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  • Tribeca 2009: Mid-Festival Report

    Tue, 28 Apr 2009 16:36:01

    Tribeca 2009: Mid-Festival Report - Taking a brief break from a blitz of screenings, ARTISTdirect's Tribeca correspondent sends this exclusive mid-festival report

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    So far the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival has been a mixed bag: I’ve seen a few probing films that have permeated the senses and enriched my experience as a filmgoer (mainly Shadow Billionaire and In The Loop) and one or two that have simply charmed the pants off me (Racing Dreams, City Island). Of course, a few have sent me running for the dark, shadowy theater doors—ultimately leaving me pleading for my precious time back (i.e., Accidents Happen and Tell Tale).

    Now that I have had time to digest and reflect upon the festival experience thus far as it’s about midway through, I can make this one lucid assessment: the buzz rising to the surface is quite tangible. Running into the theater of Alexis Manya Spraic’s directorial debut Shadow Billionaire—only a few minutes late I must point out—practically every seat was filled to the brim with onlookers glued to the screen. This incisive portrait of an elusive, fleeing billionaire-gone-missing unravels with precise timing and skill, delving deep into one man’s questionable, lurid dealings.

    Billionaire Larry Hillblom, co-founder of DHL (he’s the “H”), was labeled “brilliantly eccentric” at the tender age of 26 when his worldwide mailing service was a start-up. After raking in millions, Hillblom fled to Saipan, probably due to tax evasion, and truly had a penchant for adventurous behavior…and native, virginal girls, disturbingly. Numerous children from Saipan and the Philippines come out of the woodwork after his sudden, mysterious, deadly plane crash claiming to be the hoodlum’s heir, with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake. Spraic has a profound gift of airing Hillblom’s dirty laundry without ever judging the man, as lawsuits stack up and the truth is finally revealed in this sensationally gripping story.

    The biggest surprise of the festival thus far has been in the World Narrative Competition category: writer/director Raymond De Felitta's City Island. Starring a wide cast of recognizable faces (Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Emily Mortimer, Alan Arkin) along with a few new ones (Ezra Miller, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Steven Strait), this bizarre tale of bickering family life contains genuine moments of rollicking laughter, juxtaposed against more dramatic elements, like the discovery of a long-lost son. As a family filled with secrets—the father’s covered-up past and acting classes, the daughter’s hidden night job, the son’s sexually curious obsessions—the Rizzos have an infectious back-and-forth energy that is wildly refreshing. Never condescending to his characters’ missteps, De Felitta’s flawed humans and lively dialogue jump off the screen with the help of a splendid cast, elevating a would-be humdrum indie into something far more special and sincere.

    And then there are those films that simply never grabbed me, particularly utilizing a few too many storytelling gimmicks to stay afloat. From the start of the Geena Davis-headlined Accidents Happen, a familial story set in a time period resembling the ‘70s, or maybe the ‘60s—frankly, it’s hard to tell when this story took place; the production design just misses the mark on the era, as certain shoddy set pieces stand out more than blend in unnoticeably. And the premise—slow-motion action whenever an accident occurs, with smug winks at the camera soon to follow—comes off as ham-fisted and disingenuous, leaving the weightier moments dead upon arrival.

    Tell Tale, directed by Michael Cuesta (L.I.E.) and produced by acclaimed filmmaking brothers Ridley and Tony Scott, is a modern retelling and reconfiguring of Edgar Allen Poe’s infamous poem "A Tell-Tale Heart." Starring Josh Lucas and Lena Headley, this predicable concept of a man from the dead seeking revenge through the newly transplanted, telling heart of Lucas’ character, plods along in episodic fashion, never surprising.

    This revamping of the festival is proving far more economic and compelling than I expected. With less films to see, focus can loom on the far better cinematic efforts. I have many films left, including Hirokazu Koreeda’s Still Walking and the Polish Brothers’ Stay Cool. Report back soon for more on these and other films direct from Tribeca.

    —Adam Keleman

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    Tags: Andy Garcia, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Julianna Margulies, Josh Lucas, Michael Cuesta, The Tell-Tale Heart

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