Variety is the Spice of Tribeca

By Andrea Chase

A report from the Tribeca Film Festival.

HOW IT ENDS is a surprisingly upbeat consideration the end of the world. In it, Liza (co-writer/co-director Zoe Lister-Jones) sets off on an existential journey with her metaphorical younger self (Cailee Spaeny) to face down her regrets before an asteroid destroys the Earth at 2am (local time). That it was filmed during the height of the COVID 19 pandemic only serves to heighten the idiom. And explains why everyone is keeping their distance.

By turns funny, introspective, absurd, and poignant, the duo starts their day with a mammoth stack of pancakes before running into the love of her life (Logan Marshall Green), mending fences with her estranged best friend (Olivia Wilde), sorting out her parents (Bradley Whitford, Helen Hunt), and pondering why people can suddenly see the metaphorical younger self tagging along. The premise is precious, but the execution is tart, making the pilgrim’s progress both a deadpan meander through the eccentricities of Los Angeles and an allegory about the search for meaning where environmentalists are science deniers, and the truth about Bob Dylan makes a strange sort of sense. Extra points for having a gentle breeze tousle Green’s hair as he carries two adorable puppies. (It is currently in theaters but should not be confused with the Netflix action movie with the same title.)

The pandemic is central to the shorts anthology WITH/IN Volume 1. Not only do each of the segments deal with an aspect of people dealing with the new normal, but each was also filmed on location in the filmmakers’ homes with family working as crew. Two segments, INTERSECTION (directed by Bart Freundlich) and LEAP (directed by writer/star Sanaa Latham) also trenchantly address the Black Lives Matter movement spurred by the murder of George Floyd. The latter also delves into the contentious relationship between Julianne Moore and Talia Balsam as sisters who speak some hard truths to each other about Balsam’s unresolved racism towards Moore’s husband of many years played by Don Cheadle. Sisters are also the focus of COCO and GIGI (directed by co-star Rosie Perez). The action takes place over several weeks as the separated sisters zoom one another to compare notes, take stock, and work through their issues, not always politely, ultimately sealing the family bond. Humor and menace drive MOTHER!! by Maya Singer who stars along with Rebecca Hall, and Hall’s real-life husband, Morgan Spector, as a couple (Hall and Spector) playing host to Singer at their remote country home. Obsessions from how a picture is hanging on a wall, to a sourdough starter, ominously monikered Black Death, take over the lives of the occupants as their lives turn into an elaborate cosplay with overtones of THE STEPFORD WIVES and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.

FALSE POSITIVE is a clever riff on ROSEMARY’S BABY, but this deeply disturbing horror film takes on more than the experiential terrors of one woman’s pregnancy. This is nothing less than a takedown of the patriarchy, including the one in that classic. Co-writer Ilana Glazer gives a complex performance as Lucy, whose in vitro pregnancy is the answer to her prayers and those of her husband Adrian (Justin Theroux). But as the trimesters pass, complications threaten the fairy tale ending she was promised to her by the fertility doctor (Pierce Brosnan). Is it hormones, or is there something sinister going on behind his paternal smile that has a whiff of condescension about it? Driven by a percussive score, and a tantalizing script that balances between the fiction of assumed reality and the subconscious truths lurking in paranoia and hallucinations, this tidy tale encompasses the visceral dread of losing control over one’s body to people with motives of their own. (On Hulu now.)

Of the many worthy documentaries, I want to single out three.
Andreas Koefoed’s THE LOST LEONARDO recounts the chance discovery of a work by da Vinci, and the implications that reverberate beyond pure aesthetics. Ulterior motives, bragging rights, even global politics blend with true believers who may or may not be blinded by their own overweening desire for the painting to be authentic. Eye-opening and challenging, the painting itself, Salvator Mundi, takes second place to the fascinating, and sometimes dangerous, cast of characters swept up in the frenzy. (Opens in theaters only starting August 13.)

 

KUBRICK BY KUBRICK that gives us not just that fabled and famously silent director’s words, but also his voice using audio excerpts from an extensive interview Kubrick gave a French journalist Michel Ciment. With the notable omissions of LOLITA and THE KILLERS, Kubrick reflects on his oeuvre, including his dismissal of an early film, FEAR AND DESIRE, as a hollow, arrogant entertainment. Also included are thoughts by those who worked for him. Marisa Berenson describes the acting limitations of using the new technology of filming by candlelight in BARRY LYNDON, while others recount the violence he sometimes engendered in collaborators, the uses of his endless takes, and the hermetic world in which he worked and lived. There are no revelations about the meaning of 2001, for example, but filmmaker Gregory Munro does refract that and the other films through the Kubrick’s philosophical musings about human nature, giving his themes, or is it one overarching theme, context. (Does not yet have an American distributor.)

Eschewing narration of any kind, SIMPLE AS WATER by Oscar™-winning filmmaker Megan Mylan tells the story of four stories of Syrian refugees grappling with uncertainty and bureaucracy. Myland, with perceptive camera work, focuses on the strength of family as mothers try to do what is best for their children, brothers take care of each other while trying to find a permanent home, and a father spends years in Germany watching his children in a refugee center in Greece grow up via flickering video chats on his phone. This powerful documentary cuts through politics to confront its audience with human beings like themselves, and poses the difficult question of why they are made to suffer for events that were out of their control. (Does not yet have an American distributor.)

                                                                                 
Andrea Chase has been reviewing movies on radio, television, in print, and via the internet in the San Francisco Bay area for over 20 years. She says, “After moving here from Louisiana many years ago, I received my film education the way nature and the Lumiere Brothers intended–in movie theaters, both the mainstream venues that showcased the latest from La La Land, and the art houses that were more numerous in days gone by. They gave me a thorough grounding in current and classic cinema from all over the world and from the silents to the latest cutting edge Hong Kong flick.”

She is a member of the Women Film Critics Circle, as well as the San Francisco Film Critics Circle, and has been heard on non-commercial syndicated radio since 1996, and on British Forces Broadcasting throughout the world. Currently, she is the Movie Chick on KGO-Radio’s Maureen Langan show,  her series, Behind the Scenes, is part of PRX.org with over 350 episodes, and she contribute reviews to The New Fillmore.  Both Rotten Tomatoes and the MRQE link to her site, KillerMovieReviews.com, making the world safe for film lovers since 2002 with reviews and interviews. Read her other reviews and interviews for EDF.

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