The Tribeca Film Festival has announced the Spotlight Lineup of films for its 11th annual fete, taking place April 17-28 in Manhattan. It’s an impressive roster of much of the indie world’s greatest talent, including a new buddy comedy from the director of Junebug starring Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd, Richard Linklater’s highly anticipated follow-up to Before Sunset, a few notable documentaries, and an experimental take on Star Wars courtesy of hundreds of diehard fans. Here are the ones that caught our eye:
Almost Christmas—Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd are two Quebecois ne’er-do-wells who come up with a get rich quick scheme to sell Christmas trees in New York City. The only proble is that Rudd’s character has just stolen Giamatti’s wife. It’s director Phil Morrison’s first feature since his elegant, Ozu-esque Junebug earned Oscar love in 2006.
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Before Midnight—Richard Linklater is on the verge of turning the ongoing saga of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) into a narrative version of the Up Series. Nine years elapsed between 1995’s Before Sunrise and older, wiser follow-up 2004 Before Sunset. Now, nine years have passed again, and the third installment, Before Midnight, finds Jesse and Celine at another crossroads in their eternal “ships that pass in the night” relationship. This time the beautiful European setting where they exchange loving glances and probing conversation is Greece.
Byzantium—Director Neil Jordan of Interview With the Vampire fame is training his lens on immortal bloodsuckers once again. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan play a mother and daughter on the run for possibly supernatural reasons.
Prince Avalanche—After high-profile bro-comedy duds Your Highness and The Sitter, David Gordon Green goes back to his subtle indie roots. Reminiscent of the quiet lyricism of George Washington, Prince Avalanche stars Emile Hirsch and, once again, Paul Rudd as road workers repainting a highway in a fire-damaged forest during the summer of 1988.
Adult World—Emma Roberts plays an aspiring poet who has to take a job at a local sex shop, Adult World, in order to make ends meet. The on thing keeping her going? A mentorship with professionally eccentric writer John Cusack.
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me—At 87, the Broadway legend is as irascible as ever. Now Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, Hal Prince and more weigh in on what Stritch’s career has meant to them. We’ll drink to that.
Gasland Part II—The Oscar nominated 2011 documentary about hydraulic fracking gets a wider focus in this follow-up, showing how the energy extraction technique can cause earthquakes and even be used as part of anti-terror psychological operations tactics.
Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia—Few Americans, period, have ever had a more interesting life than Gore Vidal. The famously revisionist—infamously prickly—author and critic was good friends with Amelia Earhart as a kid, sparred on-air with William F. Buckley, and wrote the book (Lincoln) that convinced Michele Bachmann to leave the Democratic party for the Republicans. The late Christopher Hitchens and more remember him as the quintessential man of letters.
AND A BONUS EXPERIMENTAL FILM
Star Wars Uncut—Project curator Casey Pugh put out a call for hundreds of Star Wars fans and amateur filmmakers to assemble 15-second snippets of Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope using mixed-media alternatives: animation, stop-motion, live-action reenactments, which when put together recreate George Lucas’ film in its entirety, just very, very differently.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Tribeca Film Festival]
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The Raven takes a solid foundation (the works of Edgar Allan Poe) gives it an interesting twist (a Se7en-esque crime riff on Poe's existing works) and squanders the opportunity into an unwatchable 111-minute film fit for no audience. One part CSI one part Saw the thriller plods its way through bloody setup after bloody setup as Poe (John Cusack) accompanies Detective Fields (Luke Evans) in search of the author's fiancee Emily (Alice Eve). She's been kidnapped by a murderous literary-inclined madman prompting Poe to put on his Sherlock hat and scream a lot.
Turns out the inventive demises of Poe's characters recreated by the faceless serial killer aren't that exciting — at least in the hands of director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta Ninja Assassin). The Raven is a straightforward procedural souped up with Victorian era production design but the unique setting doesn't forgive any of the ineptitude on display in the other aspects of the film. Poe is forced by the murder to chronicle his villainous exploits for the Baltimore newspaper — the perfect way to torture an entitled author and a dramatic hook to draw us into the antics. But McTeigue abandons the slow burn quality that could have been in favor of buckets of blood. The grisliness of the killings is one of the film's obsession red splashing across the screen as a pendulum guts a random victim. The Raven's gore earns the film's R but it's out of place.
Cusack's performance as Poe is befuddling. At times he's an egomaniac a wise thinker an action hero — he's completely in flux and every ounce of the movie's attempted seriousness vanishes. Never before has a part cried out for Nicolas Cage's signature brand of crazy-eyed manic heightened realism. Late in the film Poe and a team of police frantically search for his wife-to-be in a crypt. He calls out "EMILLLLLLLLYYYYYYY" in what sounds like the actor's best Ron Burgandy impression. Cusack doesn't know what movie he's in and there's no one around to help him.
There's little to enjoy in The Raven even on the surface. The muddy and dull cinematography looks like it was shot with a pea soup filter drab period-costuming and production design making squinting even more imperative. There's a strong core idea that dimly flickers under the bland mess of ideas flopping around in the movie — one Cusack and McTeigue even seem capable of pulling off. But The Raven is a spilled quill of ink sopped up with scare tactics and over-the-top performances. Less nevermore than never began.
February 14, 2011 12:33pm EST
Brad Anderson’s new film The Vanishing on 7th St. asks you to fear the haunting abyss that is the darkness but the more terrifying void is its story. Or lack thereof. Seeing as how it’s billed as a mystery horror-thriller and this from the director of neo-noir classics like The Machinist and Transsiberian I expected at least a few minor scares; I should’ve known they’d come only from Hayden Christensen’s performance.
The film is set in Detroit and follows a handful of survivors (including John Leguizamo Thandie Newton Jacob Latimore and Christensen) of an inexplicable power outage that seems to have consumed the entire city’s population. They must put the pieces of this puzzling event together to understand what’s happening and figure out how they can stay alive with looming shadows closing in on them.
With a less competent director at the helm this movie would’ve been a total disaster. The script is terrible focusing on one-dimensional characters their back-stories and a bunch of crackpot theories that hint at explanations but never follow through (in its defense the film is meant to be inconclusive but that doesn’t make up for bad dialogue plot holes etc.) Luckily Anderson is in his element with ambiguous narratives and creates a startling atmosphere that is interesting to examine. It has an unpolished gritty texture that brings to mind similar low-budget horror flicks but is enhanced by startling sound effects and an unnerving score from relative newcomer Lucas Vidal. Still all style and no substance only goes so far and The Vanishing on 7th St. never hits the throttle.
Essentially a creature feature without the creature the film is best looked at as an apocalyptic survival tale. The problem is that there’s nothing adventurous or enthralling about it. The characters’ encounters with the shadows are repetitive and the effect gets old quickly. Furthermore half of the cast (I’ll let you guess who) is incapable of conveying fear and if they aren’t afraid then how are you the audience supposed to be? I tried analyzing the film from an existential standpoint as a few of the characters question the reason for this human extermination but I couldn’t find any genuine moments of meditation.
Without question the star player here is Anderson who proves that he can do his job even when other members of the creative team don’t. The fact that he was able to develop such a striking tone from a sub-par screenplay is a testament of his ability as a storyteller.
Yes it’s true. Although it reaped deserved accolades and an Oscar win for its star Philip Seymour Hoffman Capote keeps you somewhat at arm’s length as you watch Truman Capote go through his agonizing journey to writing his one and only masterpiece In Cold Blood. Infamous however wears its heart on its sleeve drawing you in immediately. When we first meet Capote (Toby Jones) it’s in New York. As the toast of the town and confidante to some of Manhattan’s elite grand dames including Babe Paley (Sigourney Weaver) and Slim Keith (Hope Davis) Capote’s mood is light and airy his antics hilarious. Then once Capote travels to Kansas to cover the grisly Cutter murders with his dear friend Nell Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock) the frivolity is peeled away layer by layer. When he finally becomes so tortuously—and yes even romantically (it goes there)—entangled with killer Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) and the writing of his book hits its crescendo Capote emerges as a beaten-down and bitter man who ultimately can’t even be lifted by his high society friends. Infamous is infinitely more heartbreaking. It’s really hard to top Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance as Truman Capote. He embodies the character with such exquisite and subtle suffering you don’t mind the fact he doesn’t look anything like the diminutive author. Toby Jones (Finding Neverland) however does look like Capote. A LOT like him and is just as capable at wringing out all of Capote’s brilliance and faults. But rather than dominate Jones’ eerie look-a-like characterization blends in more with Infamous’ scenery allowing some of the other colorful characters to step up to the plate. Weaver and Davis are effusive and catty as Capote’s Manhattan buddies who give hints on what’s to become of Capote later in his life when he finally goes too far and crosses these fine society ladies. Craig is also particularly effecting as Smith full of pathos and rage. But the real stand out is Bullock as Harper Lee. Her unassuming but quietly fierce take on the To Kill a Mockingbird author far outshines Catherine Keener’s Oscar-nominated performance in Capote. Bullock brings such an essence to the role that when watching Lee tell stories of when she and Truman were children you see the little girl Scout from Mockingbird so very clearly. Kudos all around. Director/writer Douglas McGrath has to got to be kicking himself. Seriously. Of course he’s going to say “Given the riveting contradictions in Capote’s character the rich range of people who made up his circle and the comic and dramatic turns that marked the period the real wonder is that there were only two scripts.” But the fact of the matter is Capote came first and furious getting all kinds of good strokes. Releasing another movie about the very same subject on its heels...well that movie is going to have a harder time. Period. And that’s a real shame. McGrath does some truly marvelous things with Infamous. He shows how a flamboyant gay writer spoiled chic who plays court jester to the very cream of New York society is set down in the wastelands of Kansas to write about a horrible crime. Capote’s antics at first are hilarious such as trying to wear cowboy boots and a cowboy hat just to fit in. But then the shift into the dark side as Capote delves deeper and deeper into the psyche of the killers keeps you riveted. It might be the same but Infamous is just as worthy.