2009 Tribeca Film Festival (April 22nd - May 3rd)
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Interview with Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, stars, and Woody Allen, writer/director of Whatever Works (Opening Night Film)
Interview with Nia Vardalos, star of My Life in Ruins (Closing Night Film)
(Full reviews will continue to be added only for films with distribution as their theatrical release date approaches.)
Please click here for an interview with Nia Vardalos, star of My Life in Ruins, the Closing Night Film.
Directed by Asghar Farhadi.
In Persian with subtitles.
Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) and her college friends spend a weekend on the seaside. Elly (Taraneh Alidousti), the teacher of Sepideh's daughter, comes along for the trip as well. Little does she know that Sepideh plans to be a matchmaker for her by introducing her to a divorced man. When Elly suddenly vanishes on the second day, it leads Sepideh and her friends to desperately search for her and to ask many questions while fearing that she might be dead. Winner of the Best Narrative Feature award at the Tribeca Film Festival. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. No distributor, yet.
All About Actresses
Directed by Maïwenn Le Besco.
In French with subtitles. This "documentary," follows Maïwenn as she explores the professional lives of French actresses, such as Charlotte Rampling, Julie Depardieu and Karin Viard. She "documents" how the actresses truly think and feel about working in the field of acting and how they behave. Number of times I checked my watch: 5. Released by Regent Releasing/Here! Films. No release date, yet.
Directed by Leslie Cockburn.
This timely and often provocative and illuminating documentary investigates, through many interviews, how and why the crumbling U.S. economy has affected everyone from homeowners to taxpayers. At times, though, it feels a bit overstuffed with poorly explained information and technical terms which lead to slight confusion and even boredom, especially if you're unfamiliar with the intricate details/language of the stock market, home mortgage loaners and banks. Also, it loses its momentum and focus when it goes off on a tangent to examine the economy's effects on the polluted pools, which could have easily been explored in a separate documentary. Number of times I checked my watch: 4. Released by Argot Pictures. Opens September 4th, 2009 at the Film Forum.
Directed by Laura Bari.
In French with subtitles. This refreshingly original and poignant documentary follows Antoine, a six-year-old boy who has been blind since birth, as a he plays a detective game searching for the whereabouts of a mysterious Madame Rouski. By shooting the footage from Antoine's perspective sans narration except from Antoine himself, director Bari captures Antoine's many thoughts and feelings while making you feel as though you're in his shoes and inside his head throughout the film. Admittedly, it takes a while to get used to the documentary's strange and unique style and structure, but it's ultimately an engrossing experience. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. No distributor, yet.
Directed by Scott Sanders.
Michael Jai White plays Black Dynamite, an ex-CIA agent who seeks out revenge for the murder of his brother. The bad guy, called The Man, is responsible for the murder as well as for trafficking drugs and spreading adulterated malt liquor into the ghetto. Following the trail of malt liquor and drugs leads to a lot of outrageous, over-the-top action sequences and tongue-in-cheek, dark humor in the style of 70's blaxploitation films. For maximum enjoyment, just be sure to check your brain at the door and suspend a lot of your disbelief. Number of times I checked my watch: 2. Released by Destination Films. Opens September 4th, 2009.
Directed by Yôjirô Takita.
In Japanese with subtitles. Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), a young man, loses his job as a cellist in a Tokyo orchestra that had recently dissolved. His wife, Mika (Ryoko Hirosue), agrees to move with him to a house in his northern Japan hometown. He desperately wants to find a new job so that he can continue to support her. Soon enough he, applies to a job ad that reads “Working with departures” and assumes that he’s applying for work at a travel agency. Upon his arrival at the workplace, he learns that it’s actually a job as an “encoffineer” or “Nokanshi” at a mortuary, where his tasks include preparing dead bodies for burials. His boss, Ikuei (Tsutomu Yamazaki), convinces him to take the job despite that it doesn’t sound too appealing or worth telling Mika about. The more he immerses himself in that line of work, the more he finds a way to appreciate his job while learning all the nitty-gritty details of how to prepare the corpses aesthetically. At some point, he rediscovers his innate passion for playing the cello and becomes inspired to try reconnecting with his estranged father. The intelligent screenplay by Kundo Koyama infuses the genres of drama and tragedy with plenty of grace and sensitivity toward gradual character development. There are many intricate details throughout the film that become more important later on, so it’s very important to pay close attention to everything. When you first meet Daigo, he’s already working as an encofineer and you’re watching him at a funeral. That initial scene represents a microcosm of the mix of poignancy and surprising dry humor that ensues thereafter. Some scenes make you cry while others lesson the burden of heaviness by making you laugh. The strong performances all across the board help you to feel fully engrossed from start to finish while the messages about coming to terms with death and embracing life will make you feel alive and gently uplifted. Moreover, director Yôjirô Takita includes superb cinematography, pacing and music score which help to enrich the film without hitting you over the head. It’s the kind of film that finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience, provoking them intellectually as well as emotionally. At a running time of 130 minutes, Departures, winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film of 2008, is a tremendously moving experience filled with warmth, wisdom, intelligence and tenderness sprinkled with just the right dash of humor to balance the heaviness and keeps you thoroughly enthralled. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Regent Releasing. Opens May 29th, 2009 at Landmark Sunshine Cinema, City Cinemas 1,2,3 and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Directed by Stephan Elliott.
Based on the play by Noel Coward. Larita (Jessica Biel), a widowed racecar driver from Detroit, marries John Whittaker (Ben Barnes) in Monaco and arrives with him at the country estate of his family in England. Kristin Scott Thomas plays John’s stuck-up mother who welcomes Larita very coldly from the minute she steps out of the house to greet her. John’s father (Colin Forth) treats his new daughter-in-law with much more respect and warmth, though, compared the way that his wife and two daughters, Hilda (Kimberley Nixon) and Marion (Katharine Parkinson) do. Larita struggles to find a way to feel comfortable as a part of John’s family while trying not to let her mother-in-law get in the way and ruin his marriage. There’s also a silly subplot involving Larita accidentally crushing the family pet Chihuahua to death on a couch and getting help from the butler (Kris Marshall) to bury it in the backyard. The death of that little dog symbolizes Larita’s problems or issues, i.e. from her past, that she can’t seem to avoid or get rid of no matter how hard she tries to. Will her mother-in-law discover scandalous secrets from her past? Will she discover that the dead Chihuahua somehow? If you’re familiar with romantic comedies, the answers to those questions should be apparent from the very start of the film. One surprise, though, which won’t be spoiled here, comes in the form of a possible romance between Larita and someone else other than John. Director/co-writer Stephan Elliot moves the pace very briskly and blends comedy, drama and romance with mostly great results, except for the third act that feels too rushed and a bit lazy compared to the rest of the film. He also includes a very lively soundtrack that reminds you not to take what you’re seeing too seriously. In terms of comedy, some of the British humor falls flat, but for the most part it does manage to generate laughs with some witty one-liners. Elliot could have taken the comedy further to make it more consistently biting rather than have it lose some of its comedic momentum later on. Kristin Scott Thomas has a lot of fun in her deliciously mean role and delivers some of the funniest lines as does the charming-as-always Colin Firth. It’s quite diverting to watch Larita battle with her mother-in-law, much moreso than the wife and mother-in-law battling one another in the juvenile Monster-in-Law. < Even though the laughs fizzle out toward the end, Easy Virtue manages to be pure, unadulterated fun. At a running time of 93 minutes, it’s a sparkling, delightfully witty and frothy British comedy with a lively ensemble cast. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens May 22nd, 2009 at the Regal Union Square 14, City Cinemas 1,2,3 and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.
Directed by Conor McPherson.
Michael Farr (Ciarán Hinds) lives with his two young kids (Eanna Hardwicke and Hannah Lynch) and still grieves over the death of his wife two years earlier. When he’s not writing supernatural fables, he works as a chauffeur for authors who must travel to the annual Literary Festival taking place in the Irish seaside town of Cobh. He meets Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle), a London-based author of a book entitled The Eclipse, who might be able to help him figure why he’s seeing all sorts of strange apparitions because she had once seen a ghost back when she was 11-years-old. They both gradually get to know one another even while they’re haunted by their past. Lena tries to forget about an affair she had in the past with author novelist Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn), who’s now an alcoholic, aggressive man fighting demons of his own. Director/co-writer Conor McPherson deftly combines drama, romance, suspense and horror with just the right touch of brief comic relief that serves as a form of levity. At its core, though, the plot poignantly centers around the relationship between Michael and Lena as they both have to deal with a lot of baggage from their past that weighs down on them throughout their percolating romance. The ghosts that Michael sees can be taken literally or, more interestingly, metaphorically because they could signify that he’s haunted by his tragic past regarding his beloved wife’s death which he still hasn’t overcome. It’s also worth mentioning superb performances by the underrated Ciarán Hinds and Iben Hjejle, both of whom sink their teeth into their roles with ease. McPherson maintains a gently eerie mood that keeps you engaged at the edge of your seat as you’re wondering how everything will culminate precisely and whether or not Michael will be able to find a sense of tranquility because, after all, he’s a kind-hearted man who deserves to be happy. The scenery of Ireland becomes a character of its own that slightly adds to the foreboding, chilling atmosphere throughout. At a running time of 1 hour and 28 minutes, The Eclipse is an unconventionally tender, heartfelt , well-acted and intriguing ghost story that has both style and substance. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens March 26th, 2010 at the Angelika Film Center.
The Exploding Girl
Directed by Bradley Rust Gray.
Ivy (Zoe Kazan) returns to Brooklyn for the summer where she spends time with her laidback, platonic friend, Al (Mark Rendall). She has a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend, Greg, but their romantic chemistry gradually wanes as they try to communicate with one another by phone. Meanwhile, her relationship with Al might actually be something more than just platonic. The thin plot feels quitely absorbing thanks to the tender screenplay by writer/director Bradley Rust Gray and well-nuanced, very natural performances by Zoe Kazan and Mark Rendall. Gray acheives a sense of realism through the organic dialogue, exquisite cinematography and leisurely pacing. These are the kind of characters who gradually grow on you and, given how true-to-life they seem, you'll find them hard to forget. Number of times I checked my watch: 1. No distributor, yet.
FILM IST. a girl and a gun
Directed by Gustav Deutsch.
This experimental film combines footage from a wide array of silent films from mostly the 19th Century. Jean-Luc Godard once said that, “All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun.” Well, lo and behold, the first images of the film happen to be of a girl, namely, Annie Oakley, shooting her rifle. That footage happens to be from Thomas Edison’s 1894 Kinetoscope film. Other images include molten lava oozing from erupting volcano, soldiers during World War I, flowers blooming, naked women, men and women interacting, bestiality, smoke billowing and more. Each of the five acts has a Greek title starting from “Genesis” to "Paradeisos," "Eros," "Thanos,” and, finally, to "Symposium.” Every now and then, there are excerpts from the texts of classic Ancient Greek poets Sappho and Hesiod as well as philosopher Plato. In many ways, director Gustav Deutsch, who previously directed the versions 1 through 12 of Film Ist, has made an elliptical, bizarre and complex film that will probably require more than one viewing to understand what it’s trying to say about mankind, nature, sexuality, war and other themes that recur throughout.. Those who prefer to be spoon-feed a narrative arch and clear-cut messages will themselves either bored or annoyed more often than not. Much of the film looks like a work of art that should be studied, analyzed and discussed scene-for-scene in film school. Others might consider the film to be pretentious rather than artsy, but intelligent audience members, especially those accustomed to watching experimental films, will find the combination of color-tinted images and the accompanying musical score to be quite fascinating and oddly captivating. At least the film isn’t as experimental as the film The Flicker which has a stroboscopic light blinking on and off for 25 minutes along with an irritating sound that might give audience members seizures. FILM IST. a girl and a gun ultimately manages to be a provocative, elliptical and oddly fascinating work of experimental art. Number of times I checked my watch: 2Released by Sixpack Film. Opens December 2nd, 2009 at the Anthology Film Archives.
The Girlfriend Experience
Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
A few weeks before the Presidential Election of 2008, Chelsea (Sasha Grey), a Manhattan call girl who charges her clients $2,000 per hour, wants expand her market to make even more money so that she can fulfill her dream of opening her own boutique. She lives in a nice apartment with her boyfriend, Chris (Chris Santos), an athletic trainer who doesn’t mind her being in that kind of line-of-work because they both share the strong desire to become wealthier and wealthier. But what might happen to intangible things such as happiness and love? Whether Chelsea interacts with a man (Glenn Kenny) who calls himself The Erotic Connoisseur to boost her career, or with a Hassidic Jeweler who she also screws, she’s living a very cold and mundane life. After she gives all of her clients a “girlfriend experience,” so-to-speak, she comes home to Chris and has dinner with him, but they don’t really have any deep, intimate discussions with one another. Perhaps beneath her confidence about showing off her body, among doing other things with it, she’s very insecure and naïve. Chris doesn’t seem too bright, mature or genuinely warm as a person, although he does care about Chelsea and at least he think that he wants to continue being with her. When Chelsea tells him that she’ll be spending an entire weekend with a client, he gets jealous and questions their relationship as it deteriorates even further. Simply put, she’s just not that into him. Writer/director Steven Soderbergh plays around with the chronology of the scenes so that some flash forward while others flash backwards in time, so he expects the audience to piece it all together in the end. Not much really happens in terms of plot, but with the camera fixated so often on Chelsea and with her voice-over, you’re able to somewhat grasp what’s going on inside her head. Soderbergh uses tone, cinematography, pacing and choices of color in interesting, stylish ways that recall the films of Godard. There are plenty of nude scenes to be found with Sasha Grey, but those scenes don’t quite go beyond the level of softcore porn. Showgirls seems sleazier by comparison. Grey certainly looks sexy and seductive and, given that this marks her feature film debut in a non-adult film, she gives a decent performance here. Ultimately, The Girlfriend Experience manages to be a visually stylish, sexy and provocative film’s emotionally cold, yet oddly intriguing. Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens May 22nd, 2009 at the Beekman Theatre, Clearview Chelsea and Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
In the Loop
Directed by Armando Iannucci.
When Britain's Minister of International Development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), announces that "war is unforeseeable" on live British radio, his boss, Malcolm (Peter Capaldi) pressures him to find away to fix his slip-of-the-tongue so as to avoid a war between the UK and the US. Once he arrives in the US, he meets Assistant Secretary of Diplomacy, Karen (Mimi Kennedy), and her intern, Liza (Anna Chlumsky), who try getting him involved in their anti-war movement along with General George Miller, played in a hilarious performance by James Gandolfini. It's very rare to find such an adult comedy that's concurrently intelligent, biting, satirical and brutally funny. British humor tends to be more irreverent than American humor and, in this case, director/co-writer Armando Iannucci takes the humor to new, unpredictable of crassness. Every member of the cast has a great time with their role and you'll have just as much fun watching them onscreen. Their comedic energy and enthusiasm radiates from start to finish and will leave you in stitches. The many one-liners zip on by very fast, so please be sure to pay close attention to the dialogue.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0. Released by IFC Films. Opens July 24th, 2009.
Directed by Duncan Jones.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) works on the moon as an astronaut for Lunar Industries. He has nearly completed a three-year mission to harvest moon rocks which help to supply Earth’s main source energy, Helium-3. Videotaped messages are the only means of communication he has with civilization back on Earth, including his beloved wife, Tess (Dominique McElligott) and 3-year-old daughter, Eve (Kaya Scodelario), who he’s looking forward to reunite with shortly. Inside the moon station Sarang, he spends his time living and working there alone while just interacting with a computer called Gerty (voice of Kevin Spacey). The mission goes smoothly until, one day, he crashes his lunar rover and, the next thing he knows, he’s back at the mining station recovering from the crash. Another Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell, again) shows up and may be a clone or, perhaps, they’re both clones. As the first Sam becomes more and more mentally and physically unstable, the line between truth and fiction gets increasingly blurred. Screenwriter Nathan Parker does a great job of building tension very gradually by not giving too much information about Sam Bell all at once. Essentially, the film skips a first act that might have shown Sam interacting with his family on Earth and preparing for the lunar mission. Instead, it leaves that segment out and puts you right at end of Sam’s mission, so that makes the plot more mysterious and leaves more for your imagination, in turn, while staying clear of becoming too convoluted. Not all of the questions get answered when the third act’s twists become revealed, though, but at least the twist works in hindsight without seeming too gimmicky and tacked-on. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s just the right amount of comic relief to counter the plot’s heaviness. Sam Rockwell gives convincing performances here in multiple roles and has the charisma to carry the film pretty much on his own. The other character, besides, the computer Gerty, would be the setting on the moon itself. Director Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son, includes a terrific musical score along with breathtaking long and medium shots of Sam in the lunar rover mining the moon’s surface. Some of the visuals will remind you of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Concurrently, the set designs inside the lunar station adds to the atmosphere of claustrophobia as Sam remains stuck there in isolation with a possible clone. At a running of 97 minutes, Moon manages to be intriguing and suspenseful with awe-inspiring visuals and terrific, well-nuanced performances by Sam Rockwell in dual roles. Essentially, it avoids tedium while finding just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually, which rarely happens in sci-fi movies nowadays. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens June 12th, 2009 at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 and AMC Empire 25.
Directed by Kirby Dick.
This provocative documentary tackles the issue of closeted U.S. politicians who vote against gay rights as a means to deny their own homosexuality. Not surprisingly, the mainstream media plays a significant role in covering up the gay lifestyles of the closeted politicians, the vast majority of whom happen to be Republicans. It takes brave individuals, such as Michael Rogers, who runs the blog www.blogactive.com, to dig up information about those self-hating, closeted politicians and by “out” them to the public. How can anyone know when to trust those independent sources, though? The real answer is that you never know when to trust any source 100%, but it’s nonetheless important to openly discuss and assess all of the news about the politicians from various sources and to ask questions, which can help to lead you closer to finding the truth. Florida Governor Charlie Crist who repeatedly voted against gay marriage and denied being gay, yet there are men who claim to have had sex with him. When inquired about his homosexuality, his former girlfriend, Kelly Heyniger replies, “I think I should just keep my mouth shut. Call me in 10 years and I’ll tell you a story.” There’s also the Idaho senator Larry Craig who got arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer at a restroom and it wasn’t his first time doing so, either, yet he denied his homosexuality and voted against gay rights. Director Kirby Dick, who has previously directed This Film is Not Yet Rated and Twist of Faith, also intertwines interviews with politicians who are already out of the closet, such as former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank and Wisconsin Representative Tammy Baldwin, who do have the courage to talk candidly about their views on closeted politicians. In a moving moment, McGreevey tears up in front of the camera as he stresses the importance of being true to oneself. Does it really matter whether or not a politician is gay? No, not fundamentally, but the crux of the matter is that these closeted politicians are being hypocritical and dishonest to public and, worst of all, to themselves. They’re far from role models and clearly in need a lot of therapy. Essentially, their lack of courage and heart is quite harmful and hurtful because it leads to them denying gays and lesbians the equal rights that they have always deserved. At running time of 90 minutes, Outrage manages to be a brave, provocative and thoroughly compelling exposé that you’ll be talking about for weeks. Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by Magnolia Pictures. Opens May 8th, 2009 at the Clearview Chelsea Cinemas.
Rudo y Cursi
Directed by Carlos Cuarón.
In Spanish with subtitles. Beto, a.k.a. Rudo (Diego Luna) and his stepbrother, Tato, a.k.a. Cursi (Gael García Bernal), live in a small banana plantation, Tlachatlán, located in Mexico. They both have very different personalities. Beto seems more serious, reserved and has a wife, Toña (Adriana Paz), and two children whom he loves and wants to be financially secure enough to support them. Tato, on the other hand, isn’t married and has a quixotic dream of becoming a singer despite that he doesn’t know how to sing well. One day, as they’re playing soccer for fun together with other local guys, a soccer scout, Batuta, a.k.a. Baton (Guillermo Francella), notices their talent there and tells them that he can only choose one of them to join a First Division club. He picks Tato to join that club, where he becomes quite famous for scoring a lot of goals. Meanwhile, Beto ends up in a Second Division team as a goalkeeper, so now both stepbrothers compete against each other in the world of soccer. It’s not surprising that both of them struggle to maintain their good reputation and fortune while getting sucked into the world of fame where there’s more deception than meets the eye. How will their newfound fame affect their lives and relationship with one another? Writer/director Carlos Cuarón, in his feature film directorial debut, blends drama and comedy with uneven results. Neither Beto nor Tato seem well-developed enough as characters for you to root for them or care about whether or not they’ll find a way to get along. Guillermo Francella, though, gives an amusing performance as their agent who provides some comic relief every now and then. The relationship between Beto and his wife isn’t fleshed out enough and they lack palpable chemistry during their scenes together. Despite decent cinematography, occasionally amusing scenes and a modicum of suspense toward the end, Rudo y Cursi, feels lazy, bland and ultimately fails to pack a real punch both emotionally, dramatically and comedically.Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Opens at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, Regal E-Walk 13 and Regal 85th & 1st.
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda.
In Japanese with subtitles. Ryota Yokohama (Hiroshi Abe), a 4o-year-old restorer of art, arrives at the home of his elderly mother, Toshiko (Kirin Kiki), and father Kyohei (Yoshi Harada), with his widowed wife, Yukari (Yui Natsukawa) and her son, Atsushi (Sohei Tanaka), from her previous marriage. Ryota’s sister, Chinami (You), and her husband (Kazuya Takahashi) also show up along with their two little kids. They all gather together to remember Jenpei, Ryota’s older brother who died fifteen years earlier. Kyohei doesn’t quite approve of Ryota’s profession as an art restorer; he wishes that he would have followed his footsteps as a doctor after his retirement. Throughout the course of all the bickering between Ryota and his parents, it becomes clearer that he doesn’t live up to the more successful son of the family, Jenpei. Yukari also struggles to deal the alienation and emotional distance between her and her in-laws. Writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda, who previously wrote and directed Nobody Knows and After Life, has woven a drama filled with closely-observed dramatic, bittersweet and tender moments along with some much-needed comic relief to lighten the burden of the heavier and sadder elements of the film. Kore-ada wisely moves the film along at a leisurely pace and gradually shows you the dynamics and issues of the Yokohama family. Even though Kyohei often seems bitter, resentful and cold, that doesn’t make him an unlikable character. He’s just as real and complex as every other member of the family onscreen. The beautiful, crisp and smooth cinematography along with the organic screenplay helps to enhance the realism and to keep you thoroughly absorbed. Although there are many characters who go through all sorts of conflicts and epiphanies, there’s never a moment that feels too convoluted. It’s also worth mentioning the clever use of symbolism, such as a butterfly and views of the ocean, which add another layer of richness and poignancy. At running time of 1 hour and 54 minutes, Still Walking manages to be a captivating, heartfelt and character-driven tapestry brimming with well-nuanced performances, exquisite cinematography and just the right touch of delicate humor. Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Released by IFC Films. Opens August 28th, 2009 at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.