Thursday, June 07, 2007

tribeca film festival article, coming soon book expo reviews

For 12 days last week, movie-lovers of New York got a chance to experience the frenzy, passion, and fun of choosing from over 150 new films to screen as the Tribeca Film Festival took over Manhattan.

Now in its sixth year, the annual festival was started by Robert De Niro and producer, Jane Rosenthal as a way to bring people back to Tribeca; not only one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city but also the hardest-hit in 911. There’s no better example of the fest’s ability to meld the celebration of film and Tribeca pride than the opening night event where an enthusiastic crowd of 1000 revisited the nostalgic classic, Dirty Dancing, at a free outdoor screening just a block away from Ground Zero. An oddly appropriate kickoff for the little film festival that could. This year it extended its velvet ropes across all of NYC, screening movies in uptown Manhattan and even holding events in other boroughs like Queens where it hosted the premiere of Spiderman 3.

Films from 47 countries were showcased at the fest but some didnt stray too far from home.

Like the rest of his movies, the Woody Allen-esque actor-writer-director Edward Burns set his latest effort in New York City, even filming chunks of the movie in Tribeca itself. Purple Violets tells the story of Brian and Patti (Patrick Wilson and Selma Blair), an old college couple who find each other after twelve years, both unhappy with their careers and trying to write the next great American novel. While Blair and Wilson are always great to watch, it’s Burns who steals all the scenes as Murph, Brian’s lawyer best friend, who spends the film making blunt observations in his charming Queens accent while trying to win Debra Messing’s heart.

Also set in New York City is Day Zero, a drama imaging a post 911 America where the draft is reinstated. Elijah Wood, Chris Klein, and newcomer Jon Bernthal play three childhood friends, all with very different lives, who find themselves drafted for the war in Iraq with only 30 days to report for duty. “One of the great things this movie investigates is the implication of a draft coming up, effecting people no matter where they’re from,” said Klein, who plays a young lawyer and husband. “I go back to the question, ‘What if this were a reality?’”

Holding it’s world premiere at the festival, Suburban Girl stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as an associate book editor trying to climb the ranks of the New York publishing world. Adapted from Melissa Bank’s greatly popular book, The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, the film also stars Alec Baldwin as Gellar’s love interest and some-time publishing mentor. His first movie since the recent scandal involving his now infamous Father of the Year voicemail rant, Baldwin’s involvement in the film proved to inevitably, unfortunately, mar it. Dialogue like “You told me that your daughter wasn’t speaking to you” – “I left her a message” were so relevant they elicited laughs from the audience at the unintentionally funny parts.

Gellar’s second film to premier at this year’s festival fared a little better. The concept behind The Air I Breathe, a film by Jieho Lee, breaks life down into four emotional cornerstones (love, sorrow, pleasure, happiness), with the four lead characters (played by Kevin Bacon, Gellar, Brendan Fraser, and Forest Whitaker, respectively) representing one each. Although we follow each character’s storyline as unrelated to the other, they don’t stay separate for long. Soon, every character is intricately connected, playing pivotal roles in each other’s lives. Having played the role of a tragic popstar, Gellar now knows she doesn’t envy that particular lifestyle. “Way too long in the makeup chair and the outfits were way too short,” she joked. “That is not a life I aspire to.” Having two movies premiere at the festival in as many days, Gellar was relishing her double-feature Tribeca experience.“It’s exciting, it’s overwhelming,” she said on the mile-long red carpet for the much buzzed-about Breathe. “I’m starting to lose my voice a little bit but I’m just happy to be here.”

Nobel Son also stars a cast of notable names in an ensemble story of a pompous Nobel prize winner, numerous kidnaping schemes, sons with daddy issues and just a touch of your garden variety faux cannibalism. Brain Greenberg (of TV’s October Road) plays Barkley, the son of Chemistry prize winner Eli (Harry Potter’s Snape) and victim of a kidnaping by someone who is non too amused by Eli’s ill-gotten award. Fast-paced and shot in a nitty-gritty style, the movie piles on schemes, twists, and unnecessary deaths all while trying to maintain a measure of dark humor. At one point, a character receives a rather gruesome part of his girlfriend’s anatomy in the mail, though unbeknownst to him, the fleshy looking thing is made of marzipan. Marzipan. What was supposed to be dramatic, unpredictable and intense ends up being an overly sugary concoction in disguise. Much like the movie itself.

Palo Alto, a film by 20 year-old director Brad Leong, takes place on the last night of four high school buddies’-- now college freshmen-- Thanksgiving break. The movie is a throwback to the George Lucas classic, American Graffiti, where all four friends separate for the night to have their own adventures and rediscover who they are and who they’ve become. The movie presents a somewhat cliche cast of characters (the sexist player, the insecure loner, the wannabe jock, the uptight, no-fun, planned future type) but Leong (who also co-wrote the script with Tony Vallone), adds his own young touch to give the movie a sense of youth and realism. Cast member Ryan Hansen (Veronica Mars), who saw the film for the first time at its premiere, was excited to be in Tribeca for the big event: “I love New York so much so it’s good to get to be here and experience the festival,” he said, adding jokingly, “De Niro, right?”

While the teens in Palo Alto do some mildly crazy things on their one-night adventure, they’re no match for the kids in Normal Adolescent Behavior, for whom the word “monogamy” has the sort of connotation that only a teen can manage to spin. The film presents a new angle on the behavior of the modern promiscuous teen but the film’s plot is too disjointed and secondary to the initial shock of what goes on behind clothes doors. In the title role as Charlie Bartlett, 18 year-old Anton Yelchin gives a hilariously bold performance as a privileged teen who dolls out prescription drugs to his classmates in an effort to be well-liked. Boasting another great teen performance is The Cake Eaters, the directorial debut of actress Mary Stuart Masterson. The film is about the return of a prodigal son but the immensely watchable Kristen Stewart steals the movie as a physically disabled girl who yearns for a companion and finds him in the town butcher’s shy son, played by X-Men’s Aaron Stanford.

Some of the most attention-grabbing and celebrated films at festivals tend to be documentaries, and two docs at Tribeca were notable for the high-profile stars behind them. Alexis Arquette: She’s My Brother shows glimpses of a year in transgender Alex Arquette’s life– sibling to the more famous Patricia, Rosanna, and David Arquettes-- as he goes through the process of becoming a woman. The film is an hour and a half of the camera in Alexis’ face, without the novelty of linear story-telling. In the anti-climactic end, Alexis does not reveal weather or not she went through with the surgery to physically become a woman. “People expect it to be a before-and-after like The Swan,” she said. “A lot of [producers] we approached were trying to influence the documentary. That exploitative nature, to peer into something you’re going to giggle about, was not something we wanted to do.”

Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, the two Mexican actors who first came to fame in the film Y Tu Mama Tambien , teamed up yet again to produce (and in Luna’s case, direct) Chavez, a doc about fellow Mexican and boxing champ, Julio Cesar Chavez. For Luna, his directorial debut was an even bigger accomplishment since he got to tag along with his childhood hero. “I was lucky that Julio was alive and wanted to share his story,” said Luna. “Suddenly he was telling me everything- too much! My hero from childhood telling me about his life, it was unbelievable.”

Docs may have been the talk of the fest but one of the best movies showcased this year at Tribeca was a mockumentary satire about the underbelly of Hollywood and reality TV. Live! stars Eva Mendes as a network exec who lobbies to get a Russian roulette reality competition on the air where one unlucky contestant is rewarded with a bullet in the brain. What people in the upper ranks of the TV world let slide in order to allow the show on the air is shocking enough, but once the competition starts, all bets are off, and the tension-filled last act makes you ask yourself some tough questions about what you view as acceptable. Todd Stashwick, who plays a producer in the film, felt that the movie left the audience with a lot to ponder: “It was funny and it was sad and it was scary and you hope that it hits on all of those feelings.”
Whether they were funny, sad, or scary, the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival gave audiences every type of film they could ask for.


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