By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com April 17, 2012 at 11:01AM
It's been a whole month since SXSW but the next fest is just a day away, with the 11th installment of the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York-based celebration of the movies set up by Robert De Niro and producing partner Jane Rosenthal, kicking off this Wednesday, April 18th.
Running to the end of the month, this year's festival is bookended by a pair of particularly high-profile pictures: opening with "The Five-Year Engagement," the latest Judd Apatow-produced rom-com from Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel (the team behind "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "The Muppets") and closing with Joss Whedon's Marvel superhero team-up "The Avengers." And yesterday, we ran down our most anticipated titles from the fest, many of which are making their world premiere or stateside debuts.
However, a number of films playing Tribeca are highlights from major festivals across the last year, from Cannes to Sundance. We've caught up with a dozen films on the Tribeca calendar already, so if you were on the fence about seeing any of them, you can have a look at our verdicts below. The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 18-29.
"2 Days In New York"
Synopsis: The sequel to the 2007 comedy catches up with Marion (Julie Delpy) who has to juggle her baby, a new beau (Chris Rock), her exes and her family when they come to visit.
Our Verdict: Delpy's follow-up to her directorial debut premiered at Sundance in January, and by most accounts, it's a worthy follow-up to the original. As John Lichman put in our review from Park City, it's "a sequel not just ready to rely on a past formula for success, but one that builds a rich and believable world for these characters to play in." John acknowledged that "not everything works, and other jokes feel dated," but ultimately "Delpy's film is fresh, vibrant and most of all, disarmingly funny." Read the full review here.
When: 26th at the BMCC Tribeca PAC, 27th and 27th at the AMC Loews Village.
"Chicken With Plums"
Synopsis: Nasser Ali (Mathieu Amalric) takes to his bed for eight days, intending to die, after his prized violin is destroyed by his wife (Maria De Medeiros).
Our Verdict: This writer caught the film, the latest from "Persepolis" duo Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, when it premiered in Venice way back in September, and I'm not entirely surprised it's taken so long to make it to U.S. shores: it's beautiful-looking and sounding, thanks to "some truly gorgeous sets by Udo Kramer, a pretty violin-led score by 'Persepolis' composer Olivier Bernet, and top-flight lensing by rising star Christophe Beaucarne," but "the frequent cut-aways and dips into direct address come off as a big-screen sitcom more than anything else," and "the central love story isn't quite interesting enough and is far too familiar to be particularly moving, and 90% of it is told in the film's final reel, which is a bit late in the game." Read the full review here.
When: 22nd at SVA Theater 1 Silas, and 24th at Clearview Cinemas Chelsea.
"Francophrenia (Or: Don't Kill Me, I Know Where The Baby Is)"
Synopsis: An experimental mockumentary following James Franco around the set of "General Hospital."
Our Verdict: More art project than movie, and making "I'm Still Here" seem positively straight-laced, "Francophrenia" is unlikely to see much of a life outside the festival circuit, but Brandon Harris seemed to think it was worth checking out when he saw the film in Rotterdam in February. Made up of a "at times pretentious but generally outlandish and genuinely disturbing stream of consciousness narration in Franco's mouth as he saunters around the set," it shows once again the actor to be "one of our most intelligent and preternaturally driven," and the film itself to be "a true marvel of the doc/fiction hybrid, a slender and seductive treatise on the edges of madness"
When: 22nd at SVA Theater, 24th and 28th at Clearview Cinemas Chelsea.
Synopsis: In 19th century London, a doctor (Hugh Dancy) unveils the vibrator to the delight of his patients, and enters a fledgling romance with a young feminist (Maggie Gyllenhaal).
Our Verdict: Playlister Kevin Jagernauth caught this period comedy, from director Tanya Wexler, at TIFF last year, and he found it pretty insubstantial, writing that "the film is heavy on foreplay but when it finally takes its pants off, the resulting encounter is less than satisfying." It's not a bad watch, exactly, but a less-than-memorable one: "It's diverting without getting annoying and while you won't regret the time you spend with it, you likely won't remember much either." Read the full review here.
When: 23rd at BMCC Tribeca PAC, 26th at SVA Theater 1 Silas.
"Keep The Lights On"
Synopsis: A documentary filmmaker (Thure Lindhart) and a literary agent (Zachary Booth) make an unexpected connection after a one-night stand.
Our Verdict: Ira Sachs' follow-up to his acclaimed "Forty Shades Of Blue" sounds like a U.S.-set version of last year's acclaimed "Weekend," and if Simon Abrams was correct when he reviewed the film for us at Sundance, it's every bit as good as its predecessor. "Sachs pulls no punches" he wrote, with "every moment poignant and significant in some way." Aside from one heavy-handed scene, the film was "stunning... there's no melodrama here, just a moving and totally engrossing story of two men in love." Sounds like it could be one of the films of Tribeca.
When: 25th at the SVA Theater 1 Silas, 26th and 29th at the Clearview Cinemas Chelsea.
Synopsis: A photographer is brought into the Child Protection Unit of the Paris Police, a tough, gruelling department.
Our Verdict: Maiwenn's gritty drama premiered almost a year ago in Cannes, where our Kevin Jagernuauth saw it, and sadly, it's not quite up to its promise. "It's not just a two-hour episode of 'Law & Order: SVU'" Kevin wrote, but said that "at its worst, it does evoke some of the shriller moments of that show." While he did praise "a rich array of complex characters that will be later filled out" and the way the film "moves like a documentary," "Maiwenn tries to have it both ways" and the film is "largely one-note and runs completely out of steam with still thirty minutes left to go." File under interesting failure.
When: 19th at the SVA Theater 1 Silas, 20th and 26th at the Clearview Cinemas Chelsea.
“Searching For Sugar Man”
Synopsis: A documentary from filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul about '70s Detroit folk-pop artist Rodriguez, who reportedly killed himself on stage, and the two South African fans who tried to get to the bottom of the life of their mysterious hero.
Our Verdict: Firmly under the radar before Sundance kicked off, "Searching For Sugar Man" was one of the pleasant surprises in Park City, and this year's entry in the "documentary to remind white people of all the great music in the world they don't know about," according to Todd Gilchrist's review. The film serves both as a reminder of Rodriguez's music, which survives "as much for its social consciousness as its remarkable melodic complexity," but also a portrait of "a person who felt a need to explore himself creatively, had the talent to do so, and then possessed the grace to deal with his failure in a simple, pragmatic way." Read that original review here.
Our Grade: A-
When: 24th at the BMCC Tribeca PAC, 27th at the Clearview Cinemas Chelsea.
"Side By Side"
Synopsis: Documentary by Keanu Reeves about the future of film, and specifically the move into digital.
Our Verdict: A doc about the ins and outs of film nerdery is never going to be a crossover hit, but we're not sure we care, because when Jessica Kiang saw the film for us in Berlin, she liked it an awful lot. Reeves makes a good host, "his genuine interest in the subject reveals itself, as does his sensitivity as an interviewer, neither overly deferential nor overly chummy" And the film's both "highly entertaining and informative," and ultimately, it's "simply a delightful experience, because to hear people we admire talk knowledgeably about the medium we care about has the effect of putting us back in touch with our own passion for it."
When: 24th at the SVA Theater Beatrice, 26th, 27th and 28th at the AMC Loews Village.
Synopsis: A dirty cop must fight to retrieve some stolen cash after his son is kidnapped.
Our Verdict: A hit at home in France, and already snapped up for a U.S. remake, Frederic Jardin's actioner has been riding a lot of buzz, and luckily when Todd Gilchrist saw it at Fantastic Fest he was glad to see it live up to the praise. It's "the sort of action thriller that's deceptively simple," with "a truly exciting, and meaningful finale" he wrote. Like the nightclub in which the whole film takes place, "it's less uniquely designed than just extremely well-crafted, combining a variety of familiar ideas into one cohesive, streamlined and supremely effective effort." Read his original review here.
When: 22nd, 26th and 27th at the Clearview Cinemas Chelsea.
"Take This Waltz"
Synopsis: A happily married couple, Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) are thrown into turmoil when Margot falls for a neighbor (Luke Kirby).
Our Verdict: A film that we've been tracking for a while now, Sarah Polley's follow-up to her excellent debut "Away From Her" has been undoubtedly divisive: as James Rocchi wrote when he reviewed it for us in Toronto last year, "Many find it simultaneously exhilarating and depressing; others find it ugly and hateful; a third faction seems to be kicking against the film not for how it says what it says, but, instead, for what it says in the first place." But, while it has issues, "the rest of this film is so good, and so strong, that they seem like cracks in a otherwise flawless creation," and "the things it gets right are buried under your skin like a splinter you can't dislodge, tearing at the nerves and flesh."
When: 22nd at the BMCC Tribeca PAC, 23rd and 26th on AMC Loews Village.
Synopsis: An updated version of "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" set in present-day India, with Riz Ahmed as a young Londoner working at his father's hotel, who falls into a destructive romance with a maid (Freida Pinto).
Our Verdict: We couldn't be bigger fans of Michael Winterbottom if we tried, but sadly, when I saw his latest at the London Film Festival last year, it proved to be a crushing disappointment. It's attractive to look at certainly, Winterbottom's eye "more authentic and less flashy than... 'Slumdog Millionaire.' But it's almost too much so as "everything seems timid and passionless... Winterbottom is more interested in picturesque locations than making it seem that his characters care about anything." And while Ahmed gives a good performance, as ever, Pinto "virtually fades into the wallpaper." One to skip, we would say.
When: 27th at the BMCC Tribeca PAC, 28th at the AMC Loews Village.
"Your Sister's Sister"
Synopsis: A woman (Emily Blunt) takes her best friend (Mark Duplass) to her family holiday home to help him get over the death of his brother, but things are upturned when her sister (Rosemarie Dewitt) arrives too.
Our Verdict: With a top-notch cast, and the director behind the well-liked "Humpday," this indie drama felt like it could be one of the breakouts of last year's TIFF. As it turns out, according to our Kevin Jagernauth, who saw it there, it was something of a disappointment. The cast are great, especially Duplass, who contributes "the best piece of acting so far in his career," but suffers from "a good dramatic premise ill-served by a far too casual approach." The film's languid, casual pace doesn't justify "the luxurious length of time it spends here, basking in its talky, chatty scenes," and the film "ultimately feels somewhat cobbled together and despite great performances by the trio of leads, never gains the emotional pull or depth it strives for."
When: 19th at the BMCC Tribeca PAC, 22nd at the Clearview Cinemas Chelsea, 25th at the AMC Loews Village.