The seventeenth Tribeca Film Festival opens tonight in New York with Love, Gilda, Lisa D’Apolito’s portrait of beloved comic actress Gilda Radner, and screens around one hundred more features before wrapping on April 29. Throughout the festival’s run, I’ll be gathering reviews of note here. First up, though, a few recommendations culled from lists out there, and we might as well begin with a couple from Robert De Niro, who co-founded the festival in 2002 with Jane Rosenthal.
De Niro talks to Mekado Murphy in the New York Times about a handful of premieres, including Liz Garbus’s The Fourth Estate, a documentary about the NYT’s coverage of the first year of the Trump administration. “It’s a necessary film to see what people at the Times are doing to cover stories that seem to be changing every minute,” says De Niro.
Brian De Palma, Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Steven Bauer will be on hand for the world premiere of the new restoration of Scarface (1983). De Niro made his onscreen debut in De Palma’s The Wedding Party (made in 1963, though it wouldn’t be released until 1969) and then appeared in De Palma’s Greetings (1968) and Hi, Mom! (1970). “Brian always got a kick out of whatever we tried as actors, whether it was improv or other things, he got great joy out of watching us. I remember when Al was thinking about directors for Scarface, telling him, ‘I hope you do it with De Palma.’”
Steven Spielberg, Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, and Embeth Davidtz will discuss another anniversary restoration, Schindler’s List (1993). De Niro: “It’s resonant now because of what’s happening in this country.”
Ben Kenigsberg, also in the NYT, recommends the festival’s third restoration, In the Soup (1992)—image above—noting that “fans of 1990s indies won’t want to miss Alexandre Rockwell’s 1992 Sundance winner, restored from what is said to be the only archival print. A self-deluding filmmaker (Steve Buscemi) falls in with an eccentric, lovable crook (Seymour Cassel) who may finally be his ticket to artistic success.” Rockwell and Buscemi will be there, along with Jennifer Beals, Sam Rockwell, and cinematographer Phil Parmet. Kenigsberg has seen forty “new fiction features and documentaries and sampled about two dozen more,” and writes up seventeen he can recommend.
Critic, programmer and cinephile extraordinaire Kent Jones drops his first narrative feature, a character study about a middle-aged woman (viva Mary Kay Place!) dealing with a drug-addicted son (Jake Lacy), a dying cousin, small-town drudgery and a life disappointed. It’s the sort of gritty, unfiltered portrait of quiet desperation that you associate with the margins of 1970s indie cinema—it actually feels like a lost film from the Me Decade—and Jones isn’t afraid to let his deep-cut influences (Cassavetes, Akerman, Bresson, Barbara Loden) show. Then he slowly edges the movie into more transcendental territory, and you suddenly realize he's got bigger ideas in mind. Every year, the fest manages to slip a tiny diamond-in-the-rough entry into the lineup. Here it is.
One of the most influential, prolific, and flat-out enjoyable composers of the last thirty years, Ryuichi Sakamoto exploded onto the scene by writing unforgettable scores for films like Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and The Last Emperor, and his work has only grown increasingly instrumental (ha) to the movie world since. When Sakamoto was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, he decided to devote whatever time he had left to an album that could serve as his legacy. Lucky for us, he’s still alive and going strong. Luckier still, Stephen Nomura Schible was there to capture the recording process on camera, following Sakamoto as he muses about life, records ambient noise around the ruins of Fukushima, and reconsiders to the sounds that have reverberated through his life. The result is a portrait of an artist that’s nearly as powerful and necessary as the artist himself.
Writing for Variety, Gordon Cox has five recommendations for theater lovers, including Every Act of Life, Jeff Kaufman and Marcia Ross’s documentary portrait of Terrence McNally, “the veteran, out-and-proud playwright and four-time Tony winner behind Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime, Love! Valour! Compassion!, and more. The biopic—which counts Audra McDonald, Christine Baranski, Angela Lansbury, Meryl Streep, and Bryan Cranston among those involved—touches on everything from McNally’s romance with Edward Albee to his alcoholism and the time Lauren Bacall chewed him out for spilling a drink on her.”
9 at 38 is Catherine Lee’s short documentary about violinist Hyungjoon Won’s dream of performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with musicians from both North and South Korea—on the 38th parallel. Rowena Santos Aquino for VCinema: “Lee structures Won’s past and present experiences and aims in relation to this project in a smart and thoughtful manner that provokes both surprise and dismay due to the events that transpire. In the process, she shares a refreshingly different contemporary perspective of the North-South divide.”
Women and Hollywood has been sending out a list of questions to directors with films in the lineup, and so far, we read replies from Gabrielle Brady (Island of the Hungry Ghosts), Laura Bispuri (Daughter of Mine), Sarah Kerruish (General Magic), Keren Ben Rafael (Virgins), Madeleine Sackler (O.G.), Norah Shapiro (Time for Ilhan), Ioana Uricaru (Lemonade), and Stephanie Wang-Breal (Blowin’ Up).
The Rachel of Laura Brownson’s fine, nuanced, intimate doc is Rachel Dolezal, the bronzed, dreadlocked head of the Spokane, WA, branch of the NAACP who became a national laughingstock—and drew the ire of many—when she was exposed as being white and then maintained that “race is a construct.” Brownson talks to Dolezal’s fiercest critics and doesn’t shy away from the idea that her subject might be a nut. But as you learn about her physically and emotionally abusive religious-fanatic parents who adopted and then beat black children—her true siblings—you come to understand how she fashioned her unique identity. You come away feeling for Dolezal amid the relentless ridicule and abuse as well as for her children, who are like fellow prisoners. Highly recommended.
And Yoshida on Duck Butter: “Alia Shawkat makes her writing debut alongside director and co-writer Miguel Arteta for this almost overwhelmingly intense romantic comedy. She and Laia Costa play two women who meet at a bar, hit it off, and then, in an effort to do away with the protracted bullshit of dating, decide to spend the next 24 hours together, sharing everything with each other and having sex on the hour. The madness and tenderness they share is manic, contagious, and exhausting.”
At the Playlist, Ally Johnson and Jordan Ruimy have put together a more briefly annotated selection of twenty “Must-Watch” films.
For Variety, Addie Morfoot talks with:
- Michael Epstein about House Two, “about the 2005 Haditha, Iraq, massacre, where U.S. Marines killed 24 unarmed Iraqi men, women, and children—some of them at close range inside a small bedroom”
- Kate Davis and David Heilbroner about Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, about a woman who died in police custody in Texas three days after having been pulled over “for failing to signal a lane change”
- Laura Brownson about The Rachel Divide
- Nancy Schwartzman about Roll Red Roll, which addresses “the 2012 infamous Steubenville, Ohio, rape case”
- Liz Garbus about The Fourth Estate
- Ian Bonhôte, co-director with Peter Ettedgui of McQueen, “about fashion designer Alexander McQueen, who committed suicide in 2010”
Updates, 4/19: Reviews of the opening night film are in. For Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, Love, Gilda “is a movie that captures the fascinating evolution and awesome range of Radner’s talent—the dozens of lovingly, crazily etched characters she did on SNL (the dear old deaf crank Emily Litella, the head-cold nerd Lisa Loopner, the wildly cantankerous Roseanne Roseannadanna), and the way she hardly even needed to be playing a character; she could just be dancing with a hula hoop, and you felt the magic pull of her gift.” More from John DeFore (Hollywood Reporter) and Kate Erbland (IndieWire).
And Tina Fey “broke down in tears while introducing the film at the Beacon Theatre over how much the ’70s/80s comedienne meant to her growing up as a female of ‘visibility,’” reports Anthony D’Alessandro at Deadline. Fey: “She was not a piece of casting, she was who she was on TV. We all saw that and said, ‘I want to do that, and it’s possible because I see her doing that.’” And from one of the original SNL writers, Marilyn Suzanne Miller, in the New York Times: “News of the film zinged my memory of our last day together, one summer in the late ’80s.”
Her name is Liv Hill, and, holy shit, you’ll want to remember it. She’s in every single scene of James Gardner’s wrenching British drama, carrying this entire tricky movie on her shoulders, and she never falters. It’s a land mine of a role: a fifteen-year-old girl who, over the course of its ninety-odd minutes, is pushed past her considerably high breaking point. She’s failing in school, has a terrible part-time gig that she supplements with dispiriting tasks (e.g. back-alley hand jobs), and is taking care of what are essentially three children: her sister, her brother, and her mother, who is perpetually “not feeling well.” It sounds like pretty miserable viewing, and it’s often tough to watch. But Hill is a surefire dynamo, wresting control of the screen; her work is fierce, bitter, funny, and heartbreaking.
“Director/journalist Assia Boundaoui turns exhaustive research into an art form in her scintillating doc,” The Feeling of Being Watched. Sam Weisberg: “She and her relatives, as well as other members of a tight-knit Muslim-American neighborhood in suburban Illinois, are frequently menaced by the FBI—with impromptu house visits and mysterious parked cars on their block. . . . Boundaoui’s exposé of her own near-Sisyphean quest for justice is a searing snapshot of an ongoing battle with seemingly no end in sight.”
“Although conventional,” Marilyn Ness’s Charm City “effectively charts the impact of violence on poor black neighborhoods within the city over the course of two years, from 2015 to 2017,” writes Tanner Tafelski. It’s “even-handed issue film featuring those who are working to change the face of one of the U.S.’s most violent cities.”
At ScreenAnarchy, Christopher Bourne previews ten selections, including Che Sandoval’s Dry Martina: “Antonella Costa is the riveting center of Sandoval’s road movie—traveling from Argentina to Chile—wonderfully embodying the journey of the titular Martina’s quest to get her groove back, both inside and outside of the bedroom.”
At IndieWire, Jude Dry writes about a few LGBT selections, including Stephanie Wang-Breal’s Blowin’ Up: “Taking its name from the slang term for leaving a pimp, this riveting documentary takes us inside the country’s first and only sex-trafficking court. The Queens, New York courtroom is presided over by the Honorable Toko Serita, who approaches her mission to clear women of prostitution charges with a sharp benevolence. . . . Wang-Breal focuses on the daily goings on of the courtroom, imbuing her film with verité immediacy.”
Variety’s Brent Lang and Ramin Setoodeh have notes on “nine titles that could break out on the indie scene.”
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