath – but Edmands’ new feature quickly finds its own footing and announces the arrival of a talented new independent filmmaker. Bluebird approaches its seemingly familiar plotline with a tighter focus than Egoyan’s, as Edmands spends the majority of his film with school bus driver Lesley (Amy Morton), a kind and well-intentioned woman whose life is destroyed by a minor moment of distraction. During an end-of-shift bus check, a trilling bluebird draws Lesley’s attention away from the task at hand, with the hautning consequences of her bird-watching not revealed until late the next morning. Lesley is, however, not the only person at fault in Bluebird (the accident at the center of the film is a unique and jarring one, and is best revealed within the film), though she is the one most obviously culpable. While Lesley is absorbed with the titular bluebird, across town young Marla (Louisa Krause) is similarly engaged, but with depression, drugs, and drinks. As with Lesley, we do not know the full extent of Marla’s negligence until many hours later. Lesley and Marla’s small, twin mistakes bloom outward, and Bluebird maps the fallout from common missteps in an unforgiving world. It is, simply put, deeply heartbreaking.

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“Poet” as a career path isn’t exactly the safest or sanest route for the creative youth of America to take, but Amy Anderson (Emma Roberts) doesn’t appear to have taken that sort of thing (i.e. actual reasonable thought) into consideration when it comes to her post-grad life. Back at home with her parents, the guileless Amy wiles away her time penning new poetry, applying for various “accolades” (really, this is how she talks) from different publications and using her parents’ dime to fund the entire endeavor. Sick of putting her up (and putting up with her), Amy’s parents demand she find a job, though they probably weren’t pulling for her eventual hiring at Adult World, the local adult video store. The joke, of course, of Scott Coffey’s Adult World is that Amy is entering the “adult world” for the first time, a realm of maturity that she desperately needs to spend some time in, as she’s been coddled and spoiled to within an inch of her life. Let’s put it this way – when Amy’s parents accuse her of still being a child, she responds precisely as a child would: shooting back with a whiny “I am not a child!” before literally running away from home (she even sneaks out her own bedroom window). It’s a different sort of role for Roberts – Amy isn’t inherently likable, though she does seem to be generally well-meaning – but Roberts’ charm shines through and elevates Amy to someone we can actually get […]

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Imagine living every day of your life knowing that you are more famous for not amounting to anything than you are for your actual success. In Josh and Benny Safdie’s documentary, Lenny Cooke, the eponymous subject struggles with that exact reality. The film chronicles Cooke’s life from 2001, when he was ranked as the number one high school basketball player in the nation – higher than than LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony –  to the present, as he lives in relative obscurity in Virginia, overweight and struggling to earn a living. The question the film sets out to answer is what went wrong. The Safdies, making their documentary debut here, weave together a gut-wrenching tale of missed opportunities, sheer chance and reconciliation with the past. Very luckily supplied with hours of footage capturing Cooke in the most pertinent moments of his saga, the Safdies bridge the past to the present with excellent vérité-style cinematography and their keen ability to craft a well-drawn out, perfectly-paced film.

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Mistaken for Strangers

If you asked Matt Berninger what his younger brother, Tom Berninger, thinks of indie rock, he’d tell you it straight: “he thinks indie rock is pretentious bullshit.” Which is a bit of a problem, because Matt is the lead singer of beloved indie band The National and Tom is about to go on tour with The National to capture a documentary about, well, The National. Will Tom change his mind about indie rock? Probably not, but he might just change his mind about just about everything else. The basic plot of Berninger’s Mistaken for Strangers is almost eerily movie-ready. The National is, as one journalist puts it, a band of brothers – a group composed of the Devendorfs (Scott and Bryan) and the Dessners (Aaron and Bryce, who also happen to be twins, just for good measure), along with lead singer Matt – and while Tom is ostensibly coming on tour to help out with basic roadie duties, he’s actually there to make a movie, but he’s really there to reconnect with his brother.

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Lenny Cooke, the documentary debut from Josh and Benny Safdie (Daddy Longlegs) follows its eponymous subject from his position as highest ranked high school basketball player in the nation to his fall from grace and into relative obscurity. In this unflinching documentary, skillfully compiled of hours of footage of Cooke in his basketball playing heyday to current footage of his quiet life in Virginia, the Safdies weave together an incredibly moving story that is wholly true but features nearly operatic peaks and valleys. Cooke was once ranked higher than Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James, and this film shows how chance and motivation brought his dreams crumbling down, and how he wants others to learn from his experience. My full review will be posted after the film makes its world premiere at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival later this week, but I’ll just tease that it’s definitely something to seek out. And know absolutely nothing about basketball (or any sport, for that matter), so that says quite a lot.

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Mistaken for Strangers

If you’ve somehow missed our relentless reportage on the subject, the Tribeca Film Festival kicks off later this week with the premiere of Tom Berninger‘s Mistaken for Strangers, a tour documentary about Berninger’s time on tour with his brother’s (Matt Berninger) band The National. The film’s first trailer is a solid mix of standard tour stuff (life as a rock star is wacky!), family drama (it looks like the Berningers get down to some long-needed heart-to-hearts in the film), and performances by the band. Basically, a perfect music doc. Jam out with the first trailer for Mistaken for Strangers after the break.

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Tribeca Film Festival

Now that the Tribeca Film Festival has rolled out their impressive feature slate and their massive shorts program, the fest has revealed the complete lineup for their seventh annual Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival. Per the fest, “this year’s film program features a selection of sports and competition-themed films that celebrate competition, passion and teamwork, and reflect the diversity of filmmaking in this genre,” which includes nine films, four of which are a part of ESPN Films’ “Nine for IX” series (a new series focused on celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Title IX, which consists of a full nine documentary films about women in sports directed by outstanding female filmmakers). The world premiere of Kevin Connolly‘s Big Shot  (yes, that Kevin Connolly) will kick off the fest-within-a-fest with a gala screening on April 19th. Connolly’s latest explores John Spano’s fradulent purchase of the New York Islanders in 1997, which ended up being “the biggest fraud in hockey history.” Check out the full lineup for the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival after the break.

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Tribeca Film Festival

Now that this year’s Tribeca Film Festival has unveiled their feature slate (to remind you of the great lineup, check out HERE, HERE, and HERE), the fest has now rolled out their ironically huge short film slate, which includes a massive sixty films, including thirty world premieres (a new record for the festival), along with one special screening. This year, Tribeca has divided their giant shorts program into eight thematic programs – including five narrative categories, two documentary categories, and one experimental category – with sections dedicated to New York City and vampire and werewolf themes (juicy). Some of the shorts also include performances by such recognizable talents as Lauren Ambrose, Kevin Corrigan, Elle Fanning, Jessica Hecht, Nastassja Kinski, Julian Sands, Jay O. Sanders, Dominic West, and Elijah Wood. With such a depth of theme and talent, Tribeca looks to be offering a short for everyone. And, hey, if you don’t like them, they’re, well, short. Check out the full listing of all the just-announced shorts (and their respective categories) after the break.

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S-VHS

On the heels of yesterday’s announcement of the festival’s World Narrative, World Documentary, and Viewpoints sections, the Tribeca Film Festival has now unveiled the rest of their (quite exciting) feature line-up. Announced today are picks from the Spotlight section (featuring 21 narratives and 12 documentaries), the Midnight section (formerly known as Cinemania), Special Screenings, and the brand new Storyscapes section (a “multi-platform transmedia program celebrates new trends in digital media and recognizes filmmakers and content creators who employ an interactive, web-based or cross-platform approach to story creation”). There is a lot here to get amped about, including the New York premiere of Ramin Bahrani‘s Zac Efron-starring At Any Price, the New York premire of Before Midnight, the U.S. premiere of lady vampire drama Byzantium, the U.S. premiere of Greetings from Tim Buckley, the Zoe-Kazan-in-a-dual-role The Pretty One, the New York premiere of the apparently-retitled V/H/S/2, and lots more. The complete list of films selected for Spotlight, Midnight, Special Screenings, and projects in Storyscapes is available after the break.

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