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Entries in film festivals (165)


Tribeca: Spacey, Shakespeare, and Sightseeing

Tribeca Film Festival Coverage continues. Here's abstew on a Kevin Spacey doc

"That's why the film is called 'Now', it's not just the first word spoken at the beginning of the play, but it was meant to evoke that immediacy of live theatre. It's happening right now, in front of you," director Jeremy Whelehan said to a packed audience at the world premiere of his documentary film Now: In the Wings on a World Stage.

The film chronicles The Bridge Project, a transatlantic theatre company that was a collaboration of the British Old Vic (which for the past 10 years has had two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey at the helm as Artistic Director) and New York's BAM, and the last production the company performed, Richard III. The documentary (which Spacey also produced) goes behind the scenes of director Sam Mendes' production of the Shakespeare work about the deformed, power-hungry king and the year long, globe-spanning journey of its company of players. Spacey and the entire cast were on hand to introduce the film and stayed afterward for a discussion moderated by legendary anchorman Charlie Rose. [More...]

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Tribeca: Golden Bear, Black Coal, Thin Ice, Great Movie

The Chinese industrial revolution has been very good for a lot of people. It just so happens that many of them are not the laborers and villagers that personified the nation of one billion people for centuries. It’s perhaps ironic that this capitalist boom has been so good for the nation’s filmmakers – political upheaval being a common factor in many a nation’s cinematic resurgence – and the dichotomy between rich and poor has allowed filmmakers like Black Coal, Thin Ice’s Diao Yi’nan to prosper and foster global recognition. It’s this same reason than Jia Zhangke has risen to the stature that he has, frequently hailed as China’s greatest filmmaker, or certainly on his way to being so, after little more than a decade of festival and arthouse prominence.

The works of Jia Zhangke linger over the proceedings of the Berlin Golden Bear winner Black Coal, Thin Ice. That director’s ability to wrap engaging stories of human loneliness, loss and heartbreak in evocative political contexts and the themes of his home country is what has made him a mainstay on the festival circuit. When reviewing Jia’s last film, the exceptional A Touch of Sin, from the New York Film Festival I called him the “pre-eminent cinematic purveyor of modern day China”, and the noir-inspired anger that permeated that film is there again in Diao Yi’nan’s Black Coal, Thin Ice.

This film, shorter and likely more accessible than Zhangke’s most high profile titles, is imbued with a wicked sense of humor that allows its more dark and gruesome elements to never suffocate the viewer. While the murder investigation that kicks off immediately over the opening credits eventually leads to grotesque discoveries of body parts and personal revelations as well as an act one blood bath shootout in a hair salon, it’s actually much less dour and gruesome as one may expect. That sly humor continues throughout right up to the final sequence, a final sequence that will likely go down as the best film ending of the year with its swirl of fireworks (the film’s original title, Bai ri yan huo, translates as “daylight fireworks”) and comical firemen playing over the climax of a crime story.

The plot of Black Coal, Thin Ice is standard film-noir: there is a body, a boozing detective (Liao Fan), a femme fatale (Gwen Lun-Mei, whose working class looks will temporarily make you forget that in the 1930s she’d be played by someone in the Barbara Stanwyck school of dangerous beauties), a secret, a double-cross, and all sorts of other nastiness. Bathed in gorgeous greys and neon, this is a stunningly attractive movie with several sequences that made my eyes pop in particularly a transition from 1999 to 2004 in an underpass and a snow-covered freeway is novel and beautiful. Cinematographer Dong Jinsong’s work actually reminded me of Bruno Delbonnel’s work on Inside Llewyn Davis and Roger Deakins’ work on Fargo in the way he manipulates the snowy landscapes into a series of dark, yet beautiful tableaus.

Whatever it was that the Chinese censors saw (or, more aptly, didn’t see) in Black Coal, Thin Ice that allowed it the cinema release that Jia Zhangke wasn’t afforded with A Touch of Sin, I’m glad Chinese audiences have been able to watch yet another fine example of their ace film industry. It almost feels like a coup for the Tribeca Film Festival to get the chance to screen Diao’s film so soon after its double win at the Berlinale (it also won Best Actor for Liao) and audiences would be mad to not seek it out. And while you’re at it, make a bleak, but beautiful double feature with A Touch of Sin. They’re two peas in a pod with their mounting tension, impressive use of music and textural imagery to create mood, and refreshingly exciting looks at a modern day China. 


Tribeca: Life Partners With Benefits

Tribeca coverage continues with Jason on Life Partners with Leighton Meester & Gillian Jacobs

When I say that the specter of Frances Ha hangs heavy over Life Partners, you should probably keep in mind that the specter of Frances Ha has been hanging over my entire life for the past year and a half - it nearly immediately became The Movie I Quote Constantly. But that said, Life Partners tells the story of the air-tight bond between two young women that experiences a little leakage when a gentleman caller arrives on the scene, tossing the sudden third wheel into chaos, so you know... it's not just me.

Standing in the shadow of Frances' greatness could squelch the life from anything, but Partners, with its light heart and sitcom tread, is a genial enough 93 minutes that it makes it out alive. It's not the sort of film I'll be demanding be screened for me upon my death bed, the light in Greta's eyes carrying me off into that great nothingness, but I imagine now and then I'll chuckle remembering this or that moment down the line.

One interesting contrast of note between the two films - whereas Frances only seemed a little gay for her bestie Sophie, and that tension was acknowledged and joked about, in Life Partners the Frances-esque character of Sasha (played pleasantly enough by by Leighton Meester) is actually a lesbian, but the topic of any non-platonic love between her and her heterosexual bestie (played pleasantly enough by Gillian Jacobs) is verboten. It seems a conscious decision by the film-makers but it strains towards self-consciousness - one of their friends would joke about it, at least. Life Partners isn't that interested in really difficult complications that linger though. It still has some growing up to do.


Tribeca: Rory Culkin is "Gabriel"

Our Tribeca Film Festival coverage continues with Abstew on Gabriel...

Something is not quite right with Gabriel (Rory Culkin). But please, don't call him that. It may be his own name, but just the sound of it is enough to set him on edge. And who knows what he might do? He prefers Gabe. Only his mother (played by Dierdre O'Connell) can get away with calling him by his given name. Well, his mother and one other person. [More...]

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Tribeca: A Tale of Two Alex's in "About Alex" and "Alex in Venice"

Our Tribeca coverage begins with Glenn on two similarly titled indies

Alex is in crisis in both About Alex and actor Chris Messina's directorial debut Alex in Venice. Both films are indie dramas about the complexities of modern relationships, though one is decidedly much better than the other. While both Alexes are broad-strokes comparable to similar films that have come before, Jesse Zwick’s About Alex has trouble feeling like anything more than a cheap imitation. Populated by a cast of predominantly TV actors (Maggie Grace, Aubrey Plaza, Max Greenfield, and Jason Ritter as Alex) and featuring a lot of nonsensical moments and illogical characters traits that could easily be the result of the first time feature writer and director’s inexperience, About Alex just doesn’t congeal into anything substantial. It lacks the generational pull of its most direct cinematic cousins, like Lawrence Kasdan’s Oscar-nominated 1983 classic The Big Chill (or maybe the generation on display is just not as interesting). The ensemble chemistry that lifted Joe Swanberg’s recent Drinking Buddies out of the sea of low-budget, mumblecore imitators is also missing. [more...]

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