Thursday, 8 May 2014

At The Back At The Tribeca Film Festival

Late last month, a scheduled trip to New York happened to coincide with The Tribeca Film Festival. When I discovered this a couple of weeks before crossing the Atlantic, I immediately looked into the possibility of going to see some films and was fortunate to find the time to squeeze three in. With only six days in the greatest city on the planet, I wouldn’t have been able to justify any more than this. Tribeca was my first film festival and overall I had a positive experience. The event was well run by knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff while the locations were excellent. The cinemas themselves were less desirable however. The three screenings we went to were situated in two theatres, both multiplexes and both with very shallow seating rakes. At 6’ 3” I still struggled to see through the heads of those in front of me and was very conscious of the views I was obstructing behind. I’m not sure if this is consistent with all American cinemas but on the only other occasion that I’ve seen a film in the States, in the same city, a year before, there was no issue. Anyway, I digress.

The first film we saw was Night Moves at the AMC Loews Village 7 on 3rd Avenue. Both my girlfriend and I were excited and nervous about our first film festival experience and eagerly joined the long line outside the theatre. Night Moves is a drama with a political edge. Directed by Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff) It stars Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard as environmentalists who plan to blow up a dam in rural Oregon. The film initially reminded me of The East, thematically at least but it soon becomes apparent that this is a significantly smarter film which takes a different direction. It doesn’t bombard the audience with back story or justification for the crimes. It assumes that the audience is clever enough to understand their motivation. The central characters also remain half hidden and you’re never sure if they’re showing their real selves to each other or the audience. The planning and preparation are interesting and the execution of the dam’s destruction is incredibly tense. What follows soon after is rather predictable but the character’s transformations surprise.

Night Moves is a handsome movie which is well made on a small budget. As a heist movie it works remarkably well and there is subtle humour laced throughout which is never overplayed. The plot works for the most part but there are one or two moments which are noticeably weaker than what surrounds them. On the acting front, Jesse Eisenberg continues to impress me. His turn in The Double was magnificent and he follows it here with an assured and edgy performance. He seems tailor made for the role but still impresses, showing flashes of Travis Bickle in the latter stages. He’s strong throughout. Also strong is Peter Sarsgaard who effortlessly plays the third lead. The actor never looks like he’s trying. He’s always natural and I enjoyed his interpretation of the character. Dakota Fanning gives a slightly uneven performance. Overall she’s superb; better than in a lot of things but occasionally the character seems to slip and it takes a while to come back. Despite this, it’s a continuation of her recent change of direction and I thought she was very good overall. Night Moves goes on limited release in the USA on 30th May and is released in the UK on 29th August.

Having seen Night Moves in the afternoon and after dinner in the same Little Italy restaurant we go to whenever we’re in town, we headed to Chelsea’s Bow Tie Cinema for a late night screening of Summer of Blood. This was a film of which I knew nothing about and have to admit that I didn’t know of the director or his back catalogue before entry. Having seen the movie, I’m very keen to see more of his output. The director in question is Onur Tukel and here he writes, directs and stars in an ultra low budget horror-romance-comedy about a shlubby Brooklynite who is bitten by a Vampire after hitting rock bottom. The movie was an absolute joy. The title and what little I’d read had lead me to expect a slasher style horror but it’s amongst the most hilarious films I’ve seen all year. The observations and humour evoke Woody Allen but Tukel is no copy-cat. He’s original and writes with his own style. The structure of the piece is very clever and there are some terrific references and call-backs which thrilled and delighted the entire audience. Tukel surrounds himself with a capable but largely unknown cast who all perform admirably but they all disappear into the central character’s shadow. Ironic given his vampiric nature. This is very much a one man piece.

Tukel’s Erik Sparrow is somehow really likeable despite being rotten to his out of his league girlfriend, useless at work and pretty nasty to those he meets. For some reason I rooted for the guy. He’s a down and out, and underdog and no matter what, we want to see him succeed. By chance, it’s his surprise meeting with a Vampire which enables him the wit, confidence, charm and sexual penanche to get places. Not that he’s really that bothered of course. Erik would probably be just as happy on his own, complaining about a tap or his back as he would be when surrounded by a group sexually excited women. Speaking of that particular group, my only real criticism of the film is that it did become a little self indulgent in the latter stages. This is a small problem though with a film that is largely excellent.

Tukel the director captures the sticky heat of the New York summer and I enjoyed this a great deal. The city is so well represented in cinema but is generally accompanied by fresh winter snow, or generic ‘sunny’ that I can’t think of many pictures which have made the most of its sweaty summer months. It adds another dimension to the movie which would be missing had it not been so heavily buttered about the piece. Summer of Blood is a terrific little movie which I highly recommend seeking out if you get the chance. It currently has no scheduled release date but keep your eyes peeled. 

Following a day off from films and a trip to see The Enterprise Space Shuttle in which my inner space geek got a bit of an erection, our third and unfortunately final film was back to the AMC on 3rd Avenue for Beyond the Brick: A Lego Brickumentary. I’ll be honest; this is the film I’d most been looking forward to. Following hot on the heels of The Lego Movie, it’s a documentary about AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego), something that I’m sort of unashamed to say that I am. I’m Tom and I’m an AFOL. The 94 minute film documents the history of the toy, the people behind it and how it became the phenomenon that it’s become today as well as expanding greatly into areas as diverse as its uses in theoretical mathematics and cognitive reconstructive therapy. Directors Daniel Junge and Kief Davidson’s main focus though is on the strange reality that this child’s toy is as popular with adults as it is with kids.

The movie lovingly pokes fun at its subjects in the same as one friend makes fun of another. It’s occasionally cutting but generally light hearted and well judged, in line with the laughs one has come to associate with the brand. It gets you onside whether you’re an AFOL or anti-Lego. Cleverly, the documentary is narrated by an animated Lego minifigure voiced by Jason Bateman. It’s he who provides the narrative link and many of the largest laughs. The film follows the stories of several people and groups (possibly too many for the short run time) and tries to get into the psyche of an AFOL. In the end it isn’t wholly successful with this and seems to come out with the logical conclusion that there is more than one reason. A few famous faces are interviewed and it’s singer Ed Sheeran who shares my AFOL beginnings being that he loved it as a child and when he got money as an adult, he decided that he’d buy what he wasn’t able to get as a kid. Incidentally, seeing the seven foot NBA Center Dwight Howard play with Lego is one of the many highlights.

Along the way we’re introduced to some interesting and as you can imagine eccentric figures who construct remarkable sets for conventions. Some of the talent, creativity and let’s face it, wealth on display, is remarkable. I was taken aback by the likes of the Lego Rivendell and couldn’t begin to imagine how one would design and make such a piece. The movie also heads to the Czech Republic where the world’s largest ever Lego set is being constructed in secret before its unveiling in Times Square. The film, like its plastic subject is about creativity and fun and that really comes across on screen. The movie is huge fun from start to finish and even my long suffering Lego adverse girlfriend enjoyed it a lot. Unfortunately it began to feel a little long towards the end but overall it’s a great little documentary about something I love, explored in depth with a keen eye and humour in the front of the mind. The film is currently playing the festival circuit with no set date for wide release.  

So that was it for my Tribeca experience. I’d love to have seen more films but was happy that I’d managed to see any and that I at the very least liked all three. It’s made me want to visit more festivals and I’m certain this won’t be my last. I enjoyed the interaction with film makers, the insight they had to offer and the overall buzz which accompanied each screening. If you haven’t been to a festival – go and if you run one, give me free tickets. 


  1. Sounds like you had a good time. Tribeca can be hit or miss, so it's great that you liked all your films. It's a shame you couldn't get any screenings at the Tribeca PAC. That theatre is much better than the ones you mentioned.

    If you're anything like me, I'm sure you're gonna be hooked on film festivals now! The vibe is awesome.

    1. I'm sure I'll find myself at another one before too long.

  2. Summer of Blood has me very much interested. especially reading about the tone of it. Nice job