By Sean Boelman
The Tribeca Film Festival returned in 2023 with an in-person edition offering some of their biggest premieres and films since the pandemic, followed by a (still ongoing) digital edition featuring some highlights from the lineup.
We at disappointment media were able to see more than 50 films at this year’s festival — in-person and virtually — and here are some brief thoughts on some of the films that played as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Dustin Guy Defa’s The Adults feels like the type of movie that Noah Baumbach would have made early in his career. It’s awkward yet endearing and often quite hilarious. The characters are frequently frustrating and make a lot of decisions that will be frustrating to audiences, but their charm lies in their flaws. The cast is also excellent, led by a trio of strong performances by Michael Cera, Hannah Gross, and Sophia Lillis. If you don’t mind a bit of an uncomfortable laugh, The Adults is definitely the movie for you.
If you’ve ever heard the adage “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” you will immediately feel like Stewart Thorndike’s psychological horror film Bad Things is *extremely* flattering to Stanley Kubrick. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that this Shining homage owes so much to the auteur, as Thorndike did work as an actor on Eyes Wide Shut. Although the story is unlikely to be very impressive because it is hardly original, the cast is excellent — led by Gayle Rankin and Hari Nef — and the atmosphere is effectively unsettling (probably because it so overtly rips off some of the iconic imagery from the original film).
Blood for Dust
Rod Blackhurst’s Blood for Dust has a star-studded cast and a crime drama plot that should at least be entertaining. Unfortunately, despite the fact that there is so much happening in the plot, the film is inexplicably dull. Scoot McNairy, Kit Harrington, Josh Lucas, Stephen Dorff, Ethan Suplee, and more are actively trying to make the most out of this script, but they can’t get past the dour, derivative nature of the script.
Chasing Chasing Amy
Sav Rodgers’s documentary Chasing Chasing Amy is without a doubt one of the most personal and intimate films that played at this year’s Tribeca, and it ends up being thoroughly touching as a result. In the film, Rodgers explores the legacy of Kevin Smith’s film Chasing Amy, its unorthodox place in queer film canon, and how it inspired him on his journey of coming out as trans. The parts of the film about Rodgers’s personal story are fantastic, but what is even more impressive is how he manages to legitimately engage with the complexities of Smith’s film, asking some thought-provoking questions about what it means to appreciate flawed and problematic art.
Pixar’s Elemental is as visually stunning as usual for the Disney offshoot, but it largely lacks creativity in its writing. The premise, following two star-crossed lovers from families of different elements, is relatively standard when it comes to the studio’s storylines. Although the immigration allegory lends itself to some expectedly tear-jerking moments that are occasionally effective, it also creates some racial stereotypes that feel frustrating in a film that is meant to be preaching acceptance. It’s worth seeing for the visuals — especially if you can catch it in 3D — but it’s clearly one of Pixar’s worst outings.
After canceling its premiere at Sundance 2022 because of the events online-only pivot, Final Cut premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival and has been playing the festival circuit, now making a stop at Tribeca before its theatrical release next month. Michel Hazanavicius’s remake of the Japanese cult classic One Cut of the Dead is surprisingly faithful to the original, meaning it will lose much of its luster to fans. Still, for those who have not seen the extraordinary original, this is pretty well-made and will be mostly entertaining.
Director Noam Kaplan’s film The Future has a premise that shows a ton of promise, but simply isn’t that interesting in execution. Kaplan clearly has a lot on his mind, but instead of focusing on one issue or theme and exploring it in depth, he casts a wide net, not saying anything of substance about any of them. Samar Qupty and Raymond Amsalem both give strong performances in their leading roles, but they are not enough to keep the viewer’s attention on a frustratingly dull film.
Hideo Kojima: Connecting Worlds
Glen Milner’s documentary Hideo Kojima: Connecting Worlds clocks in with a runtime of under one hour, which further cements the fact that it largely feels like a bonus feature more than a full-fledged feature documentary. However, what this film about the legendary Japanese video game creator does succeed in is helping the audience understand the video game medium not just as a technical feat, but also a work of art and storytelling. With a particular focus on Kojima’s award-winning sci-fi epic Death Stranding, this documentary is sure to be of interest to Kojima’s fans.
The Last Night of Amore
Andrea Di Stefano’s The Last Night of Amore is a somewhat straightforward procedural drama set in the criminal underworld of Italy, but it’s entertaining enough, largely thanks to a great leading performance by Pierfrancesco Favino. The film leans very heavily into melodrama, and some of its beats are somewhat convoluted despite the story feeling generic. Still, Favino’s screen presence and strong technical aspects will keep viewers engaged.
Let the Canary Sing
Cyndi Lauper is an amazing musician, and the new documentary Let the Canary Sing hopes to have audiences walking away with a deeper appreciation of the singer beyond her most famous hits. Everyone knows her catchy songs like “Time After Time,” “True Colors,” and of course “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” but filmmaker Alison Ellwood does an amazing job of diving into Lauper’s personal life and the larger cultural and social impact that she and her work have had.
Tessa Thompson is an extraordinary actress, and her lead performance in The Listener is worthy of note. And while the premise — the operator of a call-in emotional support line — is really interesting, the film bites off a lot more than it can chew. In trying to discuss nearly all of the important issues we face today, from mental health to the homelessness crisis and toxic masculinity, the film ends up feeling extremely cringe-worthy. Add in direction from Steve Buscemi that’s disappointingly uninformed — with blocking and set dressing choices that feel meaningless and random — and you have a film that’s simply not very good.
One Night With Adela
Hugo Ruíz’s revenge thriller One Night With Adela is the latest in a line of gimmicky “one-take” thrillers whose central conceit is that they are shot in a single, unbroken take. The film follows a woman who goes on a violent rampage against those who have wronged her, and while there are certainly some effectively messed up moments throughout, the film simply does not have the narrative momentum that a real-time thriller like this needs to succeed. Lead actress Laura Galán (last year’s Sundance hit Piggy) gives another brilliant performance here, but isn’t enough to save a film that is lacking in depth.
Jennifer Reeder’s Perpetrator is not only one of the worst films to play the festival circuit this year, but one of the worst films of the year in general. The core coming-of-age arc is generic, and buried below layer upon layer of nearly incomprehensible genre bullshit. As for the direction of the film, it’s wildly uneven. There are some undeniably striking images, but other scenes are laughably cheap-looking. Even usually campy actors like Alicia Silverstone and Christopher Lowell are unable to salvage this terrible genre picture. It’s clear that this was meant to be a scrappy B-movie throwback, but the result is nearly unwatchable.
Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed
Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed is a pretty standard biographical documentary, but its subject is such an extraordinary figure in Hollywood and LGBTQIA+ history that the film still manages to be pretty fascinating. When it comes to the recollection of Hudson’s career and life, little is said that won’t be known by cinephiles. However, the film’s discussion of Hudson’s AIDS diagnosis and how he was a pivotal figure in the movement for AIDS awareness and research makes this a welcome bit of representation for Pride Month.
The Space Race
Lisa Cortes and Diego Hurtado de Mendoza’s documentary The Space Race is an inspiring look at the first group of Black astronauts who blazed a path forward in space exploration. Although the core story of the film is fascinating, and it features plenty of excellent archive footage, the film’s storytelling is somewhat unfocused. Although the film’s attempts to provide context to its extraordinary subjects’ contributions is noble, it often starts to feel like the film is going off on tangents.
A Strange Path
The Brazilian film A Strange Path won the Jury Prize in the International Narrative Competition at this year’s festival, and like the narrative winner Cypher, it seems like this award was more for the film’s formalism than its narrative. Aesthetically, Guto Parente’s film is amazing, with some fabulous cinematography by Linga Acácio. However, the film’s narrative following an experimental filmmaker’s relationship with his father is a bit too anemic to resonate as deeply as it should.
This Is Not Financial Advice
Zach Ingrasachi and Chris Temple’s This Is Not Financial Advice stands out among documentaries about cryptocurrency because it takes an unusually critical approach towards the technology that has rocked the financial market. In showing the stories of people who lost their life’s savings in the crypto market, as well as inexperienced financial “gurus” who led others to do the same, Ingrasachi and Temple have created an important cautionary tale about not falling into traps that seem too good to be true. The presentation is standard, and the film gets its point across rather quickly, but that doesn’t make its story any less essential.
Jordan Byron and Monica Villamizar’s documentary Transition is the type of film where it’s a miracle that it even exists. The film follows Byron, a trans Australian journalist who is reporting on the actions of the Taliban in Afghanistan as he attempts to receive gender-affirming surgery in the Middle East. Given the oppression that the trans community faces even in free and developed countries right now, Byron’s story needs to be heard more urgently than ever.
The 2023 Tribeca Festival ran June 7-18 in NYC and June 19 through July 2 online.
The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1182): THE SERVANT -- One of the Most Gorgeous Restorations in the Criterion Collection
Review by Sean Boelman
Filmmaker Joseph Losey’s The Servant is a product of a time where it’s stunning that a movie this transgressive was even able to exist. Although the film suffers from some issues with pacing, its historical context and beautiful visuals make it more than a worthy addition to any cinephile’s Criterion shelf.
The movie follows an upper-class man who hires a new servant, whose intentions may not be as altruistic as they seem. The film’s commentary on class relations is quite interesting, and made even more so when one realizes the context of the director having been blacklisted from Hollywood during the height of the Red Scare.
In many ways, the movie is an extremely slow burn. And given how bleak so much of the story is, the combination of the dark tone and slow pacing can start to feel somewhat oppressive at times. By the end of the nearly two-hour runtime, viewers will be absolutely exhausted, and not necessarily in a way that feels rewarding.
Although the film is effective in developing characters that are morally ambiguous, this can also end up being somewhat frustrating. We are presented with protagonists who, for lack of a better word, simply aren’t very likable. And while the purpose is clearly to challenge and provoke audiences, it’s not always effective.
That being said, the movie is brilliant as an exercise in formalism. The visuals are fantastic, as is the score. Even when the story and its power dynamics aren’t able to keep the viewer engaged in the film, the brilliant aesthetics will keep their eyes glued to the screen. The atmosphere that Losey is able to correct is fantastic.
The new 4K restoration of the movie included on the Blu-Ray edition is perhaps one of the finest restorations the Criterion Collection has put out in recent years. It’s absolutely stunning — a sight to behold, making the crisp black-and-white cinematography by Douglas Slocombe pop in ways one would never expect.
The bonus features are much stronger than recent output from the Criterion Collection, with some new documentary materials as well as interviews, including a rare one with director Losey that cinephiles might not be able to find anywhere else. Additionally, author Colm Tóibín contributed an essay for the booklet.
The Servant is an interesting product of its time, and while the story might not be the most captivating, the beautiful 4K restoration offered by the Criterion Collection accentuates its gorgeous visuals. The fact that the Criterion Collection is giving a platform to such challenging films as this is why cinephiles love them.
The Criterion Collection edition of The Servant is now available.
By Sean Boelman
The Tribeca Festival is one of the largest gatherings for film and media in New York City, and represents the transition from the spring to the fall festival circuit. Before film festivals become all about predicting who are going to be the next big awards contenders, we get another opportunity to see some great premieres and encores of other films that have been lighting up other festivals.
We at disappointment media are covering the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival — in person for the first time ever, as we have only covered previous editions virtually. We have already gotten the chance to sneak a peek at certain films in the lineup, and here are some we think you shouldn’t miss out on.
Dustin Guy Defa’s dramedy The Adults debuted earlier this year at Berlinale and is making a stop at Tribeca before its theatrical release later this summer. Starring Michael Cera as an awkward guy who finds his short trip home extended by an addiction to a local poker game, this is the type of comedy that gets most of its humor from putting its characters in increasingly uncomfortable situations. The characters are purposefully grating at times, but excellent performances from Michael Cera, Hannah Gross, and Sophia Lillis are more than worth the price of admission.
One of the biggest world premieres at this year’s Tribeca Festival is the LGBTQIA+ drama Our Son, which plays out almost as a gay version of Marriage Story. The film stars Luke Evans and Billy Porter as a long married couple who decide to separate suddenly to one of their dismay, setting off a devastating custody battle. It would be difficult to find a more emotionally harrowing film than this in the lineup this year, and Evans and Porter’s performances are the icing on the exceptional cake.
Irene Lusztig’s documentary Richland is the type of film that is hard to recommend in that it is not a particularly pleasant watch, but it is essential viewing despite its often depressing nature. The film tells the story of a town in Washington state that was created to house the workers of a nearby nuclear site, but has since grown to be a microcosm of the generational conflict happening in America right now. The points that Lusztig is able to make with her verité footage are shockingly profound and harrowingly effective.
Rule of Two Walls
This year’s Tribeca Festival lineup includes several documentaries about the war in Ukraine, but there’s unlikely to be one as innovative and unique as David Gutnik’s Rule of Two Walls. What makes this documentary stand out is its hopeful approach to the topic. Although the film pulls no punches when it comes to depicting the aftermath of this conflict on the Ukrainian people, its focus is on a group of artists who have decided to remain in their country and continue to create their art despite the circumstances. The result is a surprisingly hopeful reminder of how the human will can overcome, and how perseverance is necessary in the face of adversity — a perspective that needs to be heard right now.
With its 2023 edition, Tribeca is introducing a new “psychotronic” sidebar called “Escape From Tribeca,” which features a much weirder and wilder set of midnight movies than festival-goers may be used to seeing in the festival’s usual Midnight lineup. One of the highlights of that group of films this year is Suitable Flesh, directed by Joe Lynch (Mayhem) from a story by H. P. Lovecraft. As one would expect, it’s a fittingly unhinged, campy throwback — with tons of gore and sex. You really couldn’t ask for more from a midnight movie.
The 2023 Tribeca Festival screens at the 2023 Tribeca Festival, which runs June 7-18 in NYC and June 19 through July 2 online.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.