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)


Ambiguous Love Reigns in “The Heiress”

The 1947 play The Heiress is currently enjoying its second Broadway revival. Adapted by Ruth and Augustus Goetz from Henry James’ Washington Square, the story feels like Jane Austen in New York City. With direction by playwright Moises Kaufman, this revival is a humorous and ambiguous examination of love and trust.

theheiressposterYoung Catherine Sloper (Jessica Chastain) is the titular heiress, expecting to receive a sizable fortune upon her father’s death. He, Dr. Austin Sloper (David Strathairn), concerns himself with finding a suitable young man for Catherine to marry. However, his anger with his daughter for causing his wife to die in childbirth has led him to put too much stress on her. She’s a timid, naive and “deeply unattractive” girl, bringing out even more disdain in Austin. So when young and attractive Morris Townsend (Dan Stevens) arrives to court his daughter, he is extremely suspicious.

As Morris woos Catherine, our distrust for his intentions grows. The audience must infer and deduce whether he truly loves Catherine or if he is a calculating young man. Stevens certainly does enough to make Morris ambiguous. The contrast between his dweeb-like American accent in Catherine’s presence and his more calculating tone when around others such as comedic relief Lavinia Penniman (a thoroughly amusing Judith Ivey), Catherine’s aunt, is enough to make one suspicious.

img-the-heiress_164707558146.jpg_article_singleimageIt’s not until the second act that everyone’s motives become increasingly clear. This is when the role of Catherine grows into something substantial. In the performance I saw, Chastain’s understudy, Mairin Lee, performed the role of Catherine. While adequately portraying naiveté, Lee was clearly aping Chastain’s style of acting, making it both easier to imagine her, Chastain, in the role instead and harder to enjoy her, Lee’s, own performance. This is definitely a role that an actress can sink her teeth into, and Chastain, I can only assume, does a wonderful job with it. (Hopefully this is her year, with both an Oscar and a Tony in her future!)

Before the last of this season’s shows begin opening, be sure to check out this play. It’s funny and engaging enough to make you forget that it runs almost 3 hours in length. And the performances strike a good balance between subtlety and camp, keeping you engaged in guessing about the characters’ motives and what kind of action they will take in those final scenes without becoming darkly serious.

This Hobbit’s “Unexpected Journey” Feels Like a Rerun

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was brilliant and groundbreaking, and he’s using The Hobbit to (unnecessarily) remind you of that. Returning to those iconic sets, recycling that familiar score, reusing those great actors, Jackson has transformed J.R.R. Tolkein’s little children’s prequel novel (and some “relevant” LOTR appendices stories) into a massive trilogy of as epic proportion as his original trilogy. The idea of having Jackson adapt The Hobbit was pleasing, but, like a kid in a candy store, he got far too carried away.

The_HobbitThe Hobbit occurs 60 years before the events of LOTR when Gandalf (Ian McKellen) recruits Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as a burglar on a grand quest with a gang of dwarves. Their aim is to take back the Lonely Mountain from the evil dragon Smaug and retrieve their lost treasure. The first half of their adventure mimics that of The Fellowship of the Ring and Jackson makes sure to add more allusions to Fellowship when they don’t naturally occur in the novel (he somehow manages to squeeze in some drama at Weathertop).

A lot of various plot threads are introduced in this film, making it feel especially bloated. When familiar characters are worked into the story—Elijah Wood pops up as Frodo in one gratuitous scene, Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel makes a seemingly unimportant cameo—it feels like cheating. Yet when new characters are introduced (ones not directly from The Hobbit novel) they feel completely unnecessary and uninteresting—especially Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) who comes off as a psychotic old man with Ent semen in his hair and a Snow White obsession with forest critters.

Despite Jackson’s attempts to give the film a “stand alone” feeling at the end with an accelerated storyline about Thorin’s (Richard Armitage) acceptance of Bilbo as a part of their gang, Unexpected Journey just feels like the first few episodes of a Hobbit miniseries. Miniseries is an accurate term for this synthesis of a novel and appendices. Its scope is broad enough and its execution feels episodic enough that this 3-hour film feels more like a marathon of TV episodes.

Not to say that this film isn’t enjoyable. Jackson easily captures the whimsy and humor that is prevalent in The Hobbit, although sometimes it feels almost farcical. But the excessive amount of added storylines makes this a tiresome film to sit through. Fellowship felt like a full, entertaining story that left you wanting more when it ends; but Unexpected Journey’s ending leaves you excited to get out of the theater. This film is all exposition and story building without any true payoff. Once you are able to consecutively watch all the films in close conjunction, however, it will be a more enjoyable experience to watch this movie.