How it’s New York: The Tribeca Film Festival has been a mainstay of lower Manhattan for the last 17 years
How it’s Irish: Ireland’s Celtic Nation neighbour Canada is heavily represented in the fest, from Canadian director Jason Reitman and his new movie Tully, which was filmed in Canada, to Canadian Director Robert Budreau, who has a new feature, Stockholm, in the fest
The Tribeca Film Festival is now in its 17th year, but this year was only my second official stint. I’ve tried to make up for lost time during the fest’s first six days by zipping from screenings and talks at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center to the fest hub on Varick Street to fuel up with some Nutella crepes (thanks official sponsor!), to the Regal Cinemas in Battery Park and to 23rd Street where there was action to be found at the School for Visual Arts and at the Cinepolis multiplex across the street. Here’s a round up of everything I’ve checked out!
I kicked things off in a big way on Day One by going to the New York Premiere of “Tully,” the new film by Canadian director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody. This is the third collaboration for the pair after working on “Juno” and “Young Adult.” It’s their second time around with Charlize Theron, who plays Marlo, the lead. When I saw the trailer a few weeks ago – in which Theron’s very pregnant character was navigating marriage and motherhood and looking pretty exhausted and like she wanted to be anywhere else – I must say it made my womb tighten up a bit on itself. Happily though, the trailer really undersells what a thoughtful, witty, dark comedy the three have crafted all while also tackling loneliness and mental health issues.
One example of Cody’s great writing and Theron’s skilled delivery: Tully (Mackenzie Davis, late of “Halt and Catch Fire”), the night nanny her brother hires to help Marlo out tells her “you can’t fix the parts without treating the whole.” Marlo’s response: “Nobody’s treated my whole in a really long time.”
Having last seen Theron kicking serious ass in “Atomic Blonde” over the summer, I was massively impressed not only by how she transformed her body for this role but how believable she was as a mother of three grappling with the highs and the day to day grind of a new baby, absentee spouse and a demanding older child.
[pullquote][Charlize Theron] is fearless. She’s perfectly willing to come across as unlikable.”[/pullquote]
Following the screening Reitman sat down with fellow director Tamara Jenkins (“Slums of Beverly Hills,” “The Savages”). He noted that Cody’s writing is semi-autobiographical and portrayed his relationship with Cody and Theron as “like we’re strangely writing this diary together every five years.” He admitted that while it took him seven years to write “Up In The Air,”
“Cody is a pure writer…..This will frustrate the shit out of you, but she had two sentences of a movie and six weeks later a script showed up, and that was the shooting draft.”
Of their leading lady he admiringly said,
“I find her fearless. She’s 100% aware of what’s happening around her but also knows how to be vulnerable. She’s perfectly willing to come across as unlikable.”
Whether or not you have children, Theron’s performance, which will likely result in an Oscar nomination, makes this a must watch.
“Tully” opens nationwide May 4.
On Friday night I dipped again into the Canadian director well with the World Premiere of Robert Budreau’s “Stockholm,” starring Ethan Hawke, Noomi Rapace and Mark Strong. This is the second partnering between Budreau and Hawke, who worked together on the 2015 Chet Baker biopic “Born to Be Blue.” “Stockholm” is based on the “absurd but true story” of a 1973 bank robbery in the Swedish capital and the six-day hostage situation from which the term “Stockholm Syndrome” originated.
Hawke plays Lars, an unlikely, leather-clad, bewigged bank robber in a cowboy hat. How ill-suited is he to the job? As he strolls into the Kreditbanken, he holds the door for an older woman exiting. Then after he pulls out his gun, a cop comes into the bank with a gun and Lars shoots the gun out of the cop’s hand, screaming at him that he could have shot Bianca (Noomi Rapace), the bank employee whose fear is replaced by a growing compassion and attraction for Lars. He has the cop sing Bob Dylan into a walkie talkie and has the Chief of Police call him “The Outlaw.” There are lots of fun, outlandish moments like that in the movie, such as when Bianca tells her husband, who has been briefly allowed into the bank, how to prepare fish for that evening’s dinner or when the other female hostage gets her period and Lars starts shouting “Emergency” and demanding the cops bring tampons. Even as the tone of the movie becomes more dramatic, with the tension escalating and the hostage situation going off the rails, I was riveted. Full disclosure: I have loved Ethan Hawke since “Dead Poets Society” and “Reality Bites” and found him to be utterly compelling as the kind-hearted quasi-criminal. This was my favourite feature of the fest to date.
“Stockholm” has a final screening on Sunday April 29th at 5 p.m.
After the weekend it was time to cleanse the palate with a documentary. Well, as much as documentaries, which don’t tend to be all that light, can be. I picked “Howard,” which was about Howard Ashman, the world-renowned, Oscar-winning lyricist and librettist who died from AIDS-related complications when he was just 40 in 1991. He didn’t live long enough to see “Beauty and the Beast,” just one of the hugely successful movies for which Ashman and his artistic partner, composer Alan Menken, wrote the music.
The two first had an Off Broadway hit in the early 1980s with Little Shop of Horrors and then went on to work for Disney, co-writing the songs for “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin.” Directed by Don Hahn, who produced “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast,” Howard is catnip for theatre and musical lovers like myself.
The documentary includes interviews with Ashman’s mother, sister, partner and long-time friends who knew Ashman going back to his university days and Disney players like Jeffrey Katzenberg. As a kid Ashman had performed with a children’s theatre company and wrote musicals with the neighbour kids. After college he moved to New York and co-founded the WPA Theatre, a black box theatre in a grotty area of lower Fifth Avenue. That’s where he met Menken and the two formed an historic professional partnership. Luckily for Disney, whose animation output was in a moribund state, such that the animators worked out of trailers miles from the main campus, Katzenberg snapped up Ashman and Menken, who saved the animation studio.
It would be a major understatement to say that the late 80s were a truly dark time for the gay community. Furthering the tragic circumstances that had befallen him, Ashman kept the news of his 1988 diagnoses secret for several years from most of his colleagues including Menken and Disney for fear that as a gay man, he would be fired. When he became too ill to fly to California during Beauty, the studio flew the artists to New York. There’s some terrific footage of Angela Lansbury and Jerry Orbach rehearsing the song “Be Our Guest” and Lansbury schooling the crew on teapots, a subject she was an authority on given her collection.
Like any documentary worth its salt, “Howard” is funny, captivating, poignant and absolutely heartbreaking. It’s a testament to Ashman’s talent that although he passed on more than 25 years ago and his movies are late 20th century classics, his songs are getting new life with the live action version of “Beauty and the Beast,” the long-running Broadway version of Aladdin and the live-action movie of “Aladdin, “due next year.
Following the screening I attended a Tribeca Talks: Storytellers. “Genius News” anchor Jacques Morel interviewed the incredibly funny Jamie Foxx who was indeed a fantastic storyteller. Foxx, an Oscar winner in 2004 for his portrayal of Ray Charles, was also nominated that year for Best Supporting Actor for “Collateral,” making him only the second man ever to receive two nominations in the same year for different roles.
Foxx was immediately on for the audience, coming onstage and calling out “What’s up? What’s up? What’s up?” He then showed off his new shoes and asked if his pants were too tight. Foxx spoke of the grandmother, Esther, who raised him and “taught me everything”. His grandmother ran a nursery school in Terrell, Texas and “raised a city.” His recalled the Sunday his grandmother who took on the preacher who was speaking against gays and retorted, “You stop that. God made sissies too.” Foxx added, “She was really a revolutionary.” His grandmother was the one who insisted he learn how to play classical music, which was his way out of their small town where he’d only learned Texas history, didn’t know who Malcolm X was and hadn’t even met a Jewish person.
Foxx showed his prowess as an ace storyteller and masterful impressionist whether he was talking about “stalking” Wesley Snipes who “hated me”, meeting Denzel (“You know Black people – we get excited and we march” and proceeded to hilariously march across the stage to demonstrate how thrilling this encounter was) or when he talked about how he grew his list of people to come to his comedy shows when the clubs wouldn’t otherwise put him on for weeks at a time under his given name, Eric Bishop. He strategically gave the booker “unisex names”. But the key was his floating party list. “I was the first to use social media. I would have cue cards and ask people to give me their pager numbers. I would call 200 people and they would show up but wouldn’t go in unless I was on that night.” He got on “Evening at the Improv” and received a standing ovation. “That’s how the legend was born.”
Foxx also recounted how he almost ruined his chances of getting the Oscar when he showed up at the red carpet for the Golden Globes and clowned around too much. First he got the call from Oprah telling him “he was blowing it.” Oprah took him to Quincy Jones’s house (Jones had given Foxx a cassette of Ray Charles on the “Dinah Shore” show that had been instrumental to Foxx’s performance) who also said he was messing it up. Waiting for him was a roomful of acting legends who conveyed what a big moment this was for Foxx. Among them was Sidney Poitier, who brought Foxx to tears. “I saw all of these beautiful people rally behind me”. To hear Foxx go from an Oprah impersonation to Quincy to Poitier (to say nothing of his impressions of Kanye West, Dr. Ruth!, Puff Daddy and more) was just fantastic to witness.
And finally, I attended a screening that was even more bananas than the Jamie Foxx talk and that was for YouTubeRed’s 34 years-in-the-making return to the “Karate Kid” in “Cobra Kai.” As a kid I saw and loved the original and also watched the first sequel. Out of all the queues I stood in for the fest, that one was the longest at 45 minutes. The event didn’t start on time because we were still outside in line. The enthusiasm of the all-ages fans though, was undiminished by the wait.
Inside we were given headbands (some people, like myself, got white ones for Cobra Kai and others sported the black headbands worn by Ralph Macchio’s character Daniel LaRusso): a nice touch. There was wild applause throughout, whether for the first moment rival Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) appeared on screen, or when the burst of colour of the show name flashed or for Daniel, who is mostly seen in the first episode in ubiquitous commercials for his car dealership, which were hilariously employed, much to Lawrence’s growing frustration. The show’s creators clearly have a sense of humour: in the commercials Daniel “chops” the prices and gives a bonsai tree to every customer. The pilot mostly revolves around Johnny and the wreck his life has become since he swept the leg. He’s divorced, has no relationship with his teenage kid, is still pissed off about what happened in high school and as a bonus, is an ass to people of colour, referring to his neighbour, Miguel (Xolo Maridueña), a local Latino kid, as an “immigrant”. There is, of course, a fateful meeting between Daniel and Johnny, naturally in the car dealership, that sets in motion the threads for the future episodes: Johnny re-opening the dojo where he plans to train Miguel and other kids like him who want to learn how to defend themselves against bullies, Danny regrouping after losing Mr. Miyagi and Johnny potentially becoming more of a good guy than a furious , completely unlikable antagonist.
After the first two episodes screened there was a panel with Macchio, Zabka and creators John Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald. What set the filmmaker’s quest in motion, according to Heald, was listening to Zabka talk about his experience on the DVD. Zabka had described himself as the “protagonist of his own story.”
Macchio explained that he had shied away from revisiting the role over the years because “I had such a protective feeling for the film and Daniel.” But he became convinced that it was “okay to let go and jump in the pool” when he saw “how passionate and respectful” the creators were. He added that they had all actually met at Tribeca to discuss the project and that it was one year and a day from when they pitched the idea to YouTube.
When the moderator from “Entertainment Weekly” asked why they thought 2018 was the right time Heald replied, “Bullying and fatherhood are themes that are very present today. Bullying is very 2018. We wanted to dig deeper into the nesting doll that is Johnny Lawrence. We don’t know what happened in Johnny’s world.”
For Macchio, it was also important to pay tribute to Pat Morita and Mr. Miyagi. “The essence of Mr. Miyagi permeates the series. There’s a real homage to Mr. Miyagi: how to find that balance in adulthood when you don’t have that human Yoda you need for guidance.”
It was fascinating to learn from the creators that they were lucky to get the original dailies shot by director John Avildsen from the “Karate Kid” with all the different angles. In the pilot viewers were treated to footage of the infamous crane kick to the face Daniel delivered to Johnny at the end, but not just the shot that was used in the movie. The creators said that “we had a lot of fun going back to all that original footage, what was in the movie and what we added in 2018.”
It was great to see Macchio and Zabka, who was nominated for an Oscar for his 2004 short film Most, together on stage since the pair, who are both originally from Long Island, clearly have a warm relationship offscreen. When the moderator asked if they’d stayed in touch, Zabka deadpanned, “We went to counseling together. We’ve become friends. Can I say that?”, he joked to Macchio.
And finally I had my first brush with celebrity at the fest, or almost. I passed Zabka on the way to the bathroom. Alas, I was too slow to get a photo.
“Cobra Kai” will be available to stream in is entirety May 2 on YouTubeRed.
For more information on the festival and remaining screenings go to https://www.tribecafilm.com/