Tribeca Film Festival Capsules

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Couldn’t make it to Manhattan to party with Robert DeNiro and the rest of the luminaries at the Tribeca Film Fetsival? Paste has your back. Here are our reactions to some of the notable films in this year’s fest.

Death of a Superhero
Death of a Superhero isn’t your parents’ cancer-kid flick. Director Ian Fitzgibbon’s steers away from sappy and sad, and instead takes us inside the imaginative, dark and talented mind of Donald (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), a high school student with a life-threatening illness. While struggling to maintain any ounce of happiness in his daunting situation, Donald sees visions of his comic-like drawings that make for an interesting visual experience for the audience. As his sickness swoops in, his friends embark on a quest to make sure Donald doesn’t leave a virgin, which in turn adds comedic undertones that keeps things light. Superhero’s juxtaposition of animation makes for an interesting approach to an otherwise depressing genre. —Caitlin Colford

First Winter
First Winter is a startling, stirring and beautiful first feature from Ben Dickinson. Real-life yoga instructor Paul Manza (Paul) totes his Brooklyn hipster yoga students to a barn in the middle of nowhere for a tranquilizing retreat that apparently equates to practice, meditation, drugs and sex. A snowstorm touches down, and power is lost for days due to an undisclosed reason, bringing with it the onset of an apocalyptic overtone. The retreat becomes an exercise in the survival of the fittest (with drastically unsuccessful outcomes for some). The opulent cinematography in First Winter is magnificent, namely during the outdoor scenes, which are true works of art. —Caitlin Colford

Francophrenia (or: Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where The Baby Is)
Last year, James Franco put another notch in his art-school belt with his meta appearance on the soap opera General Hospital, where he played an evil artist named Franco. Francophrenia is a collaboration with filmmaker Ian Olds, and it further spirals down the rabbit hole as cameras capture the filming of an episode at LA’s LACMA. Franco and Olds take some cues from David Lynch, reversing, slowing down, animating, and cutting the audio out of footage, creating an elaborate paranoid fantasy in which James Franco playing James Franco playing Franco awakens into a nightmare. Or something like that. The film could do without Olds’ voiceover, but this experimental musing on celebrity and art is a delightful mind-fuck. —Jonah Flicker

Free Samples
Rookie filmmaker Jay Gammill and first-time scribe Jim Beggarly bring to life an airy romantic tale of a quippy law-school drop out, Jillian (Jess Weixler), who is forced to dole out free samples of chemical-heavy fro-yo while battling a severe hangover. Taking place over the course of twenty-four hours, mainly within a dumpy ice cream truck, the brash and brazen Jess Weixler conveys humor and enhances an otherwise mundane plot line as she deals with a slew of cranky customers, an unexpected visit from her ex and the prospect of a new main squeeze (Jesse Eisenberg). —Caitlin Colford

The Giant Mechanical Man
Two lost people make for … two lost people. Lacking any iota of luck or rent money, Janice (Jenna Fischer) drifts through her days trying to uncover a new and fresh direction for her life to take. It isn’t until she meets her fellow lackadaisical co-worker Tim (Chris Messina), a moonlighting giant mechanical man who mimes for change, that things start to look up. However, things aren’t so simple for the gloomy party of two, it takes time to oil out the squeaks and kinks. Mellow and symmetrical, this light-hearted film by Fisher’s real life husband, Lee Kirk, lifts our spirits as we root and cheer for the meek underdogs. —Caitlin Colford

Corrupt politicians, dirty cops, child trafficking, and a kidnapping for ransom are the ingredients that help make Graceland a spicy and gripping thrill ride with twists and turns that hold you hostage for the duration of the film. Manuel Chango (Menggie Cobarrubias), a shady Filipino politician, and his recently fired driver Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes) are from opposite sides of the tracks yet are forced to ban together when their daughters are kidnapped. The cryptic saga we embark on with family man Marlon takes audiences on an emotional roller coaster, vigilantly unmasking one clue at a time in this exceptional work from director and writer Rob Morales. —Caitlin Colford

Jack and Diane
Jack and Diane, a girl-meets-girl romance with sci-fi elements, is the perfect platform for Riley Keough (Jack) to showcase she is much more than Elvis’ granddaughter. Keough’s honest portrayal of Jack, a boyish lesbian with deep feelings for Diane (Juno Temple), a temporary visitor, is haunting and riveting as she struggles to accept the fact that she is falling in love while simultaneously battling the memory of her brother’s suicide after his girlfriend left him. Director Bradley Rust Gray peculiarly interlaces surprisingly gruesome visions of Diane’s nightmarish transformation into a werewolf, where she dreams of pouncing upon her newfound lover to rip out her insides for a midnight snack. To say the least, Jack and Diane is thought-provoking and will leave you mulling over the film for some time to come. —Caitlin Colford

In Jackpot, a bloody action comedy from Norway, Oscar (Kyrre Hellum), the hapless boss of an artificial Christmas tree factory, has entered a lottery based on soccer-game scores with three of his ex-con employees, and won big, but that’s where his good luck ran out. We first meet him when the police find Oscar miraculously alive, clutching a shotgun, lying among many dead, bullet-ridden bodies at a local sex shop/strip joint. The film chronicles Oscar’s explanation of events, told in flashback. While some of the plot occasionally stretches believability, the film moves well, with one part leading deftly to the next part (which in some cases is actually a body part). The twists and turns and macabre humor make for a fun ride, and Henrik Mestad is fantastic as the sardonic inspector who seems to delight in busting Oscar’s balls at every opportunity. —Dan Kaufman

Journey to Planet X
This endearing documentary stars amateur Florida filmmakers Eric Swain and his pal Troy Bernier, who pursue their passion during time off from both of their full-time jobs. With shoestring budgets, an antiquated PC, whatever props are basically lying around their houses, and local amateur actors, they put together gloriously bad fantasy, action and sci-fi shorts: the filmic equivalent of community dinner theater. Planet X is their latest and most ambitious sci-fi mini-epic yet, and in the film we track the production from storyboard to the first audience screening. What Swain and Bernier might lack in charisma, self-awareness or talent, they make up for in passion. Their solemn, can-do attitude is a great counterbalance to chuckle-inducing revelations like Swain still uses MySpace and Bernier seriously considers what they do to be art. They may not quite be in on the joke, but we are, and still we want them to succeed. You have to give credit to a movie that mines tension out of whether or not the lights in an industrial freezer room will turn off. —Dan Kaufman

Morgan Spurlock’s latest documentary focuses on the hirsute and the man-scaped — and the grooming and regimen that go into each style and philosophy. Will Arnett and Jason Bateman are executive producers, and the two appear in intervals in which they visit a spa and get facials, manicures, and massages, and generally wax comedic about just what makes a man. There are plenty of celebrity interviews peppered throughout from the likes of Paul Rudd, John Waters, and Zach Galifianakis, but this entertaining doc is at its best when it focuses on professional beardsman Jack Passion and various barbers and man-grooming enthusiasts. Spurlock has a knack for showcasing the pursuits of the general populace in an engaging fashion, and the highly entertaining Mansome is no different. —Jonah Flicker

One Nation Under Dog
How far would you go for a dog? That’s the question posed at the beginning of this HBO documentary, an alternately harrowing and heartwarming anthology of stories that examines the extremes of cruelty and devotion bestowed by man on his proverbial best friend. There’s a pet-loss support group, a raid on a puppy mill with deplorable conditions, and several inspiring portraits of people who’ve devoted their lives to helping out the worst cases from the shelter system and getting them successfully adopted. The doc doesn’t exactly offer anything that animal lovers or anyone who’s seen that darn Sarah McLachlan commercial can’t already imagine, but it does effectively bring into vivid focus not only the ugly consequences of neglect and the lack of population control, but also the elation of seeing an innocent, hard-luck case find happiness in a new home. It’s tough to watch at times, but it’s even tougher to look away. —Dan Kaufman

The Playroom
Poignant and unabashed, The Playroom is a portrait of a troubled, yet traditional family living in 1970s suburbia. Director Julia Dyer’s second feature film has a unique plot, driven by the story of two parents (played by veteran actors John Hawkes and Molly Parker) who are presented to the audience exclusively from the perspective of their children. The film’s protagonist is eldest daughter Maggie (newcomer Olivia Harris), who is fueled by a maternal love for her siblings and a bitter resentment towards their alcoholic mother. Parker plays the perfect villain—more disinterested than vicious—who is absolutely detached in a way that produces quiet, devastating effects. The film’s title plays on two central locations: the attic, where the children are playful and safe in their domain, and the living room, where the parents join the couple next door and become rather childlike themselves, but with seriously adult repercussions. The Playroom is a bit slow-paced at times, and some of the more intense scenes fall flat. Nonetheless, Dyer succeeds in taking an uncommon approach to a common story, making the drama a fascinating piece and a respectable sophomore effort. —Shannon Houston

Replicasis a horrifying experience that will confirm your every suspicion about creepy next door neighbors. The cast of Jeremy Regimbal’s debut film is unforgettable and their faces will haunt you…. probably forever. Selma Blair and Joshua Close play suburban parents suffering from a recent, tragic loss. They travel with their son (played adeptly by Quinn Lord) to their second family home in a small town, but achieve little rest after meeting the neighboring family, a father, mother, and son (played by James D’Arcy, Rachel Miner and Alex Ferris). Replicas chronicles a disturbing, violent case of (attempted) stolen identity, pulling out all of the traditional horror movie frights, along with some savage and gruesome new stuff. Although there is some predictability in plot, most of the film is highly suspenseful and just plain scary. Regimbal especially shines in his penchant for inserting the humorous and the philosophical. Identity in his film is not a given, but an act or aesthetic that can be coveted, performed or replicated by a complete stranger who would kill to have your place in the world. —Shannon Houston

The Revisionaries
The Texas Board of Education, formerly chaired by Christian conservative and dentist Don McLeroy, is both reviled and revered for its influence on textbooks nationwide. This documentary captures meetings during which the board tackles the teaching of evolution (which many members believe is a faulty theory that should include the theory of intelligent design), as well as the revision of how history will be taught – for example, by replacing the mention of “hip-hop” in a textbook with “country western.” Thurman gives both sides equal time, but the culture wars are on display here in full color as lobbyists and opposing groups try to make their voices heard. The Revisionaries is extremely timely, as the next presidential election fast approaches and social issues are on many people’s minds. —Jonah Flicker

Sleepless Night
Sleepless Night stands out as one of the most realistic action films in a genre known for the viewer’s constant suspension of disbelief. French director Frederic Jardin takes the daring step of presenting a strong hero with actual, human qualities. Tomer Sisley plays Vincent, a mediocre father and dirty cop (we think) caught up in a heist gone wrong. All of the action unfolds in a single day (and one sleepless night), when his son is kidnapped for ransom. The plot twists—and twists, and then twists again—as Vincent becomes a desperate father fighting for his son and, perhaps, the chance to be better than he once was. There are no throwaway scenes in Sleepless Night, and the humor comes from the realistic nature of the fights, carnage and survivals. Because nobody in the film is infallible (not the cops—clean and rogue—after Vincent, or the drug lords and their right-hand men), the story is infused with a constant sense of suspense; absolutely anything seems absolutely possible. Refreshing in its approach to the genre, Sleepless Night may be the start of something new—the French film noir action feature, with heart. —Shannon Houston

Supporting Characters
Two guys, four relationships. Supporting Characters dives into the complicated affairs within best friends Nick (Alex Karpovsky) and Darryl’s (Tarik Lowe) lives, their own bromance being the core point of focus with their female relationships taking a supporting role. Nick and Darryl are a seemingly inseparable and successful editing team who comically bicker with the best of intensions. When Jamie (Arielle Kebbel), the star of the disaster of a film they’re in the process of editing, drops by the studio, an engaged-to-be-married Nick is sent into a dizzying tailspin of confusion when his new celebrity crush expresses interest. Nick’s dry wit matched with Darryl’s awkwardness with women are a pleasure to watch, making Supporting Characters a smart take on relationships as a whole. —Caitlin Colford

Teacher of the Year
Chris Modoono’s Teacher of the Year is the perfect comedy short, packing a ton of laughs into a handful of scenes. Gil Zabarsky plays Ethan Collins, an elementary school teacher who is having a very bad day. This becomes especially obvious when he relays to his third graders their homework assignment for the night: “Sometimes Mommies lie to Daddies, so your assignment is to catch your Mommy in a lie.” The assistant principal (played by SNL’s ever-hilarious Rachel Dratch) witnesses some of his not-so-teacher-of-the-year antics and assigns a fellow teacher (Kathleen Littlefield) to observe him. With the introduction (and then improper use) of the “rope of friendship,” the day gets much worse before it gets better. In fact, Teacher of the Year is so hilariously dark, it begins to feel like a short, comedic version of Monsieur Lazhar, if such a thing could exist. With cast members wholly committed to the comedy of the piece, and an excellent, precise storyline, we look forward to experiencing a future feature film from Modoono, a director who knows how to make a complete comedic short of epic proportions. —Shannon Houston

Take This Waltz
Michelle Williams’ continued exhibition of sheer and undeniable talent is exhilarating. Williams departs from Marilyn and melts into the role of Margot in Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz, a portrait of a tortured and tottering late twenty year old unsure of the difference between love and lust. After coincidences and frequent bump ins, Margot develops an attraction that turns into an obsession for her bohemian neighbor, Daniel (Luke Kirby). This is despite her kind, chicken-cooking husband Lou (Seth Rogan), who remains oblivious to her immoral desires until it’s too late. Seemingly symbolic, though perhaps unnecessary, nudity and graphic sex scenes saturate the latter half of the film, making for a predicted NC-17 rating even Weinstein won’t be able to avoid. The females whisk this film to the finish line, complimented by a quirky performance by Sarah Silverman (Geraldine) who sums up Margot’s plight best, “Life has a big hole in it. You don’t go around trying to fill it like some lunatic.” —Caitlin Colford

Turn Off The Lights
Serbian director Ivana Mladenovic’s new documentary is an interesting and sometimes bizarre look at Roma culture in Romania, especially to Western eyes unacquainted with the traditions and lifestyle associated with the people. The documentary follows three young men as they are released from prison for various crimes. The main subject is Alex, an arrogant and troubled young man, who was convicted of killing his girlfriend as a teenager and still displays flashes of rage and violence towards women. The experiences of the men as they re-enter society vary from mundane to flashy – one in particular, nicknamed “Verace,” has a family that lives a blinged-out lifestyle focused on appearance and money. Mladenovic’s cameras intimately follow her subjects, shedding light on a subject that is not covered very often in the documentary world. —Jonah Flicker

While We Here
While We Here is, on the one hand, utterly romantic and traditional. Entirely in black and white and set on the island of Ischia in Italy, Kat Coiro’s second feature film stars Kate Bosworth as Jane, a woman in the midst of a difficult marriage and an exciting affair. While paying homage to early cinema, Coiro also takes many unconventional risks in the storyline, where the conflict of the piece centers on Jane’s relationship with herself and a personal project she has been unable to complete for years. The love affair with a barely legal American (played by Jamie Blackley) and the marriage to her loving, but detached husband (Iddo Goldberg) are almost secondary, although they provide the meat of the film and the—for lack of a better phrase—absolute sexiness. Blackley provides the drama’s comic relief, and Goldberg aptly delivers the intensity of an artist and husband who, like Bosworth’s character, has not quite found himself. Visually enticing and well grounded in its plot (as the title implies, the film does not attempt to deal with much more than this one very specific moment in the protagonist’s life), While We Here reminds us of Bosworth’s capabilities and introduces us to the new, exciting talent of her co-stars. Perhaps most importantly, its depiction of womanhood, particularly as it does and does not relate to the romantic male counterpart, establishes Coiro’s presence as a new, potent voice in filmmaking. —Shannon Houston

Your Sister’s Sister
Improvisation is the shining star of Your Sister’s Sister, from the talented Lynn Shelton, director of Sundance smash Humpday. Mark Duplass (Jack) rightfully reteams with Shelton to yet again exhibit his hilarious brilliance for an acting form many struggle to master. After mortifying himself at his late brother’s one-year memorial gathering, Jack’s best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt), ships him off to heal at her family’s vacation house. Much to his surprise, the house already has a guest, Iris’ lesbian sister Hanna (Rosemarie Dewitt). A regrettable drunken (and brief) sex romp ensues, causing tension when Iris pops by the next morning. The three characters’ raw and electric chemistry, both as individual couples and as a trio, is rare, as is their impressive ability to deliver a hilarious film based on an outlined script of loose dialogue. —Caitlin Colford