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All The Films From The Tribeca Film Festival Worth Watching (Part 2)

Posted by Ted Sturgulewski on

Last time, I told you about some of the films I watched at the Tribeca Film Festival. Thanks for coming back and checking out the rest! There's a lot to cover, so without further ado...

SWEET VIRGINIA

Sweet Virginia was the first movie at the festival I got tickets for. Most of the films I saw featured unknown actors; this one, though, had the recognizable Jon Bernthal in the lead, of The Walking Dead, Daredevil, and The Wolf of Wall Street fame. More importantly, though, I was drawn to this movie because of it’s setting: Alaska! It’s an underutilized locale in cinema, outside of ski films or nature documentaries, so I was excited to see my home state given a chance to shine. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take advantage of the location, and really only exists to further Bernthal’s “I left my old life behind and moved as far away from it as I could” story. Really, this film could have been set in a small Idaho town, and as a local I was constantly thinking to myself “this is not the type of town that exists in Alaska”, so maybe it should have been.
As far as the movie itself goes: it’s incredibly well made, but not very interesting. There are affairs, love triangles, mysterious backstories, and even a handful of murders, but none of the characters are really likable enough to keep you interested in it all. Not for a lack of trying, though. The cast is great all around, but they just aren’t given great material. Jon Bernthal adds a new layer of vulnerability to the tough guy persona he’s been cultivating over the years, and Imogen Poots is great as a scorned lover in over her head. The standout, though, is Christopher Abbott as a creepy, dead-eyed killer, bringing intensity and surprising amounts of depth to a character that could have been just another run of the mill movie psycho. Expect big things from him in the future. So, while the performances are nice, this movie moves at about a half a mile an hour, and the plot and characters just aren’t enough to keep you invested when things start to really drag. Still, I'd say it's worth a watch, and it should be out to rent, purchase or stream in the coming months. 

HELL ON EARTH: THE FALL OF SYRIA AND THE RISE OF ISIS

I’ll keep this as apolitical as possible, which is fitting, because despite having such an inflammatory title Hell on Earth is successfully unbiased. Co-directed by Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm and director of the award winning war doc Restrepo, dives into what’s happened to Syria in the last 15 years, from big picture political machinations to intimate stories about survival and family. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the most well informed person in regards to the Middle East, so in a way this all encompassing look at modern Syria was very informative. As an educational piece that works great, but as a documentary worth critiquing you can’t help but feel, at times, that some things are spread too thin or are less consequential to the story Junger is telling. Sometimes it starts to become unfocused.

That being said, Junger uses two methods to help ground the film and transform it into something much more cinematic than a typical History Channel lesson. The first is footage of a man named Marwan and his family -- including five young children. We meet them in a dark, dirty bunker, fleeing their Syrian home, and follow their journey for refuge. Marwan and his brother mourn the fact that their children have to live in fear constantly, a happy, normal life no longer in the cards. The footage (shot by Marwan and sent to Junger later) weaves in and out of the story, and their ongoing search for safety as a family adds a nice dose of humanity. It also makes Junger’s second technique all the more horrifying: he shows exactly what they’re running from, and it truly does seem like Hell on Earth. There’s a “viewer discretion advised” disclaimer at the beginning of this film, and he means it; no punches are pulled displaying the atrocities committed by ISIS, Assad, and others in the Syrian Civil War. Crushed bodies under collapsed buildings, decapitated civilians strung up by the feet in an ISIS run town square, countless bloodstained sheets barely covering the corpses of bomb victims (some of them, horrifically, are children). It’s terrible, and often hard to watch, but at the same time something that people need to see to fully understand the disintegration of civil life in the region. If you’re looking to learn about the situation in Syria and aren’t too squeamish, you should see this film when it premieres on the National Geographic Channel on June 11th. 

 THE CIRCLE

 The Circle was, no doubt, the biggest film at Tribeca. With advertised stars like Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, and John Boyega, its posters were plastered on billboards, subway tunnels, and busses all over New York City. It’s directed by James Ponsoldt, whose films Smashed, The Spectacular Now, and The End of The Tour are some of the best indie dramas to come out in years. It’s based on a novel by David Eggers, one of the most interesting fiction writers working today. It promised to be this generation’s 1984, dealing with privacy and freedom in a post Internet/NSA age.
It wasn’t. It was bad.
Which is a shame, because it really did have so much promise. It tells the story of Mae, who gets a job at The Circle, a sort of Facebook/Apple/Google hybrid that wants to take tech and ethics to the next level; cameras everywhere means no crime, no accidents, no corrupt politicians, right? Maybe Big Brother is actually good, you guys! As Mae gets deeper entrenched in The Circle, she becomes more of their pawn, until things come to a head and we finally realize...nothing. That’s the worst thing about that movie; it asks genuine questions about privacy, technology, ethics, and wants to make a statement about the future of human communication, but never comes close to providing answers, and the closest thing it comes to saying is “stuff is bad...except a lot of the time when it isn’t, though!” While it’s admittedly fun to see Tom Hanks go against type and play a Steve Jobs-esque CEO that you just know is hiding something shady, the whole movie is unfocused, shallow, and in the end, pointless. The only reason I’d recommend this is if you want to see John Boyega horribly miscast or a laughably bad scene that involves midnight kayaking. This movie proves that it takes a lot more than a talented cast to make a movie work. You might still be able to see it in theaters if you want, but I'd say wait for this on Netflix (or just skip it altogether). 

PILGRIMAGE

I walked into Pilgrimage without any sort of expectation. I decided to see it mainly because I had one ticket left to redeem and I could squeeze it into my already busy schedule. Luckily for me, it turned out to be a great film, and one that really stood out amongst everything I’d seen. It chronicles a group of Irish monks from a remote coastal monastery as they attempt to deliver the relic their order has protected for centuries to Rome (oh yeah, it takes place in the 1200’s).
It’s a film about faith and how it’s corrupted, how loyalties to God and man get tainted by fear. At times the plot starts to feel repetitive (you can only escape capture then get rediscovered so many times), but there’s a lot of great character work and cinematography. There’s a raw, primordial feel to the Irish landscape, and director Brendan Muldowney captures it in grand fashion. One scene in particular that easily could have fallen victim to cliche shows the monks being stalked by pursuers in a misty, elemental Irish bog. Muldowney brings the tension and really makes it work in a way that’s terrifying yet beautiful, which is an interesting way to think about the ancient world and faith.
The cast, too, bring a lot to the film with their performances. Richard Armitage of The Hobbit series takes a villainous turn here, and the rest of the supporting cast do a great job as ancient monks, but the standouts here are Tom Holland and Jon Bernthal (again!). Tom Holland, at 20 years old, proves that there’s a lot more to him than just being the new Spider-Man, and he no doubt will have a career worth keeping an eye on. His innocent young monk who’s never left the monastery contrasts well with Bernthal’s savage mute character. Remember earlier, when I was talking about Sweet Virginia, about how he brought new layers to his tough guy persona? He does that here, too, but also doubles down hard on the tough guy stuff, with his traumatized Crusader taking part in some delightfully brutal medieval violence that would fit in perfectly in a Game of Thrones highlight reel. Their performances and the cinematography alone make this worth watching, which you can do when it comes out in theatres this August.

RESERVOIR DOGS: 25 YEAR SPECIAL RETROSPECTIVE

Reservoir Dogs is an incredible movie. It’s influence on independent cinema, narrative structure, and pop culture as a whole often get overshadowed by director Quentin Tarantino’s follow-up film, the postmodern masterpiece Pulp Fiction, but it deserves all the praise in the world as one of the greatest directorial debuts of all time. It’s infectiously funny and quick witted, hilariously irreverent while at the same time a loving homage to cinema history. The story, if you haven’t seen it, centers on a gang of jewel thieves laying low in a warehouse after a heist gone wrong, trying to figure out who set them up, and who… actually, no. If you have not seen this movie, stop everything you’re doing and watch it. Please. Watch it here. Or here. Or maybe even here. I’ll wait.

Pretty good, right? Now, imagine watching it in the packed, ornately decorated Beacon Theatre in New York City, surrounded by die-hard fans of this movie who have travelled from all parts of the globe just to see this movie with you. It was a truly surreal experience. Every time a new character was introduced on screen, the crowd erupted. Whenever a joke hit, jokes that we had all heard a dozen times, the crowd was doubled over, as if we were laughing for the very first time. In those familiar moments of tension and gruesome violence, the room was dead quiet, sucked into the film like a black hole. I was so far on the edge of my seat I almost fell over the balcony. It was, without a doubt, the coolest experience I’ve ever had watching a movie, and I would encourage everyone to go check out some classic re-releases; they’re a ton of fun. TCM and Regal Theatres have a cool program that screens classics  all year round, including The Godfather, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, and The Princess Bride.
After an incredible show, Quentin Tarantino and the cast came onstage for a panel discussion. Stars Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen, and Tim Roth all seemed genuinely excited to be back together remembering their time making the film. I won’t rehash the entire conversation, as you can find it from any of these other reputable sources, but some topics included the film’s disastrous premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, the laborious casting process, and the infamous torture scene that was so brutal even the famously gory horror director Wes Craven walked out of the theatre in disgust. I do want to share one quote that was really cool, though. Tarantino, on the day before filming began:
            "I remember that night getting in my car and just taking that drive all the way from Malibu to Glendale on Sunset Boulevard and that was the happiest time of my life. It was this thing I had thought about for so long, making movies in general, and I thought, 'This might just work out.'"
It did work out, Mr. Tarantino, and it became one of the most unique film experiences I’ve ever had. And for that, I want to say thank you.
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So, that’s a wrap for my coverage of the Tribeca Film Festival! Let us know in the comments below what you think: do any of these movies seem worth checking out? What’s your favorite movie viewing experience? Would you ever go to a festival like this? Is Reservoir Dogs anywhere near as good as I hyped it up to be? Let us know, and be sure to follow  Microcom on Facebook and Twitter, and let us help you with your TV and Internet needs!

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