Which films impressed at this year's Tribeca?
The 2019 edition of the Tribeca Film Festival concluded this weekend with the eagerly awaited debut of Danny Boyle's upcoming Beatles musical Yesterday and the announcement of the festival's audience awards. On Thursday, the Tribeca jury also announced its awards, giving its highest honor to Burning Cane, the feature debut from a teenage filmmaker.
Below, find out what critics think of those films and all of the other major film and TV titles debuting at this year's Tribeca. Note that Tribeca films which previously debuted at other festivals or that have already opened in North American theaters (or aired on TV) are not included here.
Best Narrative Feature (U.S.)
Drama | USA | Directed by Phillip Michael Youmans
New Orleans native Phillip Youmans may be just 19 years old, making him the youngest director ever to enter a film in competition at the festival. But he is now the owner of two Tribeca awards after his debut feature (filmed while he was still in high school!) earned top honors at the 2019 festival. Youmans also collected a cinematography award for Burning Cane, a blues-inspired drama that focuses on a group of troubled residents of rural Southeastern Louisiana, including an alcoholic preacher played by Wendell Pierce (who also picked up an award as the festival's best actor).
The Tribeca jury saluted a "searingly original" voice and compared Youmans to William Faulkner. (Others see a young Terrence Malick.) But critics had a more tempered reaction. Screen's Stephen Whitty notes a "sometimes crude approach" by the young filmmaker (including poor lighting and a "sketchy" script) as well as some "grim" subject matter, resulting in a "polarizing" film, but nevertheless predicts "some end-of-year critics' awards" for Cane (and that was before it won any honors at the festival). IndieWire's Eric Kohn also feels that the film "hovers in textures more than plot," which means that it "can’t shake the feeling of a sketchbook loaded with ideas that could use more fleshing out." Nevertheless, he calls it an "impressive first stab at conveying a nascent director's grand vision." In a brief summary (but not the paper's official review), Ben Kenigsberg of the New York Times thinks the film "springs to life whenever Wendell Pierce is onscreen," and concludes, "The movie is tough going, but coming from a 19-year-old, it shows a startlingly expansive understanding of what movies can be." But RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico finds "just barely too little movie" in Cane, which "bears the fingerprints of youth, often feeling more like a student film than a major production."
Best Narrative Feature (International)
House of Hummingbird (Beolsae)
Drama | South Korea/USA | Directed by Bora Kim
Tribeca's winning international film is a Korean coming-of-age drama set in 1994. Hummingbird centers on a lonely eighth-grader (Ji-hu Park) who seeks an escape from her troubled home life and problems at school, finally finding a friend in an unlikely place. Bora Kim's semi-autobiographical debut film also collected awards for best actress (for Park) and best cinematography (Kang Gook-hyun) in the international competition. Hummingbird hasn't received many reviews yet, but Variety's Tomris Laffly, though finding the film "a touch overlong," notes the director's "minimalist and acutely feminine perspective" and compares her "peaceful style" to that of Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda. And Slashfilm's Hoai-Tran Bui, in a 9/10 review, calls Park "a revelation" and "a quiet force of nature in a remarkably introspective performance that heavily drives the slow-burning movie."
Best Documentary Feature
Documentary | Scotland/Sweden | Directed by Ellen Fiske and Ellinor Hallin
Like many of this year's Tribeca entries, a debut feature, this year's winning documentary examines teenagers growing up in a housing project in Scotland—specifically, through the eyes of the now parentless Gemma, whose sole positive familial relationship (with her pigeon-racing grandfather) ends after she has a baby with her violent boyfriend. One of the few critics to review Scheme Birds so far, Screen's Wendy Ide calls the film "a remarkable achievement" comparable to the work of Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold, writing, "This extraordinary documentary weighs the bleak details – and they are, at times, almost unbearably grim – against moments of lyrical beauty and even humour." And Variety's Guy Lodge (writing from the concurrent Hot Docs festival in Toronto rather than Tribeca, but we'll take it), describes the "superb" doc as "an alternately lyrical and gut-punching coming-of-age study." He, too, sees a lot of Andrea Arnold in a film that echoes her "outsider affinity and sensory, symbol-heavy aesthetic."
Audience Award - Narrative
Rom-com | USA | Directed by Andrew Rhymer and Jeff Chan
While the Tribeca jury selects the main group of award winners, attendees also get to vote on a separate set of honors. Their favorite narrative film this year is this rom-com from a pair of first-time feature directors centering on a pair of single college friends (The Hunger Games' Jack Quaid and PEN15's Maya Erskine) who agree to spend a busy summer of weddings as each other's dates. The Playlist's Lena Wilson is, to use a technical term, meh on the film, deeming it "a well-made, chuckle-worthy jaunt as opposed to a rollicking, revolutionary funfest." She also thinks that there are too many weddings (ten!) to sit through, and that the talents of Erskine ("far and away the most comically adept performer in the film") are wasted as her character is secondary to Quaid's. But Variety's Nick Schager calls it a "winning film" and thinks that Erskine's "whip-crack comedic timing" manages to energize the entire thing. At THR, Jon Frosch admits, "Plus One is nothing if not formulaic," but adds that what the film "lacks in originality it at least partially makes up for in warmth and watchability." The film was acquired by RLJ Entertainment just prior to the festival, and will head to theaters on June 14th.
Audience Award - Documentary
Gay Chorus Deep South
Documentary | USA | Directed by David Charles
The debut from director David Charles Rodrigues follows the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus on a recent bus tour of the South as conductor Tim Seelig aims to offer a counterpoint to a recent surge in anti-LGBTQ laws and sentiment. Selected by festivalgoers as the top documentary at Tribeca, Gay Chorus Deep South is "engaging and colourful," according to Screen's Nikki Baughan, who thinks the film "draws its strength not only from its subject, but also the effective way in which it it presents its arguments." But THR's Stephen Farber observers that despite some "stirring moments," the film "has too many gaps to be considered a complete success." And Variety's Peter DeBruge admires how the director "succeeds in humanizing the individuals on both sides," though warns that the film is "a little simplistic at times."
Other highlights of the festival
Documentary | USA | Directed by Davy Rothbart
Found Magazine founder (and This American Life contributor) Davy Rothbart compiles footage from two decades of intimate home videos shot by a Washington D.C. family—whose home is just 17 blocks from the Capitol—to trace their journey through poverty, addiction, and gun violence. RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico describes the result as a "remarkably raw and heartfelt piece of filmmaking" that he wishes were even longer, since the feature format requires numerous time gaps in order to span the full 20 years in one film. THR's Frank Scheck acknowledges some "ragged" sound and video—to be expected given the nature of the project—as well as some of the "disjointed" storytelling that Tallerico hints at, but still finds that the film "packs a potent emotional punch." But Film Threat's Hanna B is more bothered by the "poor quality" of the earliest recordings (which make it "hard to follow every detail"), and especially by the film's intimacy, which, "at times, feels like an invasion of privacy." The Playlist's Warren Cantrell also hints at that intimacy, but isn't bothered by it; instead, he lauds "Rothbart’s decision to keep himself invisible so that the footage can speak for itself" as "a masterstroke," and calls the film "essential viewing for anyone interested in how the confluence of race and class have codified into a sort of informal caste for an entire subsection of America’s citizenry."
Apocalypse Now: Final Cut
Drama | USA | Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 masterpiece was always a very long film, but in 2001 it gained an extra 49 minutes when Coppola restored a number of scenes that had been excised from the original film, releasing the new cut as Apocalypse Now Redux. Now, on the film's 40th anniversary, the director appears to have had a change of heart once again, and has re-edited the film (which has also been remastered in 4K) into a third version with a running time somewhere in between the first and second versions. This new edit will receive a special theatrical screening on August 15 before heading to home video on August 27 (in a multi-disc set that will include all three versions of the film).
But how does the Vietnam War epic hold up in this "Final Cut"? In The Wrap, Thom Geier states, "The bottom line is that this is probably the most satisfying of the three versions, a visceral but surreal journey into madness that feels monumentally alive." THR's John DeFore thinks the remastered video and audio (in Dolby Vision and Atmos) are the new version's selling point, and stresses that "it demands to be seen" in a movie theater, where the film provides "an overwhelming sensory experience." But both critics suggest that the long, late-in-the-film "French plantation" sequence—first introduced in the Redux version—should have been excised from the new edit.
Documentary | USA | Directed by Roger Ross Williams
HBO's upcoming fall documentary about Harlem's famed Apollo Theater—tracing the venue's storied history in general while also following preparations for a staging of Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me—opened this year's Tribeca Film Festival on April 24th with a screening at the very theater that is the subject of the film. It's hard to go wrong with a film that features performances by Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Billie Holiday, and Duke Ellington, Diana Ross in their primes (or even before they were stars), and critics think that Williams' documentary doesn't go wrong at all. Reviewers all seem to like the way the filmmaker blends older footage with the present-day material to show how the theater is continuing to adapt to changing times and remain an ongoing venture. Writes Owen Gleiberman in Variety, "The movie brings off that feat in a bracing and moving way: by flowing back and forth between past and present, performance and political activism, so that by the end we know in our bones how false it would be separate them."
Blow the Man Down
Comedy/Drama/Thriller | USA | Directed by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy
Reminding many observers of the work of the Coen brothers, the debut feature from the duo of Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy (who won the festival's best screenplay award) is a darkly comedic thriller focusing on a murder in a seaside New England town. The film boasts a strong female-led cast that includes Sophie Lowe, Morgan Saylor, Margo Martindale, Annette O'Toole, and June Squibb. Screen's Stephen Whitty describes the film as "a refreshingly offbeat noir" (among other elements, he highlights the film's pseudo Greek chorus of grizzled fishermen who appear a few times) albeit "perhaps a little too offbeat" for unadventurous viewers. Film Pulse reviewer Adam Patterson calls the film "funny, sincere and consistently enthralling," and he, like Whitty, praise the performances. So does IndieWire's Kate Erbland, who notes some second act problems but nevertheless thinks, "The film is smartly assembled, making the most of a limited indie budget and building a compelling world to boot." The Wrap's Steve Pond (like other critics) think "the film has enough freshness to survive the [Coen brothers] comparison" that he inevitably makes. And Variety's Owen Gleiberman is taken by the filmmakers' "gift for atmosphere, and for the dark impulses of ordinary folks."
Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project
Documentary | USA | Directed by Matt Wolf
Teenage director Matt Wolf returns with a look at an ordinary person who undertook an extraordinary project. From the late 1970s until her death in 2012, Marion Stokes used a VCR to record 24 hours a day of television broadcasts—every day, and often on multiple channels—in an attempt to preserve history that no one else was archiving. (The resulting 70,000 tapes will indeed be made available to the public.) IndieWire's Kate Erbland calls the film "fascinating, weird, and often quite moving," and she appreciates the "inventive ways" in which Wolf stitches together bits of Stokes' video footage. In Variety, Owen Gleiberman cites Wolf's "lively skill" and sympathy for his subject, while THR's Frank Scheck seems impressed that the documentary features "the narrative twists and turns of a well-paced thriller." But RogerEbert.com's Nick Allen warns that the film takes a "very broad and grating approach" toward its "nonetheless compelling subject," and concludes that it fails to "find a balance between paying tribute to an eccentric mind and also trying to condense the experience of American news history."
Documentary | USA | Directed by Sasha Joseph Neulinger
Like the aforementioned 17 Blocks, this is another Tribeca documentary pieced together (in part) from old home videos, and it's another tough watch. Here, director Sasha Joseph Neulinger investigates his own family history, uncovering a multi-generational cycle of abuse in the process—and the director himself is one of the victims. RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico compares it to HBO's recent Leaving Neverland, but says "Imagine if the interview subjects in that film were directing their own documentaries and using their own home movies to tell their stories." The result, he says, is "a deeply personal, revealing, and unforgettable piece of filmmaking." In Screen, Wendy Ide instead compares the film to Capturing the Friedmans (as do other critics), but says that Rewind has "none of the insulating detachment provided by [Friedmans director Andrew] Jarecki’s distance from the story," resulting in a "difficult and upsetting watch." Everyone has praise for Neulinger's courage in making the film, including The Playlist's Andrew Bundy, who calls Rewind "an astounding movie and a milestone in psychiatrically minded filmmaking."
See You Yesterday
Drama/Sci-fi/Adventure | USA | Directed by Stefon Bristol
Spike Lee is among the producers for this Netflix feature (streaming May 17) centering on two Brooklyn teens who invent a time machine and attempt to use it to undo a wrongful police shooting. It's an expansion of a previous short film by director Stefon Bristol. Tribeca attendees seemed to like it, voting it second place among the narrative films competing for the Audience Awards. And critics like it too. The Guardian's Benjamin Lee is a fan, calling it a "smart, often ingenious" film that is "exceptional" for "just how deftly [Bristol] weaves the enraging horror of a racially motivated police shooting into a zippy genre piece." In The Wrap, Dan Callahan notes some 1980s and '90s influences and some "charmingly lo-fi" effects while also finding many aspects of the film "fresh," including its appealingly strong but nerdy girl protagonist, played by Eden Duncan-Smith. The Playlist's Lena Wilson, however, notes some problems "balancing quirk and melodrama."
What's My Name: Muhammad Ali
Documentary/Sports | USA | Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Airing in two parts on May 14, this 165-minute HBO documentary from director Antoine Fuqua and producer LeBron James chronicles the public life of the legendary boxer using nothing but archival footage, some never before seen. Critics saw the complete film at Tribeca and came away impressed. IndieWire's Ann Donahue is most moved by the documentary's "stirring" final hour which traces Ali's battle with Parkinson’s Disease. In a positive Variety review, Nick Schager feels the film moves "swiftly and forcefully" despite its length, and only a lack of "outsider perspectives and, thus, a larger analysis of Ali’s place in history" prevents the otherwise "stirring" film from being a "definitive" account of Ali's life and impact. And RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico thinks that Fuqua's decision to use no outside narration was a wise one: "As gifted a speaker as he was an athlete, just hearing Ali tell his own tale has a mesmerizing quality, even if you think you already know it."
Additional festival debuts of note
Come to Daddy
Comedy/Thriller | USA/Canada/New Zealand/Ireland | Directed by Ant Timpson
New Zealand film producer Ant Timpson (The Greasy Strangler) moves behind the camera for the first time for this divisive, genre-jumping midnight movie about Norval (Elijah Wood), a recovering alcoholic who lives with his mom. When an opportunity comes to reunite with his estranged father (Stephen McHattie) at the latter's remote cabin, he jumps at the opportunity—but things quickly deteriorate. RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico has mixed feelings, calling the film unpredictable and bolstered by Wood's performance, but marred a bit by a story that "pushes believability a few degrees past what I was hoping." Screen's Stephen Whitty warns that Daddy "starts out like a nasty drama, ends up as a gruesomely gory, coldly comic revenge thriller – and desperately loses its way somewhere in-between," though he seems to lay much of the blame on screenwriter Toby Harvard (also from The Greasy Strangler). And Variety's Tomris Laffly finds a "strangely dated" film in which "the onscreen gore starts feeling like a bore."
But other reviewers had a better reaction to the film, including The Playlist's Kimber Myers, who praises the "provocative and ballsy" film even while warning that it "is definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea," and noting some walkouts during the Tribeca screening. In Film Pulse, Adam Patterson thinks "the dialogue is consistently funny," as is the "shocking" violence when it arrives. And the biggest fan so far seems to be Film Threat's Lorry Kikta, who says Daddy is "my favorite horror offering of the year so far. It’s smart, uncompromising, inventive and just downright hilarious."
Drama/Thriller | USA | Directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
In rural Texas during the Depression, a young man (Finn Cole) finds a bank robber (Margot Robbie) hiding out in the barn on his struggling family farm. Does he turn her in and collect the lucrative bounty on her head? It's not such an easy decision in this second feature from Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, whose previous film, As You Are, won a Special Jury Award at Sundance in 2016. The Tribeca debut has divided critics. THR's Caryn James is a fan, raving, "Joris-Peyrafitte proves himself to be one of the most exciting young directors around with Dreamland, a drama with dazzling visuals, subtle performances and deft nods to classics like Days of Heaven and Bonnie and Clyde." The only flaw she finds is an overly familiar story, but says it "hardly matters" giving the "stunning" surroundings. On the other hand, Slant's Oleg Ivanov deems the film a "pale imitation" of the work of obvious influences like Terrence Malick, and says its second half is "compromised by poor pacing and several gratuitous slow-motion scenes," including one that "could have been lifted straight from an episode of Red Shoe Diaries." (If you aren't old enough to know the reference, that's definitely a burn.) IndieWire's David Ehrlich lands somewhere in between: "You’ve seen this story a thousand times before, but Joris-Peyrafitte’s expressive direction and Margot Robbie’s sheer force of will are enough to endow the movie’s best moments with the same hope-and-a-prayer immediacy that its heroes take with them as they speed towards the southern border."
Framing John DeLorean
Documentary/Drama | USA | Directed by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce
Maverick carmaker turned would-be cocaine smuggler John DeLorean is profiled in a documentary hybrid that combines archival footage and interviews with his former co-workers at both General Motors and DeLorean (as well as the FBI agents who set up his final fall from grace) along with reenactments of key moments of his life featuring Alec Baldwin as DeLorean (as well as showing the actors as themselves prior to filming those reenactments). While The Film Stage's John Fink deems the film "entertaining and occasionally fascinating," he also warns that its various components don't mesh well together, with the result occasionally playing "a little like a very long DVD extra for a narrative film about DeLorean that I think we’d all like to see." Similarly, The Wrap's Elizabeth Weitzman feels that the filmmakers' "ambitious approach is, unfortunately, more intriguing than effective," and warns that the reenactments, especially, "fall almost entirely flat." But Variety's Owen Gleiberman thinks that this "adventurous hybrid" is a "a tasty and satisfying look" at DeLorean's multi-faceted life, adding, "It shouldn’t work, but it does." Screen's Allan Hunter, meanwhile, finds the documentary portion "fascinating" but the reenactments inessential. The film heads to theaters on June 7th.
Comedy/Drama | UK/USA | Directed by Dolly Wells
Writer, director, and actress Dolly Wells fills the first two of those roles here—in her feature debut—with an odd couple comedy about a film school graduate who takes a room in the Brooklyn home of a reclusive writer with whom she instantly clashes. The cast is led by Wells' frequent collaborator Emily Mortimer (both co-created and starred in HBO's Doll & Em) and Grace Van Patten, and also stars Gary Richardson and John Early and features cameos from real-life writers like Jonathan Ames and Zadie Smith. Variety's Tomris Laffly has modest praise for a "sufficiently charming" but "droopy" film that "would have been mostly unremarkable" but for a "sensational" performance by Van Patten. Similarly, David Ehrlich's IndieWire review is barely positive; he deems the film "more of a snack than a fulfilling meal," and feels that Wells handles the comedic aspects of the film better than the dramatic ones. But in The Playlist, Kimber Myers feels that the "gentle but sharply observed" film "accomplish[es] the rare feat of making a character-focused, Brooklyn-set indie feel fresh."
The Hot Zone
TV/Drama | USA | Directed by Michael Uppendahl and Nick Murphy
Julianna Margulies heads the cast of a six-part fictionalized adaptation of Richard Preston's best-selling 1995 nonfiction book chronicling the first Ebola outbreak. Noah Emmerich, Topher Grace, James D'Arcy, Grace Gummer, and Robert Sean Leonard also star in the miniseries, which launches in late May on Nat Geo. Critics saw the first two episodes at Tribeca, and seem fairly positive about the miniseries. THR television critic Dan Fienberg thinks the script a bit "rudimentary," but that doesn't stop it from working as a thriller, as it still "nails a mood of mounting paranoia and the visceral impact of a solid, jump-in-the-dark horror movie." Variety's Daniel D'Addario finds that The Hot Zone "works best as an examination of process," and is less effective with it tries to dive into the characters' personal lives. Similarly, IndieWire's Ben Travers finds the series "engrossing in its specificity, if a bit too cold toward its human subjects," but concludes that it's "a scary, absorbing thriller you won’t easily forget." Note that everyone warns that viewers with weak stomachs should avoid the series—and you'll know early in the opening episode whether you fall into that category.
The Kill Team
Action/Drama/Thriller | USA | Directed by Dan Krauss
Dan Krauss adapts his own Tribeca-winning 2013 documentary about a 21-year-old American soldier (Nat Wolff) who faces a moral dilemma while serving in Afghanistan, where, when confronted by potential war atrocities, he must decide whether to sacrifice his ambitions, friendships, and—potentially—his own life to do the right thing. Variety's Nick Schager thinks this new version of The Kill Team to be a "chillingly effective" exposé and writes, "Those familiar with this story won’t find any novel twists here, but Krauss astutely conveys the literal and moral quagmires produced by such military situations." In The Wrap, Monica Castillo observes a film that "explores war's complicated morality" and serves as "both a tense moral thriller and a disheartening account of our country’s actions abroad." Screen's Stephen Whitty (who like other reviewers, loves Alexander Skarsgård's performance in the other main role) has a similar assessment of the story, noting, "Even fictionalised, it’s no less important – or bleakly depressing," though he takes issue with the "flatly shot" action scenes and ultimately seems a bit disappointed in the film. A24 will bring Kill Team to theaters later this year.
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice
Documentary/Music | USA | Directed by Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein
Just one of many music documentaries debuting at this year's Tribeca, The Sound of My Voice chronicles the entire career of Linda Ronstadt, from her early days with folk trio the Stone Poneys in the mid-'60s up through her retirement eight years ago—passing through a variety of genres (and activist work for multiple causes) along the way. There are some talking heads, but much of the story is told via Ronstadt's own narration, though most of it comes from older interviews. Variety's Owen Gleiberman deems the result a "no-frills" documentary that is nevertheless "laced with colorful stories" and winds up a "more than satisfying" account of Ronstadt as an artist. Similarly, The Wrap's Steve Pond calls it "a fitting tribute to a woman worthy of one," while Billboard's Allison Hussey thinks the film "makes a succinct, powerful case for Ronstadt’s status as a twentieth-century music icon." But IndieWire's Kate Erbland dismisses the film as an "uninspired," "maddeningly shallow," and "truncated and glossed-over" look at a "remarkable life."
Drama | USA | Directed by Katharine O'Brien
Inspired by a true story, Katharine O'Brien's directorial debut centers on L.A. music producer Theo Ross (Simon Pegg), who is diagnosed with schizophrenia. As one of his proteges, Hannah (Juno Temple), begins to see her career take off, Theo stops taking his medication, leaving Hannah and his other friends to scramble to get him help. Variety's Owen Gleiberman admires that the filmmaker resists the urge to turn this story into a romance or get overly sentimental; however, he adds that this approach "ends up removing the basic dramatic motor of the film." (But Gleiberman does admire Pegg's performance, saying "he’s a natural dramatic actor.") Buy in The Hollywood Reporter, John DeFore calls Lost Transmissions a "modest but heartfelt picture" that admirably "tells its story without engaging with foolish cliches about creativity and madness."
The Place of No Words
Fantasy/Adventure/Drama | UK/USA/Australia | Directed by Mark Webber
The fifth directorial outing from actor Mark Webber is a magical realist fable that bounces between the real world and a fantasy universe shared by both a dying father (Webber himself) and his three-year-old son (played by Webber's real-life son, Bodhi Palmer). It's a "personal and moving" film according to The Playlist's Ally Johnson, who adds, "Thoughtfully made, a little morose, and at times a little baffling [... the film] is ultimately a provocative meditation on grief and finding strength through the resilience of children." She also finds the film a bit "meandering" as it moves to and from the fantasy world, and so does Variety's Tomris Laffly, who calls it "occasionally wearisome in its fragmented structure" but nevertheless feels that it rewards the viewer's patience "with something both intimate and gradually immersive à la 'Where the Wild Things Are.'” At Slashfilm, Hoai-Tran Bui also has somewhat mixed feelings, concluding, "There’s an endearing amateurish quality to The Place of No Words that gives the film an added layer of intimacy, while preventing it from being a truly escapist fantasy."
Documentary | Greece/USA | Directed by Abel Ferrara
Here's one for New York cinephiles only. Veteran film director Abel Ferrara is going to be a film festival staple in 2019. But before he brings Tommaso to Cannes—and possibly another, still-untitled, feature to the fall festivals—he debuted his newest documentary at Tribeca. (And we didn't even mention a fourth 2019 film, Pasolini, which opens in theaters on May 10th.) The Projectionist looks at a changing New York City through the eyes of one of the city's last remaining independent movie theater operators, Greek Cypriot immigrant Nick Nicolaou, who has been screening films at various locations in the city since the 1970s. RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico notes the filmmaker's "laid back, casual approach," and Slant's Sam C. Mac thinks Projectionist is of a piece with Ferrara's previous documentaries, deeming it a similarly "urgent and incredibly rich" "cultural microcosm." So does THR critic Todd McCarthy, who calls the film a "warmly embraceable immigrant story" and a "labor of love" that "should be embraced wherever the term cinephile means anything." But that's a sticking point for Screen's Wendy Ide, who warns that Ferrera, "in his affection for and identification with Nicolaou" may have "over-estimated the fascination of his subject’s life story," resulting in a film that will be of limited interest to anyone outside the "Venn diagram intersection between cinephilia and NY cultural nostalgia." Or, as The Guardian's Charles Bramesco labels it, "Gotham-friendly nostalgia-bait."
A Regular Woman
Drama | Germany | Directed by Sherry Horman
Based on a shocking real-life murder (which also inspired the 2010 film When We Leave), this German drama centers on a young Muslim woman who leaves her devout family behind in Istanbul and attempts to start a new life in Berlin with her young son after escaping an abusive marriage with her cousin (which she was forced into at the age of 16). But she cannot do so without disgracing her family, and eventually her brother tracks her down in her new home—where things end in tragedy. Variety's Alissa Simon praises a "fine cast" and Horman's choice to have the young woman narrate her own story, thereby restoring the victim's voice. Screen's Wendy Ide also likes that stylistic choice—up to a point—while cautioning that doing so involves presumption on the part of the filmmaker: "Ultimately, it’s impossible to know how closely the voice of the character in the film matches that of the young woman who lost her life." THR's Keith Uhlich admires the intention behind the device, but notes a "shakiness" to the flow of the story, as well as an "insultingly hokey" ending.
Drama/Thriller | USA | Directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis
When she becomes pregnant, housewife Hunter (Haley Bennett, the festival's best actress winner) suddenly finds herself compelled to eat dangerous objects, leading her husband (Austin Stowell) and his mother (Elizabeth Marvel) to try to control her behavior. The first narrative feature from Carlo Mirabella-Davis (The Swell Season) moves unpredictably from there, but THR's Caryn James finds the whole thing "utterly ridiculous" and "an earnest misfire." But other critics had a more positive reaction, at least to parts of the film. RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico admires the visuals and Bennett's performance, even if the film as a whole "feels a little underdeveloped." Screen's Stephen Whitty deems it "carefully made and perfectly acted," adding, "the sometimes satirical, sometimes deeply disturbing work feels like an homage to Todd Haynes’ 1995 film Safe." IndieWire's David Ehrlich labels Swallow "a provocative and frequently brilliant thriller" featuring "sharp writing." And The Playlist's Lena Wilson is a huge fan, calling the film "revelatory" and "a staggering accomplishment in its storytelling, visuals, and performance."
A few disappointments
Drama | Canada | Directed by Semi Chellas
Mad Men director Semi Chellas makes her feature debut with this highly fictionalized look (adapted from Susan Choi’s 2003 novel) at the life (post-kidnapping) of heiress Patty Hearst through the eyes of a young former radical (Hong Chau) who takes in Hearst (Sarah Gadon) and her fellow fugitives when they are on the run in the 1970s. Screen's Stephen Whitty deems Chellas' "quiet" debut "clear-eyed and sharply written" but more of a "natural fit for the small screen" than movie theaters. In The Hollywood Reporter, Caryn James thinks some of the characters too thinly drawn, and calls it a "missed opportunity," concluding, "The film is lively and detailed enough so it is never boring, but it never takes off dramatically or realizes its intriguing possibilities either." The Playlist's Kimber Myers finds "little that’s memorable here and less to latch onto," aside from Chau's performance. And Variety's Owen Gleiberman laments a "listless and desultory" film, warning, "Chellas has taken what was basically a radical psychodrama and squeezed the psychology out of it." Expect a title change if this film heads to theaters in 2019, as there is already another American Woman opening in June.
TV/Drama/Comedy | USA | Directed by Dan Trachtenberg
Producers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen bring another one of Preacher creator Garth Ennis' comic books to the small screen, under the guidance of Supernatural's Eric Kripke. The Boys stars Karl Urban as Billy Butcher, the leader of a group of vigilantes who target corrupt superheroes. Critics got to see just one episode of the Prime Video series, which debuts on July 26. While it's hard to judge a series based on just the pilot, Variety's Daniel D'Addario says that the episode "exhibits a fair bit of promise" but also cautions of "some frustrating tendencies" including a "labored script" that "oversell[s] the cynicism" of the show's universe and a "dully familiar" tone. THR's Dan Fienberg is a bit more positive—though he, too, notes a "sour and cynical" approach leaving behind "a bit of a bad taste"—finding the pilot to be "flashy, smartly meta, often funny and very solidly cast." In a "C" review at The Playlist, Kimber Myers warns that the pilot's (multiple) scenes of violence against women aren't as funny as the show seems to think they are, and concludes that the writers are "mistaking nastiness for edginess." And in IndieWire, while Liz Shannon Miller worries that the show won't be able to live up to the those expectations of edginess established from the opening minutes, she calls its first hour a "stinging" "corporate parody" and effective exercise in self-reflection for the superhero genre.
Drama/Thriller | USA | Directed by Christoph Waltz
Christoph Waltz makes his directorial debut and stars as a wildly ambitious and truth-challenged Washington, D.C. social climber who will do anything to work his way into the political scene, including marrying a wealthy woman (Vanessa Redgrave) who is many decades his senior. Annette Bening also stars as the woman's disapproving daughter. The drama is based on a true story (as reported by Franklin Foer in the New York Times) that is adapted by Pulitzer-winning playwright David Auburn (Proof). And, despite that "beguiling" underlying story, the product of all those big names is a "curiously flat" and "frustratingly off-balance" debut, according to The Guardian's Benjamin Lee. In a mixed review at IndieWire, David Ehrlich calls Auburn's screenplay both "spry" and "seemingly unfinished," and thinks that the film takes a turn for the worse when it becomes an "inert" courtroom procedural during its second half before resorting to a "cheap plot twist." Variety's Peter Debruge thinks Waltz errs in opting for "vaudevillian" performances from his "otherwise excellent" cast, though he likes that "the story is consistently outrageous enough to keep us guessing." But THR's John DeFore enjoys what he deems "the kind of serious but broadly appealing, modestly scaled picture that people love to say doesn't exist any more."
Drama | UK | Directed by Scott Graham
Expanded from a previous short film by the same director, and influenced by Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run," this blue-collar, Scotland-set drama spends a day in the life of Finnie (Mark Stanley of Game of Thrones), a frustrated husband, father, and would-be street racer turned dockworker who goes on a joyride with his teenage son's pregnant girlfriend. In The Film Stage, John Fink cautions that "Run hits familiar beats and is often too guarded, leaving us grasping for a little more than its 78-minute run time can provide," though he notes some beauty in the film's simplicity. Variety's Guy Lodge, meanwhile, observes an "odd lapse into cliché" in the script, and warns that "the film, effective on its own unassuming terms, seems to cut out with some distance left to run," but still seems bullish on the film as a whole. Screen's Fionnuala Halligan similarly finds Run to be "narratively under-fuelled" but strong in its performances and technical aspects.
Musical/Drama/Comedy/Fantasy | UK | Directed by Danny Boyle
Tribeca's closing-night gala presentation marked the world premiere of Danny Boyle's (once) highly anticipated new Beatles musical, which heads to theaters next month. The Richard Curtis-penned film stars Himesh Patel as a struggling singer-songwriter in present-day England who awakens from a bus accident (caused by a mysterious global blackout) to discover that he is the only person on Earth who remembers the Beatles. So he adopts the Beatles' catalog as his own and quickly shoots to stardom performing their songs. Boyle's film, which also stars Lily James, Ed Sheeran (playing himself), and Kate McKinnon, is "genially infections," according to The Telegraph's Robbie Collin, until it "suddenly it seems to lose its head of steam," though it "rallies in style for a beautifully judged and surprisingly moving finale."
But most critics think the film far more problematic. Finding numerous faults with Curtis's script, THR's John DeFore calls the material a "puzzling match for the directing talents of Danny Boyle," and declares Yesterday to be, like Yellow Submarine, "crowd-pleasing and sometimes enjoyable, but pretty damned dumb when you stop to think about it." IndieWire's David Ehrlich agrees that Boyle and Curtis are "a match made in hell," adding, "This sweet but vacuous exercise in suspending disbelief is an overstuffed and underwritten misfire," redeemed only in part by its "endearing cast" (including a surprisingly "funny and self-effacing performance" from Sheeran; other reviewers highlight McKinnon's performance as a music manager). Screen's Fionnuala Halligan notes "Strawberry Fields-full of schmaltz" in the screenplay, though she thinks "Boyle deals efficiently with some of Curtis’s weaknesses." Variety's Owen Gleiberman complains that, while occasionally "cute," the film "the movie treats the songs as official facts of beauty, rather than as melodies that could strike us with the freshness they’re supposed to be hitting this suddenly un-Beatle-ized world with." The result, he says, is "a cut-and-dried, rotely whimsical, prefab experience." And The Wrap's Dan Callahan thinks the film "basically amounts to Patel doing passable karaoke versions of these famous songs and very little else."