By Sean Boelman
Note: We at disappointment media do not support many of the decisions that the Tribeca Film Festival has made in regards to its treatment of the media during the 2021 edition. However, we also recognize the fact that the festival is an important launchpad for many films seeking distribution. As such, we will continue to cover films in the lineup, but will focus on the films themselves rather than the festival as a whole.
Wu Hai is a film with a ridiculously intriguing premise that ultimately ends up being another entry in the slow cinema movement. Following a man whose world comes crumbling down around him, this would work much better as a race-against-the-clock thriller than the meditative character study that it is. There are definitely some compelling moments, but more often than not, this feels like a redo of emotional beats that have been done better so many times before. The only thing that there is to really recommend about this film is the absolutely stunning visuals.
Wu Hai is currently seeking distribution.
Rob Schroeder’s sci-fi movie Ultrasound is one of those movies that is extremely complicated to the point of feeling really intelligent, even if it isn’t as profound as it seems to think it is. Yet even though the film is a bit hard to follow at times, it’s generally entertaining thanks to the way in which Schroeder creates the atmosphere. Ultimately, it works best as an exercise in eeriness rather than a horror film in its own right, and as such, it will appeal to hardcore genre fans.
Ultrasound is currently seeking distribution.
Paper & Glue
Street artist JR has always been known for being very socially conscious, but his new documentary Paper & Glue takes his activism to the forefront. Following JR as he uses his art to give a voice to regular people who are underrepresented, it has some pretty powerful aspirations but never manages to reach them. A lot of the issues that JR sets his eyes on are very important, but the focus here seems to be more on the art and less on the issues. It’s a noble step, but it isn’t as great as it should have been.
Paper & Glue is currently seeking distribution.
Adrien Brody is clearly a very talented actor, but his skills when it comes to writing screenplays have yet to be proven. If the revenge thriller Clean is any indication, he definitely needs a bit more work in that department. As a starring vehicle for himself, it works well enough, as it allows him to give a performance that is predictably strong. However, the script is painfully dull and generic, rehashing the beats of any other movie in the genre in a way that can be hard to get through.
Clean is currently seeking distribution.
Ballad of a White Cow
The Iranian film Ballad of a White Cow is perhaps one of the most haunting films on the festival circuit right now, a slow-burn melodrama that escalates into something more sinister with its expertly-crafted tension. Following a woman who learns that her husband was executed for a crime of which he was innocent, this is a bleak film that can be very hard to watch at times, but it’s consistently stirring and very thoughtful. Great direction from Maryam Moghadam and Behtash Sanaeeha and a fabulous performance from Moghadam make this an absolute stand-out.
Ballad of a White Cow is currently seeking distribution.
With/In Vol. 1
Pandemic films are certainly going to be a mainstay in the industry for the next year or so, and so audiences need to get prepared for both good ones and bad ones. Thanks to the talent involved, With/In Vol. 1, an anthology film composed of shorts from notable talent including Sanaa Lathan, Rosie Perez, Morgan Spector, and Bart Freundlich trends towards the positive side, with Spector’s segment “Mother” being a particular highlight. However, even though the intentions are good, filmmakers using the same, widely-available equipment to create a film, the fact that all of these creators are well off is a little suspect.
With/In Vol. 1 is currently seeking distribution.
Having earned several comparisons to Whiplash, Lauren Hadaway’s thriller The Novice is an enthralling glimpse into obsession. In terms of the script, it’s on the conventional side, hitting all of the beats in a predictable manner, but the execution is so stylish that it works nevertheless. The visuals in Hadaway’s film are effectively nightmarish, drawing the viewer into the tense world of the protagonist, and Isabelle Fuhrman gives an amazing performance that was clearly very demanding, both physically and emotionally.
The Novice is currently seeking distribution.
Catch the Fair One
Executive produced by Darren Aronofsky, Catch the Fair One, the sophomore feature of filmmaker Josef Kubota Wladyka may be a bit conventional in terms of its script, but it’s certainly confident in its style. A lean, entertaining revenge thriller, even if it plays it a bit too safe, this story of a boxer trying to find her missing sister packs quite the emotional punch. The lead performance from real-life boxer Kali Reis is also worthy of note, as she manages to pull a lot of nuance out of a character that is somewhat by-the-book.
Catch the Fair One is currently seeking distribution.
A must-see for anyone who is interested in film history, the documentary Claydream tells the story of one of the originators of the claymation style of filmmaking. Documentarian Marq Evans profiles filmmaker Will Vinton in a way that is somewhat formulaic, but the film does a good job of playing out in a way that is cinematic and entertaining. The incorporation of clips from Vinton’s work will undoubtedly leave viewers in awe of his craft, but the real appeal of this film comes in when the story takes a crazy turn in the third act.
Claydream is currently seeking distribution.
From the looks of it, Italian Studies would have been a huge breakout because it features a rising star in Vanessa Kirby, but this film is way too abstract to connect with a majority of audiences. Following an amnesiac writer who wanders the streets of New York City, possibly or possibly not having conversations with teenagers, this is basically a series of metaphorical and philosophical ramblings. Sometimes they are insightful, and other times they feel empty and pretentious. But there’s no doubt that the film is gorgeous to look at, and Kirby’s performance is quite good.
Italian Studies is currently seeking distribution.
Mark, Mary + Some Other People
Mark, Mary & Some Other People is a hilarious romantic comedy exploring the somewhat taboo idea of polyamorous relationships. It’s the type of comedy that deals heavily in secondhand embarrassment, as we watch the characters make the wrong decision time after time, but it’s very funny at what it does. Lead actors Ben Rosenfield and Hayley Law have exceptional chemistry together and pull off both the romantic and comedic aspects of the script. From previous outings, it was clear that writer-director Hannah Marks was talented, but this proves that she is great at comedy.
Mark, Mary & Some Other People will release later this year.
Offering a compelling blend of underdog story, food porn, and a political documentary, Robert Coe and Warwick Ross’s film Blind Ambition seems like an unlikely candidate for success, but much like the team of sommeliers it follows, there is much more to this film than it initially lets on. Audiences can expect to be pulled into the story of the Zimbabwean Wine Tasting Olympics team, and the film also does a very good job of diving deep into the stories of these four men who are fighting against the odds.
Blind Ambition is currently seeking distribution.
False Positive is a deeply unoriginal film with a script that borrows heavily from, if not entirely ripping off, better films. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of classic horror will be able to predict where the story is going from a mile away, and the fact that the film seems to think it is smart and subversive is, quite frankly, insulting. A decently eerie style from director John Lee and a devilishly fun performance from Pierce Brosnan are nowhere near enough to make up for this joyless attempt at atmospheric horror, especially with the ending being so outright laughable.
False Positive streams on Hulu beginning June 25.
Creation Stories is clearly meant to exist in the same vein as the much better 24 Hour Party People, a comedy-tinged biopic about someone whose hand guided the evolution of British pop. However, despite having plenty of interesting stories to pull from, the script by Dean Cavanagh and Irvine Welsh is so messy that it’s nearly impossible to make anything out of it. Ewen Bremner is solid as music mogul Alan McGee, and the soundtrack is obviously great, but the writing is just horrid, and director Nick Moran’s failed and cheap-looking attempts to infuse the film with a sleek style don’t help.
Creation Stories will be released later this year.
The Justice of Bunny King
Gaysorn Thavat’s tear-jerking drama The Justice of Bunny King offers some genuinely heartbreaking commentary on the failures of the system which it critiques, but its emotional beats are too predictable and artificial for it to be especially resonant. The performances by Essie Davis and Thomasin McKenzie are fabulous, but this story of a mother struggling to provide for her children has a script that is less than impressive. The first two thirds are sentimental but bearable, but the final act goes way overboard, nearly to the point of being unwatchable.
The Justice of Bunny King is currently seeking distribution.
Larry Flynt for President
The story of Hustler founder and unlikely Presidential candidate Larry Flynt is so insane that it got the biopic treatment in 1996, but the charm of Nadia Szold’s new documentary Larry Flynt for President is that it features lots of unearthed, never-before-seen footage from the Flynt campaign. Clocking in at a lean ninety minutes, the film is definitely very entertaining thanks to its subject’s larger-than-life personality and the often absurd antics in which he involved himself. But beyond that, it’s an interesting exploration of the issue of freedom of speech and the press, which has always been a hot-button topic.
Larry Flynt for President is currently seeking distribution.
a-ha: The Movie
Norwegian pop band a-ha has a large, passionate fanbase, so one would think that a documentary about their rise to fame would be absolutely delightful. However, director Thomas Robsahm’s approach to telling the story is very straightforward, to the point of it becoming dull. There are some interesting moments that feature animation in the style of a-ha’s iconic music videos, but other than that, it’s mostly a compilation of interviews and archival performance footage. It’s good enough to be worth watching, but there’s also no doubt that fans and the group deserve something better.
a-ha: The Movie is currently seeking distribution.
Perhaps the most influential American composer in all of history, Leonard Bernstein lived an absolutely fascinating life and the documentary Bernstein’s Wall allows audiences to hear about it in his own words. It’s a bit traditional in how it’s presented — mostly archive footage with the interviews used as voiceover — but Bernstein is such an exceptional subject that flashiness isn’t necessary. Admittedly, it’s a film that’s going to appeal more to those who are already interested in classical music, but it could also win over some fans for Bernstein’s impressive body of work.
Bernstein's Wall is currently seeking distribution.
We Need to Do Something
Sean King O’Grady’s film We Need to Do Something is an absolute masterclass in tense horror filmmaking. Following a family who find themselves trapped in a bathroom after a devastating storm, this starts out as a lean slow-burn thriller before going absolutely off the rails around the thirty-minute mark. The things that O’Grady is able to do with sound and set design are thoroughly impressive and succeed in capturing the feeling of anxiety that the film requires, and Pat Healy’s unhinged performance as the family’s patriarch is a scene-stealer. Genre fans definitely need to check this one out.
We Need to Do Something hits theaters and VOD on September 3.
Kelly Murtaugh wrote and stars in Shapeless, which is clearly a very personal film, but personal and compelling aren’t always synonymous. Following a lounge singer with an eating disorder that turns her life into a waking nightmare, the film does some interesting things with body horror, but for the most part, is just dull and repetitive. It gets its point across early on, and the rest of the runtime feels like we are trapped in an endless loop of misery. Of course, this seems to be the point, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s an altogether unpleasant film to stomach.
Shapeless is currently seeking distribution.
No matter how many are made, there is a seemingly eternal demand for nature documentaries, and the streaming services are often the ones who provide the supply. The newest film from Apple TV+, Fathom, follows two scientists who set out to decode the language behind humpback whale songs. The mission that these researchers are undertaking is pretty fascinating, even if the sound of these whale calls is so soothing to almost lull the viewer to sleep. Still, director/cinematographer Drew Xanthopoulos has a tremendous eye, shooting the film in a breathtakingly gorgeous way that will make this a crowd-pleaser.
Fathom streams on Apple TV+ beginning June 25.
Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road
If one is discussing the best albums made of all time, at least one by the Beach Boys should undoubtedly come up — Pet Sounds — but the documentary Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road seeks to remind audiences of just how prolific Wilson’s entire discography is. In terms of how filmmaker Brent Wilson (no relation) presents the eponymous musician’s story, this is a pretty standard biographical documentary, but it’s an entertaining watch nevertheless, especially for those who are already fans. And of course, the best part of the documentary is getting the chance to hear about the origins of some of the best songs ever straight from the mouth of their creator.
Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road is currently seeking distribution.
The Beta Test
Jim Cummings has become quite the indie superstar since his feature debut Thunder Road, and his newest film, The Beta Test (co-written and co-directed with PJ McCabe), is his best and most ambitious yet. Although the film is a tad busy, biting off a bit more than it can chew in terms of themes, it is a mind-blowing satire of Hollywood and social media. Many films have tried and failed to do this same thing before, but Cummings and McCabe have pulled it off in a way that is thoroughly stylish, entertaining, and anxiety-inducing, making for one of the best thrillers of the year so far.
The Beta Test will be released in theaters and on VOD this fall.
The Danish dark comedy Wild Men starts off strong, with some excellent situational humor and the promise of a twisty storyline, but after a while, one begins to wonder why it all matters. Entertaining moments are sprinkled throughout, but the film peaks early and plateaus for much of the rest of the runtime. Perhaps the best thing in play here is a great performance from Rasmus Bjerg, who does a great job with both the comedy and the action. Still, viewers will largely be left unfulfilled, wishing that the film had lived up to the untapped potential of the set-up.
Wild Men is currently seeking distribution.
Although the adjective gets thrown around a lot more frequently than it needs to be used, there is no better word to describe Elisabeth Vogler’s film Roaring 20’s than “pretentious”. Although the execution of the film as a one-take ensemble drama shot on the streets of Paris during the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly impressive, it often feels like the purpose of this film is merely to prove what Vogler was able to do. It’s gimmicky in all the wrong ways, with minimal story or character development and themes that are scattered at best. It’s a shame that Vogler couldn’t put her obvious talent to use on something more profound.
Roaring 20's is currently seeking distribution.
No Man of God
As long as audiences aren’t able to get enough true crime content, filmmakers will keep putting it out, and No Man of God is the latest film that will come and go in the genre. Strong performances from Luke Kirby and Elijah Wood keep this chamber piece about conversations between serial killer Ted Bundy and an FBI psychoanalyst from being entirely forgettable, but the whole affair is frighteningly one-note. The first two thirds are competent but largely dull, but once it gets to the climax, it starts to get outright bad with hokey and forced emotional beats.
No Man of God will be released in theaters and on VOD on August 27.
Recent years have seen an uptick in the amount of socially conscious genre films, and Delmar Washington’s feature debut No Running hopes to put a timely spin on the sci-fi mystery genre. However, the fundamental issue with the film is that first-time writer Tucker Morgan’s script has next to no suspense. There are a lot of genuinely great ideas at play within the story, but an unsubtle hand and a failure to take advantage of the intriguing premise keep the film from elevating beyond competent B-movie level.
No Running is currently seeking distribution.
The Last Film Show
A coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the cinema should be an immediate hook for any cinephile, but The Last Film Show is far too familiar for its own good. Pam Nalin’s film is impeccably shot, and it sticks the landing tremendously well, paying off with an unsurprisingly resonant finale, but the abundance of tropes (particularly in the first two acts) make this more sentimental than genuinely emotional. It clearly wants to recapture the magic of Cinema Paradiso, but it just doesn’t have the same level of oomph as that classic.
The Last Film Show is currently seeking distribution.
See For Me
Many horror movies capitalize on the very common fear of the unknown to create a sense of terror. Randall Okita’s film See For Me attempts to double down on that by having a blind protagonist, but fails to translate that to an experience that is particularly tense for the audience. It’s an entertaining and lean thriller, but a very basic one at that, and there have been plenty of movies that have done this same thing much more effectively in the past (just watch Wait Until Dark instead).
See For Me is currently seeking distribution.
My Heart Can't Beat Unless You Tell It To
Although the magnificent title is one of the best in the horror genre since the days of giallo, My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To is a disappointingly dull affair. Following a brother and sister who begin to clash over the care of their sickly younger brother, this film is far more interested in mood and tone than anything else. Filmmaker Jonathan Cuartas is playing with some interesting ideas here, but the slow burn it takes to the minimal payoff isn’t worth suffering through in the name of an occasionally distinctive take on genre tropes.
My Heart Can't Beat Unless You Tell It To will hit theaters and VOD on June 25.
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The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.