The Tribeca Film Festival 2013

Through my work for JustPressPlay, I’ve been covering this year’s Tribeca Film Festival with extreme dedication. I’ve seen 20-odd films so far and intend on seeing plenty more the rest of the week. But with the Festival in full swing, I thought I would catalog my reviews so far to keep you up-to-date on the best (and worst) offerings this year. So delve into my coverage of this year’s films and, if you can, go check some of them out! (And I’ll keep updating this article as more of my reviews get posted.)

The English Teacher

large_english_teacher_1Linda Sinclair (Julianne Moore) is perfectly comfortable with her quiet life as a high school English teacher—living alone and filling her spare time with reading novels and screaming at telemarketers on the phone. (Or so the trite and too on-the-nose narrator would have us believe.) But, when former student Jason Sherwood (Michael Angarano) returns to town after failing to make it as a Broadway playwright, Linda starts to become more active in her own life. She reads Jason’s play The Chrysalis and loves it (weird moth characters and all). She loves it so much that she becomes determined to mount a high school production of it (despite its decidedly adult and Ibsen-like tone). Yet Linda gets carried away with her passion for the project and her need to rekindle Jason’s aims as a writer. (read more)

The Pretty One

pretty_one_bannerOnce upon a time not too long ago, in a land not unlike rural California, there were twin sisters (both played by Zoe Kazan) who were as different as night and day. Audrey was a social butterfly. She won every competition. She stole boys’ hearts. She had a chic sense of style. And she moved away from home not long after her mother’s death. Conversely, Laurel was a wallflower. She had only one winning ribbon to her name. She only got the boys who weren’t good enough to attract Audrey. She had a hipster sense of style. And she stayed home to take care of her father after her mother’s death. (read more)

A Birder’s Guide to Everything

birders_guide_bannerDavid Portnoy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) may have spotted the extinct Labrador Duck. Sure, David’s only a 15-year-old birder and still reeling from his mother’s death over a year ago, but he needs to place his faith in something, so why not this extinct bird (although he will deny later in the film that the bird is a metaphor for anything). It also doesn’t help that his father (James LeGros) is about to marry Juliana (Daniela Lavender), who was David’s mother’s nurse no less. Thus it is understandable that David wants to evade the wedding to track down the supposedly extinct duck. (read more)

What Richard Did

whatricharddidRichard spent the weekend hanging out with his friends. Richard started dating Lara. Richard had a family cookout with his rugby coach. Richard grew jealous of Conor’s intimate friendship with Lara. Richard went shopping. And Richard slept with Lara at his family’s beach house. That’s what Richard did. Oh, and Richard killed someone. (read more)

A Single Shot

large_a_single_shot_1While out hunting a deer, notorious poacher John Moon (a heavily-bearded Sam Rockwell) accidentally shoots and kills a young woman. As he searches for a place to dump the body, he stumbles upon her encampment and a box full of cash. Haunted by the dead woman’s image, John attempts to redeem himself by using the money to salvage what’s left of his tenuous marriage to Jess (Kelly Reilly), with whom he shares a son. But as the men who want that money begin to terrorize him, John is caught in a deadly (and dull) game of cat and mouse. (read more)

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

elaine_stritch_shoot_me_bannerElaine Stritch is an iconic actress of both the stage and screen. Now well into her mid-80s she is still pushing herself to produce quality performances. But between her battle with alcoholism and combating a serious case of diabetes, Stritch is starting to grow weary. Not that she’ll let that stop her from helming yet another one-woman cabaret show (with a multi-city tour to boot). So one week after spotting Stritch at her hair salon, filmmaker Chiemi Karasawa agreed with her hair stylist’s suggestion that she should make a documentary about Stritch. (read more)

Trust Me

trust_me_bannerThe newest movie by filmmaker Clark Gregg (aka The Avengers‘ Agent Coulson) delves into his surprisingly “ambiguous feelings” for the movie-making business—specifically the world of child actors and their agents. Playing one of those notorious agents himself, Gregg brings to life the down-on-his-luck Howard Holloway. Struggling to retain a single client while combating his highly successful archnemesis Aldo Shocklee (Sam Rockwell in a mercifully focused and comedic performance—unlike in A Case of You), Howard fears his days in the business are numbered. (read more)

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

reluctant_fundam_bannerWhile it may seem odd that acclaimed Indian filmmaker Mira Nair is tackling a film centered around a Pakistani man, she certainly doesn’t think so. What drew her to The Reluctant Fundamentalist was its new look at the Iraq and Afghantistan wars. She read the novel (of the same name) by author Mohsin Hamid and fell in love with the fresh new look at the psychology of this subject. While those stories are normally told from the American point of view,Fundamentalist looks at it through the eyes of a Pakistani man. The film delves into “the mutual suspicion with which America and Pakistan (or the Muslim world) look at one another.” And through this unique point of view, we can gain a deeper understanding of the cultural differences that have informed so much hate in our country. (read more)


bluebird-john-slattery-skipLance Edmands’ debut film Bluebird is inspired by the Robert Frost poem, “The Last Word of the Blue Bird.” As he summates, “the poem tells the story of a little girl named Lesley who finds a bluebird, which she befriends. But when winter comes, the bird tells her that it must fly south.” The bird must escape the inhospitable environment of the wintry north if it hopes to survive. Edmands says, “The poem was used to teach children about loss.” It is exactly this loss and striving to find an environment to live in that he captures in his film. (read more)


large_gbf_2In suburban high schools, the G.B.F. (or Gay Best Friend, for those not up on the vernacular) is the hot new thing. The only problem for the students in G.B.F.? There are no gay students at the school—at least not openly gay. But Brent Van Camp (Paul Iacono) plans to change all that by coming out and using the most popular girls in school to launch him to the top as Prom King. What ensues is a pop culture-infused meta comedy with Game of Thrones manipulation. (read more)

Floating Skyscrapers

large_Floating_Skyscrapers_1_pubsFor fifteen years, Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk) has been training to be a champion swimmer. When not at the gym or in the pool, he spends his time sexing his girlfriend Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz) and dealing with his overbearing mother Ewa (Katarzyna Herman), who bares a disturbing resemblance to Norma Bates (for instance, she makes Kuba massage her shoulders while she’s in the bath—with him still nursing a Sylwia-inspired erection, no less). Out of a seeming boredom with the status quo, Kuba begins to be distracted by guys at the gym—even going to so far as to hook up with a guy who cruises him in the shower (although he freaks out about it leaves before he can finish). (read more)

Adult World

large_adult_world_2The protagonist of Adult World may be a familiar figure. She just graduated from college. She relies on her parents for money. She thinks she’s the greatest writer of her generation. No, this isn’t Hannah Horvath; this is Amy Anderson. But don’t worry, Adult World isn’t trying to be like Girls, it’s trying to be funny—and it’s highly successful at it, too. (read more)

Deep Powder

large_DEEP_POWDER_2It’s the early 1980’s; and the Deep Powder Alpine Country Club is a secret society at the savvy and prestigious New England boarding school, Mount Ambrose. The teenage members of this club—easily resembling Gossip Girl characters—enjoy skiing (both kinds); and, once a year, one lucky member makes a drug run to Ecuador for some high-grade cocaine. Based on true events, Deep Powder follows the dramatic final year of this club and the resulting investigation into their illicit actions. (read more)

Hide Your Smiling Faces

images2013 is shaping up to be the year of Kids with Guns (cue that Gorillaz song). From Mia Wasikowska toting a rifle in Stoker to those Disney darlings forcing James Franco to fellate a pistol in Spring Breakers, youth gun violence is percolating throughout pop culture. But Hide Your Smiling Faces isn’t a hedonistic look at violence; it’s a quiet contemplation of death through the eyes of children (with guns). (read more)

A Case of You

large_a_case_of_you_1A Case of You is a romantic comedy for the 21st century. When Sam (Justin Long) tries to woo the aloof girl at the coffee shop, Birdie (Evan Rachel Wood), he stalks her Facebook profile to transform himself into the man of her dreams. Such is the exact setup you would expect from a rom com, and A Case of You does not fail to meet the rote expectations of its genre. (read more)

Super Powers Were “What the Family Needed”

What if you had special powers—but only temporarily? The family at the center of What the Family Needed chooses to use their powers for almost selfish reasons. Author Steven Amsterdam draws from the pop culture obsession with superheroes to tell a tale that’s far more down-to-earth and personal. Their powers may only come for a small time, but they way they use them affects their lives, generally for the better.

Each chapter focuses on a different character, chronicling the family over a couple of decades. Some of the chapters are duds—I almost shut the book when I read  the dull chapter about the dad who flies, trying to escape his rut of a life. But some of them are highly engaging—young Giordana turns herself invisible and spies on those closest to her (including watching her brother have sex with their cousins’ babysitter). Amsterdam easily captures each character’s voice in his chapters, allowing you to get inside their thoughts. But what really keeps you engaged is trying to uncover what is going on with troubled child Alek (his chapter, the final one, definitely made up for what I disliked about the rest of the novel).

What the Family Needed is ofttimes too earnest to be enjoyable. The characters all want to be such good people. But Amsterdam’s tight, insightful prose makes up for all the forced poignancy. If you’re looking for a short, personal novel, then this one will suffice—especially if you’ve always wanted X-Men-like powers.


Jonathan Dee Owes “A Thousand Pardons” for His Mediocre Novel

Jonathan Dee’s new novel, A Thousand Pardons, explores second chances and the ever-changing concept of the American Dream. Starting with cliché suburban couple Ben and Helen Armstead and their adopted daughter Sara, Pardons follows the detonation of this family and their attempts to find some form of a livable existence. While at times humorous, the novel fails to reach any true level of enlightenment.

15732607When Ben’s drunk driving accident brings shame on his family, he divorces himself from their lives and clocks in some time in jail. Having to work for the first time in nearly two decades, Helen struggles to find a job in a completely different market from what she’s used to (computers and social media are not her forte). And teenage Sara is just so disillusioned with her parents’ drama and inevitably falls for the rebellious boy at her new school.

Dee does a great job of starting with a—painfully—cliché premise and taking it to an interesting place. His insight into the character’s psyches is at times fascinating while also lending itself to the methodical style of John Grisham. Although Helen’s storyline goes into an interesting direction (involving a nuanced PR tactic of apologizing for wrongdoing), the rest of the characters fall flat. But as the novel moves into thriller territory, Pardons seems to lose its own identity.

Maybe in the hands of a different writer, these characters could’ve been more engaging. Tom Perrotta could’ve really brought them to life, I’m sure; and had Grisham actually written it, the climax would’ve been a lot more thrilling. Sadly, Pardons never quite reaches its potential; making it just another mediocre novel about American life.