Film
What's Up For Today?

New York Cool - Ask Miss Wendy

 

 


John Butler’s
The Bachelor Weekend
13th Tribeca Film Festival
April 16th-27th 2014

Screenplay by John Butler & Peter McDonald.

Starring: Andrew Scott, Hugh O’Conor, Peter McDonald, Brian Gleeson, Amy Huberman, Michael Legge, Andrew Bennett.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

The Bachelor Weekend is a ridiculously schmaltzy, infectiously entertaining treat of a flick with a cast of adorably dim-witted Irish males.

Hugh O’Conor (best known to me as the young Christy Brown to Daniel Day Lewis’s grown up Christy in My Left Foot) plays Fionnan, a prickly proper theatre set designer about to marry his love, Ruth (Amy Huberman). Overly preoccupied with wedding planning, Fionnan becomes a hindrance and Ruth manages to talk Fionnan’s best man, Davin (Andrew Scott, the villainous Moriarty from Sherlock) into planning a stag weekend--much to Fionnan’s protests.

So Davin, Fionnan, and their three not-so-masculine friends—including the obligatory gay couple both named Kevin--embark on a hiking bachelor weekend.

Complicating matters is Ruth’s insistence that her wayward brother, The Machine, take part in the event so he can bond with his future bro-in-law. Suffice to say, The Machine, messes everything up and but ends up being much more than the initial lunatic everyone assumes he is.

It takes about a half an hour for co-screenwriter Peter McDonald to burst into the frame as The Machine, and begin to chomp away at the scenery, stealing every scene from that point on. At the one-hour mark, I was transfixed. By the film’s end, I was singing along with U2’s “One” and deciding that I really needed The Machine in my life.

With loads of male nudity, homoerotic bonding and electrical fence wire, The Bachelor Weekend may be silly but it’s also a hoot and McDonald is just crazy good.

For tickets visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or call (646) 502-5296 or toll free at (866) 941-FEST (3378). Additional information and further details on the Festival can be found at www.tribecafilm.com.




Aron Gaudet & Gita Pullapilly’s
Beneath the Harvest Sky
13th Tribeca Film Festival
April 16th-27th 2014

BENEATH THE HARVEST SKY

Screenplay by Aron Gaudet & Gita Pullapilly.

Starring: Emory Cohen, Callan McAuliffe, Aidan Gillen, Sarah Sutherland, Zoe Levin, Carrie Preston.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Beneath the Harvest Sky examines the lives of two high school boys, living in Maine, locked into a small town existence and wonders whether their respective (and intertwined) life-paths have been pre-mapped out for them.

Casper (Emory Cohen) and Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) are the best of besties. They have a fierce bond that no one can break. Their goal is to get out of their stifling locale and move to Boston.

Dominic works as a potato farmer so he can earn enough to buy his coveted red sports car. Casper helps his father smuggle drugs over the Canadian border. One works the land for the betterment of others. One aids in the destruction of his fellow man. Echoes of Cain and Abel—without the sibling conflict.

For Dom, there is no choice but to leave. Casper is more apprehensive. He’s also a bit more “trapped” since his 15-year-old girlfriend has announced she is pregnant. In addition, the blowhard Casper is really just looking for his father’s acceptance and love so helping dad move drugs gives him that validation—despite the fact that it’s illegal and immoral.

The writing-directing team of Aron Gaudet & Gita Pullapilly authentically show the pressure-cooker longing and desire each boy has to leave versus the familial and societal ties that hold them in place.

Emory Cohen is quite the revelation. He showed promise in The Place Beyond the Pines last year but his cocky and assured turn is fascinating to behold. Casper is aware that his family name commands respect and he loves being the bad boy but even he scares himself sometimes with his own swagger.

Callan McAuliffe’s Dominic is the smart, quiet dreamer who balances Casper’s arrogance and petulance. The actor does a nice job of conveying his frustrations and his belief in Casper when everyone around him doubts the decency of his friend.

The filmmaker’s are quite careful in giving each boy a girl to tangle with-- almost too careful. As if the intense love the boys feel for one another must transcend sexuality—otherwise there would be something less to their love story—and it is a love story. Of course, neither would ever act on feelings of desire for one another—well, Casper wouldn’t anyway. But watching Dom glance upon Casper and seeing just how ferociously Casper defends Dom, one senses the two are soul mates. It would have been nice if Gaudet and Pullapilly had explored this further.

Instead a lot of time is wasted on that family drug smuggling subplot which adds those needed doses of testosterone (yes, that is sarcasm) but very little else to the film except to show us where Casper will most likely end up. It is nice to see a dope pusher played against type, with such grace and calm, by the wonderful Aidan Gillen.

As stated earlier, there’s an interesting discussion the film puts forth about whether we choose our own destiny or it’s decided for us. Beneath the Harvest Sky takes a surprising narrative turn, showing true courage as one character defies the odds.

For tickets visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or call (646) 502-5296 or toll free at (866) 941-FEST (3378). Additional information and further details on the Festival can be found at www.tribecafilm.com.




Till Kleinert’s
Der Samurai
13th Tribeca Film Festival
April 16th-27th 2014

Screenplay Till Kleinert.

Starring: Michel Diercks, Pit Bukowski.

In German with English subtitles.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Euroqueersplatter cinema gets a shot in the arm or, more apropos, a samurai sword to the neck with Till Kleinert’s bloody mood thriller, Der Samurai.

This strange deranged genre-blend slasher/werewolf/revenge flick takes place in a backwoods small town in East Germany, near the Polish border and has a gayish twist to it.

Repressed, dutiful cop Jakob (Michael Diercks) cares for his addled grandmother and is teased by most of the gruffer boneheads in town. For some misbegotten reason, Jakob is feeding the wolves a bag of guts and soon enough a mysterious guy with long blonde hair in a white dress (Pit Bukowski) begins menacing the town with his mighty sword. Before long the sexy dude begins lopping off the heads of the ignorant and homophobic townspeople and it’s up to Jakob to stop him.

A fairly spellbinding game of cat-and-mouse leads to a weird-ass confrontation, culminating in one of the oddest dances I’ve seen on film and, then, a quite campy ending that is bound to get the film an NC-17.

Could this samurai be the flip side of Jakob? Who he would like to be? Who he would like to do? Was Jakob feeding that base and animal part of himself when he fed the wolf? Who selected the samurai’s outfit?

Phallic symbols abound as do Christian iconography. And the sexual tension between straightbutcurious Diercks and the nastyprettyboy Bukowski is palpable. Both deliver potent turns with Bukowski seducing the audience completely. It’s a damn shame Kleinert withholds the money shot—the film’s homo high noon, if you will. It is there, sort of, but it’s tamer than it should be. With all the sexual tension, you want these boys to…well; I’ll stop there.

Der Samurai is creepy, head-scratching, gory fun that a psychologist would have a field day with and horror audiences might find themselves thoroughly enjoying.

For tickets visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or call (646) 502-5296 or toll free at (866) 941-FEST (3378). Additional information and further details on the Festival can be found at www.tribecafilm.com.




Lou Howe’s
Gabriel
13th Tribeca Film Festival
April 16th-27th 2014

Screenplay by Lou Howe.

Starring: Rory Culkin, David Call, Deirdre O’Connell, Emily Meade, Louisa Krause, Lynn Cohen.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Lou Howe has created a very unique filmic experience with his first outing as writer and director. Gabriel, the movie and the character, challenges the viewer in ways that may confound and surprise them. The film will certainly make you nervous and uneasy. But it’s worth a Xanax or three.

Howe begins the film with Gabriel (Rory Culkin), having just debussed, manically needing to see his girlfriend, Alice (Emily Meade), and pounding on her dorm door, injuring himself in the process. We soon discover that Alice no longer lives in the freshman dorm since Gabriel has been away for a few years. In addition, Gabriel has family waiting at home for him. Immediately we realize that our protagonist is unusual to say the least. And, perhaps, a bit…off.

Turns out Gabe (he does not like to be called Gabriel) is being released from an institution where he’s been battling with mental illness. The release is in no way definite and hinges on his getting along with his perpetually concerned mother (a very effective Deirdre O’Connell) and his straight-laced older brother (David Call, excellent). Both are worried about Gabe. Neither trusts him--and with good reason. Each chance he gets he runs away. Gabe has held onto the notion, for the last few years, that his relationship with Alice holds the answers to all his problems and he must find her.

At times, the film has a suspense thriller feel about it as we learn bits more about Gabe and the reasons he can’t be around his mother and brother. And we flee with him as he searches for Alice. And once he finds her, the scene is electrifying.

Howe creates a skewed sense of claustrophobia since the camera follows Gabe everywhere, giving us his perspective and forcing us to be empathetic towards him and his plight, no matter how misguided it may feel. He is also smart enough to keep any real diagnosis a mystery, making Gabe’s story all the more personal. (My guess, though, would be paranoid schizophrenia).

Anchoring the film is the remarkable Rory Culkin who dares to infuse Gabe with a host of idiosyncrasies, fears, doubts, demons and delusions. It’s a powerful, self-aware portrayal and Culkin is only concerned with doing right by the character.

Gabriel is an intense, psychological portrait of a young man who is trying desperately to keep connected to reality. The writing is searingly authentic, the direction sharp and the performances genuine.

For tickets visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or call (646) 502-5296 or toll free at (866) 941-FEST (3378). Additional information and further details on the Festival can be found at www.tribecafilm.com.




Paolo Virzì’s
Human Capital (Il capitale Umano)
13th Tribeca Film Festival
April 16th-27th 2014

Screenplay by Francesco Bruni, Francesco Piccolo, Paolo Virzì.

Based on the novel by Stephen Amidon.

Starring: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Valeria Golino, Fabrizio Gifuni, Luigi Lo Cascio. Guglielmo Pinelli, Giovanni Anzaldo and Matilde Gioli.

In Italian with English subtitles.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Paolo Virzì’s Human Capital is part murder mystery, part love story, and part biting indictment of the Italian upper classes. It’s also a thoroughly engaging film that brims with a stinging assessment of the disparate values placed on human lives –depending on your familial pedigree.

Told in three separate chapters, each filling in more details about the crime, the principle characters as well as the plot proper, the film fascinates by constantly showing the viewer that things are rarely what they seem to be as we put the paradoxical narrative puzzle pieces together.

Virzì, along with fellow screenwriters Francesco Bruni and Francesco Piccolo have adapted Stephen Amidon’s novel, changing the setting from Connecticut to the affluent region of Brianza in Northern Italy.

The prologue shows a banquet hall waiter hit by an SUV while cycling home.

The first chapter, titled, “Dino” flashes back six months as a buffoonish middle class father, Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) drops his daughter Serena (Matilde Gioli) off at the mansion-like home of her boyfriend, Massimiliano (Guglielmo Pinelli), whose father, Giovanni (Fabrizio Gifune) is a slick and charismatic hedge fund kingpin. Before you know it, Dino is playing doubles with Giovanni and his wealthy friends—and asking about investing in his fund since it allegedly yields up to a 40% return. Giovanni agrees and Dino illegally borrows the money, putting up his real estate business and house as collateral. That night he discovers his therapist wife Roberta (Valeria Golino) is pregnant.

Six months later Dino and Roberta are sitting at the VIP table of Giovanni and his flighty wife, Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) waiting to see if Massimiliano wins an academic award he’s nominated for. It’s after this event that the cyclist is hit.

Chapter two, titled “Carla” expounds on these stories as we learn more about the long-suffering wife and how she throws herself into restoring an old, broken down theater—with the financial help of her husband, of course, in order to give her life meaning. In addition, she has a fling with the brooding artistic director (Luigi Lo Cascio) whom she recently appointed. As those same six months pass, Giovanni has unapologetically decided to sell the theater since he needs liquid assets, devastating Carla.

In this chapter, we learn who the police now suspect committed the hit and run.

“Serena” is the title of the final chapter and some of the misperceptions are cleared up and a vital character, Luca (Giovanni Anzaldo) takes center stage. Another character proves to be completely avaricious and unscrupulous. And certain relationships are clarified.

Virzì has loads of fun with this structure, satirizing how even the older generation craves acceptance. When we learn that Giovanni can’t stand Dino and is embarrassed by him it is in no way surprising. And the fact that Dino is oblivious to this is also unsurprising. But it sure is fun to watch. Upper or middle-lower class reps, neither of these men are role models. Quite the opposite.

“You bet on the downfall of this country and won,” Giovanni is reprimanded by a colleague. He has. And Virzì is also making a statement about how Italy’s economic devastation is the fault of the forever greedy wealthy. Sound familiar? Sure it’s a liberal POV, but what were you expecting?

There is also a very telling subplot about how no one seems to care about the arts anymore as theatres are turned into supermarkets and apartments all over Italy (not to mention Europe).

And we learn the meaning of the title at the very end and it’s absolutely chilling.

Tech credits are glossy and exceptional. And everyone in the cast is stellar.

As titan Giovanni, Gifune is the perfect combination of arrogance and ruthlessness. Watching him cockily strut his stuff naked in front of his friends after showering, this man appears uber confident. And Tedeschi proves heartbreaking as the anxiety-ridden Carla.

Bentivoglio plays Dino with imbecilic glee while Golino, who is always compelling, does so much with too small a role. Same can be said of Lo Cascio.

But it’s the younger gen that shines the brightest.

Newcomer Gioli is quite the find as Serena. Seemingly superficial at first with layers of petulant teen angst, we learn so much more about her and just how fiercely loyal she can be. It’s an entrancing performance.

Pinelli is more than just a moppy head, pretty face and hot body (although he certainly is all that). His Massimiliano is spoiled and confused and Pinelli conveys that loss of innocence we all feel at some point in our lives when the parent we thought was saintly proves to be flawed and, well, human.

And Anzaldo is a perfect mess of a teen boy struggling with his inner demons while trying desperately to hold onto his sanity.

Both Anzaldo and Pinelli represent both class spectrums yet both are preoccupied with saving their own asses, no matter the cost. Seems survival trumps social strata.

A formidable helmer, Virzì has made his best film to date.

For tickets visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or call (646) 502-5296 or toll free at (866) 941-FEST (3378). Additional information and further details on the Festival can be found at www.tribecafilm.com.




Susanna Fogel’s
Life Partners
13th Tribeca Film Festival
April 16th-27th 2014

Screenplay by Susannah Fogel & Joni Lefkowitz.

Starring: Leighton Meester, Gillian Jacobs, Adam Brody, Mark Feuerstein, Gabourey Sidibe, Abby Elliott

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Susanna Fogel’s Life Partners is a funny and insightful new movie about what happens to a deeply close friendship when one gal begins to seriously date someone new. Sure, we’ve seen the scenario billions of times before but Fogel (who also co-wrote the script) and Joni Lefkowitz (the other co-writer) make it feel fresh and new—and truly probe what the abandonment does to the one who isn’t coupled.

Of course, it helps to have an outstanding cast beginning with Leighton Meester, by far the most talented Gossip Girl alum. Here she plays Sasha, a lesbian singer-wannabe who lives off her parents and has been stuck at a receptionist desk for way too long. Sasha repeatedly falls into the trap of dating some really messed up younger gals (she’s pushing thirty) and appears to have no real career direction.

What keeps her going is her BFF, Paige (the wonderful Gillian Jacobs), a stubborn and willful attorney by day, perfect friend at night as the two gals get together to watch (and make fun of) shows like Top Model.

One auspicious night both go on blind Internet dates and Paige ends up meeting her potential Mr. Right, a goofy, sweet Tim (Adam Brody, turning on the geeky charm), although she’s initially put off by their divergent tastes—including his obsession with The Big Lebowski.

As Paige and Tim grow closer it jams a wedge between Sasha and Paige since Paige is no longer on tap for her best bud 24/7.

Life Partners is a keen comedy that probes universal themes like aging, societal pressure and the intense drama that comes with any and all relationships (familial, friend, work, romantic…). Fogel is smart not to make sexuality an issue. There are too many other complications. In doing so, she presents scenarios that are real and complex, despite the comedic approach.

The indie also boasts terrific work by Gabourey Sidibe, SNL’s Kate McKinnon and the always-delightful Julie White, who needs more screen time in everything she is in.

The film only missteps with the one-dimensional portrayals of Sasha’s two gal toys—one is a self-involved bitch, the other a complete bubblehead. I’m not saying these types don’t exist, but would Sasha overlook such superficiality just because they’re gorgeous? Actually, if it adds to her self-sabotaging life…Okay, perhaps I’ve answered my own question. Never mind.

Meester and Jacobs have such great chemistry and once things get messy, Fogel never forces any contrived reconciliations—it’s slow and painful—y’know, true to life.

I liked this film so much. I wanted to hang out with Sasha and Paige. They seemed cool. But real-cool, not cool for the sake of cool.

For tickets visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or call (646) 502-5296 or toll free at (866) 941-FEST (3378). Additional information and further details on the Festival can be found at www.tribecafilm.com.




Adam Rapp’s
Loitering with Intent
13th Tribeca Film Festival
April 16th-27th 2014

Screenplay by Michael Godere & Ivan Martin.

Starring: Michael Godere, Ivan Martin, Marisa Tomei, Sam Rockwell, Brian Geraghty, Isabelle McNally

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Actors Michael Godere and Ivan Martin decided to take matters into their own hands and write a feature for themselves to star in (actually their second) where they play struggling screenwriters/actors, Dominic and Raphael, who are given an opportunity to have their script produced—the problem is, they have yet to actually write it.

Loitering with Intent begins promisingly enough as the two embark on a writer’s retreat of sorts at the secluded upstate NY country home of Dominic’s sister. They have ten days to come up with the promised script.

As they get settled, the arrival of Dom’s sister, Gigi (Marisa Tomei) ruins their solitude, as does the presence of her friend, Ava (Isabelle McNally, in a role that doesn’t require her to do much but look pretty).

Gigi is smarting over a breakup with her slightly deranged soldier beau, Wayne (Sam Rockwell, expertly underplaying) who, of course, shows up wanting her to forgive him. Wayne brings along his surfer brother, Devon (Brian Geraghty) who just scored his own reality show—which is mind-bogglingly upsetting to our protags.

Dominic is way more interested in working on the script than Raphael who is fixated on who he can score with. It turns out that Raphael and Gigi were an item years back and he’s never gotten over her. Meanwhile, Ava has the obligatory crush on Dom and soon enough, the idea of writing the script is tossed away as carnal desires kick in—which is unfortunate because so much of the excitement generated early on had to do with watching the two very different friends, actually find a way to be creative together amidst the craziness going on around them.

It felt as if Godere and Martin had a great idea, began to develop it and, midway through, stopped to discuss how to make it more commercial—which is a shame.

Adam Rapp does a terrific job directing. The montage opening, in particular, nicely sets the stage for things to come. Rapp allows his actors room to breathe, knowing when to let the camera linger (on Tomei) and when to cut away.

And while the film (which is too short) disappoints in the second half, the screenplay smartly discusses the difficulties of getting past the unknown factor for writers and actors as well as the “age void” each lead actor is in (both are at or near that forty mark).

The film is definitely worth seeing—especially for the sublime Marisa Tomei. The feature is elevated every time she’s onscreen. Tomei is a marvel, able to blend comedy and drama all in the same moment and make it believable and palpable. I was so moved by her performance—felt her confusion, desire, passion, anxiety, sense of loyalty and truly conflicting feelings about what to do next.

Also, worth singling out is Brian Geraghty’s hilarious turn, showing us why he’s fast becoming the ‘go to’ actor for everything from Indies to TV shows. Geraghty delivers lines like, “You’re in the country, it’s illustrious here,” with such conviction, you’d think he was a dopey surfer dude.

Godere is to be commended for his performance as well. Dom is everyone’s punching bag, but Godere gives him a sense of longing and frustration that makes him believable and endearing.

At one point Raphael discusses auteur Ingmar Bergman’s morning regiment. Evoking a master like Bergman makes the problems with the script bubble to the surface. Bergman’s work was about as searing and real as you can get—he probed the emotional depths of his characters. Here’s hoping that Godere and Martin follow that template for their next film.

For tickets visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or call (646) 502-5296 or toll free at (866) 941-FEST (3378). Additional information and further details on the Festival can be found at www.tribecafilm.com.



Ira Sach’s
Love is Strange
13th Tribeca Film Festival
April 16th-27th 2014

Screenplay by Ira Sachs & Mauricio Zacharias.

Starring: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Cheyenne Jackson, Manny Perez, Darren E. Burrows, Charlie Tahan, John Cullum, Harriet Harris, Adriane Lenox, Eric Tabach, Christian Coulson, Sebastian La Cause, Christina Kirk

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Ira Sachs is a gifted filmmaker whose gem, Keep the Lights On, was one of the best LGBT themed films of 2012. Love is Strange takes him to a new level as he examines the life of a gay couple in the twilight of their years.

The film opens with the marriage of Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), who we assume have just gotten the legal okay to marry after being together for 39 years.

George is immediately fired from his job as a music teacher at a Catholic school; despite the fact that everyone knew he was gay. “The Bishop wasn’t happy,” he is told by his boss, about his daring to publically share vows with the man he loves. Since Ben is a struggling painter, the couple’s finances are now dwindling and they must find a cheaper place to live. In the interim, the men gather their friends and family to seek temporary arrangements, which, unfortunately, force the couple to live separately—until they can find a less expensive apartment.

Ben moves in with his always-busy nephew, Elliot (a solid Darren E. Burrows), his novelist wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their typically anti-social teen son, Joey (Charlie Tahan). George stays with their loud, partying gay cops friends (delightful Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez).

Each man has his own issues with their respective living situations. And they miss one another terribly—a tribute to the two leads since we feel how deeply they need and love each other.

Ben, who is significantly older than George, is also frailer and needs to be doted on. In wonderful scenes between Kate and Ben, we are privy to her trying desperately to write while he prattles on about something. When Ben, at the suggestion of a frustrated Kate, decides to journey to the roof and paint, he uses Joey’s friend Vlad (cutie Eric Tabach) to pose for him, which doesn’t sit well with Kate.

Sachs and co-screenwriter, Mauricio Zacharias, dare to deal with the enormous challenges that aging brings about and how families must cope with having a loving, if unwanted, relation in their home. In addition, they probe what is seen as appropriate behavior versus what can be misinterpreted.

And the relationships in the film are examined in such a loving and tender manner—with tremendous nuance and complexity. Uncle Ben and family do get more screen time, but there’s a reason for that.

Sachs is a director who loves the medium and the way he shoots and frames provides endless fascination and create a real and true world of happiness and heartache.

The cast is truly superb with particularly outstanding work by newcomer Charlie Tahan, who has a secret but not necessarily the obvious one.

Allow me to discuss Marisa Tomei for a paragraph. The woman has been making bold and admirable choices since she won the Oscar over 20 years ago with little fanfare. And has not had any noticeable plastic surgery or alterations but looks absolutely terrific. She’s savvy enough to know that in order to really show emotion and the ravages of life, one needs a real face with real lines. One needs to be able to smile fully. And actually frown. She’s so good here (and in another TriBeca offering, Loitering with Intent) that one wishes someone would give her a lead role in something worthy of her amazing gifts.

Molina has his best screen role in years and delivers a lovely performance.

For Lithgow, this is his most challenging role and he rises to the occasion. Sure the actor is aces with the comedic one-liners but his Ben is much richer than just that. He’s a very enigmatic fellow who has spent his life being his own person—his own artist—and must now compromise his safe world. And be forcibly estranged from the love of his life. Lithgow should get awards attention later this year.

Sachs isn’t satisfied with making an inspired, vital, exquisite movie, he must find that perfectly profound ending that will leave most audiences breathless.

For tickets visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or call (646) 502-5296 or toll free at (866) 941-FEST (3378). Additional information and further details on the Festival can be found at www.tribecafilm.com.



Megan Griffiths’
Lucky Them
13th Tribeca Film Festival
April 16th-27th 2014

Screenplay by Huck Botko, Emily Wachtel.

Starring: Toni Collette, Thomas Haden Church, Ryan Eggold, Nina Arianda, Ahna O’Reilly, Oliver Platt

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Toni Collette just keeps getting better. Better looking. More appealing. And better at her craft—if you can imagine the star of The United States of Tara surpassing that extraordinary achievement. Watching her walk down the Seattle streets in the opening moments of Megan Griffiths’ delightful feature, Lucky Them, I was transfixed and already invested in her character.

Collette plays Ellie, a music critic for Stax, a rock magazine with lagging readership. Ellie is a writer who has spent the last decade hooking up with young musicians after she was abandoned by her true love, Matthew Smith, a celebrated singer she had a hand in discovering who vanished without a trace. Did Mattthew die or stage his own death and vanish? This is the question that’s been hanging over Ellie for ten years and now her pushy editor (Oliver Platt) insists she revisit the past and write a piece on Matthew.

Ellie reluctantly agrees and embarks on a journey to find out the truth about the rock god with little to go on. One of the few clues is the note Matthew wrote her before he disappeared. And then there’s the an online geek who posted a video he insists is Matthew but wants $1000 to reveal his whereabouts.

Ellie has become involved with Lucas (a wholly appealing Ryan Eggold), a talented young artist who seems to truly like her and who, inadvertently thanks to Ellie, is on the cusp of fame.

When Ellie finds herself in need of money, Charlie (Thomas Haden Church) an old flame, decides to help her find Matthew. Charlie is a wealthy, docu-filmmaker wannabe and Church makes him a completely unique and loveably eccentric character who enjoys spouting non-sequiturs.

The two embark on a bizarre, slightly madcap road trip where an unusual kind of chemistry develops between the two and the standoffish and brittle Ellie comes to terms with her past and allows some of her iciness to melt in the process.

Ellie is based on the co-screenwriter, Emily Wachtel’s real-life shenanigans and Collette fearlessly embodies this difficult, beaten, hard woman who has cut herself a lonely groove and has lived there so long she’d rather not entertain the alternative. She’s queen of self-sabotage but there’s such a depth and affection that Collette brings to her portrayal that we can’t help rooting for her.

The film has a great atmospheric look about it thanks to Ben Kutchin’s gritty camerawork.

And Megan Griffiths’ singular style makes her a filmmaker to watch.

There’s a bit in the film involving an endangered animal that is one of the funniest I have seen in years (some people will just be aghast). And a movie star cameo in the final reel is a perfect casting coup in this bracingly odd indie.

For tickets visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or call (646) 502-5296 or toll free at (866) 941-FEST (3378). Additional information and further details on the Festival can be found at www.tribecafilm.com.




Kelly Reichardt’s
Night Moves
13th Tribeca Film Festival
April 16th-27th 2014

Screenplay by Kelly Reichardt and Jon Raymond.

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Kelly Reichardt’s impeccably written and directed, Night Moves, is an acutely effective and affecting thriller that daringly probes the cost of political activism when people decide to take extreme measures. It’s a welcome departure from her usual minimalist style.

Bound to spark debate, Reichardt’s nail-biting indie is mostly a three-character piece that takes place in and around Portland, Oregon and involves a plot to blow up Oregon’s Green Peter hydroelectric dam, since no one seems to care about the killing of all the salmon. They want to send an extreme message to the bigwigs so they embark on their less-than-thoroughly-thought-out plan. Ultimately, something goes extremely wrong and our environmentalists, who are now seen as terrorists, must deal with the consequences.

The film unfolds in a deliberately slow paced manner as we learn about all three and embrace their commitment. As the stakes get higher and more dangerous, the film becomes quite chilling and thriller-esque but always stays focused on the decisions these three must make.

Reichardt and her co-screenwriter Jon Raymond ask some very urgent questions as well as a few universal ones. And they, mercifully, provide no real answers.

Jesse Eisenberg delivers a fully committed, riveting performance as the central activist, Josh. Sure, he’s playing another aloof character, but Eisenberg gives us just enough to allow for empathy. And he’s not traditionally “likeable,” but who cares? He’s real.

Peter Sarsgaard has become pretty fearless in his film choices and this one’s no exception. Ditto Fanning, who must maneuver the most obvious emotions since she’s the one who is most riddled with guilt. It would have been nice to see a male character caring the most for a change.

A scene early in the narrative has Eisenberg hitting a deer with his vehicle. He gets out and tells Fanning that the deer is pregnant. We expect him to do something. And he does. But what he does is not necessarily what we expected or wanted. It’s a shocking moment and proves karmically prophetic later on. That is part of the richness of this disturbing film which becomes more about personal survival and self-revelation than political ethics and morals.

For tickets visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or call (646) 502-5296 or toll free at (866) 941-FEST (3378). Additional information and further details on the Festival can be found at www.tribecafilm.com.




Gia Coppola’s
Palo Alto
13th Tribeca Film Festival
April 16th-27th 2014

Screenplay by Gia Coppola. Based on the short stories of James Franco.

Starring: Jack Kilmer, Emma Roberts, Nat Wolff, James Franco, Val Kilmer, Chris Messina, Zoe Levin, Olivia Crocicchia.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Gia Coppola, granddaughter of Francis Ford and niece of Sofia, does a fine job with her first feature film, based on James Franco’s short story collection titled Palo Alto Stories.

The moody and affecting adaptation, written by Coppola, is a meditation on direction-less teens and their morally challenged parents.

The film brings to mind the Peter Bogdanovich masterpiece, The Last Picture Show—only here affluent Californians are the target of this Franco/Coppola indictment. Actually, despite it’s setting, Palo Alto has an Everytown/Everyteen, USA, feel about it.

Timid and shy April (a refreshingly subdued Emma Roberts) crushes on blond boy Teddy (newcomer Jack Kilmer, son of Val) and the feeling is reciprocated but neither knows how to relate that to the other.

Meanwhile April’s soccer coach, Mr. B (a perfectly lecherous James Franco) has declared his love for her and goes about seducing her.

Teddy hangs out with his daredevil friend Fred (Nat Wolff, overdoing the crazy) and gets himself in trouble when, driving drunk, he hits another vehicle and races away from the scene. Fred dates Emily (Zoe Levin) whose sluttiness masks a desperate desire to be accepted and loved.

Fred’s father (Chris Messina) likes to get high and in a particularly uncomfortable scene, hits on Teddy.

It would have been too easy to present these kids in an unsympathetic manner. Coppola allows us to see their confusion and longing so we care about them. She also shows us that most of the adults in their lives behave like selfish children themselves, taking advantage of kids for their own pleasure.

Sure these youth are making a slew of mistakes, but they have no role models to speak of. And they’re seeking attention more than rebelling.

Coppola eschews the traditional narrative and, instead, presents vignettes from the lives of these teens.

The film sometimes feels too subtle and laid back but the two central performances keep it vital: Roberts and, especially newcomer Kilmer, whose father has a brief, memorable cameo.

For tickets visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or call (646) 502-5296 or toll free at (866) 941-FEST (3378). Additional information and further details on the Festival can be found at www.tribecafilm.com.



Ester Martin Bergsmark’s
Something Must Break
13th Tribeca Film Festival
April 16th-27th 2014

Screenplay by Eli Leven, Ester Martin Bergsmark.

Starring: Saga Becker, Iggy Malmborg, Shima Niavarani, Mattias Ahlen.

In Swedish with English subtitles.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

A moody mediation on sexuality, individuality and the power of attraction, Ester Martin Bergsmark’s Something Must Break has a freshness and vitality that seems to speak to a more accepting generation.

Sebastian (Saga Becker) is a unique individual, defying conventional sexuality (I thought he was a she for the first fifteen minutes of the movie). More than fine with his androgyny—there’s a defiance to just how proud he is--Sebastian lives with his annoying, bitchy best friend, Lea (who mercifully disappears midway through the film almost as if the director knew just how irritating she was) and spends his free time boozing, doping and becoming his fem-alter-ego Ellie.

Saved from a bashing, Sebastian is taken with his hero, the sexy, masculine Andreas (Iggy Malmborg) who is much more sensitive and sweet than he appears to be.

The two form a palpable couple, thriving when they’re having sex, shoplifting or doing something else that could get them both arrested. Sebastian feels the connection with Andreas from the outset and, while Andreas does not fight the initial sexual encounters, he eventually balks at “being gay,” which forces Sebastian to make some bold moves of his own.

Bergsmark dazzles us with the sultry and stylized look of the film as well as the electric soundtrack and sometimes the editing feels too quickcutcool.

But Becker and Malmborg keep us enthralled throughout. Becker is fascinating to watch as Sebastian’s willfulness seems to know no bounds. Malmborg is a stunning actor who offers surprising nuance to a character that could have been a one-dimensional boob.

For tickets visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or call (646) 502-5296 or toll free at (866) 941-FEST (3378). Additional information and further details on the Festival can be found at www.tribecafilm.com.

 



David Mackenzie’s
Starred Up
13th Tribeca Film Festival
April 16th-27th 2014

Screenplay by Jonathan Asser.

Starring: Jack O’Connell, Rupert Friend, Ben Mendelsohn.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Talk about star-making performances. Much like Tom Hardy seared the screen and forced everyone to sit up and take notice in 2008’s prison drama, Bronson (directed by Nicolas Winding Refn), Jack O’Connell performs a similar miraculous feat of incredulous embodiment in David Mackenzie’s powerful and riveting feature, Starred Up.

The gripping film opens a la A Clockwork Orange as we watch a young, good looking and quite angry Eric (O’Connell) as he is processed for his prison stay. The boy is “starred up,” meaning he is deemed so uncontrollable that he has been deliberately moved to a high security installation. Eric instantly makes himself a weapon and soon displays frightening signs of rage—including chomping down hard on an inmates’ privates.

The powers-that-be are more than fine with treating Eric like an animal who has no rights or potential for rehabilitation but one lone volunteer therapist (a stirring Rupert Friend) sees something human in Eric and tries his best to help him confront his volatile emotional state as well as cultivate friends. Eric has been abandoned and used all his life. His mother died young and his father has been incarcerated—turns out in this same maximum-security prison. Neville (a potent Ben Mendelsohn), Eric’s dad, seems to have some pull in this prison and does what he can to protect his boy.

A bizarre father-son bond is one of the surprising joys of Starred Up. In a very telling scene, Neville uses the word “fraternize” and Eric has no idea what it means, an extreme comment on his lack of education.

Jonathan Asser’s script is lean, smart and uncompromising. Asser was a former counselor so there’s a no bullshit manner in which the narrative unfolds.

Shooting at an actual prison in Belfast, director David Mackenzie does an extraordinary job of providing a claustrophobic world where the viewer, like Eric, has no escape.

But it’s O’Connell’s intense, fearless, fully-immersed-frightening performance that keeps the viewer glued to the screen wondering what he may do next.

One grouse, subtitles would have come in handy, as some of the dialogue is unintelligible.

For tickets visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or call (646) 502-5296 or toll free at (866) 941-FEST (3378). Additional information and further details on the Festival can be found at www.tribecafilm.com.

 





Roman Polanski’s
Venus in Fur (La Venus a la Fourrure)
13th Tribeca Film Festival
April 16th-27th 2014

Screenplay by David Ives and Roman Polanski, based on the play by David Ives.

French translation by Abel Gerschenfeld.

Starring: Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric.

In French with English subtitles.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Roman Polanski has become the new master of adapting good theatre pieces into even better filmic experiences. Two years ago, the celebrated but slight Tony-winning play by Yasmina Reza, God of Carnage, became the swift and more robust movie, Carnage—with a different but just as powerful cast. Two decades ago he did the same for Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden. Now he’s adapted David Ives compelling Tony-winning work, Venus in Fur, into a leaner and more beguiling entity. And here the two mediums blend together rather seamlessly.

One of the director’s many gifts is his keen ability to set a suspenseful cine-stage capturing mood and tension brilliantly. In this claustrophobic cat-and-mouse chamber tango, Polanski’s in his element and draws on a plethora of camera angles and shooting styles to embrace and attack the psychosexual nature of the work.

The script has been adapted into French and now stars Mrs. Polanski, Emmanuelle Seigner and the great French actor Matthew Amalric, who bears an eerie resemblance to the director, albeit a younger version. And while the casting might reek of nepotism, it proves to be a stroke of genius, yet hardly surprising since Polanski, even at 80, is a master.

The crux of David Ives’ detailed yet simple story is inspired by Austrian novelist Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870, Venus in Furs, where a man becomes willingly enslaved by the woman he worships. The movie opens as playwright Thomas (Amalric), has undergone a long day of auditioning the role of Vonda, the leading lady in his play, to no avail. Enter a blustery mess of a woman named Vonda (Seigner), wanting to audition. Thomas protests. But the doggedly persistent, deliciously trashy Vonda insists-- wangling control almost from the outset. Let the perverse seduction begin.

As the two characters read from the play, a potentially explosive, mesmerizing game ensues that enthralls. Polanski smartly keeps most of Ives’ sharp and clever dialogue intact. At one point Thomas says he sees his play as a “beautiful love story,” Vonda dismisses his assessment and calls it “S&M porn” and goes on to mention child abuse—which, considering the helmer—adds yet another uncomfortable layer to the film.

Venus in Fur opened off-Broadway in 2010 to rave reviews, especially for newcomer Nina Arianda, and transferred to Broadway the next season. The producers chose to replace Wes Bentley with Hugh Dancy, probably for marquis value reasons. Both were quite good but it was Arianda who got all the glory and won the Tony.

Seigner and Amalric are significantly older than their stage counterparts (both in their late forties) and that works to the film’s advantage as well since there is now a palpably damaged sexual history to the characters.

Seigner brings her own sexually charged panache to the role. Where Arianda was a powerhouse no one could refuse, Seigner is slyer, more manipulative—certainly more mysterious. Seigner is a gorgeous creature. She’s also frighteningly crafty and slick. And did I mention sexy? God, is she sexy. As much as I liked Arianda onstage, I was put off by her. Seigner is inviting. She’s like the black widow, lying in wait. It’s a fully realized performance and the best I’ve seen from her.

Amalric starred in Julian Schnabel’s astonishing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly with Seigner in 2007. Their relationship in that film was slightly different (read: tremendous sarcasm). Here, after the initial apprehension, he’s like a post-pubescent boy eager to be told what to do, longing for anything sexual. And the fact that he’s a Polanski doppelganger, gives the performance a creepy, fascinating edge.

Tech credits dazzle from Pawel Edelman’s terrific camerawork to Jean Rabasse’s bizarre but perfect production design to Alexandre Desplat’s fantastically haunting score.

Venus in Fur is so intense and wizzes by so quickly, l felt steamrolled once it was over. Even though it ended in just the right place, I wanted more. I desired more. Such is the fate of someone enraptured by this meditation on passion, power and sexual desire.

For tickets visit www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or call (646) 502-5296 or toll free at (866) 941-FEST (3378). Additional information and further details on the Festival can be found at www.tribecafilm.com.



 


© New York Cool 2004-2014