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2012 Tribeca Film Festival (April 18th - April 29th)

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The Avengers

Directed by Joss Whedon

****Opening Night Film****

      Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Director of the law enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D., assembles a group of superheroes known as The Avengers to retrieve the stolen Tesseract, a cube with unlimited energy capable of destroying the world, from Loki (Tom Hiddleton), the adoptive brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth). The Avengers, for those of you who aren't familiar with the comic book, include Thor, Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renier), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.). Their mission to save the world becomes further challenging when they struggle to get along as a team.

      Director/co-writer Joss Whedon assumes that you already watched the prior Marvel films diligently or that you've read the comic books because there's very little that's actually explained about who the characters are and what the Tesseract is other than a highly dangerous cube consisting of unlimited energy. You shouldn't expect much character development in an action/sci-fi film, but it would have been nice to have a least a little of that development to ground the film in at least a modicum of realism. Instead, realism is completely thrown out of the window and in its place you'll find lots of marvelous CGI effects and very little in the story department. It's very difficult to be truly exhilarated and amazed because by the time the 10th action sequence transpires, tedium begins to set in. What does keep you moderately entertained, though, are the amusing performances by Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Ruffalo who exude plenty of charisma and even a little panache with some of their one-liners.

      Does The Avengers really need to be 2 hour and 22 minutes long? It could have definitely used a trimming when it comes to the lengthy action scenes. You can clearly see what the film's budget was spent on because the film hits you in the face with its state-of-the-art visual effects, but perhaps more time and money should have been invested on the screenplay so that it wouldn't become yet another brainless, overbloated and mostly underwhelming blockbuster. Please be sure to stay through the end credits for an additional scene.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Opens nationwide.
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Top Dramas

      War Witch (Dir. Kim Nguyen) follows a 12-year-old girl, Komona (Rachel Mwanza), becomes a child soldier after other soldiers kidnap her. She struggles to stay alive and befriends Magician (Serge Kanyinda), a fellow soldier, who escapes with her in hopes of leading a better life, but that task becomes easier said than done because Komona finds herself haunted by her past. Rarely has such a seemingly simple film been so powerful and emotionally resonating. Not only is the cinematography and performances exceptional, but also the depth and complexity which makes for a very enriching experience in just 90 minutes. You might even find yourself shedding a tear or two. Director Lucy Mulloy's poignant and unpredictable Una Noche also touches your heart while offering a few surprises along the way. Three teens yearn to escape their troubled, impoverished lives in Cuba. Breathtaking images and a thrilling encounter with a shark in the open water are among the film's many rewards. In A Better Life, Guillaume Canet stars as Yann, a father who desperately tries to make ends meet while taking care of and bonding with his girlfriend's son, Slimane (Slimane Khettabi). Director Cédric Kahn should be commneded for bravely tackling the drama without sugar-coating it. More often than not, it feels like a Michael Haneke film given how grim and depressing it becomes; some of the best films, though, are depressing, so it certainly doesn't take a way from how much you're captivated because the characters are so real that they're worth caring about. In Keep the Lights On, by director Ira Sachs explores the vicissitudes of a relationship between two men, Erik (Thure Lindhardt) and Paul (Zachary Booth), with unflinching honesty and attention to detail. Both performances are well-nuanced and raw, and thanks to the strengths of the mature screenplay and the direction, this character-driven film never feels too much like a play, although it could have worked as one as well. Babygirl (Dir. Macdara Vallely) centers on Lena (Yainis Ynoa), a Bronx teenager who has issues with her mother who's far from perfect. She thinks that her mother's boyfriend (Flaco Navaja) is a creep, and tries to prove that to her, but the plan doesn't quite go as she planned. At only a running time of 1 hour and 17 minutes, the film is a heartfelt, tender and well-acted coming-of-age drama that could have taken more risks in terms of escalating the darker elements of the plot, but nonetheless remains unpretentious and engrossing throughout.

Top Action films

      In the highly kinetic French action thriller Sleepless Night (Dir. Frederic Jardin, released by Tribeca Films, Opens May 11th), Vincent (Tomer Sisley), a police officer, must return a bag of cocaine he stole from the mob before they kill his teenage son who they've kidnapped. It's a visually stylish and exhilarating film that's just as rousing as Ransom, although with a few silly, over-the-top action sequences, i.e. one that takes place in a restaurant's kitchen and dining room. You'll find yourself entertained on a visceral level from start to finish as long as you check your brain at the door and suspend a little disbelief. Headshot, directed Pen-ek Ratanaruang, subverts the action thriller genre in a way that makes it brilliant. Have you ever watched an action film where its protagonist sees everything upside down? Well, now's your chance. Tul (Nopachai Jayanama) exacts seeks revenge against the man responsible for framing him for a murder that he didn't commit. Sure, the film has plenty of style over substance, but it's irresistibly diverting and a pure rush opf adrenaline.

Top Horror/Sci-Fi films

      In Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal (dir. Boris Rodriguez), Lars (Thure Lindhardt), a painter, finds his artistic talents for painting reawakened when he befriends Eddie (Dylan Smith), a sleepwalking cannibal. Not since Shaun of the Dead has there been a horror film that's so hysterically funny and outrageous. There's a moderate amount disgusting blood and gore, so please keep that in mind if you have a weak stomach. This is the kind of film that should be watched with a large, rowdy audience on the big screen and could even become a cult classic. A slightly more grounded and slow-paced horror/sci-fi movie is Resolution, co-directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead. Mike (Peter Cilella) holds his friend, Chris (Vinny Curran), hostage in an isolated cabin in an attempt to get him off of meth. What ensues won't be spoiled here. Admittedly, it takes roughly 45 minutes for it to start getting truly interesting, but if you're patient enough, you'll be rewarded with some clever, imaginative twists and increasing bizarreness that might make more sense after repeat viewings.

Top Comedies

      By far, the funniest and wisest comedy of the festival is Supporting Characters (dir. Daniel Schechter), which follows the personal lives of two editors, Nick (Alex Karpovsky) and Daryl (Tarik Lowe), who are also friends. The dynamic of their friendship evolves as they work on editing a comedy that a crazy director needs them to salvage. Meanwhile Nick's relationship with his fiancée, Amy (Sophia Takal), is on the rocks. These dramatic elements are merely icing on the cake because they serve as a means of grounding the comedy in realism. P The screenplay by co-writers Tarik Lowe and Daniel Schechter offers not only laughs, but also wit to boot without resorting to cheap/lowbrow humor. Perhaps audience members who work or have worked in filmmaking will laugh the hardest. Your Sister's Sister, written and directed by Lynn Shelton, also works as a comedy, and it's quite a charming one at that thanks to its well-chosen cast, namely, Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and the underrated Rosemary Dewitt. After the death of his brother, Jack (Duplass), stays over with his best friend, Iris (Blunt), at her family's holiday cabin where he meets and has a drunken one-night stand with her sister, Hanna (Dewitt). The dialogue remains refreshingly witty, perceptive and believable. It's ultimately a harmless, enjoyable, lighthearted and crowd-pleasing comedy that's perfect for a rainy day.

Top Documentaries

      There are many documentary to choose from in this festival, but the cream of the crop include The Flat (dir. Arnon Goldfinger) about the director's revealing investigation into his family's history that he uncovers after cleaning his 98-year-old grandmother's flat. As the film progresses, it feels more and more like a good 'ol suspense thriller filled with twists and turns. It might be the most edge-of-your-seat documentary you'll ever see, and, on top of that, it's also stylishly edited. Raymond De Felitta's Booker's Place manages to be the most moving and fascinating doc of the fest. It sheds light on Booker Wright, a restaurant owner/waiter in 1960's Mississippi who became a civil rights activist. The director finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally and intellectually without a dull moment to be found. When it comes to eye-opening, provocative and inspirational docs, the one that takes the cake is The Revisionaries which focuses on the Texas Board of Education members as they debate whether and how the theory of evolution should continue to be included in school textbooks. Don McLeroy, a Creationist who's also a member of the Board, makes a very persuasive argument for the inclusion of the creation story in textbooks or at least to allow students to critically think by having two opposing views about how the Earth was created. In turn, you'll find yourself doing a lot of critical-thinking about the controversial issue as you realize that, like many issues, it's far from black-and-white.

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