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Tribeca Film Festival (#110 of 146)

For Your Consideration Intent to Destroy and For Ahkeem

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For Your Consideration: Intent to Destroy and For Ahkeem

RadicalMedia

For Your Consideration: Intent to Destroy and For Ahkeem

Much as Americans love reality television, we tend to shun documentaries, mainly issue-based ones, probably because many of us see film and TV as a form of escapism. So the $100 million left by Armenian-American billionaire Kirk Kerkorian to finance a film about the genocidal killing of as estimated 1.5 million Armenians by the Turkish government in the early 20th century went to a fiction film, Terry George’s The Promise, which is currently in theaters nationwide. Meanwhile, Joe Berlinger’s Intent to Destroy has no distributor or theatrical release date after its premiere at Tribeca. And that’s a shame, because it’s a far better film than George’s stiff costume drama. Its depiction of the horrors of the genocide is more unvarnished, and therefore more accurate. More importantly, it explains the importance of that chapter in human history and examines the century-long denial campaign by the Turkish government that’s all but erased the tragedy from the world’s memory.

Tribeca Film Festival Aardvark and The Clapper

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Tribeca Film Festival: Aardvark and The Clapper

Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival: Aardvark and The Clapper

Brian Shoaf’s Aardvark opens in the most on-the-nose way imaginable: with a shot of—what else?—an aardvark that young Josh Norman (Jack Lanyo) is watching with particular interest as it burrows its way into its hole at a zoo. Such obviousness marks the film as a whole, right down to the grotesque chili-bowl haircut that the now-grown-up Josh (Zachary Quinto) sports to immediately signal to us that we’re watching a mentally disturbed individual.

Tribeca Film Festival Review City of Ghosts

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Tribeca Film Festival Review: City of Ghosts

Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival Review: City of Ghosts

Matthew Heineman’s City of Ghosts is a tribute to the bravery of Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), a collective of Syrian citizen journalists who banded together in 2014 to chronicle the atrocities being committed by ISIS in their country. In fact, the documentary begins with footage of members of the group about to accept the International Press Freedom Award in New York, which gives the viewer an indication of the filmmaker’s admiring view of the group. But Heineman isn’t just interested in hero worship.

Tribeca Film Festival Thirst Street

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Tribeca Film Festival: Thirst Street

Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival: Thirst Street

Nathan Silver tackles melodrama in Thirst Street, fusing its emotional bigness with his unique form of quotidian portraiture without one cancelling the other out. Silver takes one of the most politically disreputable of subgenres—the film in which a female stalks a male, embodying each person’s respective, stereotypical fears of rejection and obsession—and turns it upside down, stretching it so that we understand the stakes driving all parties. Paradoxically, the film is so empathetic that one doesn’t know where to place their empathy, and Silver’s mastery of tone recalls other filmmakers who’ve mixed tragedy and comedy to unmooring, exhilaratingly ambiguous ends, such as Alan Rudolph, Pedro Almodóvar, and Claude Chabrol.

Tribeca Film Festival Review Flames

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Tribeca Film Festival Review: Flames

Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival Review: Flames

Early in Flames, we see the film’s co-writers, co-editors, co-directors, and co-stars, Zefrey Throwell and Josephine Decker, in the first of many compromising positions. Decker’s hanging off a bed upside down and naked, while Throwell, standing right-side up, has comically unglamorous sex with her, his pumping ass facing the camera while they both laugh. We’re seeing a real side of sex that Joe Swanberg explored in his early films but that’s not often acknowledged by cinema (which usually offers erotic and romantic titillation that’s self-seriously sanitized): its potentialities as a hang-out activity, when one’s grown so comfortable with a partner that self-consciousness eases and pleasure deepens. Knowledge that one doesn’t have to elicit an orgasm per minute from their partner is freedom—a step toward lovers allowing themselves to be human in one another’s company.

Tribeca Film Festival Review The Departure

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Tribeca Film Festival Review: The Departure

Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival Review: The Departure

Death hangs over The Departure in grandly cosmic fashion. Lana Wilson’s documentary is a portrait of Ittetsu Nemoto, a Buddhist priest in Japan who’s devoted his life to preparing people for death and trying to talk people out of taking their own lives. The film’s opening sequence captures in detail one of Nemoto’s workshops, in which, among other things, he has his followers write down on small pieces of paper various things they feel they can’t live without, and then proceed, in stages, to crumple most of them up and throw them away. This establishes not only the film’s thoughtful approach to death, but also its calm aesthetic, with its long takes and wide shots inducing a sense of serene reflection wholly appropriate to its eternal subject matter.

Tribeca Film Festival Review The Family I Had

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Tribeca Film Festival Review: The Family I Had

Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival Review: The Family I Had

Charity Lee occupies the center of one of those true-crime stories that’s so operatically atrocious it’s impossible to comprehend. In 2007, Charity’s 13-year-old son, Paris, savagely murdered her four-year-old daughter and his half-sister, Ella, strangling and beating the girl, stabbing her 17 times with a kitchen knife. Katie Green and Carlye Rubin’s documentary The Family I Had opens with Charity’s recollection of hearing of Ella’s death, which is initially presented as a terrifyingly arbitrary incident. We hear the recording of Paris’s call to 911, in which he sounds remorseful and panicked, as if he’s snapped out of a slumber and is describing an act committed by another person.

Tribeca Film Festival Review Dog Years

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Tribeca Film Festival Review: Dog Years

Tribeca Film Festival

Tribeca Film Festival Review: Dog Years

It’s unseemly watching Burt Reynolds, one of the greatest movie stars, beg for sympathy in Adam Rifkin’s Dog Years. The film bears a resemblance to Daniel Noah’s Max Rose, as both are vehicles for their stars to explore their own legacies within a thinly fictional framework. But in Max Rose, Jerry Lewis had the sense not to overtly soften his character’s crustiness, maintaining his dignity and reminding viewers that he was still a vital actor despite the production’s pervading mediocrity. Reynolds still has his characteristic comic-masculine force, and he can still throw a line away with masterful panache, but he allows Rifkin to enable his self-pity.

Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Mr. Church

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Tribeca Film Festival 2016: Mr. Church

Darren Michaels

Tribeca Film Festival 2016: Mr. Church

Bruce Beresford’s Mr. Church is remarkable for how it manages to indulge so many offensive and shopworn clichés at once. A risible example of the magical negro trope, Henry Church (Eddie Murphy) appears in the lives of Marie (Natascha McElhone) and her daughter, Charlotte (played as a girl by Natalie Coughlin, then as a teenager and adult by Britt Robertson) as if out of the ether. Marie has been given six months to live from breast cancer and Henry, it turns out, has been hired by the woman’s deceased ex-lover to be the mother and daughter’s personal cook. But Marie hangs on, with six months becoming six years, which is enough time for this true renaissance man to become a surrogate father to Charlotte, encouraging her to read more and a become a writer (an ambition that she puts on hold after an unexpected pregnancy), as well as a painter and jazz pianist.

Tribeca Film Festival 2016 The Phenom

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Tribeca Film Festival 2016: The Phenom

RLJ Entertainment

Tribeca Film Festival 2016: The Phenom

Noah Buschel’s The Phenom may be about a struggling young pitcher’s attempt to overcome his mental block after a bad baseball game has him sent down to the minors, but the film is by no means a standard sports movie. Outside of an opening scene of baseball action that turns out to be archival footage two people are watching on a TV set, there’s none of the big-game action and sentimental triumph-over-adversity arcs that are usually de rigueur for these types of films. Instead, The Phenom is mostly made up of a series of conversations: therapy sessions and confrontations, the film diving into the past in order to understand the present, the way pitching wunderkind Hopper Gibson (Johnny Simmons) explores his own personal history under the guidance of his psychologist, Dr. Mobley (Paul Giamatti).