At Tribeca: 6 Films Worth the Hassle
As noted a few days ago, I'll be pounding the Lower Manhattan pavement for much of the next 10 days, stalking whatever Tribeca Film Festival news is fit for Movieline consumption. Though the downsized line-up (88 features) and the concentrated screening zone might make for easier overall navigation, even the most selective TFF's in previous years have yielded a crap shoot of material rejected from Sundance and Berlin and/or too esoteric for Cannes. This edition may or may not be that different in the end, but if you're in New York and feeling adventurous, consider this lightning round of favorites from my own early viewing:
[In alphabetical order]
· City Island: I never wanted Raymond De Felitta to direct again after his agonizingly saccharine 2005 dramedy The Thing About My Folks. The synopsis of his latest film -- featuring Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies as a couple with arguably the most sequestered private lives in New York's most sequestered suburb -- didn't encourage me either. I was wrong. Not because De Felitta has sudden mastery of relationships, style, or anything else, really, but because his cast inhabits an utterly unbelievable premise with genuine presence and soul. I still don't know what Emily Mortimer was doing in there, but trade her for Alan Arkin's acting-coach curmudgeon and you break even. And Garcia, all stifled ambition and goombah sincerity, supplies his best work in years. City Island is worth seeing for his amateur-audition sequence alone. Never mind the last five minutes.
· The Girlfriend Experience: The ostensible rough-cut that screened at this year's Sundance Film Festival is supposed to be off-limits for review -- not that it kept half of the journalists packing the Eccles Theater from furiously scribbling our thoughts online by daybreak. In deference to whatever remaining post-production gloss Steven Soderbergh plans for his chilly tale of a high-priced Manhattan call girl (Sasha Grey) in crisis, let it suffice to say Experience is a welcome return to form (conceptually, anyway) in the choppy wake of Che.
· In the Loop: Another Sundance '09 premiere set for domestic release this summer, but why wait: Director Armando Iannucci extrapolates the fear and loathing of his hit BBC political comedy The Thick of It as a full-blown international incident, featuring James Gandolfini as a peace-advocating American general who matches wits (and prodigious vulgarities) with sociopathic UK whip Peter Capaldi. A little smug, a little overextended, a little... well, British, Iannucci and Co. uphold a pace that should nevertheless shatter Manhattan's land-speed record. And that's got to be worth something.
· Shadow Billionaire: 90 minutes after tossing the viewer into the Pacific surf for maximum disorientation, Alexis Manya Spraic's debut doc doesn't necessarily reel us any closer to knowing her subject. But what you know about Larry Hillblom, the DHL co-founder whose disappearance after a 1995 plane crash near his Saipan home sparked perhaps the estate duel of the decade, anchors a kind of riveting tropical noir. The less said, the better, but see it now, before the imminent dramatic remake compels your inner casting director to see Nic Cage or Russell Crowe's face in those fuzzy archival videos.
· Soul Power: Compiled from hours' worth of companion footage to the Oscar-winning doc When We Were Kings, the film weaves in and out of the concert accompanying the legendary 1974 Ali/Foreman fight in Zaire (a/k/a the "Rumble in the Jungle"). Ali is back on hand, but so is James Brown. Don King is hanging around, but so is B.B. King. Elsewhere in the archives, director Jeffrey Levy-Hinte located Celia Cruz, Bill Withers, the Spinners and fascinating detours into the street music in and around Kinsasha. On top of that, doc cinematography greats Paul Goldsmith, Al Maysles, Roderick Young and Kevin Keating held down the shooting duties. Sony Classics will release it next month, but at least here there'll be a party you can -- and probably should -- crash.
· Yodok Stories: How's this for a logline: Seven North Korean concentration camp survivors defect South and stage a musical about their experiences. Director Andrzej Fidyk, whose 1989 documentary The Parade remains one of the few filmed glimpses of life beyond the 38th Parallel, met the refugees in Seoul, where they recount their experiences in the "yodoks." The resulting stage show, blending the North's institutional pageantry and systemic horrors, is upstaged only by Fidyk's final shot. (Bet you five dollars no one at your screening will leave the theater before the lights come up.) Will likely never get theatrical distribution, and worth the trip for the big-screen treatment.