Tag Archives: Tribeca Film Festival

Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent

Jeremiah Tower, if not the father of American cuisine, is at the very least its very fun uncle. But a case for fatherhood can be made. He burned bright and then disappeared. This documentary finds him.

One of Tower’s earliest memories: sitting on the beach, maybe 6 years old, watching an old man prepare barracuda for dinner. Holding his hands as they held the knives, watching him rub some spice from the jungle on them, the aroma as the fish cooked. The old man said that next they would eat snake, or perhaps iguana, and those exotic dishes got confused as the old man also referred to the “little lizard” in young Tower’s pants. That child’s confusion, food and sex already mixed up in his head, is perhaps why he went on to be a renowned chef. But it’s not the only reason.

CNN Films: Jeremiah Tower documentaryHe had an unconventional childhood and perhaps not a happy one, travelling extensively with his parents who exposed him to culture and glamour while largely forgetting he existed. Food became his friend and companion, and he’d gluttonously study the menus of all the great restaurants he visited, making friends with the kitchen staff in all the best dining establishments in the very best of hotels.

He never intended to become a chef, but circumstance had made him a cook, and when opportunity knocked, Jeremiah Tower answered. Not only did he answer, he opened the door to a transformation of food and ingredients, and how we thought of them. He was perhaps the first celebrity chef but abandoned it all at the top of his game. Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, and Martha Stewart all speak of him reverently, but it’s clear his legend is still shrouded in mystery.

A couple of years ago, Jeremiah Tower resurfaced, and the foodie community went bananas foster (that’s me making a foodie joke, fyi). He was to be the new Executive Chef at Tavern on the Green, a large restaurant in New York known more for its touristy location than the quality of its food. It seemed a strange move for such a king of the kitchen, but then again, what do we really know of this culinary superstar who walked away from his own fame and success?

This documentary is fun and interesting from start to finish, but a lot of Tower’s mystery remains intact. Lydia Tenaglia shoots him like the lone wolf he is, perhaps a little scattered and deliberately artsy at times, but the truth is, Tower is a force that pulls you in, his charisma alone enough to compel. The Last Magnificent made me hungry – sure, for some of his California cooking, but mostly just for more of him, of this fascinating, elusive man.

 

 

 

Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent opens Friday May 5th in select cities: Toronto,
Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, and right here in Ottawa, luckily enough.

 

 

Advertisements

Ghostheads

Ghostbusters: a 1984 supernatural comedy starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson as brave, wise-cracking men trying to rid New York City of its poltergeists one slimy green ghost at a time.

Ghostheads: what the super-deluxe fans of Ghostbusters call themselves. Not the fans who watch the movie every time it comes on TV, or the fans who collect all the Venkman bobbleheads. Ghostheads are fanatical. They dress up. untitled.pngThey own proton packs. They drive Ecto Ones. They horde merchandise to the extent that it threatens their marriages. Ghostheads is the 2016 documentary that takes a good hard look at these amped-up fans. Ghostheads is the new Trekkies.

The delightful thing about this documentary is how earnest it is. It’s easy and maybe even tempting to make fun of a grown man who believes he is “more himself” when dressed up as someone else, but this film never does. These fans may be extreme, but the documentary aims to humanize them. Some interesting things I picked up from watching the documentary:

  • Ghostheads are not the ones hating on the 2016 film. Their enthusiasm for the franchise is all-encompassing. Paul Feig reached out to the community and included them every step of the way. They seem to embrace it.
  • In fact, “Everybody can be a Ghostbuster” is not just a tagline for the new toy line, but a credo that Ghostheads seem to have been living by for the past 30 years. At Comic Con, you’ll see dozens of people dressed up as Wolverine, Ariel, Walter White, Sailor Moon and Doctor Who. You’ll see plenty of Ghostbusters too, but more often than not their name tags don’t read Ray Stantz, it’s their own names on the patch. Because every body can be a Ghostbuster.
  • While Leias and Leeloos tend to stand alone at conventions, Ghostheads are almost always found in packs. These cosplayers aren’t just connecting with a movie, they’re trying to connect to each other.

I’m the first to admit that I don’t really get cosplay. I’m a huge movie nerd but I’ve never loved any one film so much that I decided to make it my life. I’ve never, as an adult, dressed up as a fictional character. But people at comic cons are doing more than trick-or-treating, they’re doing performance art. medium_GHOSTHEADS_web_1Suddenly shy geeks who rarely interact with the human species don these alter-egos and strut around like heroes.  In Ghostheads you’ll encounter one painfully shy man who doesn’t hesitate to walk up to total strangers to spout any of dozens of lines of dialogue memorized from his favourite movie. He’s happy to pose for pictures and merrily draws attention by flipping on the siren on his Ghostbusters car (his only car. He drives his daughter to school in it). Fandom has really kicked into high gear these past few years (we discussed FANdementalists on a prior podcast) but I think the Ghostheads embody the very best of it: a sense of community. Just like-minded people sharing something they love, a movie that happens to be about camaraderie and helping others (and mutant marshmallows).

Ghostheads is nostalgic and sweet – maybe too sweet. It deftly sidesteps the whole “girl Ghostbusters” controversy and chooses not to look at a darker side at all. So this may not be a balanced view. But with interviews with Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd, and plenty of real-life Ghostheads, it’s an awfully compelling one.

Tribeca: Ordinary World

Note: when this film premiered at Tribeca, it was called Geezer.

Perry is the Geezer in question, a middle-aged suburban dad with edgy hair and a family he loves, but he’s just a little bit checked out of his ordinary life. As he turns 40 he’s stewing in what-ifs, foremost among them, what if I hadn’t left my punk rock band just as it was maybe about to take off?

He’s no semblance of a musician now. He works in a hardware store and only manages to sneak in a few chords around his kids’ morning routine. But on the occasion of this milestone birthday he decides to treat himself to the wildest party a has-been can muster before noon and he runs in to an old flame who reignites old dreams.

Geezer_filmIt’s not exactly ground-breaking material but here’s the gimmick that’ll put butts in theatres: it’s Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong playing Perry. And is it pretty effing cool to see him play the guy he might have been had his own post-punk outfit not taken off when it did? Yes, yes it is.

So then the question you’re next going to ask is: Holy shit, can Billie Joe act? And the answer is no, no he can’t. I mean, the director, Lee Kirk, told us he was a great actor, but the movie seemed to indicate that the Kirk’s pants were on fire. Sean thought he was okay – inoffensive, but he never forgot for a 720x405-Geezer_press_1moment that he was watching Billie Joe Armstrong. I, on the other hand, thought it was a scootch worse than that. Unnatural. Self-conscious. Very “you can tell I’m acting because my hand is over here on my hip, which means I’m going through some internal conflict I’m not subtle enough to convey any other way.” And yet I’m not going to condemn him because the movie really is a vehicle for him. He’s what makes it cool and relevant, makes the movie rise above the other mid-life-crisis\path-not-taken meditations. Plus, Kirk pads the cast with some better talent: Judy Greer as the old flame, Selma Blair as the current wife, Chris Messina as the scowling brother, Fred Armisen as an ex-bandmate.

The theme may be familiar, but I still admired the writing. Kirk tries to take a fresh perspective, never blaming the wife and kids for Perry’s lack of success. geezerThe regret without resentment shows maturity I’m surprised to see in a character like Perry. Billie Joe never quite transcends the role, but there is an honest vulnerability there that’s a little charming. And Billie Joe is not just a casting liability, he’s an asset to the soundtrack because he’s written some original music for it, and the movie is never more confidant than when Armstrong is performing. In this he excels. The songs he wrote are great and I imagine they’ll be invading your radio waves sometime soon, lending the movie some major credibility.

I can be certain about the music because we were treated to a concert immediately following the screening. Billie Joe had Green Day drummer Tré Cool backing him up and Jesse Malin on rhythm guitar. They launched into the film’s first song, Devil’s Kind, with Cg0_FVfWYAAgOcuan energy that defies the fact that Armstrong is in fact a middle-aged father of two. They played a couple of Green Day tunes as well, Scattered and then American Idiot, which morphed into Bad Reputation. Oh, did I not mention that Joan Jett was in the house? Yeah, she has a small cameo in the film but she got up on stage and showed the boys what a scene-stealing badass she still is. Her voice hasn’t aged a single minute and the woman’s still sporting leather pants. Armstrong closed the night with Ordinary World, the film’s acoustic ballad, and I couldn’t help but wonder at the twinkly goodness of my life. In the movie of my life, there is no path not taken.

 

Note: Geezer has since undergone  name change. Now known as Ordinary World, it will see a release October 14 2016 – on DVD\streaming and in select theatres.

Tribeca: Life, Animated

When you get to see a movie like this, it’s kind of a privilege to get to talk about it.

Life, Animated is a documentary featuring the amazing Suskind family. Actually a fairly typical, loving American family who happen to have a son named Owen who’s autistic.

Owen, the youngest of two boys, was a happy and rambunctious little 3 year old when autism reared its head, and suddenly the Suskinds had a boy who wouldn’t talk and who’d lost many of his newly-acquired toddler abilities and motor skills. He remained quiet and withdrawn for many years until his mother recognized a pattern in his gibberish – it was actually a line of dialogue from The Little Mermaid.

Owen was a big fan of Disney cartoons and often watched them with his family. What they hadn’t realized until then was that Owen wasn’t just watching them, he was studying them. He’d already memorized the complete scripts of several movies, and was learning to equate emotions with the slide-owen-drawingexaggerated facial features on his favourite cartoon characters. One day Owen’s father is able to hold his first conversation with him in years simply by pretending to be Iago, the talking parrot from Aladdin.

Fast forward to today, and Owen is a bright young adult. He’s learning skills to help him be more independent, and when he graduates, he’ll be moving into his own condo in a group home. Owen has flourished because his family was able to communicate with him through his beloved Disney movies. Disney canon became their family bible and Owen came out of the autism shell because of it. The Suskind family knows that Disney films won’t do it for all autistic kids, but they are encouraging families to find that one thing their child is passionate about, and to make it family culture. This is how they brought back their son and they only wish the same for others.

Owen’s dad Ron met the filmmaker, Roger Ross Williams (technically the first black Oscar-winning director, for a short he did in 2010), when both worked at Night Line. Ron had just written a book about his family’s experience and thought it might make an interesting documentary. Williams agreed. So do I.

I don’t know about this film’s potential to “save” other autistic kids. Owen is of course still autistic, but his parents and his brother can reach him now, they ZZ49547432can express their love and see it reflected back, even if it’s a line originally quoted by Belle to the Beast. What I do know is that this film opens a lot of doors. This isn’t just a talking-head piece, we actually get to visit with Owen in his new situation, and his family as they continue to take on new challenges. We get to see autism in action, impacting a family and influencing a community. And we get to see that Owen is a guy with wants and needs like any other. He expresses them differently, and once you get the hang of his language, it’s not necessarily even worse, it’s just different.

Now as a young man, there’s still nothing Owen likes better than to chill with a Disney flick. When he’s feeling anxious, it’s 3 scenes of Dumbo. When he needs to overcome odds, Hercules will do the trick. When he grapples with growing up, it’s The Lion King to the rescue. It’s a code, but once deciphered, it’s actually pretty ingenious.

I do hope loads and loads of people will see this, and be encouraged to start a dialogue about what autism is and how we can all be part of a workable solution. Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means not all are like Owen. Some will be more or less affected, but I think the takeaway is that perhaps all lives could be improved if only we were looking for the right kinds of answers.

This isn’t the first documentary to look at autism, but what makes this one so Cg2IZfdWgAEvZadinteresting and watchable is Owen himself, a very dynamic individual. He’s at his best at the helm of his Disney Club, where other learning-disabled young people gather to watch and discuss Disney animation. They may even run lines afterward, or play the score, and once in a while Jonathan Freeman, voice of Aladdin’s villain Jafar, drops in to lend a hand, and even Gilbert Gottfried, voice of Iago himself, has attended, but nobody knows the lines better than Owen himself.

Owen proved this at our screening at the Tribeca festival where he proudly put his skill on display, playing opposite Gilbert Gottfried, and even feeding himZZ15895CF1 the lines. Many of the film’s crew were on hand, as well as the entire Suskind family, to launch this movie into orbit. There’s a lot of love and care gone into this work, and some of the best bits are when Owen’s own stories are beautifully animated (by Mac Guff). Owen identifies more with the sidekicks rather than the heroes of his beloved films, and he brings them to life in a very moving way.

They hope to take it to theatres this summer and I hope that you will all take the time to see it – it’s something special.

Tribeca: High-Rise

High-Rise is the cinematic equivalent of a raisin muffin: it’s okay as long as you weren’t expecting chocolate chip.  But why not have chocolate chip to begin with?

High-Rise-1-Glamour-16Mar16-pr_bThe film’s biggest problem is that it took 40 years to convert J.G. Ballard’s novel of the same name into a movie.  In the meantime, Snowpiercer happened and was a way more awesome movie than High-Rise, or really anything else ever.

It’s not just that Snowpiercer had better acting, writing or directing than High-Rise (though it did).  High-Rise looks good but has a structural problem.  Call me an optimist but I couldn’t accept High-Rise’s premise of an isolated lawless world developing inside a skyscraper, not when the outside world remained completely accessible to the building’s inhabitants.  There’s no apocalypse event in High-Rise.  The building’s main doors aren’t ever blocked.  Mid-movie, a cop even pokes his head in to check whether things in the building are okay.  But for reasons that aren’t at all clear, instead of calling 911 to report any of the murders, suicides or sanitation issues inside the building, the residents all choose to stay inside, ignore the dead bodies 2016_11_high_riseand garbage bags that line the halls, and scavenge for dog meat rather than drive to the nearest supermarket for hot dogs.  That’s something that was impossible for me to swallow.

It’s too bad that conceptual problem is baked into High-Rise.  I wanted to like the movie but I just couldn’t.  Am I naive in thinking that people would take a bit of time between drunken orgies to leave the building and restock their snacks?   I hope not, though the numerous food references in this review tell me I’m very hungry, yet instead of going upstairs to our kitchen I’m still here typing…

High-Rise is not a bad movie, but if you’ve seen Snowpiercer then High-Rise feels like a pale imitation.  And if you haven’t seen Snowpiercer, what are you waiting for?

Tribeca: Dean

Demetri Martin is one of my all-time favourite comedians so when I saw his directorial debut, Dean, was premiering at Tribeca, of course I snatched up a couple of tickets, and it was only when that initial adrenaline rush had dissipated a bit that I started to wonder how the hell his comedy would possibly translate into film.

Demetri Martin is a comedic genius, but his stand-up is mostly one-liners, funny drawings, and some jokes set to an acoustic guitar, and sometimes his harmonica for good measure. Not remotely narrative. And this movie didn’t look much like a comedy anyway – the blurb mentioned death, grief, and existential angst.dean-original-1

Dean (Demetri Martin, of course) has recently lost his mother. He and his father (Kevin Kline) are grieving very differently, and growing slightly apart because of it. His dad is ready to sell the family home but Dean can’t imagine the loss of the place where his mother was last alive, and happy; it’s full of good memories for Dean, but sad memories for his dad. Naturally, instead of sticking around to help with the transition, Dean flees to L.A. ostensibly for business, but we know differently. And he finds lots of distractions in California but starts to learn that he’s not the only walking wounded.

Does Demetri Martin pull it off? Yes, he does. Surprisingly well, as both actor and director. Dean is an illustrator, so not only do Martin’s drawings fit in, they illuminate his inner thoughts. His trademark one-liners are there too but they never feel slotted in. They either feel organic or they’ve been left on the cutting room floor – if you know his stand-up at all, you can’t help but feel that Martin has wisely shown restraint here. And there are visual gags, very subtle, but they add a layer that knock down the seriousness just a tad (like you never doubt how genuinely bereft Kevin Kline is, but you keep a half-smile for his terrible dad jeans). For a movie primarily about loss, you’ll laugh out loud an awful lot.

The first and maybe only misstep I felt was when he arrives in L.A. and meets his love interest, played by Gillian Jacobs. Gillian Jacobs is not really a problem, except that I know her through the Judd Apatow-produced Netflix series, Love (in which she co-stars with Paul Rust, the dude who cowrote the new Pee-wee Herman movie). Sean and I watched the whole sea8244bc3f1c65436son even though we detested both leads. Not the actors, per se, but the characters are just awful human beings and it’s hard to forgive the actors for that. So I’m carrying around this chip on my shoulder for Gillian Jacobs and was not super happy to bump into her in this movie. But clever Demetri Martin won me over by writing a love interest for Dean who did not exist solely for his pursuit. She had back story. She had depth. She was a person. This sounds weird, I’ll grant you that, but so often in movies the love interest exists solely to be adored and consumed and nothing else. She has no job or apartment or opinions. Gillian Jacobs had scenes without Demetri Martin. She was independent of his lust. It was refreshing even if it did make me confront my hostility toward the bitch from Love.

Eventually Dean returns to New York, to his widowed (widowered?) father and the ghost of his mother. Demetri Martin lost his own father 20 years ago, so he knows grief, but he didn’t quite know how to approach the father-son relationship between two grown men. If he struggled with the relationship on paper, it doesn’t show on screen. The moments of  quiet reflection between them are some of the film’s most satisfying.

I enjoyed this film very much and it turns out I wasn’t the only one – it won Best Narrative Feature at Tribeca from a jury including Tangerine’s Mya Taylor and funny lady Jennifer Westfeldt, who commented: “We have had the great privilege of seeing ten accomplished and ambitious films over the last seven days here at Tribeca. But we all fell in love with this film. It manages the near impossible task of breathing new life into a well-worn genre, balancing humor and pathos with an incredibly deft touch, and offering a unique perspective on the way we process loss.” Even more excitingly, it was bought! CBS films picked it up, which means this little indie will soon be making its way to a theatre near you.

 

 

 

Tom Hanks & John Oliver at Tribeca

The line to see Tom Hanks and John Oliver in conversation together wrapped well around the venue on Friday night. Sean and I had just seen High-Rise over in Chelsea and had 3374991A00000578-3555220-image-a-136_1461420263964braved a crowded rush-hour subway to get back down to Tribeca and run right past the Ghostbusters building to arrive breathless at the Borough of Manhattan Community College only to be redirected to another entrance that meant dragging my swollen, sprained ankle several more blocks with the remnants of my back surgery burst open and freely bleeding just so that we could stand in line for 40 minutes and then be denied a seat. Denied a seat? But we had tickets in hand – tickets we’d paid for three weeks prior! But us, and the two people in front of us, and the hundred or hundreds behind us (hard to tell) were denied entrance because they’d way, way, way oversold the event and we were shit out of luck. We were also really, really pissed.

We weren’t yet yelling at the security guys because lots of other people were beating us to it. But when someone came out to the velvet ropes to say that one single seat had been found and was there a single person in the crowd, most of us just looked at our partners and shrugged. Except Sean. What Sean did was slap a ticket in my hand and shove me large_large_tom-hanks-2toward the guy with the clipboard. He unclipped the rope and I was being ushered alone up a sad, empty red carpet, the very one we’d just watched John Oliver and Tom Hanks ascend, me still lumping my sore and swollen ankle along. I wasn’t happy to be going in alone and it was only the element of surprise that made me do it. I felt awful that Sean would sit outside with his $50 ticket to nothing, after having driven all the way from another bloody country, while I would be tickled fairly pink. Maybe even almost red. But the guy with the clipboard was so impressed with Sean’s self-sacrifice he basically invented another seat for him and got him in, even though he had to stand. I felt a little guilty because the couple in front of us rightly deserved those seats but hadn’t thought to split up (and actually, we’d already seen a few other singles be plucked from the line behind us) and a little guilty about the dozens and dozens behind us who hadn’t gotten in either, and super mad at the fuckfaces at Tribeca who oversold the event and didn’t tell anyone. But mostly I just felt elation the minute those two men took the stage, and fuck everyone else.

Some highlights of the evening:

-Tom said that without Oliver, our lives would be “void of outrage”

-He then made a reference to the Merv Griffin show so random and outdated that Oliver claimed that the lady holding the “Kiss Me” sign had slowly lowered it.

-Hanks cautioned us against asking “lazy journalistic questions”, basically anything starting with “What was it like…” and claimed that he was often accosted on red carpets

Tribeca Talks Storytellers: Tom Hanks With John Oliver

with “Just one question from Argentina!” and that one question invariably being something incredibly insipid. Oliver agreed that really Argentina should be asking for advice on their desperate economic situation.

-Hanks said that his distaste for social media was because he’d “peaked in the 90s” and Oliver ribbed him about using Twitter as a lost and found (you can Google it- Tom often posts pictures of wallets or lost gloves and tries to reunite them with their owners).

-Hanks and Oliver spar over the American Revolution, and we all find out that Hanks does an atrocious British accent.

-Hanks discusses the first movie he remembers going to the theatre to see – 101 Dalmations – and how it scarred him ever so deeply. Oliver then asks “So how the fuck did you become an actor?”

-Oliver claims E.T. as the first movie he saw in theatres, and his ensuing heartache over Elliott not joining E.T. in the end, which prompts Hanks to ask “How old are you???” (he’s 38).

-Oliver asked what kind of people Hanks prefers to work with, other than them “not being a giant asshole” to which Hanks replied “Sometimes that works.”

-Hanks did an awesome impression of Ron Howard, and confessed to learning about camera angles from Kevin Bacon on the set of Apollo 13. Bacon would suggest Howard use a “BFCU” of KB, which, for those of you not in the know, is a big fucking close up of Kevin Bacon. “God bless Kevin Bacon,” said Hanks.

-To see him do an impression of Robert Zemeckis (director of Forrest Gump, who he calls “Bob”), listen to what he learns from his failures.

-The work Tom’s most proud of? That Thing You Do, which featured his whole family, and was basically one giant love-in to make. He is particularly proud of the scene where the band hears their single on the radio for the first time because – name drop! – Bruce Springstein once told him that he’d experienced it himself exactly like that.

-Hanks told us that the genius of Invictus was that Clint Eastwood never taught us a single thing about rugby.

-The most obscure thing a fan ever yelled at him? “Little boat!” –  a line from the movie Splash which Tom himself had a very hard time placing, and almost had to IMDB himself just to scratch the itch.

-Which of his characters would he most like to have a beer with? Charlie Wilson, hands down.

-On the Disneyfication of characters:

-Hanks said “Movies that celebrate their own nostalgia are a waste of time” and I hope to god he meant Everybody Wants Some!!

-His most exhausting role? Woody, from Toy Story.  “It’s hideous making those movies” he claimed.

Anecdote after anecdote, Tom Hanks proved himself worthy of storyteller status. To those of you who didn’t make it in, I wish I could tell you you didn’t miss much, but the truth is, it was an unforgettable evening.