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It would take hours to determine precisely how many films have been made about the post-apocalypse, especially recently, but The Survivalist, is a slow-burn thriller set in the post-apocalypse that rises far above the rest. Martin McCann gives a solid performances as the nameless, taciturn titular character who struggles to stay alive while living alone in an isolated cabin in the woods. He doesn't remain alone for long, though, because
Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter, Milja (Mia Goth), show up, and he agrees to let them stay with him despite that the basic resources for survival are very limited. Writer/director Stephen Fingleton accomplishes a lot by keeping the story lean and making the most out of many quiet moments. A lot goes unspoken which is a very rare trait in modern cinema. In other words, Fingleton trusts you as an intelligent audience member, and understands the concept of "less is more." This is essentially everything that the shallow, exhausting Mad Max: Fury Road could have been if it were made for sophisticated audiences: smart, poignant, profoundly human and quietly powerful. The ending, where most post-apocalyptic films tend to falter, is particularly strong and satisfying. On top of that, The Survivalist offer exquisite cinematography that makes it a must-see on the big screen. Bravo to Alchemy for picking it up for theatrical distribution. Another stellar film of the festival is Sworn Virgin about Hana Doda (Alba Rohrwacher) a woman living in an Albanian village who takes an oath to always remain a virgin, and goes through a gender identity crisis. Years later, she becomes a man named Mark and travels to Italy where she (now a he) lives with his sister, be he soon regrets making that sworn oath he made back in the Albanian village. Alba Rohrwacher gives a convincingly moving performance as both Hana and Mark---you might recognize her as one of the daughters in the brilliant masterpiece I Am Love. The screenplay by writer/director Laura Bispuri feels organic and touches your heart without ever veering into melodrama. You'll find yourself emotionally invested in Hana/Mark from start to finish which is a true testament of Sworn Virgin's triumph as a sensitively-written, character-driven drama. It's one of the most powerful, heartfelt and tender films since Boys Don't Cry, and the fact that it's only 84 minutes is further proof of how disciplined and talented director Laura Bispuri and her editor. It opens at Village East Cinema via Strand Releasing on April 22nd, 2016. If you're looking for an uplifting romantic comedy, look no further than the British romcom Man Up starring Lake Bell as Nancy, a woman who pretends to be the blind date of Jack (Simon Pegg) after a series of mix-ups. Lake Bell has terrific comedic timing and, above all, masters a perfect British accent. There's plenty of palpable chemistry between her and Simon Pegg onscreen, but what makes Man Up truly stand out is its witty screenplay by Tess Morris that's funny without being too mean-spirited or resorting to the lowest common denominator. You'll find a genuine sweetness beneath its surface and characters who are grounded at least to some degree in reality. It may be predictable, formulaic (what's wrong with that?) and doesn't offer much of anything that one would consider as new, but at least it's a delightfully diverting way to spend 1 hour and 30 minutes, and it makes for a great date movie. Man Up opens via Saban Films on November 13th, 2015. From Iceland, there's the romantic dramedy Virgin Mountain about Fusi (Gunnar Jónsson), a 43-year-old man who still live with his mother and hasn't found a woman to date yet until he meets Sjöfn (Ilmur Kristjansdottir), so he now has to choose between focusing his attention on his overbearing mother or on his new-found love interest. The best way to summarize the film is that it's an un-Hollywood version of Only the Lonely with more emphasis on drama, warmth and subtlety. Dagur Kári balances the darker elements of the drama with just the right amount of dry, understated, offbeat comedy in an organic way while keeping it relatable and grounded in humanism. Its ended, which won't be spoiled here, manages to be well-earned and believable. Every Tribeca Film Festival has at least one late-night B genre film that can be considered as a guilty pleasure. This year, it's Stung about a giant mutated wasps that terrorize upper class individuals, including a mayor (Lance Henriksen), and the caterers, Julia (Jessica Cook) and Paul (Matt O'Leary), at a garden party. Cue the tongue-in-cheek humor, a little campiness along with some silliness along the way, but rarely does the screenplay by Adam Aresty take itself seriously, so prepare for a lot of mindless fun to be had as long as you don't mind checking your brain at the door. Impressively, the CGI effects look quiet impressive for a low-budget film, and the ideal running time of just 1 hour and 27 minutes means that Stung never overstays its welcome nor does it become exhausting. It wouldn't be surprising if there'll be a sequel at some point in the future. IFC Midnight opens Stung on July 3rd, 2015. Writer/director Paul Weitz's Grandma follows a teenager, Sage (Julia Garner), who wants to have an abortion because of an unplanned pregnancy, so she hits the road with her grandma, Elle (Lily Tomlin), despite that she and her daughter, Sage's mother (Marcia Gay Harden), have been estranged for many years. Elle stops by the home of her ex-husband (Sam Elliott), in hopes of getting money for her granddaughter's abortion. Although the film itself feels atonal occasionally and has a lackluster, lazy third act, it does have its fair share of engaging moments thanks to the awards-worthy performance of Lily Tomlin who tackles her role's bitterness with conviction. Elle may seem unlikable at first, but there's a soft side of her that rises to the surface ever so gently throughout the second act. Julia Garner is very-well cast and brings charisma to her role as the fragile Sage. Sam Elliot also impresses with a memorable performance, although his scene is ephemeral. Ultimately, Grandma rises above its mediocre screenplay thanks to the well-chosen cast and their terrific performances. Sony Pictures Classics opens it on August 21st, 2015. If there were an award for Most Provocative and Vital Narrative of the festival, that award would surely go to Good Kill. It centers on Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke), a drone pilot for the U.S. military, who goes home to his wife and kids at the end of the work day. When he and his colleague, Corporal Suarez (Zoë Kravitz), get an assignment to work with the CIA on a morally ambiguous drone mission, Tom begins to suffer from a crisis of conscience and questions whether or not he has a moral right to control drones that kill people overseas. The screenplay by Andrew Niccol raises many timely issues the morality of drone warfare which, as you'll see in the film, looks like a video game from the eyes of the drone pilot. Niccol wisely avoids preachiness and hitting the audience over the head. It doesn't matter whether you're pro-war, anti-war or somewhere in between because Good Kill doesn't choose sides or tell you what to think, although it does ask you to think and to check your moral conscience. Good Kill feels just as potent, moving and important as The Hurt Locker, The Messenger and the underrated war film Stop-Loss. IFC opens it on May 15th, 2015. One of the best American coming-of-age dramas of the festival is King Jack about a 15-year-old boy, Jack (Charlie Plummer) who, along with his younger cousin (Cory Nichols), must deal with an older bully during one summer in a rural town. Writer/director Felix Thompson has woven a tender, gentle film that boasts a breakthrough performance by Charlie Plummer. Thompson balances the light and dark elements of the film in a way that feel authentic which is very rare for an American film. It just might be the best drama about a teenager growing up in a dysfunctional family since Boyhood and Hellion. Hopefully, a smart U.S. distributor will snag it up for a theatrical release. For a coming-of-age story about girls, there's the French film Being 14 that shows one school year in the life of three middle school students who are friends with one another: Sarah (Athalia Routier), Jade (Galatéa Bellugi) and Louise (Najaa Bensaid). Low on plot development, but high on atmosophere and small human moments that may initially feel slight, the screenplay by Helene Zimmer nonetheless captures the mind of a 14-year-old girl unflinchingly. Fortunately, the running time is only 1 hour and 26 minutes because it ended just when it began to meander and feel repetitive. If you're in the mood for an outrageously, Applesauce comes to the rescue. The plot revolves around the dynamics between two married couples, Ron (Onur Tukel) & Nickki (Trieste Kelly Dunn) and their friends, Kate (Jennifer Prediger) & Les (Max Casella). Ron tells them the worst thing that he had ever done over dinner, but the consequences of him telling them don't quite pan out the way that he expected. Nor does he understand why he's receiving mysterious packages with unexpected items inside---none of those items will be spoiled here because they're gross, especially one that will change the way you look at chinese food the same way again. The humor by writer/director Onur Turkel is quite dark and might off-beat some people who can't stomach that kind of humor, but it at least it takes risks which not enough comedies do (unless you count the Farrelly Brothers' films). You'll have to see the film to learn the meaning of its title.
Democrats follows the struggles of two politicians in Zimbabwe as they help to draft a democratic constitution during the reign of dictator Robert Mugabe, who has been President of Zimbabwe since 1980. One politician, Douglas Mwonzora, represents the Movement for Democratic Change (M.D.C.), the opposing party to Mugabe's ZANU-PF, represented by politician Paul Mangwana. Both Mangwana and Mwonzora must work together to draft the constitution in spite of the political tensions between them. Director Camilla Nielsson provides you with unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to both politicians thereby allowing Democrats to be both fair and balanced. It's frightening to observe how daunting the process of drafting a constitution is in Zimbabwe despite. One can only imagine that it would be much more challenging to implement the constitution, though, once it's drafted and passed. Just like in every country though, democracy is easy to lose, but very difficult to win back especially when tyranny and corruptions runs rampant. Even if you're not a big fan of politics, you'll probably still find yourself entertained and riveted by frictions between the M.D.C and ZANU-PF parties, and fascinated by how charismatic both politicians turn out to be. Kudos to Nielsson for humanizing Mangwana and Mwonzora in ways that the mainstream media rarely if ever accomplishes. In other words, Nielsson is a not only a talented film director, but also a true journalist. Democrats opens Wednesday, November 18th at Film Forum. Dream/killer, directed by Andrew Jenks, is the most enraging doc and among the most heartbreaking as well as suspenseful. Ryan Ferguson was 19-years-old when he was sent to prison for a crime that he didn't commit. His father, Bill, spends the next 10 years desperately trying to prove his beloved son's innocence. The fact that the incompetent, biased and corrupt prosecuting attorney, Kevin Crane, is now a judge is disgusting and says a lot about our broken justice (or, rather, injustice system). Dream/killer plays like a Hollywood thriller, and ought to be turned into one some day. By the end of the film, your blood will boil. Palio, directed by Cosima Spender, is also thrilling, for the most part, but for a different reason: it shows the corruption found in the famous Palio horse race in the Italian city of Siena. It's quite an eye-opening expose, but it's also fair and balanced because it does include interviews with those involved in the corruption. You'll never look at the Palio horse race the same way again, and you even might question other races as well. (T)error, a very timely doc, exposes the dangers that come with becoming an FBI informant through the perspective of an informant called Sharrif. Just like Dream/killer, (T)error also plays like a Hollywood thriller and has surprising twists along the way. Most importantly, though, it says a lot about what's going on with our government's Orwellian surveillance system. Another timely doc of the festival is co-director Mohammed Naqvi and Hemal Trivedi's Among the Believers which gives you an inside look at a radical Islamic school called Red Mosque in Pakistan where children are brainwashed from a young age to believe in jihad. Prepare to be a little frightened, but mostly enlightened by the rarely-documented insights into a very different culture and way of thinking. You'll be haunted by the footage the indoctrinated kids for days. In Transit the final documentary by Albert Maysles, shows the experiences of a variety of passengers abouts The Empire Builder, a train that runs between Seattle and Shelby, Montana. Although it sounds like it would be boring, leave it to the talented Maysles to turn it into a rather engrossing and fascinating film filled with so many human moments sans narration. There's not a single moment that feels dull. In Transit would make for a very interesting double feature with Snowpiercer. What Our Fathers: A Nazi Legacy Did, directed David Evans, is an equally moving and thought-provoking doc about two fathers with one thing in common: both of their fathers served as Nazi governers. Their perspectives on the morality of what their fathers did are very different, and it's that friction between the sons' viewpoints that makes the film all the more compelling. A Nazi Legacy ultimately joins many other vital docs related to the Holocaust. By far the most crowd-pleasing doc of the Tribeca Film Festival is Song of Lahore, directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schocken, about talented musicans from Lahore, Pakistan who come together to create music (beautiful music to boot!) in spite of all of the conflict in Pakistan, and travel all the way to America to perform. That transition turns out to be quite a culture clash, but their passion for music remains the same no matter where they are. Prepare to be genuinely uplifted by the time the end credits roll.