Tribeca Film Fest, You’ve Got Style
BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Choosing what you’re going to see at the Tribeca Film Festival on its opening date, April 16, is like waiting the day before to file your taxes. It’s possible, but not practical — and a very good way to end up waiting in line.
Full house potentials, broken down by genre
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Experience has taught us that you’re better off arriving just in time and with a ticket, rather than terribly early but with nothing more than cash in hand and good intentions. Advance purchase will get you a seat. As for your enjoyment of the films, there are no guarantees. But the ones that made our by-genre list, filled with world premieres, famous actors and post-screening talks, seem more than promising. Keep checking this website throughout the festival, for reviews (and let us know your verdict, by leaving a reader comment).
NEW YORK STORIES
Before arriving on Broadway, John Carney’s Dublin busker tale “Once” clicked with moviegoers, and scored the 2007 Best Original Song Oscar for “Falling Slowly.” The Irish writer/director is back, this time using the soundtrack of a NYC summer to connect the dots between damaged souls and music as a bonding agent. “Begin Again” has romantically involved songwriters Gretta (Keira Knightley) and Dave (Adam Levine) moving to the big city after the latter scores a major label deal. When rising star Dave’s infidelity forces Gretta to become a personal and professional solo act, her raw performance on an East Village stage catches the attention of a disgraced record exec (Mark Ruffalo) who’s also in need of reinvention. This film closes the festival, with an April 26 screening at BMCC Tribeca PAC.
Based on the Tony Award-winning play, writer/director Stephen Belber’s “Match” lands a Seattle couple (played by Matthew Lillard and Carla Gugino) in New York to conduct research for a dissertation on the 1960s dance scene. Their subject is Toby (Patrick Stewart), a former hoofer-turned-hermetic-ballet-instructor, who regales them with colorful anecdotes — but drops the social niceties when their line of questioning becomes uncomfortably personal. In “Ballet 422,” cinematographer and documentarian Jody Lee Lipes takes a quiet but unflinching fly-on-the-wall look at 25-year-old choreographer Justin Peck, as he pools the collective resources of New York City Ballet’s musicians, designers and dancers in order to create the company’s 422nd original piece.
TV writer Amy Berg (“Person of Interest” and “Leverage”), whose Catholic priest sex abuse documentary “Deliver Us From Evil” was nominated for a 2006 Academy Award, makes her fiction feature debut. “Every Secret Thing,” an adaptation of Laura Lippman’s novel, takes place in a New York suburb. Seven years after a baby goes missing from her front porch, a pair of young girls blamed for the crime are released from prison — and face the scrutiny of two detectives called into town when another child disappears. Diane Lane and Dakota Fanning are among the cast members.
Brooklyn writer-director Onur Tukel stars in “Summer of Blood,” his dark comedy about relationships, attraction and commitment. After rejecting his successful girlfriend’s proposal, misanthropic Eric (stuck in a dead end job) has an alleyway encounter with a vampire that leaves him with newfound confidence, an insatiable liquid diet and an ironic perspective on what it means to be human. Brooklyn blood of a more serious nature is front and center in Director Keith Miller’s “Five Star.” Taking place over several hot summer weeks, a longtime member of the Bloods (both in the film and in reality) tutors a young boy in the code of the streets, while deciding whether his vow to become a better father and husband trumps all that gang culture has to offer.
REEL STORIES: DOCUMENTARIES
Director Lloyd Handwerker brings an insider’s edge to “Famous Nathan’s,” his documentary about the humble origins and lasting legacy of Nathan’s Famous Frankfurters. Packed in a casing of home movies and rare archival footage, Handwerker uses interviews with colorful family members and Coney Island characters to show how his immigrant grandfather’s American dream became a culinary reality — and a cultural touchstone.
Tribeca Film Festival alum Jeff Reichart — whose 2010 documentary “Gerrymandering” scrutinized the redistricting process — teams up with Farihah Zaman for “This Time Next Year.” Together, they document the efforts of Long Beach Island, New Jersey residents to recover from Superstorm Sandy in time for the make-or-break summer season. Set in the American West, “Fishtail” has another group battling the elements and changing times, in a bid to maintain their way of life. Narrator Harry Dean Stanton’s voice gives gravitas (and gravel) to this unsentimental portrait of Montana’s Fishtail Basin Ranch cowboys, as they navigate another calving season. Cultural preservation is the goal of “Tomorrow We Disappear.” When high-rise developers purchase the land occupied by New Delhi’s Kathputli colony of puppeteers, performers and magicians, an already vanishing form of Indian folk art is threatened with extinction. “We are the flying birds,” they tell the filmmakers, “here today and gone tomorrow.”
“The Overnighters” finds a small conservative North Dakota town overwhelmed by the influx of desperate men in search of employment, when hydraulic fracturing uncovers a rich oil field. The compassion shown to them by a local pastor soon puts him at odds with those who don’t embrace the church’s far-reaching “love thy neighbor” policy. James “The Amazing” Randi gets some long-overdue love, in “An Honest Liar.” For the better part of his 50-year career, Randi has been exposing con artists who use the professional magician’s bag of tricks to hoodwink and swindle the gullible masses. Hated by faith healers, fortune-tellers and gurus (including self-professed spoon-bender Uri Geller), Randi’s masterful debunking of these phonies has earned the admiration of Penn Jillette, Bill “The Science Guy” Nye and “Mythbuster” Adam Savage — all of whom appear in the film to back up the assertion that every one of us is vulnerable to deception (even Randi, as it turns out).
Music documentaries, always a strong presence in the festival, don’t disappoint with this year’s crop. “Super Duper Alice Cooper” delves beyond the chicken-slaughtering and dead-baby-eating theatrics of the man born Vincent Furnier, while showing requisite respect to the “School’s Out” singer’s outrageous (and outrage-inducing) stage antics. Using a stylistic blend of performance footage, animation and candid interviews meant to evoke the frenzied Alice Cooper persona, this sprawling “Doc Opera” is from the team whose 2010 Rush documentary (“Beyond the Lighted Stage”) won the Tribeca Film Festival’s Audience Award. Multimedia artist One9 snagged the festival’s opening night honor, with “Time is Illmatic” — which follows the creative trajectory of Nas’ 1994 opus, “Illmatic.” Then a young street poet from Queensbridge, this debut album helped to define hip hop and immediately cemented his reputation as a visionary MC. Nas will perform, after the film’s April 16 screening at the Beacon Theatre. For tickets, visit tribecafilm.com/openingnight. Those of us old enough to remember the punkish pixie who fronted The Sugarcubes can appreciate the decades-long creative arc of Björk, a seriously avant-garde performer and video artist to whom the current pop vanguard owes an enormous (conscious or otherwise) debt. “Biophilia Live” blends concert footage of songs from her eighth studio album with animation as well as science and nature footage.
COOL FOREIGN FILMS
With its April 16-27 run, the Tribeca Film Festival occupies that sweet spot where sightings of spring jackets finally trump those of the de Blasio family shoveling snow. But a trio of foreign films never got the memo.
Lingering shots of Northern China’s wintry industrial landscape give atmospheric depth to director Diao Yinan’s “Black Coal, Thin Ice.” The Golden Bear winner for Best Film at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival injects social realism into its familiar cop redemption plot. Five years after being suspended from the force, the only work Zhang Zili can find is as a security guard at a coal factory. When new crimes fit the pattern of his old botched serial murder case, Zhang follows a trail leading to an enigmatic laundromat proprietor, whose possible connection to the deaths gives their dynamic a noirish edge. Opening on a classic dark and (snow) stormy night in northern Italy, “Human Capital” is director Paolo Virzi’s adaptation of Stephen Amidon’s best-selling novel — about how two loosely linked families become intertwined by conflicting perspectives on love, class and ambition. Revenge is a dish best served in the cold, and with a pitch black sense of humor — at least according to director Hans Petter Moland’s “In Order of Disappearance.” The stylish action-thriller takes place in the dead of a frozen Norwegian winter, as Nils (recent winner of his community’s “Citizen of the Year” award) comes undone after his son’s heroin overdose. Upon discovering a connection to Serbian drug dealers and a local criminal mastermind, the grieving father goes from a one-note vigilante to the centerpiece of an escalating gang war.
Everyone who’s ever pined for something, or someone, that they’re just not meant to have will appreciate the burgeoning dilemma at the core of “Life Partners.” This world premiere, the feature directorial debut of co-writer Susanna Fogel, has its main characters staring down the barrel of thirty and wondering if their friendship is more than the sum of its codependent milieu. After breezing through the last ten years largely on the strength of their complimentary temperaments, straight Paige and lesbian Sasha have an intense friendship that seems more like a happy marriage. Their seemingly unbreakable bond begins to shift, though, when Paige meets Tim. A sea change in the lifestyle of one partner also threatens the couple at the center of “Something Must Break.” Set in the back streets and forgotten parks of Stockholm, Andreas has an intoxicating connection to Sebastian that owes more to their rooftop tangos than the beer they stole from that 7-Eleven — but soon, Sebastian’s androgynous fluidity becomes as much of a threat to their deepening romance as the questions straight-identifying Andreas is forced to face.
Ira Sachs’ follow-up to his acclaimed “Keep the Lights On” is a different kind of emotionally intense look at long-term gay relationships being tested by outside forces. “Love is Strange” benefits from the star power and dramatic chops of Alfred Molina and John Lithgow as a Manhattan couple who face unexpected discrimination after making their union official. Set in the housing projects of Caracas, Venezuelan screenwriter Mariana Rondon directs newcomer Samuel Lange, in “Bad Hair.” When nine-year-old Junior decides he’ll be sporting straight hair instead of tight curls for an upcoming yearbook photo, the change in identity earns a fit of homophobic panic from his overtaxed mother.
Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini celebrate the transgender community of Puerto Rico, in the documentary “Mala Mala.” The highs and lows of fighting for acceptance — personal and communal — are captured through candy-colored cinematography as well as interviews with LGBTQ advocates, activists, business owners, sex workers and entertainers (specifically, a drag troupe who call themselves “The Doll House”). The directors, along with subjects Ivana Fred, Denise Rivera, Alberic Prados, April Carrión, Queen Bee Ho, Sophia Voines and Paxx Moll will be on hand to take questions from the audience, after the April 19 screening (at Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea). Our country’s first openly gay Congressman gets quizzed by Alec Baldwin, following the April 27 SVA Theater screening of “Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank.” The documentary, which promises insights as unvarnished as its subject’s last name, questions how Frank’s homosexuality impacted his various campaigns for social justice during 40 years in office.
Actor, New Yorker and unwavering Knicks fanatic Michael Rapaport makes his feature directorial debut, with “When the Garden Was Eden.” Based on Harvey Araton’s popular 2012 tome, this documentary begins in the 1960s and proceeds to chart the unlikely transformation of a group of players from the point of no respect to their position as one of the NBA’s most dynamic squads. Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Earl Monroe, Willis Reed and others from the Knicks’ championship years reflect on a volatile era in New York’s cultural and sports history.
Plenty of fighters have also had career-defining moments at Madison Square Garden. Some of them are featured in “Champs,” director Bert Marcus’ look at how boxing promises a way out of poverty and, ironically, delivery from violence. Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Bernard Hopkins reflect on their personal histories, giving candid accounts of life inside and out of the ring. After the April 19 screening at Chelsea’s SVA Theatre, Tyson and Holyfield will participate in a Tribeca Talks panel discussion, alongside NYC boxing promoter Lou DiBella. In “Maravilla,” Sergio Martinez’s rise from the poverty of rural Argentina to a career marked by adulation, disdain, injury and conflict with the World Boxing Council is the basis for director Juan Cadaveira’s all-access documentary — which traces the boxer’s quest to reclaim the Middleweight title. Zen priest Noah Buschel’s fifth feature film also draws on the sport’s common themes of struggle and redemption. “Glass Chin” stars Corey Stoll as Bud “The Saint” Gordon. After one well-placed jab to the chin robs him of success, fame and their accompanying trappings, Bud pins his hope for a comeback on the promising boxer he trains and the deal he makes with a crooked restaurateur (Billy Crudup).
Known to the rest of the world knows as “football” and still, for some reason, unable to establish a toehold in this country, soccer at least gets some respect on Tribeca festival screens. “Maradona ’86” examines the story behind Diego Armando Maradona’s 1986 World Cup triumph, to reveal a complex and contradictory man who was an equally determined and gifted athlete. A Tribeca Drive-In selection, the family-friendly documentary “Next Goal Wins” begins as the American Samoan national soccer team has suffered a 31-0 defeat. Having spent over a decade trying to win an official match, an eccentric new Dutch coach helps the team train for the next World Cup — and the elusive chance to redefine their unofficial title as “the worst team in the world.”
Also of interest to sports fans: “Slaying the Badger” is a documentary about Greg LeMond, the only American who won the Tour de France the old-fashioned way (he earned it). Another doc, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball,” looks at the 1973 creation of independent team the Portland Mavericks — by, no kidding, an actor (Bing Russell) who left his steady gig on “Bonanza” to pursue that dream.