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Category: Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca 2011: Five films to watch after the festival is over

April 27, 2011 |  2:50 pm


For the last 10 years, Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival has offered moviegoers on the East Coast the opportunity to see appealing documentaries, intimate dramas and even the occasional star-driven picture. The New York gathering winds down this weekend, but here are five noteworthy entries from this year’s festival — and some ideas about where to watch them in the coming months.

“Catching Hell” — If you’re the kind of sports fan who’s still preoccupied with your team’s close play at the plate from 1997 — or if you happen to live with such a fan — you’ll want to check out this documentary from Oscar winner Alex Gibney. Putatively an examination of l’affaire de Steve Bartman and his infamous interference with a foul pop-up during the Chicago Cubs’ 2003 playoff run, Gibney turns the seemingly narrow subject into a global study of sports obsession and its consequences. Produced by ESPN; the cable network will air the documentary later this baseball season.

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi” — For most of us, sushi is a reliable lunch option. For Japan's Jiro Ono, considered the most skilled sushi chef in the world, it’s an artist’s canvas. David Gelb’s documentary about Ono is a contemplation of perfection as much as it is a culinary investigation, though the shots of his specialized dishes will stir the most dormant appetite. But don’t get too many ideas — even if you make it to Tokyo, Ono’s entrees start at $300. Magnolia Pictures bought the movie and will bring it to theaters and video on-demand later this year.

Tribecapromo “Last Night” — Tribeca films aren’t always known for their major star power, but Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington make notable appearances in Massy Tadjedin’s directorial debut feature. The atmospheric romantic drama looks at a married couple teetering between love and infidelity on a fateful night, a kind of “Before Sunrise” with cheating. (The film, currently playing as part of Amazon.com’s Tribeca streaming service, also offers the rare chance to hear Worthington speak in his native Australian accent.) It opens in L.A. theaters May 6.

“Rabies” — Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado make Israel’s first slasher film a worthy one in this beautiful-people-tormented-in-the-woods horror-comedy. The film, which has been garnering strong reviews, indulges in and upends the conventions of the genre as it sends groups of people into the clutches of a serial killer in a spooky fox preserve. No distributor has bought it, but it could well end up at horror festivals and with a genre label. You can also watch it on the Tribeca web site (http://www.tribecafilm.com) for free through Sunday.

“Rid of Me” — “Mean Girls” for adults. James Westby’s look at an awkward 30-ish woman and her transformation after she’s rejected by her jock husband and his yuppie friends won’t score many points on the feel-good scale. But as a study in a transformation from gawky misfit to rocker rebel, few recent movies are as darkly funny. No distributor picked it up, but the film might well make the rounds on the festival circuit.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Keira Knightley and Guillaume Canet in "Last Night." Credit: JoJo Whilden

Tribeca 2011: Too much motherhood for Toni Collette?

April 25, 2011 |  4:17 pm

Few contemporary actresses have played the put-upon mother, particularly of gifted or difficult children, as often as Toni Collette. She tried to come to terms with Haley Joel Osment's psychic gifts in "The Sixth Sense," attempted suicide as a mother of a lost-soul 12-year-old in "About a Boy" and sought to manage a catatonic teenage son and fragile young daughter in "Little Miss Sunshine." She'll star as a mom once again -- to Anton Yelchin -- in the upcoming "Fright Night" remake.

And of course the Australian actress plays an outrageous incarnation of the mother character on "United States of Tara," the Showtime series in which she stars as a suburban mom with disassociative-personality disorder.

Jesus Collette's latest matriculation in the Academy for Maternal Dysfunction comes with "Jesus Henry Christ," an independent dramedy produced by Julia Roberts' production company that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival over the weekend.

In the film, which director Dennis Lee developed from his short of the same name, Collette plays a feminist single mother to a precocious 10-year-old with a photographic memory.  The boy was conceived in a petri dish, and the movie features a paternity-mystery storyline and a lot of absurdist sight gags. (Michael Sheen costars as an emotionally clueless professor.)

Collette's propensity for mother characters was underscored when Lee stood up before the screening to announce that the actress couldn't be in attendance because she had, in real life, given birth to a baby boy the day before. He then prompted the audience to send her some collective well wishes, which he filmed and emailed to her.

Yes, yes, congratulations to Collette and her husband on their second child. But after seeing "Jesus Henry Christ," we're starting to wonder whether she's played the same mother character one too many times on the big screen.

Collette's character faces moments of emotional difficulty along the lines of "The Sixth Sense," and the movie's attempts at wacky comedy and poignancy call back, rather baldly, to her turn in "Little Miss Sunshine," without quite the same results.

Lee's movie, shifting abruptly between earnest drama and cartoonish comedy, was tepidly received by the Tribeca crowd -- but not specifically because of Collette's performance.  "Jesus Henry Christ" does not yet have a U.S. distribution deal.

Going back to her breakout as an ABBA-loving misfit in "Muriel's Wedding" and in roles like the strait-laced sister of "In Her Shoes," Collette has demonstrated a lot of dramatic versatility. It's been a while since we've gotten to see it.


Ministry of Gossip: Toni Collette welcomes baby boy

Tribeca 2011: A Chinese blockbuster gets its American moment

--Steven Zeitchik, from New York


Photo: A scene from "Jesus Henry Christ." Credit: The Tribeca Film Festival

Raging bulls: Donald Trump fires back at De Niro

April 25, 2011 |  1:11 pm


In an appearance on Saturday, Robert De Niro questioned Donald Trump's integrity. In an appearance on Monday, Trump questioned De Niro's intelligence.

Speaking to a Tribeca Film Festival audience this past weekend on the issue of politics, the actor said that some are "making statements about people they don't even back up. It's a big hustle."

He was referring, apparently, to Trump's birther crusade against President Obama. De Niro never mentioned Trump by name, but when moderator Brian Williams interjected wondering whether De Niro was referring to a personality who had a show on NBC, De Niro tacitly acknowledged it by continuing the tear against Trump: "How dare you? That's awful. Just to go out there and say things you can't back up. That's crazy."

Speaking by phone to the hosts of "Fox & Friends" on Monday morning, Trump let his own resentment fly. "Well, he's not the brightest bulb on the planet," the mogul said of De Niro. "I have been watching  over the years and I like his acting, but in terms of when I watch him doing interviews and various other things, we are not dealing with Albert Einstein." Trump went on to continue to hammer at the birther theme. (The video is below; relevant portions start at about the 3:00 mark.)

It was the second time in a week that Trump took aim at an entertainer. After Jerry Seinfeld pulled out of a Trump charity event over the birther comments, the "Celebrity Apprentice" star/producer went after Seinfeld and his failed show "The Marriage Ref," calling it "terrible."

Public interview skills have been a shaky area for De Niro -- Saturday's event further underscored it -- though it's rarely been seen by those who poke at it, including Williams and David Letterman, as a matter of intelligence so much as awkwardness or introversion.

Of course, there may be a larger end-game in Trump taking a shot at De Niro or Seinfeld: If the coiffed one is indeed serious about a bid for president, he could find worse strategies than running against liberal Hollywood.

--Steven Zeitchik



Tribeca 2011: Fitfully, Robert De Niro talks about his acting past and future (and Donald Trump)

Photo: Donald Trump addressing the CPAC convention. Credit:  Alex Brandon / Associated Press

Tribeca 2011: A Chinese blockbuster gets its American moment

April 24, 2011 |  8:42 pm

The Chinese director Jiang Wen flashes a playful grin before saying, via an interpreter, that in the movie the audience has just seen, "there is no symbolism. A train is just a train and a hot pot is just a hot pot."

The film he's referring to is "Let the Bullets Fly," a 1919-set Chinese-language western starring Chow Yun Fat, Ge You and the director, and it mixes blood and dark comedy with Tarantino-esque abandon. Jiang hardly means what he says: his film is laden with symbolism and political allegory.

BulletsIts plot, involving warlords, shooting, provincial governors, shooting, body doubles, shooting, bandits, shooting, townspeople and shooting, isn't always easy to follow -- nominally it's about a bloody cat-and-mouse game between an outlaw named Zhang and a mobster named Huang, but that's just one of its twisty plotlines --and sometimes, even, beside the point amid the rapid-fire (in more ways than one) set pieces.

Thematically, Jiang, who based his movie on a story by the Sichuanese writer Ma Shitu, is concerned with corruption in all its forms. No one is clean in "Bullets," and codes of honor can morph into codes of greed. (Jiang is a director-actor who's had movies such as "The Sun Also Rises" play the Venice Film Festival; this is a less arthouse-y offering.)

On Sunday evening at Tribeca, "Bullets" had what festival organizers described as its first public screening outside a Chinese-speaking region, after this winter becoming the biggest Chinese-made box-office hit in the history of the country. Theories abound as to the reason for that success; one explanation has it that Chinese filmgoers returned to theaters again and again to parse the movie's political meaning, the way teenagers around the world went back again and again to parse the expressions on Leonardo DiCaprio's face in "Titanic."

Audiences in this country were more divided on "Bullets." At least a few people on Sunday were spotted walking out of the theater, but several of those who stayed welcomed the director to the stage with a standing ovation. Judging by the questioners, many of the most enthused were native Mandarin speakers. (Side note: The film premiered just one day after the first ever Beijing Film Festival kicked off in China.)

A theatrical release in the U.S. could be in the offing for the movie; producers have brought on a Hong Kong-based sales company to seek a deal. But one American buyer noted that the amount of attention required to understand "Bullets" could make the picture a challenge for a broad audience (this viewer, at least, found some of the plot overwhelming and the political/historical meaning, without the proper background, elusive). The film is, essentially, a tweener: Art-house audiences could be flummoxed by its violence and shameless shocks, but the political layers (and the fact that it's not a martial-arts movie) could hurt it with the genre crowd. Sometimes a hot pot is more than a hot pot.


Tribeca 2011: In 'Catching Hell,' the pain of being a sports fan

Tribeca 2011: Fiftully, Robert De Niro talks about his acting past and future (and Donald Trump)

Tribeca 2011: Rid of Me tries to find its niche

--Steven Zeitchik, reporting from New York


Photo: The poster for "Let the Bullets Fly." Credit: Emperor Motion Picture Group

Tribeca 2011: In 'Catching Hell,' the pain of being a sports fan

April 24, 2011 |  2:18 pm

steve bartman catching hell
Los Angeles Dodgers fans who are worried about their team’s lackluster recent history have nothing on Chicago Cubs supporters, who have endured a century-long championship drought.

De-niro-ozzy-tribeca-film-fPerhaps no postseason was more painful for the Wrigley faithful than 2003, when fan Steve Bartman appeared to interfere with a foul pop-up in the eighth inning of a potentially pennant-clinching Game 6 against the Florida Marlins, an act that set into motion a catastrophic collapse and the team missing the World Series.

Or did it?

Oscar-winner Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) explores the Bartman incident, the alleged Cubs curse and sports scapegoats in general in “Catching Hell,” his new documentary that world-premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday night.

“It came out of a personal pain,” Gibney said in an interview after the premiere about his reason for making the film. The director, himself a die-hard Red Sox fan, went through a similar ordeal during Bill Buckner's flubbed ground ball in the '86 World Series, an event that gets ample airplay in this film.

“I lay awake for days after that happened. At some point, you think, 'It's only a game. It's not like anyone in your family is hurt, or like there's been an attack or an earthquake,' " he said. “But I was still stunned and devastated, and I wanted to examine that.”

In the film, which will premiere on ESPN later this year and possibly get a theatrical release, Gibney interviews numerous fans who sat near or comment on Bartman, uncovered rare footage from the game and even re-creates what Batman was hearing on the radio's seven-second delay as he watched the fly ball come at him.

Continue reading »

Tribeca 2011: Fitfully, Robert De Niro talks about his acting past and future (and Donald Trump)

April 24, 2011 | 10:38 am


Robert De Niro isn't known for his flowery public speaking, which might make an interview with Brian Williams in front of hundreds of people a tricky proposition.

Indeed, the actor-director encountered some bumps Saturday afternoon when he sat, for the first time at the Tribeca Film Festival he co-founded, for a one-on-one public interview with the NBC News anchor.

Tribeca film festivalFive minutes into the chat, held at Tribeca's flagship venue at Borough of Manhattan Community College, Williams asked the Oscar winner if he would define himself as an introvert, always a dangerous question that can prove its own point. Wriggling for a second, De Niro came back with, "In some ways I am and in other ways I'm not. So."

A pause followed, and Williams cut the tension with an "I want to thank Bob De Niro," pretending to get up and end the interview then and there.

De Niro, who's had his share of challenges on the talk-show circuit -- after years of reluctance, he sat a few months ago for this awkward chat with David Letterman -- had other moments Saturday when he seemed unsure of what to say. A quizzical reaction from Williams, and some audience laughter, followed when the anchor asked De Niro to talk about his parents, and the actor came back with "My father was an artist; my mother was an artist who started a typing business to support us." He fumbled for a second. "That's it."

Williams described the interview as something he initiated as a De Niro fan, though it couldn't be overlooked that the festival could benefit from the star's presence as much as possible, especially this year without any of the big Hollywood premieres that have defined past installments. (De Niro also seems to be trying some kind of talk show shock therapy; his Letterman interview was his first ever with the late-night host.)

The actor did open up when it came to more specific career and craft questions. Though he demurred on the question of acting roles he should have taken ("Whatever I did, that's it; I stand by it, for better or worse. What am I going to do?") he offered more elaborate answers about his acting technique and also said that he was disappointed by the public reception to "Casino." "Not as many people as we would have liked went to go see it," he said. "We thought it would have been received in a wider way."

The 67-year-old actor, whose upcoming film is a dramedy based on Nick Flynn's novel "Another Bull@#$ Night in Suck City," provoked big applause when he said he wanted to continue his breakneck working pace and had seven to 10 projects in active development. He also said he'd like to make a follow-up to his 2006 world directorial effort "The Good Shepherd." "I always wanted to do a sequel from '61, the Bay of Pigs, to '89, when the [Berlin] Wall came down. I'm still trying to do that," he said.

But his moment of greatest passion seemed to come during a moment about politics. After saying that he couldn't believe how the government got to the brink of a shutdown and that he indeed believed Obama had good intentions, he went on to say that "some other people, their intentions aren't even good; they're just playing a game."

Then, in an apparent allusion to Donald Trump's recent "birther" tear, De Niro said that some are  "making statements about people they don't even back up," he said. "It's a big hustle." Williams interjected to ask whether it was a person who had a show on his network. De Niro continued to get worked up about Trump. "How dare you? That's awful. Just to go out there and say things you can't back up," he said. "That's crazy."


Tribeca 2011: 'Rid of Me' tries to find its niche

Tribeca 2011: Earthquake hovers over restaurant life in Japan

Tribeca 2011: Elton John sings the audience its song

-- Steven Zeitchik, reporting from New York


Photo: Brian Williams and Robert De Niro onstage at the Tribeca Film Festival. Credit: Andy Kropa/Getty Images

Tribeca 2011: 'Rid of Me' tries to find its niche

April 23, 2011 | 11:35 am

A low-budget "Mean Girls" is how organizers promoted "Rid of Me," James Westby's Oregon-set black comedy that had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday night. Although the movie is interested in social fault lines (among adults), particularly between havoc-wreaking outcasts and complacent yuppies, the more apt comparison might be to Miranda July's "Me and You and Everyone We Know," only darker and more goth.

In the film, the well-meaning but socially awkward Meris (Katie O'Grady, who also produced) has just moved to a picturesque Portland, Ore., neighborhood with her new hunky husband, Mitch (John Keyser). But any dreams of domestic bliss are shattered when Mitch reunites with his high school friends and their snobbish queen-bee wives. The more Meris tries to endear herself to them (and Mitch), the deeper the wedge. Before long, she ends up in a punky outcast place, embarking on a kind of sideways quest, Miranda July-style, to find friendship and love.

Westby, best known for his film-director send-up "The Auteur," described to the Tribeca audience how he channeled inspiration: "I looked into the dorkwad-social-awkwardness side of myself," he said.

Tribeca film festival Indeed,with its quick-shuffle edits and exaggerated depictions of the social misfits and the popular kids, "Rid of Me" is as much a parable about fitting in as it is a piece of emotional realism.  "Everyone knows what it's like to feel alienated," added the film's costar Storm Large, who plays the prom-diva sort who tries to steal Mitch.

"Rid of Me" isn't likely to turn into a crowd-pleasing hit on par with "City Island," Tribeca's commercial success from 2009. (After "Rid of Me" premiered, a Tribeca programmer bounded on stage and proclaimed, "Now that's American independent film.") But the movie does offer the kind of quirky vision that all movie gatherings covet -- and that Tribeca, perhaps a little more than most, has struggled to find. In other words, a way for a festival to fit in.


Tribeca 2011: Earthquake hovers over restaurant life in Japan

Tribeca 2011: Elton John sings the audience its song 

Tribeca 2011: Music is the theme of this year's festival 

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Katie O'Grady and Orianna Herrman in "Rid of Me." Credit: Tribeca Film Festival 

Tribeca 2011: Earthquake hovers over restaurant life in Japan

April 22, 2011 |  9:33 am

The earthquake and subsequent nuclear crisis in Japan have a way of casting a mournful shadow on all real-life stories from that country. Events that took place after the calamities are thrown against a dark backdrop, and even anything that happened before can take on the foreboding tone of a horror picture.

There's no explicit mention of the crisis, even in a postscript, in "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," David Gelb's low-key documentary about the most lauded sushi chef in all of Japan because it was filmed before disaster struck. Yet it's impossible to avoid it. As much an inquiry into perfectionism as it is a piece of culinary tourism -- "It started out being about sushi" before evolving into something else, Gelb said at a screening -- the movie follows its protagonist as he goes through the exacting paces of his life.

The octogenarian Jiro is a sort of more likable Soup Nazi, charging $300 and up for the main dishes at Sukiyabashi Jiro, his Michelin three-star Tokyo restaurant, dishes he has refined with rigorous technique over seven decades. He carefully selects the fish, attends expertly if unfussily to customers, visits old friends in his hometown village and also worries about his son, an up-and-coming chef who may one day take over the restaurant. No matter what Jiro does, though, we always wonder about where the recent disaster has left him.

Viewers at the Tribeca Film Festival, where the movie made its U.S. premiere Thursday evening, were wondering the same thing, asking Gelb after the screening about both Jiro's well-being and the state of his restaurant in the wake of the crisis.

"His hometown is fine," Gelb said. "The most profound effect is actually a psychological one -- a lot of people are canceling their plans to come to Tokyo. Restaurants like Jiro's are a celebration. If you're going to be spending $300 a person, it's a celebration, and the mood for celebration has gone down." Gelb also said that the destruction of fisheries has limited the availability of what he can cook, further hurting business.

Gelb's movie has a surprisingly contemplative side. Characters utter lines such as "a perfect union of rice and fish" and "you're consuming Jiro's philosophy with every bite." But maybe the most striking aspect of the film, which was acquired several days ago by Magnolia Pictures and will soon head to theaters, is the main character's stoicism, a kind of get-it-done even keel in the face of drama, an attitude that offers a larger reassurance about Japans ability to cope with crisis.

Of course, Jiro's particular type of stoicism also comes with a certain lack of emotional expressiveness. As Gelb said of the hero's reaction to watching the movie, "he's not particularly effusive, so he's not going to compliment me." Then he added wryly, "Just the fact that he didn't disown the movie or denounce it publicly was a huge compliment to me."


Photos: Tribeca Film Festival scene

Tribeca 2011: Elton John sings the audience its song

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jiro, second from left, with chefs at Sukiyabashi Jiro. Credit: Tribeca Film Festival


Tribeca 2011: Elton John sings the audience its song

April 21, 2011 |  9:15 am


Film festival openings have a tendency toward the grand spectacle, a tendency that Tribeca took seriously as it kicked off its 10th edition Wednesday night outdoors in lower Manhattan.

The Bangles (?) came out and performed "Walk Like an Egyptian" with a choir of schoolchildren (??), Cameron Crowe premiered his Elton John documentary "The Union" and John gave a concert at a site overlooking the Hudson River, adjacent to where the World Trade Center once stood.

"The Union" marks Crowe's first film in six years, but the director, off shooting "We Bought a Zoo" and a Pearl Jam documentary, wasn't there. The film is an artistic-collaboration study along the lines of Michael Jackson's "This Is It," examining John's creation of a record with Leon Russell, the hirsute keyboard legend who's had more than his share of hard times.

But it was John's piano-playing that got the crowd going, particularly an elaborate, high-register riff at the end of "Rocket Man." John tossed out the obligatory this-is-my-favorite-place-to-play as he also told the audience he was a "frozen lollipop" on the April evening. He closed the set of about half a dozen tracks with "Your Song."

Tribeca, which has a particular focus on music this year, has historically gone with a novel group of opening-night events, from a screening of "United 93" with relatives of the crash's victims to Woody Allen's "Whatever Works" to a set of environmental shorts.

Tribecapromo The Crowe/John double bill stood out as one of the few big-ticket screenings at this year's installment. For the first time in recent memory, Tribeca isn't showing a "Shrek," "Mission: Impossible" or other big Hollywood movie in a feature that had become a fixture, if an uneasy one, at the festival over the past few years.

About 90 features will screen at the festival over the next 11 days, including the Julia Roberts-produced coming-of-age dramedy "Jesus Henry Christ," the Keira Knightley-Sam Worthington romantic drama "Last Night" and Alex Gibney's sports-goat documentary "Catching Hell."


Music is theme of this year's Tribeca Film Festival

-- Steven Zeitchik in New York


Photo: Elton John performs at the opening night of the Tribeca Film Festival. Credit: Jason Kempin / Getty Images

Tribeca's 'Shrek Forever After' opening awakens (a little of) our inner ogre

March 1, 2010 |  6:29 am

Say what you will about the Tribeca Film Festival, but organizers are always trying something new, particularly with their showcase slots. The festival attempted an unconventional opening night of environmental shorts a few years ago, when "An Inconvenient Truth" was swimming in the cultural waters. It also, at the other end of the spectrum, was willing to become part of the global barnstorming tour for "Mission: Impossible III," a decision few other festivals were bold enough to make.

Shrekfo But the news that DreamWorks Animation's "Shrek Forever After" will actually open the festival sits a little funny. For one thing, in recent years, Tribeca has opened with rigorous pieces from acclaimed filmmakers (Paul Greengrass' "United 93," in a mourner-attended premiere that was among the most intense film experiences we've ever had) or at least pieces from acclaimed filmmakers (Woody Allen's "Whatever Works").

The move also seems to be coming a beat late, with Cannes last year already grabbing much of the thunder for a big animated, 3D opening with "Up" (which, as a piece of original work instead of a four-quel, also didn't quite have the cloud of merchandising hanging so heavily over it).

Finally, the New Yorker in us feels compelled to gently note that the festival's opening-night film has historically tended to include a Gotham slant (e.g., the "Saturday Night Live"-colored "Baby Mama"). An explanatory quote from festival founder Jane Rosenthal, God bless her, feels a little shaky. (“We have always sought to open our festival with films that are captivating and strike an emotional chord with moviegoers.")

A centerpiece slot -- which, notably, it steered away from studio franchises last year -- might have been a perfect place for the new "Shrek." The festival has slotted far more dubious sequels in those slots -- like "Spider-Man 3" dubious. (It also put M:I III" there.) But wasting a venue that can be, and often is, used for original or chancy work on a "Shrek" four-quel seems a bit misguided and has us feeling a little ... green.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Image: "Shrek Forever After" poster. Credit: DreamWorks Animation


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