Tribeca Film Festival Preview: What To Catch At This Year's Fest

By Katey Rich 2010-04-21 21:42:02discussion comments
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This weekend marks the beginning of this year's Tribeca Film Festival, which brings film lovers from all over to the cavernous streets of downtown Manhattan, and sends your trusty Cinema Blend correspondents running all over creation to cover it. Eric Eisenberg, Perri Nemiroff and myself will be covering Tribeca over the next ten days, seeing all kinds of indie films, doing all kinds of interviews, and trying to sleep once in a while in the meantime.

We've already started seeing some of the films from this year's festival, and below we've got a list of 20 films that we either know are worth your time or are anxious to see yourself. Keeping checking Cinema Blend daily for new reviews and interviews from the festival, and if you're there too, let us know in the comments!


Climate of Change

More than just a "woe-is-us" screed about all the destruction we humans are wreaking on the earth, Climate of Change looks like a hopeful, human take on global warming, showcases efforts all around the world of everyday people trying to save the planet. Plus, it's narrated by Tilda Swinton, and we'd listen to her read the phone book.

"We are the renters of this world, not its masters," reminds Pooshkar, a precocious 13-year-old member of a youth environmental defense group in India. He and his fellow voraciously energetic students actively rally against the use of plastics. In Africa, a renaissance man teaches citizens to harness solar power to cook food. In Papua New Guinea, villagers practice sustainable logging to save their rainforests. A woman in London uses her PR savvy to start a successful environmental communications firm. Self-described "hillbillies" in Appalachia battle the big business behind strip mining. In this rich and inspiring documentary, director Brian Hill takes us around the world to find the ordinary people taking action in the fight to save our environment.

Hill and his cinematographers create a real sense of ambience in each of the countries and communities they visit. Conversations with West Virginians are punctuated by footage of mountaintops surrounding their homes being dynamited; Papua New Guineans talk among the giant trees being decimated by commercial logging. A visit to the Global Seed Vault built in the Norwegian permafrost in Svalbard, Norway is particularly ethereal. Driving Climate of Change is the beautiful narration written by British poet Simon Armitage and mellifluously voiced by Tilda Swinton.



Disappearance of Alice Creed

A kidnapping thriller set in just two rooms, featuring in its cast Gemma Arterton, the pretty girl from Quantum of Solace finally given a chance to actually act, and Eddie Marsan, the angry driving instructor from Happy-Go-Lucky who can act circles around probably anyone. This directorial debut by J Blakeson is already garnering great pre-festival buzz.

Meticulous. Taut. Restrained. That's how the plan is set by alpha Vic and naïve Danny to kidnap a woman and hold her ransom for 2 million euros. But it also describes J Blakeson's skillful crafting of his tension-fueled debut—not an easy feat when you have only three characters and two rooms to work with. In one of those rooms is Alice, pulled off the street by Vic and Danny, blindfolded, gagged, and tied to a bed nailed to the floor. The plan is on track, with every detail plotted from the ransom call to Alice's father all the way down to how Alice goes to the bathroom.

Blakeson masterly maneuvers a thriller with the simplest elements, creating his twists and turns by using nuances and subtleties that are far more effective than any special effects. Tension is built through the film's claustrophobic setting and the dynamic between its three characters, impeccably rendered by Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky, Hancock), Martin Compston (Sweet Sixteen), and Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans).



Gerrymandering

New York Magazine already beat us to recommend this one, given that they've actually already seen it, but the notion of a doc that takes on the complicated but hugely important political game of chicken that is gerrymandering sounds pretty fascinating. Maybe documentarian Jeff Reichert can start beating Tribeca superstar Alex Gibney at his own game.

What is "gerrymandering"? You don't have to wait for your oversized 2010 census envelope to figure out what exactly it means. Named for the Massachusetts governor who conveniently redrew a few erratic lines in 1812, gerrymandering is the redistricting of electoral boundaries to effect voting outcome in favor of a particular candidate, political party, et cetera. And why should you care? As the governor of California will tell you, the reestablishment of district lines takes away the voice of individual communities, reduces voter turnout and lessens competition among candidates. Whether it's a community, race, or party issue, an issue it surely is.

Director Jeff Reichert gathers an impressive bevy of experts to smartly present a well-rounded exposé. From California's struggle to pass Prop 11 to The Daily Show's mockery of a gaggle of border-jumping Texas politicians, this accessible and informative documentary encourages us to put on our bifocals and more closely inspect the warp and woof of America's democratic system.



Get Low

Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, and Robert Duvall in a performance many are already arguing could garner him an Oscar nomination. This film has been making the festival circuit for a while now, but this is the time to see it in New York.

First-time feature director Aaron Schneider blazes onto the scene with the hugely impressive Get Low. Set in the 1930s in a rural Southern town, the film follows scruffy hermit Felix Bush (played impeccably by Robert Duvall), who has lived alone on the outskirts of town for 40 years shrouded in a dark mystery. One day he emerges from isolation to plan his own living "funeral party," expecting the townsfolk who have rejected him for years to attend. Denied a proper funeral for his checkered past, Felix perseveres to set the record straight. With the help of Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), the town's broke funeral director, his quirky assistant Buddy Robinson (Lucas Black), and an old friend and widow Maddie Darrow (Sissy Spacek), he tries to retrace history and expunge his record.

Schneider skillfully balances humor, understated drama, and gripping mystery in a solid story of redemption and forgiveness. Duvall is outstanding as the simmering and callous Felix in this can't-miss, restrained, and rewarding film based on a real-life legend.



Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Love her or hate her, you have to admit that Joan River is a unique and important figure in American pop culture, and this documentary is apparently pretty frank about Rivers good and bad. It debuted at Sundance to positive reviews, and we're excited to catch it on our home turf.

At 76 years old, Joan Rivers is showing no sign of slowing down. The undisputed queen of American comedy's career has spanned five decades and as many media, from serving as the first female guest host of The Tonight Show, to opening a one-woman play in London in 2008, to winning The Celebrity Apprentice in 2009.

Following the comedy trailblazer over the course of a year, renowned documentarians Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg's (The Trials of Darryl Hunt, The Devil Came on Horseback, TFF '07) vérité film captures the sheer amount of work that Rivers does, stumping for herself across the country at stand-up gigs, personal appearances, television stints, and live performances. Her signature saucy humor is on full display both in the spotlight and behind the scenes, often betraying an obsession with success, celebrity, beauty, and superficiality, while always lambasting all of these trappings of fame to shocking comic effect. A Piece of Work reveals the fascinating and counterintuitive combinations of self-determination and self-deprecation, vulnerability and irreverence that fuel the Rivers empire, adding up to a quintessential film about a quintessential American icon.



Last Play at Shea

Just before the beloved Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets, was abandoned in favor of the glossier Citifield next door, Billy Joel played one last concert in the first arena to ever host the Beatles. What better film to play Tribeca than a New York tribute like this one?

From The Beatles' first-ever arena performance in 1965 until Billy Joel's concert before its demolition in 2009, Shea Stadium played host to some of the biggest names in music from around the globe in addition to serving as home to the New York Mets. This lovingly crafted documentary interweaves the history of this recently lost New York City landmark with the career of Long Island native Billy Joel, a performer whose personal connection to the stadium made him the perfect choice to close the curtain on Shea's storied past.



Director Paul Crowder draws on a wealth of historical footage as well as personal interviews with Joel to provide an intimate look at the intersecting histories of a stadium, a team, and a music legend. Set to the soundtrack of Joel's final Shea performance and featuring exclusive concert footage with guests like Tony Bennett and Roger Daltrey, Last Play pays a timely tribute to one of America's most significant venues for both music and sports.



Meet Monica Velour

Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall as a washed-up 80s porn star. What can we say, we love a good acting gimmick.

For Tobe, a nerdy, horny, frizzy-haired cineaste who doesn't quite fit in with the average contemporary teen, the pinnacle of womanhood is Monica Velour (Kim Cattrall), a soft-core actress who reached the zenith of her career in the 1980s. When Tobe learns that his love idol is headlining hundreds of miles away at the Gentlemen's Petting Zoo in Indiana, he drives off with carefree glory—in his grandfather's (Brian Dennehy) used Weinermobile, no less—filled with the hope of meeting her. When Tobe defends Monica's honor against ruffians who taunt the aging erotic starlet off the stage, he lands a pity invite into Monica's trailer. As the two begin an unlikely friendship, Tobe's unripe romantic impulses entangle with her messy life as a struggling single mother embroiled in a custody battle for her only daughter.

Catch Cattrall (Sex and the City) as you've never seen her before—delivering her trademark sass and powerful sexuality, but deftly enriched with a range of emotional nuance. After two award-winning short films, Keith Bearden's directorial debut is an offbeat, tender comedy about growing up too fast and recognizing love no matter what shape or age.



Micmacs

The new film from Amelie director Jean-Pierre Jeuenet is just as quirky and warm-hearted, but also carries a political undertone and a pretty moving anti-arms message. Come for the wild characters, stay for the important message.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie is a landmark of cinematic ingenuity. Similar inspiration and wonder is echoed in his inventive, playful, and wildly entertaining Micmacs. Meet Bazil (Dany Boon). He was raised in an orphanage from a young age, his father having been killed by a land mine as a soldier and his mom deemed insane. Flash forward years later, a grown-up Bazil is working at a video store when a stray bullet from a random drive-by shooting lodges into his brain. Unable to remove the stubborn slug, the doctors release him into the world to encounter an unexpected fate.

Homeless and hopeless, he is taken in by a group of merry misfits (the mic macs), among them an ex-con, a contortionist, a mathematician, and a human cannonball. The jolly motley crew lives in a junkyard, recycling materials and building ingenious knick-knacks to support themselves. But when Bazil discovers that his bullet and the bomb that killed his father are made by two feuding weapons companies, he hatches a brilliant plan to take them down. Quirky, energetic, and layered with timely themes, Jeunet's Micmacs is a feast for the eyes and fun for the whole family.



Monogamy

It's simple-- we'll catch Chris Messina (recently of Julie & Julia and Greenberg) doing pretty much anything. Parks & Recreation's Rashida Jones is an added bonus.

Thirtysomethings Theo (Chris Messina) and Nat (Rashida Jones) are engaged to be married. They live what seems to be on all counts a comfortable life of love, music, and laughter in their cozy Brooklyn apartment. But Theo is bored with his job as a wedding photographer—the generic backgrounds, the artificial posing, the stilted newlyweds—so he develops the unconventional side business "Gumshoot," a service where clients hire him to secretly stalk them with his camera. When he is called out on a job to snap pics of an exhibitionist mystery woman (Meital Dohan), a simple gig develops into a voyeuristic obsession that forces Theo to confront uncomfortable truths about himself and his impending marriage.

Glowing with pitch-perfect performances by Messina and Jones, the first narrative feature from Oscar®-nominated director Dana Adam Shapiro (Murderball) marries a mystery-thriller with a slice-of-life relationship drama to present a marvelously observed portrait of masculinity in crisis in the face of its own fantasies and fears of commitment.



My Brothers

Ostensibly it's a road trip movie about three brothers squabbling and trying not to die in a broken-down bread van, but it's also a touching story about growing up and coping with family tragedy-- one that includes an 11-year-old singing "I am the champion farter!" Trust us, it's worth it.

From the producers of last year's award-winning The Eclipse, My Brothers is a beautiful and heartwarming road movie set during the Halloween weekend of 1987. The eldest of three boys, 17-year-old Noel has always been the reserved, serious, and responsible one. When he accidentally breaks his dying father's wristwatch that he won from an arcade in the town of Ballybunion, he "borrows" his boss' bread van with his two younger brothers—11-year-old Paudie and seven-year-old Scwally—in tow. Paudie is a bit cocky and not so bright but dreams of playing for the Liverpool soccer team. Scwally has never seen Star Wars but is obsessed with it. On the trip, brotherly differences—and similarities—turn the journey into more than what they expected.

Director Paul Fraser, who wrote the award-wining Somers Town (TFF '08) makes an assured directorial debut that skillfully maneuvers the nuances of William Collins' script and balances the offbeat humor with the emotional richness of the story. Fraser also perfectly assembles a stunning cast of newcomers—Timmy Creed (Noel), Paul Courtney (Paudie), and TJ Griffin (Scwally)—who have a natural rapport with each other and carry the film firmly on their young shoulders. My Brothers is a simple story full of the unexpected complexities that go along with being a family.



My Trip to Al-Qaeda

One of two films by documentarian Alex Gibney at this year's festival, this one is actually a document of a one-man play. It's already been snapped up by HBO for broadcast, but we like seeing things before anyone else, so we'll be there.

Academy Award® winner Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) collaborates with Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright to bring Wright's titular one-man play to the screen. Wright made waves in 2006 with his best-selling book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, chronicling fundamentalist Islam's rise to power, and the roots of modern religious extremism and terrorism.

In contemplating how to adapt his book for the stage, Wright ultimately chose to refocus on his own experience researching and writing the book, and his struggle to maintain objectivity as a journalist investigating Islamic terror. The resulting work is less a literal adaptation and more a personal, emotional complement piece to the objectivity of his nonfiction book. It debuted to rave reviews in March 2007. With Gibney's documentary on the performance, the layers of adaptation are taken a step further. Channelling equal parts Spalding Gray and An Inconvenient Truth, Gibney captures both the emotional power and political implication of Wright's work in a distinctly cinematic way, making My Trip to Al-Qaeda a riveting travelogue/performance piece.



Ondine

You could call it "the Colin Farrell mermaid movie," but it's also a touching story about father-daughter relationships, learning to let go of the past, and the spectacular beauty of the Irish coastline that everyone there seems to take for granted. Farrell's not so bad in it either.

Syracuse, a simple and gruff fisherman trawling his ordinary route off the coast of southern Ireland, one day pulls in the biggest catch of his life—a beautiful young woman. Appearing dead at first, the beauty inexplicably comes to life before his eyes, setting off a miraculous chain of events loaded with romance and bewilderment. Entirely thanks to the encouragement of his sickly but precocious young daughter, Annie, he slowly comes to believe in the mystery surrounding his new catch (aptly named after the water nymph of German folklore, Ondine) while falling head over heels for the siren. Not too soon after does reality butt its ugly head into their newfound fairy tale life, threatening the future of all three….

Played with remarkable conviction by Colin Farrell, Syracuse and his mermaid love come to life in a web of fantasy that only Neil Jordan and the distinctive cinematography of Christopher Doyle can deliver. Fusing whimsy with the harsh realities of a broken, working-class family in a small Irish fishing village, Ondine is an ethereal treat that transports you across the ocean and into another world.



Please Give

What could be better than a funny and warm-hearted, pure New York story that stars the likes of Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt and Rebecca Hall? Nothing, that's what.

Life is good for Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt). After decades of marriage, they have settled into a comfortable rapport, and success in their estate-sale antique furniture business has allowed them to finance an expansion of their Greenwich Village apartment. They purchase the (occupied) unit next door, and begin the wait for its elderly tenant Andra (Ann Guilbert) to pass on so they can proceed with their construction plans. Feeling guilty about their impatience for Andra's death, the family reaches out to her granddaughters Mary and Rebecca (respectively Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall) for some moral grounding, only to find the new relationships compounding their ethical conundrum rather than alleviating it.

Nicole Holofcener returns to themes of her earlier films Friends with Money and Lovely & Amazing, including midlife crises, insecurity, materialism, accumulation of wealth, and the liberal guilt and moral paralysis that accompany them. Holofcener's singular vision imbues these weighty topics with a distinctive humor that makes room for her insightful social commentary, while the stellar ensemble cast interprets her often symbolic characters with a genuine emotion that brings their dilemmas to life.



Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Rush superfans will be the likeliest people to check this out, but even those of us who know nothing beyond that concert scene in I Love You Man are likely to come away charmed by this cuddly, totally geeky Canadian rock trio. Being a ock star has never looked so fun.

For fans of the legendary Canadian band RUSH, this is the documentary to experience. A comprehensive exploration of the entire history of this extraordinary power trio, from their early days growing up in Toronto, through each of their landmark albums, to the present day. Sit back and revel in the words, music, and wonder of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart. 



With a career spanning four decades, RUSH is one of the most successful bands in the history of popular music, but despite their remarkable career achievements, they have never been recognized as critics' darlings.

Directors Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn instead revel in interviews with the band's admirers and contemporaries, including Gene Simmons (Kiss), Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Jack Black, and others. Chock-full of rare backstage and concert footage, RUSH: Beyond the Lighted Stage leaves no stone unturned in its creation of an intimate portrait of these immensely talented and iconoclastic musicians.



sex & drugs & rock & roll

Andy Serkis-- a.k.a. Gollum-- has already earned a BAFTA nomination for his performance in this film. Come see what he's got to offer beyond "My precioussssss."

The man who played Gollum and King Kong is now transforming into an equally volatile creature: punk rocker and new wave artist Ian Dury. BAFTA nominee Andy Serkis plays The Blockheads frontman like the circus ringmaster at a carnival of dysfunction (known to the rest of us as the '70s and '80s). This unconventional biopic follows Dury from the days before Catshit Mansions through his rise to quantifiable success. Somewhere along the way, we're introduced to a different Dury: a man whose tenacity allowed him to overcome the debilitating effects of a botched childhood and polio, and who challenged those closest to him to have the same strength of character. He may have been a sonuvabitch, but he gave as much love as he gave grief. 



Director Mat Whitecross expertly structures the film as if it were one of Dury's songs, with vivid vignettes and a new wave tempo, while pop artist Peter Blake lends his trademark aesthetic. The story of an artist by an artist, sex & drugs & rock & roll will do more than give you reasons to be cheerful.



Sons of Perdition

A depressing documentary, but one that's particularly timely given the scandals that surround Warren Jeffs and his polygamist community-- the story of the boys exiled from their communities seems like it has potential for truly heartbreaking stuff on film.

"There are no monogamists in heaven," proclaims Warren Jeffs, the notorious (and now incarcerated) leader and "prophet" of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. For decades, the church's followers have practiced polygamy, believing dozens of young wives and scores of children bring them closer to God, but as Jeffs' cultish influence over the community grows, they soon find themselves sacrificing their freedom of thought.



But what was life like in the sheltered world the Jeffs created? What does it mean if you leave? For a group of teenage boys, the desire for autonomy means banishment from their homes and families. Directors Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten spent more than two years documenting their struggles—from enrolling in school, getting jobs, and meeting girls to helping other family members break free. Measom and Merten fascinatingly follow the lives of these three exiles and the challenges of being on their own in mainstream America. But at the same time, they seamlessly interweave the former lives that they are running away from, creating a picture that is both inspiring and heartbreaking. Measom and Merten have a made a gripping story of new beginnings and hope that most of us could never imagine.



Soul Kitchen

A comedy! At a film festival! And one directed by Fatih Akin of The Edge of Heaven Head On, so you know it might actually be good! What more could a tired festivalgoer want?

Director Fatih Akin dishes out lighter fare in his delightful and appropriately titled Soul Kitchen. Having previously achieved worldwide art-house fame for such brooding and powerful films as The Edge of Heaven and Head-On, Akin is at ease and in great form in this wistful comedy.

Zinos Kazantsakis runs a no-frills pub in Hamburg called Soul Kitchen, where loyal locals flock for the good grub and music. His idle life begins to tilt when his girlfriend takes a job in China, fast-tracking his plan to leave the restaurant business forever. However, his exit strategy gets derailed in this vibrant comedy of errors. His surly brother is recently out on parole and needs a job, and his new chef's fancy fare is turning away the currywurst-loving customers. To make it all worse, he just slipped a disc, and a greedy businessman is trying to steal his family's property. What ensues is a foot-tapping-music-filled, mouthwatering journey of revelations. Soul Kitchen is a deliciously fun and heartfelt romp, and Akin has proved that—no matter what the genre—he can serve up poignancy and soul from his own filmmaking kitchen.



Ticked-off Trannies With Knives

The deliberately provocative title has already rounded up some controversy, but we're optimistic about the potential of this new-era exploitation film based on the actual beatings of transgendered people nationwide.

Some girls are simply not to be messed with. And so it is with the fabulous heroines Bubbles Cliquot, Tipper Sommore, Rachel Slurr, and Emma Grashun. All respect is given to them in Pinky La'Trimm's nightclub, but when they beome the victims of a psycho guy who just can't get over his conflicted desire for Bubbles, the bruised-up babes shake it up grand diva style and transform into deadly vixens. An homage to the exploitation films of the '70s and '80s, Ticked-Off is a revenge fantasy flick that brews up a concoction of camp, slasher horror, and power-chick flick to create a radical new genre: Transploitation!

Inspired by the devastating increase in brutal hate crimes against people in the transgender community, writer/director Israel Luna, along with his Dallas-based cast and crew, pour their hearts into creating the atmospheric '70s distressed aesthetic that glimmers with each woman's distinct brassy groove. Loaded with kick-ass bodacious bods Ticked-Off makes it clear that it takes more than balls to get even.



Untitled Eliot Spitzer Documentary

It's the hottest ticket at the festival, and we don't even know if we'll get to see it, but a new movie from Taxi to the Dark Side director Alex Gibney about disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer automatically makes the must-see list. The first clip released from the film was intriguing, and we can't wait to see more.

This work-in-progress documentary from the Academy Award®-winning director of Taxi to the Dark Side takes an in-depth look at the rapid rise and dramatic fall of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. Nicknamed "the Sheriff of Wall Street" when he was New York's attorney general, Eliot Spitzer prosecuted crimes by America's largest financial institutions and some of the most powerful executives in the country. After his election as governor with the largest margin in the state's history, many believed Spitzer was on his way to becoming the nation's first Jewish president.

Then, suddenly, shockingly, Spitzer's meteoric rise turned into a precipitous fall when the New York Times revealed that Spitzer—the paragon of rectitude—had been caught seeing prostitutes. As his powerful enemies gloated, his supporters questioned the timing of it all: as the sheriff fell, so did the financial markets, in a cataclysm that threatened to unravel the global economy. With unique access to friends, acquaintances, and enemies of the ex-governor (many of whom have come forward for the first time), this film explores the hidden contours of this tale of hubris, sex, and power.



Zonad

Can't get enough of everyday people dressing in ridiculous costumes after Kick-Ass. Good, because here comes Zonad, a comedy directed, somehow, by the guy behind Once. It looks just bizarre enough to be great.

He came from a faraway galaxy. A place that you can only imagine when looking up at the clear night sky—somewhere beyond the twinkling stars. He is… Zonad! Well, actually, he's just an overweight bloke who just broke out of rehab (and happens to be wearing a tight, red vinyl bodysuit and helmet). Promising to return for a fellow inmate injured during the getaway, Zonad instead ends up in the quaint Irish hamlet of Ballymoran, a town with all the modern-day conveniences but that seems to be stuck in an episode of Father Knows Best. He is discovered in the Cassidy house, and after a night of stargazing the family is quick to label him a visitor from outer space.

Soon Zonad is a local celebrity, milking everything he can get: free room and board from the Cassidys, bottomless drinks at the local pub, and the adoration of all the town's teenage girls (especially the lovely Jenny Cassidy). Everything is going great for Zonad, until his fellow escapee shows up as… Bonad! Directors John Carney (director of Oscar® winner Once) and Kieren Carney have concocted a hilarious, zany romp that goes down like a nice pint of Guinness.


Follow along with all of our special, Tribeca 2010 coverage right here.
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