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All the Films From the Tribeca Film Festival Worth Watching (Part 1)

Posted by Ted Sturgulewski on

In 2002, during the aftermath the 9/11 tragedy, a small group of New York filmmakers (Robert de Niro among them) came together to create an event that would help to inspire and rejuvenate the spirit of America’s most famous city. The result was the Tribeca Film Festival, which for 16 years has acted as a launchpad for young filmmakers, a premiere event for films ranging from The Avengers to Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and a celebration of New York culture and vibrance. I was lucky enough to spend a week at the festival, and walking out of a theatre after seeing a young up-and-coming director discuss his first feature film and immediately finding yourself at the foot of One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial is a uniquely American experience that I wish everyone could know. I don’t think I can share that emotion, but I can share with you the films I saw, and try to let you know how to check them out yourselves!


Super Dark Times was the first film I saw at the Festival, and director Kevin Phillips wasn’t fooling around when he gave it that title. Set in the mid-90’s, the film follows Zach and Josh, two average and unapologetically vulgar (NSFW) high-schoolers more interested in riding bikes around than much else. I won’t spoil anything for you, but the two of them get caught up in a shocking act of violence (again, it’s super dark) that forces them to grow up fast. The pair’s entirely different methods of dealing with the fallout is most of the story. Indiewire says it’s “Stand by Me meets Donnie Darko, and I couldn’t agree more. A surprising twist in the third act ratchets up the tension, but the beautiful cinematography and camerawork alone will keep you invested the whole time. If you’re looking for a dark, yet insightful coming of age story, this is for you. The film picked up a distribution deal just before the festival, and should be available to view later this year.


I'll get it out of the way early; this film has subtitles. However, the protagonist is the classic strong but silent type, so don’t worry about being overwhelmed. If you’re still with me, good, because it’s a fantastically made movie that I couldn’t recommend more. In short, it’s about a solemn Taiwanese hit-man who, after a failed assassination attempt on a gangster, has to lay low in a small Japanese village where he...opens a noodle cart and begrudgingly hangs out with some civically engaged locals? If that sounds weird, it is, but the genre bending style of it is part of what makes it work. At times it’s a straight up violent gangster movie, but effortlessly becomes a silly and sentimental look at a cozy town in Japan, and later an emotional family drama. I gasped in shock as many times as I laughed out loud when watching this film, which was often. To director SABU’s credit, being able to craft such a varied but constantly effective film is no easy feat and should be applauded. Mr. Long was one of my favorites of the festival, and hopefully will be released in America later this year.


Tilt follows Joe Burns, an unemployed filmmaker piecing together his passion project: a documentary about 50’s Americana, and how the era of American prosperity wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Joe and his pregnant wife Kendra live a pretty quiet life, but as Joe becomes more and more consumed by his film, he begins to lose his grip on reality, becoming dangerous in the process.

In a Q&A after the film, director Kasra Farahani and co-writer Jason O’Leary explained that despite not being fans of horror films themselves, with Tilt they wanted to make a movie about the scariest situation possible: what if your spouse, the person you share your home with, who should value your safety above everything, went completely insane. While that’s an interesting idea, Kendra isn’t given enough of a role for it to work in this film, and we spend most of it watching Joe’s slowly escalating series of psychopathic outbursts. If anything, the movie is an interesting look at how mental illness can be overlooked, even by those closest to you. In the end, this film has enough twists, scares, and interesting ideas to warrant a watch, but its main premise of a man descending into madness was done better in movies like Taxi Driver and The Shining. Look for this one later this fall.


By this point, you’ve probably picked up that Tribeca offers a lot of dark, adult, independent films. While Take Me movie is certainly independent and won’t be shown on the Disney Channel anytime soon, this is a fun, bright comedy that was a nice change of pace from the more serious fare I’d been watching. It revolves around Ray Moody, who’s trying to secure funding for his small business: Kidnapping Solutions LLC. For a price, Ray will kidnap willing thrill-seekers to simulate a high stakes scenario, and in some cases turns the alarming experience into a form of therapy. As you might expect, something goes wrong with one of his “clients”, and the adventure begins. Humor is subjective, but the laughs in this film were right up my alley; fast, character driven, and silly without being stupid. There was also a lot of heart and intrigue in this film, with a surprisingly emotional third act and a plot that’s much less predictable than you might think.  I was lucky enough to be at the premiere showing of the film, with director and star Pat Healy there with his cast and crew for a Q&A. Everyone was incredibly proud of their work, and rightfully so; it’s a wonderful movie. The camaraderie between everyone on stage was apparent, from set designers and writers to the supporting cast and cameramen. Maybe it’s because it was the only pure comedy I saw, but this was a highlight of the festival for me. Luckily, the film was co-financed by Netflix, and should be available for you to stream in the coming months!


That’s about all we can fit into one blog post, but these aren’t the only films I saw! Stay tuned for Part Two coming soon, which includes a recap of the 25th anniversary screening of Reservoir Dogs, with a panel by director Quentin Tarantino and the cast!

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