As promised in Part 1 of my Tribeca Film Festival blog, below is a list of the 12 films, 3 interviews, and 2 panels I have attended to date. Over the years of attending film festivals I have learned that I can generally tell which interviews and panels will be worth attending, but when it comes to the films I just never know. My grades of the films below are almost the complete reverse of what I would have expected. I never would have guessed that 'The Trip' and 'The Swell Season' would be at the top of my list, albeit only for the first half of the festival. I still have at least 7 more to go, and I'm sure hoping for some good ones. But here are my thoughts on what I've seen so far.
The Trip - Grade: A-
British funnymen Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play themselves in this abridged compilation of the 6 episode series from the UK, where they embark on a road trip throughout Europe as food critics, all the while exchanging witty repartee and competing in bringing the funny. In typical British fashion, the humor is dry, but it's often a riot, particularly during the many scenes where they face off with their impressions. If there's one thing funnier than a great impressionist, it's two great impressionists competing and it just doesn't get much better than duelling Michael Caine's.
The Swell Season - Grade: A-
If you've seen and enjoyed 'Once', the little film that could from 2007 about the romance between a man and a woman through their songwriting and performing, which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Song, then you'll undoubtedly appreciate this documentary made shortly after the success of that film. What was originally intended to be a behind the scenes doc of the tour that followed their Oscar win ended up being more about the real life relationship that developed between stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Like many docs, this one may not be quite as real as I want to believe, but I fell for it hook, line and sinker. I actually liked it even better than 'Once' and it makes for a great companion piece to that film.
Alec Baldwin interview of Director Doug Liman - Grade: A-
We all know and love Alec Baldwin. New fans would say so for '30 Rock', and older aficionados for his starring film roles like 'The Hunt for Red October' and 'Beetlejuice'. But for me, it's his unforgettable ensemble work that reigns supreme in films like 'Glengarry Glen Ross' and 'The Departed'. And while Doug Liman is probably most famous for directing blockbuster hits like the Bourne series or 'Mr and Mrs. Smith', I'll more fondly remember him for 'Swingers' and the underseen but tremendously entertaining 'Go'. And I will never forget this interview, if only for being front row center, and literally about 6 feet away from these iconic film legends. How did I get such a great seat? OK, OK I'll let you in on my secret. I bought a reserved seating ticket, which was only $10 more than the regular ticket, and I still showed up two hours early making me first in line. Was it worth it? Oh yeah. This would have been a solid A experience if it were just a little longer than 60 minutes.
Tribeca Film Festival Creative Director Geoff Gilmore interview of Variety Magazine Editor in Chief Peter Bart - Grade: A-
OK I realize most people reading this won;'t know either of these two guys. Gilmore spent the majority of his career as Director of the Sundance Film Festival, under Robert Redford, and just recently moved to the Tribeca festival. And Peter Bart has done it all in Hollywood, including running Paramount Studios with infamous producer Robert Evans, and being responsible for films like 'The Godfather', 'Rosemary's Baby', and 'Harold and Maude'. He also cohosted a talk show I used to love called 'Shootout' with Entertainment Guru Peter Guber. There aren't two more interesting guys to listen to when it comes to film, past, present and future. Again, this would have been a solid A if not for the way-too-short 60 minute running time. Although, it was free of charge at Barnes & Noble, so how can I complain?
The Good Doctor - Grade B+
Orlando Bloom plays a young doctor with good intentions, but things go awry when he develops a connection with a young patient. This film is much better than I expected, and the stellar supporting cast includes Rob Morrow and the always amazing J.K. Simmons. I blew it big time by not attending the premiere screening in order to see 'Beyond the Black Rainbow' (below). Sadly, none of the cast showed at my screening.
Brian Willliams Interview of Robert DeNiro - Grade: B+
If you've seen Bob DeNiro interviewed you undoubtedly must be wondering why anyone would pay money to sit through what was extremely likely to be a complete bore. In fact, Trobeca Film Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal basically stated that very observation in her intro to the interview. Well, I certainly asked myself that very question, especially after watching DeNiro on Letterman a few months ago in what was one of the most painful interviews I've ever seen. (Look for it on YouTube.) DeNiro barely spoke a word, even after being asked direct softball questions. Nevertheless, considering what a quiet guy he is, he gave it his all, and Williams did the best he could to extract interesting information. I'd be lying if I said this was a revealing interview, but it was still a great experience to see a living Hollywood legend in person, again from the very front row.
Grave Encounters - Grade: B+
Considering this film is basically a ripoff of every found footage horror film made to date, call it 'The Blair Witch Project' in an insane asylum, it's still a pretty fun, scary, guilty pleasure. If you like this genre, watch and enjoy.
Digital by Design Panel - Grade: B
One of the things that makes Tribeca a special festival is the quality of the panelists at the free industry panels. It's not uncommon to see heads of studios and entertainment related companies giving you their two cents on where the industry is and where it's going. I find that type of thing very interesting. And I really must remember to bring my resume next year.
The Last Rites of Joe May - Grade: B-
The inimitable Dennis Farina embodies this film about a lifelong loser approaching the end of his life and thrust into a situation where he might be able to finally do some good. It's a bit TV movie-ish, but Farina can do no wrong in my eyes (ever since his memorable role in 'Midnight Run') and he's in pretty much every frame of the film.
Angels Crest - Grade: B-
This is an emotional family drama starring an ensemble cast including Jeremy Piven, Kate Walsh, and Mira Sorvino about the death of a three year old child and the impact it has on a small town. The strength of the film is surely the cast. And I'm always a sucker for films that take place in nature, particularly heavy snow. (Who's seen 'A Simple Plan'? 'Into the Wild'? 'The Clearing'? 'The Contract'?) But this one's a bit melodramatic and would have been better in the hands of a more seasoned director.
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame - Grade: C+
Billed as a Chinese Sherlock Holmes-style mystery, and with a title reminiscent of classic Scooby Doo, my expectations were high. But unfortunately this one didn't come close. Great visuals helped keep it interesting, but an overwhelming amount of exposition and subtitled dialogue combined with too many action scenes made for a sub-par experience. But to be fair, I was tired and I may have to see this one again.
Hideaways - Grade: C
This fable about a family of men cursed with various odd powers and reactions had a lot of potential but just went askew. By the end I found myself extremely disappointed.
Blackthorn - Grade: C
I love Westerns just as much as the next guy. Probably more in fact. But do we really need a sequel to 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'? It's ok to dig up a classic as long as the follow-up is something special. This is not.
Jesus Henry Christ - Grade: C-
Arguably the biggest disappointment of my festival, this dysfunctional family dramedy is no 'Little Miss Sunshine'. It's no 'Juno'. It's no 'City Island'. It's just a decent idea with a talented cast, including Michael Sheen and Toni Collette, brought to the screen in the wrong hands of a sub-par director. Sadly that happens frequently at festivals.
Treatment - Grade: C-
Add one to the Mumblecore movement with this film by the producers of 'Humpday'. But don't expect the same level of exciting realism you get with that film, 'Cyrus', 'Baghead', 'or 'The Puffy Chair'. This one is just plain dull and I expected a lot more.
Writing the Doc Panel - Grade: C-
Generally I only attend the panels I know will be entertaining. In this case, I just had nothing better to do. And, sadly, it may have been better to do nothing at all. I didn't really find this panel on 'writing' a doc to be that interesting. Sorry, panelists.
Beyond the Black Rainbow - Grade: F
Wow, where do I begin? Billed as a Kubrickian 'sci-fi fable of a young woman imprisoned in an experimental laboratory facility and the mysterious scientist who is her captor', this film sounded appealing. And while we all know Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' is not a fast paced film, this one sure made it seem that way. To me, it was incomprehensible and purposeless. And while I can't speak for the entire audience, I can tell you that no one I spoke to had much clue WTF was going on. And, considering this was the international premiere, it was actually laughable how many people walked out in the middle. It was truly painful to sit through. But, with that said, I can't help but ask myself, what grade would I have given '2001: A Space Odyssey' if I had seen it before film scholars had deemed it a classic? Is it even a classic or have we all been duped into thinking so by a small group of 'film visionaries' who may be playing a practical joke on us all? Well, I'm really not sure, and this film may in fact be genius, but I'm going with my gut and giving it an F. Of course, this review may intrigue at least one of you out there enough to seek it out, see it, and let me know what you think.