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2019 Tribeca Film Festival (April 24th - May 5th)

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Top Narratives

      Come to Daddy, directed by Ant Timpson with a screenplay by Toby Harvard, is a wickedly funny, campy and surprisingly heartfelt amalgam of horror, comedy, mystery, thriller and drama. Norval (Elijah Wood) receives a letter from his estranged father to visit him at his isolated seaside cabin. The less you know about what transpires afterwards, the better because this is the kind of film that takes many unpredictable twists and turns. The comedy ranges from dark to outrageous and deadpan, so it's definitely not for everyone. Timpson and Harvard take risks that pay off, for the most part, with a third act that's over-the-top and, much like Us, it leaves many questions unanswered, but at least it doesn't bombard you with sociopolitical messages. The filmmakers also have a very strong handle on exposition without relying on flashbacks or lengthy, contrived speeches like the one at the end of Us. In other words, it's better than Us. Part of the fun of watching Come to Daddy is that you're confused about what's going on and why, but it will all makes a little bit more sense by the time the end credits roll. It deserves to become a cult classic. If you're looking for more conventional dramedy, there's Standing Up Falling Down about Scott (Ben Schwartz), a stand-up comedian who goes back to live with his parents on Long Island after failing to launch his career in Los Angeles. Scott's father, Gary (Kevin Dunn), isn't a very good parent because he doesn't encourage his son to pursue his dreams and often puts him down as though he were an extension of himself. At a pub, he meets and befriends Marty (Billy Chrystal), a dermatologist who battled alcoholism, lost his wife, and remains estranged from his son. Scott still has feelings for his ex-girlfriend, Becky (Eloise Mumford), who's in a stale marriage. Grace Gummer plays Scott's sister. The screenplay by Peter Hoare works effectively as a drama, comedy with a bit of romance because it remains grounded in realism despite a few minor contrivances, i.e. when Scott and Marty smoke weed together. Their friendship isn't quite as profound nor haunting as Harold and Maude's friendship, but they're both cut from the same cloth as Harold and Maude. Marty becomes a surrogate father for Scott just like Maude became a surrogate mother; conversely, Scott becomes a surrogate some for Marty as Harold was a surrogate son for Maude. Although Standing Up, Falling Down bites off more than it could chew with many subplots that are tied rather neatly by the end, it's nonetheless a warm, honest, funny and wise story about two people from different generations who come of age in their own ways. It's also the best Billy Crystal film in quite some time. In Charlie Says, Kerlene Faith (Merritt Wever), a graduate student teaching a course about rehabilitation, accepts an offer to visit a prison to try to rehabilitate Leslie Van Houten (Hannah Murray), Patricia Krenwinkel (Sosie Bacon) and Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendon) , three women who are convicted of murdering people with the infamous Charles Manson (Matt Smith). The women recall how they ended up part of Charles Manson's cult and how they committed the heinous crimes. Charlie Says jumps back and forth between the present day rehabilitation program at the prison and the flashbacks to the women's dark past.  Director Mary Harron and screenwriter Guinevere Turner should be commended for showing the women's experiences with Manson unflinchingly. This is definitely not a movie for those of you with a weak stomach. However, Turner's screenplay fails at getting inside any of the characters' heads to flesh them out as complex human beings. Each of imprisoned women remains unlikable from beginning to end without much in terms of nuance or depth. There's plenty of physical grit, but not nearly enough emotional or psychological grit to be found here, so the plot quickly becomes by-the-numbers with characters who never come to life. Even the notorious Charles Manson is far from an intriguing character. Part of what makes Manson such a dull character in Charlie Says has to do with the poorly cast Matt Smith who never quite sinks his teeth into the role convincingly. The underrated Merritt Wever who was the only bright spot of Welcome to Marwen gives a solid performance, but she's not given enough material to truly shine. The actresses who play the murderers give mediocre performances at best. Moreover, Harron and the editor, Andrew Hafitz, include awkward transitions between the past and present scenes, and some scenes last a little too long and, therefore, become tedious. Ultimately, Charlie Says is a mildly engaging, but underwhelming and emotionally hollow crime drama that lacks depth and intrigue. It opens May 10th, 2019 at IFC Center via IFC Films. Swallow, written and directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis, sounds like a B horror film, but ends up a moving psychological drama in the vein of Todd Haynes' Safe. It centers around an unhappy housewife, Hunter Conrad, played by Haley Bennett in a career-best performance. Hunter suffers from a disorder that compels her to swallow dangerous objects like thumbtacks and marbles. That plot is a metaphor and a stepping stone that sets up what the film is really about which won't be spoiled here. The screenplay has surprisingly tender moments and goes in a direction that provides audiences with a very timely message. So, Swallow has just the right balance of style and substance while becoming a fascinating psychological character study that's not afraid to go to profound and dark places. It's also worth mentioning that the production values look stylish and exquisite. Everything from the lighting to the use of color to the set design and cinematography enrich the film with more layers of complexity. If you're squeamish, there are only a few scenes that will make you grossed out, but keep in mind that this isn't the horror film that the marketing nor the title and plot synopsis makes it out to be. Swallow opens March 6th, 2020 via IFC Films. In Blow the Man Down, two sisters, Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth Connolly (Morgan Saylor) live in a quaint seaside village in Maine. After Mary Beth kills a man in self defense, she and Priscilla hide the body to cover up the murder. The always-reliable Margo Martindale plays the owner of a brothel, Enid Nora Devlin (are the filmmakers fans of Ghost World, perhaps?) who clashes with Susie Gallagher (June Squibb). Co-writers/directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy have woven a witty, atmospheric and clever dark comedy reminiscent of the dark comedies of the Coen Brothers, especially Fargo. The characters seem lived-in and have plenty of personality and the small village becomes a character in itself. Martindale plays against type as someone who's far from a nice person which makes her character all the more interesting. She's like Jackie Weaver in Animal Kingdom. The film's soundtrack is well-chosen, and the pace moves not too fast nor too slow. This is in many ways a movie for adults which is rare these days, but it's also entertaining without any scenes that drag. It's wickedly funny and wildly entertaining. Moreover, the filmmakers find just the right balance of tones which is a testament to their skills as screenwriters. A less sensitive screenplay could've easily been uneven, clunky and lethargic, but none of that can be said about Blow the Man Down. Amazon Studios releases it on Prime Video on March 20th, 2020. After Midnight (festival title: Something Else) is a slow-burning psychological horror film that trusts the audience's patience a lot during the first hour when very little happens other than Harry (Jeremy Gardner, also the writer/director) and Abby (Brea Grant) fighting and breaking up because Harry won't commit to marrying her. Harry sees and hears something outside their home that might be malevolent and maybe even supernatural, but no one, including his girlfriend, believes him. His alcoholism and depression gets worse after he and Abby break up while the evil monster outside might still be lurking. Patient audience members will be rewarded the most because during the last 30 minutes of the film, the plot takes a turn as does the film's genre. The monster outside, which is left to the audience's imagination for the most part, can be seen as metaphor for many things that are up for interpretation. To be fair, the bickering between Hank and Abby does get exhausting eventually and feels meandering, but that's the point. Although After Midnight has a supernatural subplot, it's really an unflinching glimpse of a toxic, dysfunctional relationship. In that way, it's refreshingly un-Hollywood and an unconventional date movie. Cranked Up Films opens it in select theaters on Valentine's Day, 2020. Lucky Grandma boasts a strong lead performance by Tsai Chin as a grandma who finds a bag of money that doesn't belong to her and keeps it. Not surprisingly, she gets into trouble with local gangsters. While it's great to see a complex role for an older woman in a film, it's too bad that the screenplay by Angela Cheng and Sasie Sealy suffers from clunky dialogue and that the cinematography and chase sequences leave a lot to be desired. Very little in this film feels plausible and the plot becomes increasingly silly with a few tender moments along the way, but they're far and few between. It's also not as funny nor as suspenseful nor poignant as it could have been becuse the screenplay plays it safe with too many contrivances. At least Chin's performance helps to elevate Lucky Grandma. For a better-written screenplay, look no further than Driveways. Despite a bland title, it's a provocative, beautiful and tender story about a young boy, Cody (Lucas Jaye), and his mother, Kathy (Hong Chau), who move next door to a grumpy old man, Del (Brian Dennehy). Cody gradually befriends Del, a war veteran, while Kathy deals with racist neighbors. The screenplay by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen is understated, organic and witty while dealing with a number of timely topics like racism and immigration. The relationship between Cody and Del feels real and engrossing. Also, the cinematography looks poetic at times. Chau, Dennehy and Jaye all give moving performances. The only weak part which is minor and forgivable is the music score which occasionally sounds heavy-handed and intrusive. It's rare to see such a well-written American drama that has something to say without being preachy and tugs are your heartstrings without being cloying. Andrew Ahn is clearly a gifted filmmaker who's a humanist because Driveways has plenty of humanism from start to finish. FilmRise opens in sometime in 2020.

Top Documentaries

      Interview with Ryan White, director of Ask Dr. Ruth

      The Apollo, directed by Roger Ross Williams, is the Opening Night Film of the Tribeca Film Festival. It's an equally informative, moving and captivating doc about The Apollo Theater in New York City. Williams provides plenty of insight about the history of The Apollo and what makes it so iconic. Most importantly, through archival footage and contemporary interviews, it's clear why the theater is such an integral part of the African American community and musicians. It brought people together for many years and represented an integral part of NYC's culture. It's also fascinating to learn how the theater evolved and the financial strains that it struggled with. There's footage of President Obama making a very poignant speech about the theater. On top of that, The Apollo has concert footage with great, toe-tapping music. When it comes to editing, editors Jean Tsien and John Steven Fisher do a great job of blending together different themes such as racism into the film while avoiding preachiness or boring the audience. It's refreshing to see a documentary that's illuminating, but that doesn't feel dry and academic. At a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes, The Apollo is a well-edited, provocative and engaging experience. It opens via HBO Documentary films on November 1st, 2019 before debuting on HBO on November 6th. Ask Dr. Ruth is a funny, lively and charming doc about a funny, lively and charming subject: Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Directory Ryan White hooks the audience through comedy from the very opening scene when Dr. Ruth tried to ask Alexa to answer "Who is Dr. Ruth?" Throughout the course of the doc, you learn a lot about how Dr. Ruth rose to fame and a little about her romantic life, but she's clearly uncomfortable talking about her traumatic experiences during the Holocaust. You get to know her personality thanks to the footage that White shot of her in her home and traveling to Israel. She's warm, witty and wise, but also snippety, blunt and vulnerable. The fact that she's unafraid to quip things like "Stupid question!" to the director says a lot about her. Bravo to the Ryan White for not editing those moments out. He also briefly includes some opposing viewpoints that provide much-needed balance to the doc thereby not making it a hagiography. At running time of 100 minutes, it's a crowd-pleasing and inspirational doc that's just a powerful as RBG. Magnolia Films and Hulu open Ask Dr. Ruth on May 3rd, 2019 at Landmark at 57 West and Quad Cinema.  Please click here for my exclusive interview with director Ryan White. If you're aspiring filmmaker or just a film buff, Making Waves is the quintessential doc about sound design in cinema. Director Midge Costin interviews a variety of sound designers and talented film directors responsible for the sound in classic films like Roma and Inception. Have you ever wondered what Foley is and how it's created? You'll learn a lot about that and other aspects of sound like sound editing and mixing within a span of merely 94 minutes. Not once will this doc make you feel like asking "When is the exam?" or "Why am I watching this?" Don't be surprised if it will make you appreciate sound design in films more and see your favorite films on a whole new level. It's also a reminder of why it's so important to watch movies in a movie theater with a good sound system that can't be reproduced at home. Making Waves opens at Cinema Village via Matson Films. Framing John DeLorean is a mildly engaging documentary biopic about the rise and fall of auto manufacturer John DeLorean who may or may not have been a con artist. Co-directors Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce combine documentary and fiction with re-enactments that makes for a cinematic experience, but not one that cuts deep enough. Alec Baldwin plays Delorean in the re-enactments and has a make-up team transform him into Delorean. He's create at doing impersonation as is evident when he impersonates Trump on Saturday Night Live. The filmmakers have created a slickly-edited doc that tells a provocative story, but there's not enough insight into the mind of Delorean. The meat of the story arrives near the end when the question of whether or not he was a con man arises. Too many of the dramatized scenes feel over-dramatized and hyperbolic thereby making them hard to take seriously. Also, it does overstay its welcome at a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes. Framing John DeLorean is ultimately an underwhelming docudrama that leaves more questions than answers. It opens on June 7th, 2019 via IFC Films. The Quiet One is directed Oliver Murray. It's about Bill Wyman, lesser known bassist of the Rolling Stones nicknamed the "quiet one" because he wasn't the famous among his fellow Rolling Stones band mates such as Mick Jagger. Wyman talks about his childhood, his relationship with his father, and his experiences with the Rolling Stones from 1962 until he left the band to form his very own band, Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings. Murray blend archival footage with contemporary interviews which are quite candid, but they don't cut very deep. The Quiet One is a well-edited doc that serves as a solid introduction to an extraordinary individual, Bill Wyman, but there's nothing extraordinary nor profound about the film itself. Fans of the Rolling Stones will appreciate Ihe Quiet One the most while wishing that the filmmaker had found more ways for the film to touch one's heart, mind and soul more. It opens via Sundance Selects at IFC Center on June 21st, 2019.

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