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2013 Tribeca Film Festival (April 17th - April 28th)

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Top Narratives of the Festival

Before Midnight

Directed by Richard Linklater

      Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and his wife Celine (Julie Delpy) live in Paris their twin girls, Ella (Jennifer Prior) and Nina (Charlotte Prior). Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), Jesse's teenage son from a previous marriage, returns to Chicago after spending his summer vacationing with them in Greece. Jesse and his family have been staying at the beautiful seaside villa of their friend Patrick (Walter Lassally), who, like Jessie, is also a writer. A lot of tension and pent-up emotions rise to the surface as Jessie and Celine talk openly about their regrets and other thoughts and feelings threaten to break their marriage apart.

      After Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, Before Midnight rounds out the romantic drama trilogy on a deeply satisfying high note. Co-screenwriters Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have a very good ear for natural dialogue that never once feels stilted or veers into contrivance. Jesse and Celine are a couple who you truly care about because they come to life on the screen with all of their flaws and insecurities that make them all the more human. Neither of them is even close to perfect. There's no denying that they are two intelligent and complex individuals who talk a lot and actually say a lot, too. You can sense that deep down inside, in spite of their differences and arguments that you observe onscreen, they genuinely love on another; they may not always show it explicitly. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy's convincingly moving and naturalistic performances further enrich the film.

      Like the prior films in the trilogy, Before Midnight has plenty of subtlety, nuance, charm and pure, unadulterated poignancy that makes it a life-affirming, emotionally captivating and rewarding experience. Director Richard Linklater together with his co-writers respect the audiences' intelligence by treating them like sophisticated, mature adults---a demographic that has been sorely neglected by Hollywood nowadays. Keep in mind that not all of the film is heavy, serious or thought-provoking. If it were too serious, it would've been too dry and boring. If it were too heavy in terms of the content of Celine and Jesse's profound arguments, it would've been exhausting. Before Midnight has just the right balance between drama, romance and levity in the form of comic relief and the picturesque, relaxing Greece setting. Moreover, the screenwriters brilliantly avoid using flashbacks which would have been distracting and awkward; instead, they merely have Jesse and Celine referring to the past and vividly describing their memories. The ending, that won't be spoiled here, works on many levels because it's well-earned and leaves you with a lot to think about and feel. It's a real triumph and a refreshing way to escape the loud, mind-numbing summer blockbusters.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Sony Pictures Classics.
Opens May 24th, 2013 at AMC Loews Lincoln Square and the Angelika Film Center.

The Rocket

Directed by Kim Mordaunt

     Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe), a 10-year-old boy lives in an impoverished village in war-torn Laos with his mother (Alice Keohavong), father (Sumrit Warin) and grandmother (Bunsri Yindi). They believe that he's cursed with bad luck because of superstition. Tragedy strikes which leaves Ahlo's father widowed and, on top of that, a greedy company plans to build a second dam thereby displacing villagers. They journey through the mountains to a relocation camp where their homes have not been built yet like the government had promised them. There, Ahlo befriends two individuals from the camp: Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam), a orphaned girl, and her eccentric, alcoholic uncle, Purple (Suthep Po-ngam), who's obsessed with James Brown. To prove that he's not truly cursed with bad luck, Ahlo defies expectation by building a rocket to compete in a Rocket Festival.

      Writer/director Kim Mordaunt has made a film that successfully blends art-house and mainstream elements. It's accessible to art-house audiences because the screenplay feels organic and grounded in realism without too much sugar-coating. Mordaunt strikes just the right balance between darkness and lightness while trusting the audience's intelligence. If this were a Hollywood film, it would probably be dumbed-down and you wouldn't care much about the characters. Instead, you do care about Ahlo as a human being and that helps to make you more emotionally invested in the film, especially during thrilling third act. Each performance is natural and believable, and the cinematography remains impressive without become pretentious or over-using shaky cam. Moreover, The Rocket doesn't overstay its welcome at a running time of 96 minutes.

      Unlike most films that tug at your heartstrings and try to uplift you, this one does so in a way that's earns its uplift without making you feel like you're manipulated. Mordaunt wisely includes just the right amount of comic relief along with interesting details and symbolism that might become more meaningful after repeated viewings. Adults can take their children to see The Rocket and be equally entertained--as long as their children can handle reading subtitles, of course. It's destined to become a sleeper hit.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Kino Lorber.
Opens January 10th at IFC Center and Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

      Just a Sigh, written and directed by Jérôme Bonnell, represents everything that you love about French movies: sexy, smart, charming, honest and true-to-life. The plot involving two strangers, Alix (Emmanuelle Devos) and Doug (Gabriel Byrne), who meet on a train and fall in love, may seem simple and not particularly original on the surface. However, it's filled with warmth and complexity beneath its surface, and both Devos and Byrne ooze with charisma---Emmanuelle Devos sizzles. They also have something that many romantic dramas lack nowadays: chemistry. Just a Sigh would make a great double feature with the classic Brief Encounter, another romance that it shares a lot in common with both terms of plot and quality. Distrib Films opens it theatrically in 2014. Hide Your Smiling Faces, Daniel Patrick Carbone, is a well-nuanced, lyrical and understated drama about 9-year-old Tommy (Ryan Jones) and his 14-year old brother, Eric (Nathan Varnson), who live in a small rural town and come across one of their friends, Ian (Ivan Tomic), dead under an overpass. How he ended up dead there remains a mystery. Carbone moves the film along at a leisurely, pensive pace that allows you to aborb the beautiful scenery which contrasts with the increasingly dark subject matter. It wouldn't be fair to classify this as a thriller, but it does have a few thriller elements when the boys stumble upon a gun. Admittedly, it takes some time to get used to the slow pace (which in itself is rare for an American film), but many scenes will linger in your mind long after the end credits roll. Making their feature film debut as actors, Nathan Varnson and Ryan Jones both give natural performances that show promise. The fact that Hide Your Smiling Faces is only 81 minutes long is a testament to Daniel Patrick Carbone's discipline as a first-time director; if it were over 90 minutes, it'd begin to feel tedious. One of the boldest and funniest films of the festival is the Israeli film

Big Bad Wolves, co-directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, about Miki (Lior Ashkenazi), a disgraced police detective, and Gidi (Tzahi Grad), the father of a raped and killed young girl, who team up to take justive in their own hands by holding the suspected pedophile, Dror (Rotem Keinan), hostage and torturing him. To describe the plot any further would be to spoil its many wild twists and turns. Fans of dark humor will be very pleased, but do keep in mind that there are a few gruesome scenes which aren't for those who have a weak stomach.
Honorable Mentions

The Patience Stone
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Cycling With Moliere
A Birder's Guide to Everything
Adult World
Some Velvet Morning
Deep Powder
The Machine

Top Documentaries of the Festival

      Herblock: The Black & the White, directed by Michael Stevens, is one the most powerful documentaries in the Tribeca Film Festival. It centers on the work and life of Herbert Block, a.k.a. Herblock, an editorial cartoonist for The Washington Post from 1946 until his death in 2001 at the age of 91. What made Herblock so unique? He drew cartoons that included very sharp political and social commentary during many of the major events in U.S. history, i.e., the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, McCarthyism and the civil rights movement. He had a moral conscience and wasn't afraid to use it, but more importantly, he was able to use critical thinking to see right through the government's bullshit/propaganda. Between showing you many of Herblock's witty, funny and pointed cartoons, director Michael Stevens infuses interviews with journalists such as Tom Brokaw, Ted Koppel and some of Herblock's colleagues who explain precisely what made Herblock such a brilliant cartoonist who devoted his entire life to his work--he even listed his address in the company directory as his work's address. Beyond his brilliance, though, like any good journalist should be, he was humble, and like any good cartoonish should be, he was essentially a kid at heart and maintained a sense of humor. Stevens uses an actor, Alan Mandel, to portray Herblock during re-enacted interviews. The doc particularly provocative when Herblock expresses how real, competent journalism has been in decline lately--and it still is to this very day with very little fact-checking and news that's filled with mindless entertainment, i.e. celebrities in rehab, instead of what's truly important, i.e. war, thereby dumbing the public down. Very few people truly listen to others who have different viewpoints, and everyone gets different info from different sources. This powerful doc ultimately manages be a provocative, illuminating and vital tribute to Herbert Block. It should be mandatory viewing for every young American.

      The doc Cutie and the Boxer is about Noriko and Ushio Shinohara, a husband and wife who struggle to make a living as artists in New York City. 80-year-old Ushio arrived at the USA back in the 1960's in hopes of becoming a successful artist, but his dreams weren't quite fulfilled. Noriko, 22 years his junior, pushed her own career as an artist aside when she met and fell in love with Ushio and took care of their child; instead she became his assistant. She and Ushio desperately needs the money to pay for rent, so now Ushio has a second chance to make his mark in the world of art, hopefully by selling some of his artwork. Meanwhile, their marriage becomes volatile. Director Zachary Heinzerling deserves praise humanizing Noriko and Ushio in such an engaging and unflinchingly honest fashion. The more you observe them, the more you learn about what makes them tick. The doc essentially blends two stories: Noriko and Ushio's struggles as re-emerging artists and their evolving dynamics as a married couple. In many ways, Cutie and the Boxer is a testament to the enduring power and complexities of true love through thick and thin. Heinzerling might as well have titled the film as "It's Complicated" given all of the hardships and dilemmas that Noriko and Ushio go through as a couple and as artists. He wisely avoids including himself in the footage like many self-indulgant directors mistakenly do. Moreover, by watching the couple creating their artworks---Ushio is a boxing painter while Noriko does sketchings and watercoloring---you're able to grasp their fervent passion as well as their talent for art. Cutie and the Boxer is the kind of documentary that you forget is a documentary while you're watching it because you're so emotionally absorbed. It's equally heartbreaking and heartwarming, and one of the best love stories in years. At a running time of just 1 hour and 22 minutes, it never overstays its welcome. TWC/Radius releases it in select theaters on August 16th, 2013.

      For those of you interested in docs that will make you equally enlightened and enraged, there's The Kill Team and Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia. The former is about Adam Winfield, a soldier in the U.S. Army who blew the whistle on killing sprees that his fellow soldiers committed on innocent Afghanistan civilians in 2010. They would plant weapons on the civilians to justify their killing---all just to escape boredom. Winfield finds it difficult to be a whistleblower, not surprisingly, because his superiors refuse to be held accountable for permitting such immoral behavior. Soon enough, Winfield and his three other soldiers face criminal charges of pre-meditative murder. Director Dan Krauss finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually---all in just 79 minutes. Prepare to get angry and shed a few tears at how our corrupt government is unjustly destroying the lives of the people that risk their own lives to protect it. In Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, directed by Nicholas Wrathall, novelist/intellectual/writer/journalist Gore Vidal not only talks a lot, but says a lot. He comments and criticizes on many aspects of politics and society, and his observations are quite pointed, honest and even witty---he's got a very dry sense of humor, but a sense of humor nonetheless. Wrathall doesn't judge Gore Vidal; he lets him do the talking and you get to decide for yourself what you think about him. Whether or you agree with Vidal doesn't matter because, ultimately, he provokes something that's very rare in this dumbed-down culture: critical thinking. This doc, along with Herblock would make for a very interesting double feature and provide you with plenty of food for thought.

Honorable Mentions

BIG JOY: The Adventures of James Broughton
The Genius of Marian
Red Obsession
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