Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tribeca Film Festival 2015


Well, another year of the Tribeca Film Festival has come and gone.  This was my 10th consecutive year attending (out of the 14 it has been in existence) and, as always, it was a great time.  Overall I saw 32 films at the festival (which is around a third of what they show), I attended 2 conversations (George Lucas and Stephen Colbert, and Harvey Weinstein) and 2 panels (of Producers and Shorts Filmmakers), and caught 2 special premieres of new episodic TV (Mr. Robot) and internet (Chefs Table) series followed by panels. 

I love the Tribeca Film Festival for several reasons.  The program is usually pretty good.  There were certainly at least a dozen more films I wanted to see than I had time for.  Most of the films featured the filmmaker for a post-film Q&A, and many of the Q&A's also included cast. (Pictures are below.)  And the attendees are often fun people.  Of all the festivals I've been to, it ranks high for meeting the most interesting people in line and in the theater.  So, if I met you at this year's festival, or if you attended and I didn't meet you, or if you just enjoy this post, be sure to say hi.  You can comment right on here (if you have a Blogger User ID and password), friend me on Faceboook, Like my Flieder on Film page, Follow me on Twitter @FliederOnFilm, or shoot me an email at bflieder@gmail.com.  And after you've perused this post, be sure to take a look at my prior posts of the Tribeca Film Festival from 2014, 2013, and 2011.  (I must have been too lazy to blog about it in 2012.)

My biggest complaint is that each year, particularly on the weekdays, the films begin later and later, and end earlier and earlier. This year on the weekdays, no films began before 2:30 PM or showed after 10:30 PM.  This only allows me to see three films per day on the weekdays.  There certainly used to be noon screenings and midnight screenings on most days, and I think it would serve their audience to at least show one movie at noon and one at midnight every day.  Though, I made lemonade out of lemons and I actually paid to see three regular theatrical films (Ex Machina, Child 44, and Insurgent) before the festival films began on three weekdays.  Yeah, I'm a freak.

Anyhoo, below is a summary of what I saw, with some brief thoughts and some pictures.  I hope you enjoy.


Feature Films:
  1. The Overnight      Grade: A    A hilariously uncomfortable comedy about a new couple in town (Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott) looking to make friends.  But when they meet Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godreche, an awkward dinner party ensues.  Executive produced by the Duplass brothers, this is very reminiscent of Humpday.  But way funnier.  See it in limited theatrical release (and maybe VOD) on 6/19.
  2. Grandma      Grade: A    Three generations of women in one family experience a manic day when the youngest finds herself in need of some money.  Lily Tomlin gives a career performance likely to get recognized come awards season in this perfect indie dramedy reminiscent of other classic festival faves like The Daytrippers.  I'd say it's this year's Little Miss Sunshine.  See it in limited theatrical release (and maybe VOD) on 8/21.
  3. Man Up      Grade: A     This rom-com may not be reinventing the genre, but it's still a total blast thanks to the brilliant comedic stylings of Lake Bell and Simon Pegg, brilliant writing, and pitch perfect directing.  If you don't enjoy it you must be dead inside.  It was picked up for distribution at the festival, but I don't think there's a U.S. release date yet.
  4. Sleeping with Other People      Grade: A    Winning second place for the Audience Award for Best Narrative Film, this rom-com boasts an impressive cast including Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Amanda Peet, and Adam Scott.  It's very funny and very likeable.
  5. Very Semi-Serious       Grade: A      A terrific and very enjoyable documentary about the cartoonists of New Yorker magazine. I don't believe this one has been picked up for distribution.
  6. Good Kill      Grade: A     A new angle on the war in the Middle East examines life for the people who work the drone strikes.  When killing our enemies is as easy and safe as playing a video game, war changes.  But is it any easier on the people who press the buttons?  Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz, and Brice Greenwood star in a timely look behind the curtain that's every bit as good and maybe better than American Sniper.  See it on VOD and limited theatrical on 5/15.
  7. Thought Crimes      Grade: A      A disturbing and engrossing documentary about "The Cannibal Cop", asking the question, can we go to prison for crimes we never actually committed?  See it on HBO on 5/11.
  8. Maggie      Grade: A-       A post-apocalyptic zombie film unlike any other.  Arnold Schwarzenegger must deal with the fact that his daughter (Abigail Breslin) has been infected and will turn in 8 weeks.  It's quiet, gritty, bleak, virtually devoid of action and violence, and shot beautifully.  See it on VOD and limited theatrical on 5/8.
  9. Mojave       Grade: A-      Garrett Hedlund encounters Oscar Isaac in the desert and a bizarre cat and mouse game ensues.   It's a bit slow but the ensemble cast, dialogue and acting are top notch.
  10. Hungry Hearts      Grade: B+     A romance between Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher takes a turn for the worse when their first child is born in this drama unlike any I've seen. Limited release on 6/5.
  11. The Wolfpack      Grade: B+      A documentary about six siblings kept inside a NYC apartment for their entire youth, obsessing over and re-enacting their favorite films.  It's a crazy story, but unfortunately not told optimally or completely.  Coming to theaters on 6/12.
  12. Franny      Grade: B+      Richard Gere gives a great performance as a man who seems to have it all, including addiction to pain medicine.
  13. Backtrack      Grade: B+      Adrian Brody and Sam Neill star in a very atmospheric ghost story.  I love the cast, the atmosphere, and the music.  I only wish the unresolved ghost theme weren't quite so standard.
  14. Live from New York!      Grade: B+      I was concerned this documentary would feel like de ja vu after watching the 3.5 hour 40th anniversary special that just aired on NBC.  But unlike a Best Of special, this doc highlights the show's importance from a historical perspective.  Personally I recommend James Franco's doc Saturday Night showing detailing a typical week preparing the show, available on Hulu.
  15. A Courtship       Grade: B+      Though I completely disagree with the idea (as I'm sure most of you would as well) this documentary on Christian Courtship dating is an interesting watch.
  16. The Driftless Area      Grade: B+       Although seemingly somewhat of an ambitious failure, this headscratcher features a tremendous cast including Anton Yelchin, Zooey Deschanel, John Hawkes, Alia Shawkat, Frank Langella, Ciaran Hinds, and Aubrey Plaza, and it intrigued me throughout.  I definitely want to see it again to try and make heads or tails out of it.
  17. Anesthesia      Grade: B      Actor/director Tim Blake Nelson made a pretty good Crash-like multiple storyline drama with an impressive cast including Sam Waterston, Glenn Close, Corey Stoll, Gretchen Mol, and Kristen Stewart.  It's good, but it didn't wow me as much as it did others.
  18. Misery Loves Comedy      Grade: B      A documentary by comedian Kevin Pollak exploring the age old question, do you have to be miserable to be funny?  He asks virtually every famous funny person.  Now available on VOD.
  19. Hyena      Grade: B      A violent and gritty British crime film now available on VOD. It's not as fun as a Guy Ritchie flick or as polished as The Sweeney, but it'll do in a pinch.
  20. Tumbledown      Grade: B      Jason Sudeikis plays a biographer detailing the life of Rebecca Hall's deceased husband.  It's well acted and well shot, but never really goes anywhere all that interesting.
  21. In Transit      Grade: B     A documentary about people riding the Empire Builder, America's busiest long distance train route.
  22. Dirty Weekend      Grade: B-      I love the many works of playwright Neil LaBute.  In 2013 Some Velvet Morning and Some Girl(s) both wowed me.  This one, starring Matthew Broderick and Alice Eve, didn't unfortunately.  It's ok.
  23. Ashby      Grade: B-      Mickey Rourke plays a former CIA killer who befriends an awkward teen.  I thought it was ok, but it didn't wow me like it did others I spoke to.
  24. Stung     Grade: B-      An over-the-top midnight film about giant mutated wasps.  It's not bad if you go for this sort of thing.  Plus, it's got Lance Henriksen!
  25. Bridgend      Grade: C+      For some reason teens regularly commit suicide in a county in Wales called Bridgend.  This narrative explores that phenomenon, but isn't as interesting as the idea itself, though it is shot pretty well.
  26. Dixieland      Grade: C+      A poorly made small town white trash story of ex-con and stripper.  Faith Hill co-stars.  I was set to give it a D since the beginning, but somehow in the last third I got slightly more vested in the characters.
  27. The Wannabe      Grade: C+     A fascinating story already told perfectly last year in the little seen gem Rob the Mob.  See that.  Skip this.
  28. Aloft      Grade: C      Jennifer Connelly and Cillian Murphy star in a seemingly well made drama already picked up by Sony Pictures Classics and being released on 5/22.  I was confused from the start and never really caught on.  I couldn't tell if it was me being dopey or not.  But it sounded like no one else followed it or cared for it much either.
  29. Scherzo Diabolico      Grade: C-      A Mexican horror film that seemed cheaply made and uninteresting from the get go.  Though at 11:30 PM I may just not have been awake enough to appreciate a cheaply made subtitled flick.
  30. The Adderall Diaries      Grade: C-      James Franco, Amber Heard, Ed Harris, and Christian Slater are among the large cast in this drama that bored me to tears.  I don't blame the cast.  I blame the script and director.
  31. Bare      Grade: C-      A tired and cliched story of a young girl in the southwest who gets involved in the life of stripping and drugs.  Blah.
  32. LoveTrue (Work in Progress)      Grade: F      Per the film festival guide, this work in progress about true love "weaves three challenging relationships, while examining non-fiction performance."  I didn't understand or care about any minute of what I saw.  And in my opinion, no amount of work can save whatever this is.

TV / Internet Series Premieres
  1. Mr. Robot       Grade: A      A TV drama premiering on USA on 6/24 featuring Rami Malek as a gifted computer hacker and Christian Slater as the anarchist who tries to recruit him.  It's a great pilot that definitely has me intrigued.
  2. Chef's Table      Grade: C      A documentary series on Netflix.  The first half was another preachy doc about the benefits of eating fresh food vs. the processed crap we all actually eat because we don't have the time and money to eat farm share all day every day.  I can't speak to the second half because I fell asleep.

Conversations
  1. George Lucas w/ Stephen Colbert
  2. Harvey Weinstein

Panels
  1. The Producers
  2. Long Story Short


Aloft
 
Anesthesia
 
Bare
 
Chef's Table
 
Dirty Weekend

Franny
 
Good Kill
 
Grandma
 
Grandma
 
Harvey Weinstein
 
LoveTrue
 
Stephen Colbert and George Lucas
 
Man Up
 
Misery Loves Comedy
 
Mojave
 
Mr. Robot
 
Mr. Robot
 
The Overnight
 
Sleeping with Other People
 

Stung
 
Thought Crimes
 
Thought Crimes
 
Very Semi-Serious
 
Very Semi-Serious
 
The Wannabe
 
The Wannabe
 
The Wolfpack

Friday, April 24, 2015

In Theaters Now - 4/24/15



(new releases in green)

5 to 7        Grade: A   (also available on Video on Demand)

It Follows        Grade: A

Alex of Venice        Grade: A   (also available on Video on Demand)

Ex Machina        Grade: A

While We're Young        Grade: A-

True Story        Grade: A-

Wild Tales        Grade: A-

Focus        Grade: B+

Kingsman: The Secret Service   Grade: B+


Unfriended       Grade: B+

What We Do in the Shadows        Grade: B

Black Souls        Grade: B-

Child 44        Grade: C+

The Divergent Series: Insurgent   Grade: C

Clouds of Sils Maria        Grade: C

The Salt of the Earth        Grade: D-




Additional Films Not Reviewed:
The Age of Adaline
Cinderella
Danny Collins
Dior and I
Furious 7
Get Hard
Home
Little Boy
The Longest Ride
Monkey Kingdom
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
The Water Diviner
Woman in Gold

Friday, April 17, 2015

In Theaters Now - 4/17/15



(new releases in green)

5 to 7        Grade: A   (also available on Video on Demand)

It Follows        Grade: A

Alex of Venice        Grade: A  (also available on Video on Demand)

While We're Young       Grade: A-

True Story       Grade: A-

Wild Tales       Grade: A-

Focus       Grade: B+

Kingsman: The Secret Service        Grade: B+


Unfriended      Grade: B+

Kumiko the Treasure Hunter        Grade: B

What We Do in the Shadows        Grade: B

Beyond the Reach       Grade: B  (also available on Video on Demand)

Black Souls       Grade: B-

Leviathan      Grade: B-

Seymour: An Introduction       Grade: B-

Child 44       Grade: C+

Clouds of Sils Maria       Grade: C

The Salt of the Earth        Grade: D-




Additional Films Not Reviewed:
Cinderella
Danny Collins
Desert Dancer
The Divergent Series: Insurgent
Furious 7
Get Hard
Home
The Longest Ride
McFarland USA
Monkey Kingdom
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Woman in Gold

True Story



James Franco and Jonah Hill (quite uncharacteristically) star in this quiet mystery/thriller (completely devoid of comedy) as an imprisoned man accused of killing his wife and children, and the journalist he is willing to open up to, respectively.   Franco gives one of his finest performances since 127 Hours as the unsettling suspect who walks the line perfectly as someone who just might be innocent, or could at any moment reveal the psycho within.  And Hill is quite good as well, as the down and out journalist who believes this is his second chance at success.  It brought to mind fond memories of Primal Fear, Silence of the Lambs, and The Life of David Gale.  Though, unfortunately, it's not as satisfying as any of them.  But the journey is more suspenseful than I've seen in a while.

Grade: A-

Who is this movie for?  Do you like suspense?  If so, go see this one this weekend.

Unfriended


It's nice to see some variation in horror films of late.  While some, like the excellent It Follows, are harkening back to older classic styles, others like Unfriended are going the complete opposite direction and showcasing the modern tech-based society we now live in.  This ultra low budget horror features six teens and takes place entirely over Skype, merging horror, teenage drama, and the hot button issue of cyber bullying.  Depending where you reside on the cyber spectrum may determine how much you warm up to it.  Early on I quickly dismissed it as low budget, gimmicky, teen targeted trash.  Though I must admit, once it got rolling it did get pretty fun. 

Grade: B+

Who is this movie for?  If Skype, Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, and iMessaging are your bag, then it might be right up your alley. Teens and twenty-somethings will probably love it.  Those of you past your 20's may find it a bit inaccessible and/or feel a bit removed (read: old).  Though I'm a few years past my 20's and I enjoyed it.  It Follows is much better though.

Beyond the Reach






You can always count me in for a Michael Douglas picture.  This time Douglas plays an overprivileged businessman on a big game hunt in the Mojave desert with a hired tracker.  But, of course, things don't go as planned, and the hunt changes.

Grade: B

Who is this movie for?  It's exactly what you think it's gonna be.  But with Michael Douglas, it's somewhat better than it should be.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Black Souls


Three brothers of an Italian mob family, all with different levels of involvement and appetite for crime must weather the storm as conflict arises within and outside the family.  Personally it was a bit slow and uneventful for my taste, but it's shot beautifully and cast well, so fans of foreign language films will appreciate it for those attributes. 

In Italian with English subtitles and in limited theatrical release this Friday.

Grade: B-

Who is this movie for?  Think The Sopranos, in Italian, but less of a soap opera, less violent, and sadly, less fun.

Friday, April 10, 2015

In Theaters Now - 4/10/15



(new releases in green)

5 to 7      Grade: A  (also available on Video on Demand)

It Follows       Grade: A

While We're Young       Grade: A-

Wild Tales       Grade: A-

Focus      Grade: B+

Kingsman: The Secret Service       Grade: B+


Kumiko the Treasure Hunter       Grade: B

American Sniper       Grade: B

What We Do in the Shadows       Grade: B

Run All Night       Grade: B-

Kill Me Three Times       Grade: B-

White God       Grade: C+

Fifty Shades of Grey       Grade: C

The Salt of the Earth       Grade: D-




Additional Films Not Reviewed:
Cinderella
Danny Collins
The Divergent Series: Insurgent
Do You Believe?
Furious 7
Get Hard
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
The Gunman
Home
The Hunting Ground
The Longest Ride
McFarland USA
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Three Hearts
Woman in Gold

5 to 7


We all have our favorite genres and every film critic has his or her own biases.  Can't be helped.  And a May-December romance starring Anton Yelchin certainly wasn't close to the top of my list last year at the TriBeCa Film Festival.  But I had a free window and decided to give it a try.  And you know what?  It's absolutely fantastic.  It's the perfect blend of romance, comedy, and drama, with a surprisingly perfect cast, all delivering perfect performances.  It was the best surprise of the festival last year and you should watch it this weekend on Video on Demand.

Grade: A

Who is this movie for?  Anyone who loves a great romantic drama sprinkled with some comedy.  And anyone with a heart.  Basically just anyone.

While We're Young


You can always count on Noah Baumbach to be able to honestly and thoughtfully portray what it's like to be out of college (and in this case long past) but not quite a textbook adult.  Baumbach is of my generation, so when he made his film debut Kicking and Screaming (no, not the Will Ferrell one) in 1995 about a bunch of recent college grads unsure what to do with their lives, it resonated with me.  (Though I modestly submit I had my s#@! together.)  A decade later, The Squid and the Whale was probably his most well received film, and well deserved.  But his last two, Greenberg and Frances Ha, marked the return to his seemingly favorite theme of not knowing what to do with your life.  But now, Baumbach is in his 40's (and so are his characters.  Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a couple in their 40's who don't quite fit in anymore.  They don't fit with their friends who now have children.  So they awkwardly try to hang with their new found friends in their mid 20's (portrayed adeptly by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried).  Reminiscent of some of the best Woody Allen, it's funny, thoughtful, painful at times, and totally hit a chord with me.  And even Charles Grodin (looking pretty old at 80) makes a return to film!  Just another reason to check this one out.

Grade: A

Who is this movie for?  Fans of Baumbach, Woody Allen, and Stiller's less broad, indie-type comedies like Flirting with Disaster, Greenberg, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty should definitely check it out.  This is the Stiller I love.  Y'all can have Zoolander 2.  I'll take this.

Kill Me Three Times


Simon Pegg heads an ensemble cast that includes Teresa Palmer, Luke (yet another) Hemsworth, and Bryan Brown in this dark comedy crime thriller that should be better than it is, suffering from too much style and not enough substance.  Pegg plays a hit-man who finds himself in the middle of a sea of degenerates and nothing goes as planned.  With a slightly more clever and engaging script, this could have been a really cool movie.  As is, it's just passive, derivative entertainment that's just enjoyable enough while you're watching it, but you'll have long forgotten it a week later.

Grade: B-

Who is this movie for?  If you go for the poor man's old school Tarantino-inspired straight to video film geek fare.  I generally dig that stuff, even if it ain't great.

Friday, April 3, 2015

In Theaters Now - 4/3/15



(new releases in green)


It Follows        Grade: A

The Imitation Game        Grade: A   (also available on Video on Demand)

Wild Tales        Grade: A-

Still Alice        Grade: B+

'71       Grade: B+

Focus       Grade: B+

Kingsman: The Secret Service        Grade: B+


Kumiko the Treasure Hunter       Grade: B

American Sniper        Grade: B

What We Do in the Shadows        Grade: B

Run All Night        Grade: B-

Seymour: An Introduction        Grade: B-

Fifty Shades of Grey        Grade: C

Chappie        Grade: D




Additional Films Not Reviewed:
Cinderella
Danny Collins
The Divergent Series: Insurgent
Do You Believe?
Effie Gray
Furious 7
Get Hard
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
The Gunman
Home
The Hunting Ground
McFarland USA
Queen and Country
The Riot Club  (also available on Video on Demand)
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
Woman in Gold
The Wrecking Crew