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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

previewing the Tribeca Film Festival

I haven’t been to the Tribeca Film Festival since 2003, and man, has it grown! Launching this Wednesday and running through May 6, more than 160 screenings, programs, and other events are taking over not just the neighborhood of Tribeca — in lower Manhattan near the former World Trade Center site — but theaters and venues up and down the length of Manhattan. (There are even rumors of a festival-hosted gala premiere of Spider-Man 3 planned for Queens, across the East River from Manhattan, and you know I’ll be on the lookout for some way to sneak into that.)

So I’m attending TFF again this year? What the hell. Trying to plan my coverage, though, is like trying to plan an invasion of Nazi-occupied France. Even if I do nothing but see movies — and never mind the panels, the street fair, the “drive-in,” and all the other fun stuff — I’ll still be able to take in only a tiny portion of everything that’s on tap. But I took a look through the film guide and picked out the movies I’m most looking forward to, the ones I’ll try hardest to see. And they are:
NARRATIVE
2 Days in Paris: Actress Julie Delphy — she’s so cute, isn’t she? — makes her directorial debut with a culture-clashing romantic comedy; deadpan neurotic Adam Goldberg — he’s cute too — costars as her American boyfriend. It’s rom-com, which I generally hate, but it’s French, so the food will be good.

The Air I Breathe: Awesome cast — Forest Whitaker, Brendan Fraser, Kevin Bacon — in a movie about Chinese fortune telling, crime bosses, love, and (I presume) the meaning of life. How can it go wrong?

Blackout: Urban upheaval in Brooklyn the midst of that huge blackout in summer 2003. Melvin Van Peebles and Jeffrey Wright star in what sounds like a Do the Right Thing for the 21st century.

Blue State: Upset Democrat Breckin Meyer moves to Canada after Bush wins reelection, falls in love with Anna Paquin. Aww. The first rom-com from the producers of The Daily Show. No, not really.

Charlie Bartlett: Teenage angst that I hope will be worth watching because the cast includes the soulful Anton Yelchin as the angst-ridden teen and Robert Downey Jr. and Hope Davis among the grownups around him.

Day Zero: Male-bonding drama set in the initial days of a new American military draft. Political speculation and Elijah Wood. Cool.

Gardener of Eden: Slacker drama with Lukas Haas, Giovanni Ribisi, and Erika Christensen.

Good Time Max: Actor James Franco writes, directs, and stars in a family drama about two very different brothers.

The Killing of John Lennon: A glimpse into the mind of a deranged killer, I guess.

Live!: A satire on reality TV: Russian Roulette as live-and-direct, must-see TV.

Napoleon and Me: A comic take on the Emperor in exile. When I think Napoleon, I think comedy.

Night of the Hunchback: A rediscovered 1963 Iranian flick about a theatrical troupe and a dead body. Sounds wonderfully nightmarish.

Nobel Son: Alan Rickman as a Nobel Prize winner kidnapped the night before he’s supposed to receive his prize. It’s a thriller and a comedy, apparently.

Numb: Matthew Perry in a comedy about chronic depression. Oh boy.

Still Life: Semifictional story about a Chinese village about to be flooded out of existence by a new dam.

Take: Minnie Driver in a drama about “redemption and forgiveness.”

Taxidermia: Hungarian black comedy about people who stuff dead animals. Tee-hee.

Watching the Detectives: Cillian Murphy plays a guy who likes movies a lot, and we film fans always love movies about ourselves.

DOCUMENTARY
Beyond Belief: 9/11 widows travel to Kabul to help Afghan widows and learn the meaning of life. The festival started in a post-9/11 rush to do something nice for downtown New York, and as a still-wounded New Yorker, I’m drawn to 9/11 stories.

The Business of Being Born: How having babies has turned into a business — and a medical nightmare — and what people are doing about it.

The Gates: Remember those big orange flags Christo hung all over Central Park a couple years ago? Those Gates. They were surprisingly evocative, and this film is about that project.

Hard as Nails: Scary evangelical preaches trying to corrupt the pagan souls of our youth. Must he be stopped? Or should we just make terrifying movies about him?

I Am an American Soldier: One Year in Iraq with the 101st Airborne: All the stuff we never get to see on the evening news, I hope.

Jerabek: The family of Marine killed in action in Iraq copes with his death. Another story we never see on the evening news.

Shame: A Pakistani woman refuses to be ashamed of the fact that she was raped, and generally makes a nuisance of herself.

Taxi to the Dark Side: Investigation into the death of an Afghani cab driver, apparently at the hands of American soldiers, from the guys who made the fantastic Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist: About the comic book pioneer, so it’s gotta be cool.

MIDNIGHT
Black Sheep: C’mon, it’s killer sheep. Genetically engineered killer sheep. And this is from New Zealand, where sheep far outnumber people — imagine the anxiety that must stink up this horror flick. I’m so there.

In the Land of Merry Misfits: The description promises “twisted fairy tales” and uses words like “whimsical,” “madcap,” and “wacky.” They’d better not be lying to me.

Mulberry Street: A deadly virus is ravaging New York, turning people into hungry ratlike monsters. 28 Blocks Later?

The Poughkeepsie Tapes: The videotaped crimes of a brutal killer haunt the FBI agents investigating his murders. Sounds like I might not sleep after this one.

Rise, Blood Hunter: Lucy Lui is a vampire. I knew it.

I won’t get to half of these films. Already I’m depressed.

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  • I’m one of the producers and cinematographers on the documentary “Beyond Belief.” I hope you get a chance to come out to one of our screenings… but I agree, the selection is daunting this year!

  • Kathy A

    Day Zero: Male-bonding drama set in the initial days of a new American military draft. Political speculation and Elijah Wood. Cool.

    I’ve seen the trailer for this at the film’s website, and it looks like it could be a good film. Definitely timely in terms of the calls for new troop surges in Iraq. And it does have Elijah Wood, so that’s good, too! (Nice to know you’re another fan of his–he really is an excellent actor. Loved him in Everything Is Illuminated.)

  • Tom Indigo

    looks like a cool festival. I went to my first film festival last year, in Connecticut. I hope to make it a regular thing. Saw some cool indie movies. But the prices on these! holy crap! they’re definitely not student-friendly.

  • MaryAnn how sweet it is of you to include our documentary JERABEK in your list of films you’re most looking forward to seeing. As you know, JERABEK is the story of a family that struggles with the cost of losing one son and the price of holding on to another. The documentary chronicles the changes in the lives of a small town Midwestern family after their 18-year-old son and brother is killed in Iraq. It’s been a long road for all of use involved with this deeply moving film, but in the end, the Jerabeks and all involved agree that this story must be told. We all hope to see you at the screenings and thank you personally!

  • Jane Sullivan

    I, too, am pleased that you’re an Elijah Wood fan. Please post your review/comments on Day Zero as soon as possible – I’m having a very hard time finding anything besides photos from yesterday’s premiere (not that I’m complaining – EW photos are always good for the soul).

  • MaryAnn

    Sorry, but I missed the press screening of *Day Zero.* I knew I wouldn’t be able to get to everything, and many of the films I wanted to see are up against one another and/or don’t fit into the juggling of screenings I’m doing.

  • Jerrod

    Well i didnt make it but how was the poughkeepsie tapes good or not because that movie was one in my interest so write back my emailis liljrod44@aol.com

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