Tribeca Film Festival recap: Thumper, Mike and the Mad Dog, and Chuck — and plenty more
Ridgefield Press Editor Steve Coulter journeyed to New York City this past weekend to take part in this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Over a three-day span, Coulter was able to see eight films and one documentary, while also attending the retrospective screening of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs Friday night.
Here are brief reviews of what he saw:
Starring Christopher Plummer, Jai Courtney and Lily James (Downton Abbey), this World War II drama focuses on exiled German monarch Kaiser Wilhelm II. While Plummer excels in the role of Wilhelm II, the film focuses more on the budding romance between Courtney’s Nazi officer with a conscience and James’ doe-eyed housemaid. (In fact, she gets the lead actor credit after the film.) It doesn’t do anything original cinematically and stretches the truth of history at some points (like Kaiser Wilhelm’s feelings toward Germany’s Jewish population). Despite the film’s shortcomings, the final 20 minutes, as with any great thriller, keep you at the edge of your seat.
Bottom line: 2 stars (out of 5)
Like many films at Tribeca, this thriller is the debut feature for its director, Jordan Ross. You wouldn’t know it. Thumper is expertly crafted, from the opening sequence that tracks meth cook Pablo Schreiber (The Wire) to the pulse-pounding climax in a drug dealer’s bathroom (think Training Day). This high-paced drama repurposes John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath for the current war on drugs (Ross isn’t too subtle with this infusion, but we’ll let that slide). It borrows a lot of themes from other drug-related stories that take the viewer to seedy places (like Brick, Breaking Bad and True Detective). Although not the lead in the film, Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) delivers the goods in her handful of scenes, and Daniel Webber (11/22/63) serves as the film’s emotional backbone. It’ll be interesting to see what lead actress Eliza Taylor does after this one. She could have a similar rise to fame — similar to the one Joseph Gordon-Levitt had following the premiere of Brick in 2005 — over the next half-decade. She’s that good.
Bottom line: 4.5 stars
Mike and the Mad Dog
The latest 30 for 30 documentary from ESPN films will hit TV screens nationwide this summer, and there are bound to be many opinions about it — loud ones. New York sports talk show hosts Mike Francesa and Chris “the Mad Dog” Russo — and a crowd of celebrity voices — reflect on their journey together from the early days in the late 1980s to their “divorce” almost 10 years ago. In between, the two re-shaped sports media forever, and were at the forefront of trends that are now considered cultural norms (example: radio row at the Super Bowl). Like any retrospective piece, this documentary makes you yearn for “the good old days.” It packs an emotional wallop while also making you break out in hysterical laughter — all in a tight, 55-minute frame. My only complaint was a simple one: I wanted more Mike and the Mad Dog. Yeah, I know, me and millions of other faithful listeners.
Bottom line: 4.5 stars
Abundant Acreage Available
A true small-budget indie, this films stars Amy Ryan (The Wire) and Terry Kinney (Billions) as sister and brother as they cope with the loss of their father, a tobacco farmer. While they wrestle with that trauma, they meet three brothers whose family owned the land before their father did. It’s an effortless watch — 80 minutes’ run time — with a short bench of characters (only a five-person cast). Nonetheless, director Angus MacLachlan (Junebug) accomplishes his mission with this subtle script that explores the complexity of family and legacy.
Bottom line: 3 stars
Evan Peters (American Horror Story, X-Men) thrives in the lead role of Canadian journalist Jay Bahadur, who went to Somalia in 2008 to investigate the still-unfolding situation with pirates off the country’s coast, and Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) gives a great supporting turn as his translator and main local contact. But for all the inspiration Bahadur’s personal journey gives to struggling reporters — and recent college graduates — around the globe, what this film really lacks is imagination for its cast of Somali non-actors. In fact, one of the characters in the film — Bahadur’s supposed love interest, even though we don’t know what role she plays in his life after he becomes an internationally published writer — criticizes Western portrayals of her people. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t exactly right that wrong. Fun film, but not a complete one.
Bottom line: 3 stars
One Percent More Humid
Ridgefield High School graduate Liz W. Garcia directs her second feature-length film, about two college-age friends who reunite to spend the summer together following the loss of one of their friends. Note: This is anything but a vacation. Consider yourself warned. Juno Temple (Vinyl) and Julia Garner (The Americans) star as the lead characters, but surprisingly, Garcia entrusts a great deal of the plot to actor Alessandro Nivola, who plays a struggling writer who’s having an affair with Temple’s character, Iris, while his wife (played by Maggie Siff of Billions) is in New York City. Siff nails her scenes, as expected, but it’s Nivola whom the festival deemed worthy of its Best Actor prize.
Bottom line: 2.5 stars
Paris Can Wait
Despite what any local paper might say when this film gets released this month, Paris Can Wait is not an Alec Baldwin movie; it’s unequivocally a Diane Lane movie. Moreover, it’s a European movie. The pace — you might wonder based on that description — is so slow you can barely find a pulse. The scenery and food looked nice, but without seeing and tasting it firsthand, the experience just felt empty. Lane’s character was never even that fully developed, and she’s in every shot of the film.
Bottom line: 1.5 stars
Director Kasra Farahani meshes themes from American Psycho and The Shining together, while infusing this descent into madness with Trump-era anxiety. Despite its horror movie genre tag, Tilt delivered the funniest line of any film at Tribeca. Joe (played by Joseph Cross of Big Little Lies) goes out walking the city at midnight. Slowly losing his mind and becoming more homicidal from being stuck “working” from home during the day, Joe stumbles into the garage of a man who’s been using an electric saw. Our antagonist, picking up the saw, asks why the man is doing this chore so late. Don’t the neighbors mind? What about the man’s wife? Turns out the man doesn’t have one. Joe does, and he can’t help asking the stranger why he has never committed to someone else. “I guess because I enjoy my freedom.” That’s something Joe — a soon-to-be dad and unemployed documentarian — doesn't get to enjoy anymore. Luckily for the man, Joe puts the saw down and walks away. It doesn’t matter, though: After all those hours spent watching Trump on TV and 1950s video footage on his computer for his next project, Joe’s internal rage boils to the point of explosion.
Bottom line: 4 stars
Chuck (retitled The Bleeder)
We’ve all seen a half-dozen or more boxing movies in our lifetimes, so what makes Chuck — retitled for commercial purposes as The Bleeder — any different? Well, for starters, its protagonist, Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber), is the man who inspired Rocky. While it’s fun seeing actor Morgan Spector as young Stallone in a handful of scenes, the heavy work is left to Schreiber (Ray Donovan) and Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) as they deal with a marriage that’s falling apart as the cost of Chuck’s incessant need for fame and attention. Eventually, it leads him to prison. Pretty starling for a guy who went 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali and had an Academy award-winning film made about him. Naomi Watts, Michael Rapaport, and Jim Gaffigan provide strong support for a man teetering on the brink of complete loneliness. Like any good movie, it makes you laugh, it makes you cry and it makes you think. And that’s a fight worth watching.
Bottom line: 4 stars