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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca 2012: In 'The Girl,' Abbie Cornish still playing to adults

April 22, 2012 | 11:48 am


Abbie Cornish has made a habit of taking on tough roles in difficult movies. In the 19th century romance "Bright Star" she played the secret love of English poet John Keats; in "W.E." she tackled an unhappily married woman obsessed with Wallis Simpson. (And that doesn’t include indies such as “Candy,” in which she played a heroin addict opposite Heath Ledger.) None of those films found a terribly wide audience.

Cornish continues the dark-and-difficult pattern with "The Girl," a bilingual immigrant drama that had its world premiere this weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival. David Riker's moody indie has the Australian actress playing Ashley, an impoverished Texas woman whose child is taken away from her due to her drinking and generally bad parenting. Desperate for cash, Ashley tries to smuggle a group of Mexicans across the border into the United States, an operation that goes horribly wrong and winds up with Ashley responsible for a cute but petulant young Mexican girl (Maritza Santiago Hernandez).

Cornish's character then spends much of the downbeat movie on-screen by herself, or with the girl in gritty Mexican neighborhoods trying to figure a way out of her mess, as the walls close in and the dialogue gets even less frequent.

At least this one is set in the present day.

Cornish acknowledged the challenges in making the movie, saying at a post-screening question-and-answer session that the Spanish, among other things, proved tricky. 

She said she was helped by Santiago Hernandez, a non-pro whom Riker discovered at an open-casting session. "She knew every single word in the entire script. It was intimidating," Cornish said, adding, to some laughs from the audience: "It's so nice to work with another actor who's so prepared."

In a departure from the tweeness of her other recent lead parts, Cornish plays a hardscrabble, hard-luck woman of the American underclass, switching between Spanish and a twangy Texas drawl. You can see why she'd take the role, which, at least on the page, has prestige and Oscar bait written all over it.

Whether it was the right choice for her, or she the right choice for it, can be debated. Less ambiguous are the movie's commercial challenges. Immigration and border dramas are a tough sell in any event, and they're probably even tougher now that we've seen a bunch of them, including "Frozen River" in 2008 (with which "The Girl" has some similarities) and "La Misma Luna" and "Sugar" before that. "The Girl," which does not have U.S. distribution, was being developed for about a decade, and it's hard not to feel like it might have enjoyed a different fate had it been completed ahead of those films.

Riker ("La Ciudad") said at the Q+A that he wanted to reverse the traditional immigrant story in which the outsider ends up in the United States. “Would there be a way of turning the border upside down?” Riker said he asked himself, a way “to take an American … and bring her south?”

So, yes, at least give some credit to the director for putting a new spin on a perpetually challenging issue. And perhaps to Cornish for attempting a new spin on a challenge-ridden resume.


Tribeca 2012: Journey singer doesn't stop believin'

Tribeca 2012: Brett Ratner loves product placement

Tribeca 2012: Jason Segel's 'Five-Year Engagement' seeks a ring

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Maritza Santiago Hernandez and Abbie Cornish in "The Girl." Credit: Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca 2012: Journey singer doesn't stop believin'

April 21, 2012 | 12:15 pm


NEW YORK -- Just before 1 a.m. on Friday morning, Arnel Pineda walked to the front of a lounge-y space atop a hotel in this city's Meatpacking District. For the last few hours, the deejay had been spinning a typical mix of club hits, to the general indifference of the crowd. But that was about to change.

Pineda, a diminutive man of 44 with jet-black hair and girlishly delicate features, took the mic. His eyes scrunched in concentration, he signaled quietly to the deejay, who cranked up a backing track. Pineda paused a moment, then began belting out the lyrics of Journey's rock anthem "Don't Stop Believin.' "

"Just a small town girl ... "

Jolted by his voice, the crowd stopped its chit-chat. The drinks clinking died down. Then the cheering began.

"Living in a lonely world ... "

The crowd went into a frenzy. Scores of cellphone cameras shot into the air. A woman of about 60 clambered atop a couch to get a better view, her husband looking less worried than he should have been. Then he hoisted himself up next to her.

The impromptu musical performance came at a screening after-party for the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of the documentary "Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey." Ramona Diaz's film tells the story of the titular band -- the one of arena-rock radio, "Glee" covers and "Sopranos" finales, but not, it should be said, the band of Steve Perry from the early 1980s (and, briefly, the late 1990s). Diaz's movie instead tells of the current Journey, with its out-of-left-field frontman.

Even in the age of YouTube discoveries and "American Idol"-fueled fame, Pineda's tale stands out. A soft-spoken kid from a broken home in the Philippines, Pineda had been on his own since he was 13, even living for several years on the street. He eventually made a decent if not extravagant living as a musician, singing a mix of originals and covers, for a time in Hong Kong and then in Manila.

Continue reading »

Tribeca 2012: Brett Ratner explains why he loves product placement

April 20, 2012 |  4:27 pm

When he's not talking his way out of Oscar gigs, Brett Ratner is known for directing big studio action movies. But the garrulous one has another, less prominent business: as a pitchman of sorts.

The director runs Brett Ratner Brands, a production outfit that helps brands as varied as Mitchum deodorant and the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas.

On a panel Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival, Ratner explained why he can’t get enough of Madison Avenue.

"I had a not-so-good experience making 'X-Men [: The Last Stand].' All the brands in the past would go to studios directly and say, ‘We'll give you X millions of dollars [for product placement],” Ratner, who is also on an award jury here at the festival, said.

Sometimes, he added, a representative from a company the studio had made a deal with would come to the set and try to coordinate the product placement. "The problem is, I'm the director, and I decide what goes in the movie… I’m, like, ‘Who is this guy? Get him off the set.’”

But Ratner said he soon came to see the error of his ways, and he became more open to product placement. "I realize I need these brands. I need a car in my movie.”

He grew even more enamored after a conversation with Bobby Kotick, the controversial Activision chief.

“Bobby had this game called Guitar Hero. Actually, it wasn’t called Guitar Hero. He was paying people hundreds of thousands of dollars to come up with a name.” So, Ratner explained, he suggested the name. (According to Businessweek, Ratner did come up with a name connected to Guitar Hero, but only the “World Tour” appendage for a later version of the game.)

Ratner said he then decided to make a commercial for Kotick's property. “Every celebrity from Kobe to A-Rod to Michael Phelps called me and said, ‘I want to be in a Guitar Hero commercial.”

From there, he said, things blossomed, and he now does work for a variety of companies. “Mitchum sales have been stagnant, and we think it’s the best brand out there in stopping perspiring. So I said, ‘What if we came up with a contest looking for the hardest-working man in the world?'”

Ultimately, Ratner said, he’d like to not only make commercials for these companies but even see himself and others use their money to wholly finance movies.

“Filmmakers are having a hard time getting their movies made,” he said. “Five years from now, brands like Chipotle will go directly to the talent.”


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— Steven Zeitchik in New York


Photo: Brett Ratner. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

Tribeca 2012: Jason Segel’s ‘Five-Year Engagement’ seeks a ring

April 19, 2012 |  6:08 pm


Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller conjured up a little box office magic -- or at least some midbudget box-office respectability -- with “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Get Him to the Greek.” Can they make it a three-peat with “The Five-Year Engagement,” which opens April 27?

The pair took the first step toward that goal when they world-premiered their new comedy as part of the opening-night ceremonies at the Tribeca Film Festival on Wednesday.

As they did with “Sarah Marshall,” Stoller and Segel (the latter stars, the former directs, they both wrote) again tackle relationship problems from a slightly more adult perspective than do most R-rated comedies, though this time with less frontal nudity.

Tom (Segel) is a chef; Violet (Emily Blunt) is a psychology grad student. They seem to be in love, but life circumstances force them to postpone the wedding. As they move from San Francisco to Ann Arbor, Mich., so she can pursue her degree, they begin to grow apart. As with most movies produced or godfathered by Judd Apatow, jokes about Chewbacca's anatomy sit alongside more honest discussions of relationships.

The issues of 30-ish couples were on the minds of the filmmakers, even if you couldn’t always tell from their comments Wednesday. “Marriage is a three-ring circus: engagement ring, wedding ring, suffering,” Stoller said before the premiere, doing his best Henny Youngman.

Many of the hallmarks of “Sarah Marshall” pop up here too: the girl who almost gets away, the bad-idea relationship soon made abundantly clear.  Goofy sidekicks and Elmo-impersonating women are also present, so it’s not as if this is Bergman or Truffaut. Still, the movie can have the real problems of real adults on its mind, particularly in an intense bedroom argument that many afterward agreed was the film’s linchpin.

Of course, that also raises the specter of the box-office tweener -- that is, not enough of a drama  to get the “(500) Days of Summer” crowd but also not enough of a romp to lure the young male Apatowians?

Tribeca has been a launching pad for comedies before, particularly when it comes to Universal, where the production company run by festival co-founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal have their deal. The last Universal comedy to open Tribeca, the Tina Fey pregnancy pic “Baby Mama,” was in 2008. There’s a kind of commercial reliability to all these films; "Baby Mama" and the two Stoller movies each took in about the same amount, roughly $60 million.

Possibly bolstering expectations here is that Segel’s profile is higher than ever.The film also features Blunt, the rare BAFTA   nominee to appear in a film from the Apatow clan.

The post-screening party, a wedding-themed affair at the twee Museum of Modern Art, was a who’s who of film types -- in addition to De Niro, occupying a center table and holding court, it featured Michelle Williams palling around with some girlfriends and filmmakers such as Jim Sheridan. Measured by star power, the party was a decisive hit. We'll see if that's true of the film.


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Jason Segel's 'Engagement' will open Tribeca Film Festival

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Emily Blunt, Jason Segel and Bill Hader at the Tribeca Film Festival. Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Tribeca Film Festival takes an international turn

April 18, 2012 | 10:36 am

Robert de niro tribeca
Since it was founded a decade ago, the Tribeca Film Festival has tried on many identities. It’s attempted to become a hot spot for sports movies, narrative documentaries, music-themed films and genre flicks, to name just a few.

But this year’s confab, which kicks off Wednesday night in Manhattan and runs through April 29, is assuming a more unlikely role: as a prime venue to discover international films.

The most prominent world-cinema gathering, of course, takes place 4,000 miles (and four weeks) away in Cannes, France. But thanks to the hiring of Frederic Boyer, a longtime Cannes Film Festival programmer, and a renewed focus on foreign directors, Tribeca this year will showcase an especially wide range of internationally flavored titles.

Among the featured films are a Havana-set coming-of-age story, “Una Noche,” from first-time British director Lucy Mulloy; “Yossi,” Israeli auteur Eytan Fox’s sequel to his well-received 2002 gay-soldier drama “Yossi and Jagger”; an Indian beauty-pageant documentary “The World Before Her”; and “La Suerte en Tus Manos,” a romantic drama from Argentina about a poker player who meets an old flame.

“We've always tried to have a diverse international lineup,” said Jane Rosenthal, who founded Tribeca with her producing partner, Robert De Niro. “But the program this year is definitely stronger.”

Continue reading »

David O. Russell’s latest turn: New England city politics

April 16, 2012 |  4:21 pm

The very busy David O. Russell has another story to occupy his post-"Uncharted: Drake's Fortune" time: He’s officially involved with a biopic about longtime Rhode Island mayor Buddy Cianci that will be produced by  the New York-based production company of Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal (“Little Fockers,” “Being Flynn”).

Based on Cianci’s elaborately titled “Politics and Pasta: How I Prosecuted Mobsters, Rebuilt a Dying City, Advised a President, Dined With Sinatra, Spent Five Years in a Federally Funded Gated Community and Lived to Tell the Tale," the new untitled biopic tells of the 21-year mayor who — oh yes — went to jail for nearly five years on racketeering charges after a career rooting out corruption in his New England hometown. Cianci has had more lives than a bungee-jumping cat; there's even talk he will run for public office again.

About a year ago, Rosenthal had mentioned informally that she’d like Russell to come aboard the film. Now it's official. According to his arrangement with the producer, he’ll direct but won’t write, Rosenthal said, though he will have a hand in the script too.

Since he parted ways with Sony’s “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune,"  Russell has been making use of his spare time.  Most recently, he signed on to a 1980s story about an FBI sting that exposed congressional corruption -- even as he finishes cutting “The Silver Linings Playbook,” his fall relationship movie that stars Jennifer Lawrence,  De Niro and Bradley Cooper.

The Cianci film also marks a further turn for Russell, who, after hitting it big with "The Fighter," has moved from oddball comedies to more hard-boiled and dramatic material; witness, also, his development of a Russ Meyer biopic (though Cianci's larger-than-life personality will ensure his film subjects remain colorful).

Rosenthal has been developing the Cianci movie independently at Tribeca Films, the company she and De Niro run, but says that she is close to a financing deal.

As she prepares for the Wednesday kickoff of the 11th annual Tribeca Film Festival that she co-founded, Rosenthal has kept up her prolific producing efforts. She’s working with English producer Graham King on the upcoming Freddie Mercury biopic starring Sacha Baron Cohen, a spinoff of sorts from her long-running West End musical “We Will Rock You."

And Rosenthal has shepherded and executive produced an hourlong television series, “NYC 22,” a sidewalk-wise cop story that debuted on CBS on Sunday night.

One passion project, however, may not enjoy the same success. Fans of "Lombardi," the long-gestating football film from writer Eric Roth about the Green Bay Packers head coach, has had little forward progress. Rosenthal sounded pessimistic when asked if the film could be going in front of the cameras any time soon.

"As a producer I feel everything should be made for a price," she said of the movie, which requires  significant period sets and costumes. "But a lot of the numbers I've heard [from financiers] are simply way too low."


Why couldn't David O. Russell and Sony make it work on 'Uncharted'?

Tribeca Film Festival unveils narrative and documentary selections

-- Steven Zeitchik reporting from New York


Photo: David O. Russell in 2010. Credit: Jennifer S. Altman/For The Times


Joss Whedon's 'The Avengers' will close Tribeca Film Festival

March 28, 2012 |  9:44 am

'The Avengers'

The Tribeca Film Festival is assembling a band of superheroes, announcing Wednesday that it will close its festival April 28 with Joss Whedon's "The Avengers."

The move marks a return to superhero territory for the New York film confab, which in past years has showcased studio tent poles such as "Spider-Man 3" in addition to its lineup of independent films. The festival said it will use this year's event as an opportunity to "celebrate everyday heroes from police agencies, fire departments, first responders and various branches of the U.S. military," who will be invited to the premiere.

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Samuel Jackson, "Avengers" will open May 4. The Tribeca event will serve as its New York premiere; it is scheduled to premiere in Los Angeles on April 11.

PHOTOS: 'The Avengers'

Disney is distributing the Marvel Studios film, which collects a range of superheroes from previous films as well as comic books and assembles them into a super-group of crimefighters. It co-stars Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson and Chris Hemsworth.

Tribeca, which will mark its 11th edition this year, kicks off on April 18 with the Jason Segel-Nicholas Stoller comedic collaboration "The Five-Year Engagement."


Tribeca names Cannes' Frederic Boyer artistic director

Jason Segel's 'Engagement' will open Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival unveils narrrative and documentary selections

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Chris Evans, left, and Robert Downey Jr. in "The Avengers." Credit: Marvel Studios

Tribeca Film Festival unveils narrative and documentary selections

March 6, 2012 | 10:29 am

The World Before Her

The Israeli drama "Yossi" and the Canadian documentary "The World Before Her" will open the narrative and documentary competitions at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, April 18-29, in Lower Manhattan. In addition to naming the 12 selections in each of those categories on Tuesday, the festival unveiled the films for its noncompetitive Viewpoints program, which focuses on personal stories.

"Yossi," directed by Etyan Fox, is about a closeted gay man living in solitude in Tel Aviv whose yearning for a more fulfilling life is sparked by a chance encounter with a group of soldiers. "The World Before Her," directed by Nisha Pahuja, explores how the contrasting worlds of the Miss India beauty pageant and a fundamentalist Hindu camp for girls, above, reflect the complex perceptions of and opportunities available to contemporary Indian women.

Other narrative selections include the Argentinian film "All In," about a professional poker player reuniting with an old flame, and the Indonesian film "Postcards From the Zoo," a dreamlike tale about a girl who was raised in a Jakarta zoo and ventures out into the outside world. The documentary section includes "Downeast," about a Maine town hit hard by the closure of a sardine canning factory, and "High Tech, Low Life," which explores Internet censorship and citizen reporting in China.

The Viewpoints films include "The Fourth Dimension," which comprises three short films by Harmony Korine, Alexey Fedorchenko and Jan Kwiecinski, and "Francophrenia," an experimental thriller by Ian Olds and James Franco.

Selections for the festival hail from 32 countries and were curated by a new programming team including Cannes Film Festival veteran Frederic Boyer, who was hired in November, and Geoffrey Gilmore, who is the chief creative officer at parent company Tribeca Enterprises and is taking a more hands-on role in the festival.

Last week, Tribeca announced that the Jason Segel marriage comedy "The Five-Year Engagement" will kick off the festival. The competitions begin the following day.

Founded by Robert De Niro and producing partner Jane Rosenthal in 2001, the festival has helped launch such independent films as "Transamerica" and "Let the Right One In."

The full list of this year's narrative, documentary and Viewpoints films follows. The rest of the feature-film lineup, including the Spotlight and Cinemania sections, will be named Thursday.

Continue reading »

Jason Segel's 'Engagement' will open Tribeca Film Festival

February 29, 2012 |  6:25 am

Jason Segel at the Oscars.

The Tribeca Film Festival is going to the comedy well this year, announcing that the Jason Segel marital pic “The Five-Year Engagement” will kick off its annual gathering April 18.

“Engagement” follows a couple (played by Segel and Emily Blunt) who seem to have it all figured out but soon find plenty of bumps on the road between their engagement and their wedding. The movie marks a reunion for Segel and director Nicholas Stoller, who last collaborated on the 2008 hit “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” The pair co-wrote the new film, on which Judd Apatow served as a producer.

Stoller deadpanned in a statement that, “To be honest, this is all just a ploy to stand on top of a building with Robert De Niro and look out over New York City at dusk.” Stoller's movie opens commercially April 27.

The festival has moved in different directions with its opening-night slot, one year going serious with “United 93” and another year taking the animated route with “Shrek Forever After.” It last opened with a live-action comedy in 2009, when Woody Allen’s “Whatever Works’ kicked off the festival.

This year’s Tribeca Film Festival, the 11th annual affair, runs through April 29 in downtown Manhattan.


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--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jason Segel at the Oscars. Credit: Joel Ryan/Associated Press

Tribeca names Cannes' Frederic Boyer artistic director

November 28, 2011 |  4:05 pm

The Tribeca Film Festival has named the Cannes Film Festival veteran Frederic Boyer to its newly created position of artistic director. Boyer had previously run Cannes’ directors’ fortnight program, serving as its artistic director and head of programming.

Tribeca's move comes in the wake of the departure of its longtime director of programming, David Kwok, earlier this month. As part of the reshuffling, the organization has promoted senior programmer Genna Terranova to the director of programming position.

In announcing the Boyer hire, it also said that Geoff Gilmore, the Sundance veteran who for the past several years has served as chief creative officer of Tribeca’s parent company Tribeca Enterprises, will now ”take on a more active role in overseeing the [Tribeca] program.”

Tribeca, which was created in 2002 by Robert De Niro and producing partner Jane Rosenthal, takes place every spring in New York and showcases a range of documentary and feature programming. Over the years it has been a launching pad for independent-film hits such as "Let the Right One In" and "Transamerica." Boyer is expected to bring a world-cinema bent to the festival's slate.


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--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Frederic Boyer. Credit: Tribeca Film Festival


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