Tribeca Film Festival: Day 4 Round-Up
Stephanie Archer reports on her time during Tribeca Film Festival 2017, red carpet events, interviews, reviews and more!
Entering into my final day, my head was in such a whirlwind! There was so much I had seen and so much I had experienced throughout the week. The Tribeca Film Festival had been everything that I always dreamed it would be. With my final day, I wanted to wrap the festival up with a day full of narratives.
Two of these films I had selected were based off the film’s leads, while one was strictly schedule based – and ended up being the best film I had seen all week. They were also all different from each other as well. There was a horror, biopic and an adaptation – a well-rounded way to end such a wonderful week.
Making her directorial debut, 20-year-old Quinn Sheperad dazzles as writer/director/actress with her film Blame – a modern day film inspired by Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible”. This was by far my favorite film of the festival, hitting it out of the ballpark in every way. From script, to direction, to a stellar cast, Blame is everything I expected to find premiering at The Tribeca Film festival. This was the only film today that I screened whose selection was not initially based on an actor within the film. This was strictly a film that fit my available schedule and had mentioned Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” (my favorite of his plays) in the synopsis. And I’m sure glad it did.
Opening within the school counselor’s office, Blame begins with the reluctant return of Abigail (Quinn Shepard), a student who has remained absent since a traumatic incident from the previous year. While her distracted parents insist she is ready, Abigail’s demeanor says otherwise, uncertainty written all over her face as she fidgets with a small glass unicorn.
Against the return of Abigail from the moment she sees her walking around school grounds, Melissa (Nadia Alexander) unleashes torment upon Abigail, making sure that the previous year is never forgotten. Her hate for Abigail (or Sybil as she is nicknamed) only grows more intense when a substitute drama teacher (Chris Messina) makes her the understudy – and Abigail the lead. In her own personal witch hunt, thus paralleling Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Melissa begins her own hunt to understand why Abigail, a person the teacher barely knows, would be selected over her.
Yet, the teacher, having seen Abigail’s potential and commitment ignores the behaviors and assumptions of Melissa, giving Abigail the attention she needs to grow and develop. As they spend more time together, the teacher student relationship begins to become cloudy – bordering the line of inappropriate. As they fight their feelings, rumors begins to spread around the school – furthering Melissa’s jealousy and adding fuel to the fire of her witch hunt.
Quinn Sheperad’s performance as the seemingly vulnerable Abigail pierces throughout the screen. As equally impressive was Nadia Alexander’s interpretation of Melissa’s badass, don’t care persona is beautifully brought to life – and relatable on many levels. Her performance was so riveting, she was honored by the Tribeca Film Festival Jury as winner for Best Actress in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film. Though a movie can not find success alone on the shoulder’s of its cast.
Blame was a beautifully scripted film constructed of several multilayers of content that was executed with masterful direction. As a debut, I would have expected to find many errors throughout the storyline and the filming, but the quality was anything but flawed. The film and its characters were given enough room to breath and enough material to be fully developed.
The ending of the film was one of my favorite parts, every element of the Blame culminating perfectly into the film’s conclusion. I won’t spoil it for you, but throughout the film, you do find yourself as a viewer wondering who truly is the encapsulation of the Abigail from the original play – who is the fake that brings all hell down on others?
I first came to know of Liev Schreiber after his performance in Scream. I don’t catch many of the films he has done since, but when I do, he always delivers. When I heard he would be screening his new film about a Hollywood inspirational boxing champ (and saw the first released images), I was determined to make this a must-see film during my time at the the Tribeca Film Festival.
While originally titled The Bleeder, Chuck is a film by Philippe Falardeau that tells the story of boxing champ (“The Bayonne Bleeder”) Chuck Wepner – an inspiration for a Hollywood classic and an inspiration in life. While he was not always the strongest fighter, Chuck Wepner could always take a punch. While already the heavyweight champion of New Jersey, it was this tenacity and strength that would drive him towards his ultimate goal – a chance to fight for the title for the ultimate heavyweight champion.
His moment finally comes and he is matched up with the legendary Muhammand Ali (Pooch Hall). With all odds against him (everyone betting he would fall in round three), Wepner holds his own for a total of 15 rounds and becomes the first man in history to knock Ali to the ground. While he does not win the match, he finds instant notoriety – becoming a hero of New Jersey, though his biggest recognition was yet to come.
Watching the match on closed circuit TV, a man by the name of Sylvester Stallone (Morgan Spector) finds the inspiration he needs to, like Wepner, change his life and bring lasting notoriety. He pens a screenplay, Rocky, about a fighter who is matched up against one of the greatest, yet looses the match but not his pride. Yet, what brings instant and lasting success for Stallone, brings an epic downfall to Wepner.
Falling prey to his already narcissistic personality flaw, as well as drugs and woman, Wepner begins to lose everything in his life. His wife (Elizabeth Moss) leaves him, his daughter (Sadie Sink) refuses to talk to him and his increasing drug use and distribution lands him in jail. For Wepner, life is like boxing and he keeps taking the punches, finally truly understanding that even when we lose, we can be winners.
The story of Chuck Wepner is really fascinating, yet a story better told on paper. When displayed on film, it turns his story mediocre and cliché, draining away the magic. While the boxing was a great metaphor for his life, I would have loved to have seen more boxing within this film. This was a part of him and what had given his character flaws power, yet there was very little of it.
Yet, this can all be forgotten when you take a moment to acknowledge the performances within this film. Liev Schreiber was flawless, and at times almost unrecognizable – this is the best role I have seen him in to date. There was such a an authenticity, and at times vulnerability, with his performance that draws you in and is almost hypnotizing.
Elizabeth Moss and Naomi Watts both deliver strong performances as the main women throughout Chuck Wepner’s life. The strangest casting, however was Pooch Hall (Ali) and Morgan Spector (Stallone). While there performances weren’t bad, this was not the best casting I’d seen for Muhammand Ali and it was honestly very strange to see someone play Sylvester Stallone.
Devil’s Gate (2017)
Offered as one of the selected Midnight Screenings, Devil’s Gate by Clay Staub was a horror film misfire that was an unfortunate victim of a severe identity crisis. While I had read a brief synopsis of the film on IMDB, it was actor Milo Ventimiglia that had really peaked my interest in the film. Having only seen him on the small screen (Heros, Gilmore Girls and This Is Us), I was excited to see him branch out into a full length feature film.
Devil’s Gate begins with beautiful, high contrast wide shots of miles of nowhere. The filming is really good and instantly gets the viewers excited for what is to come. Yet, the first sign of trouble within this horror film is in the first spoken dialogue – and not the film itself. With his car dying on the side of the road and his phone drained of battery, a young man instantly yells out “Jesus Christ on a stick!”. Instantly the standards have been set pretty low.
Leaving his car, he makes his way to a rundown, rickety old farm – one that seems determined to maintain its isolation – barbed wire lines the fences and gates, as metal rods stick up through the ground. The young man defies the NO TRESPASSING sign, slowly walking around the house, calling out for anyone that might be able to help him. Hearing yelling and banging from the basement, the young man peers through a small window.
Startled by what he sees, he runs for safety – only to find himself caught in a bear trap. Screaming in pain, he frees himself, struggling to continue his escape on his wounded foot. Yet, the bear trap was not the only thing hiding in the tall grass… The audience around me all gasped in surprise and an energy flowed through the room as viewers squirmed in their seats and others anxiously awaited for what was next.
Unfortunately, this is moment is the best of the film. From this point on, the film struggles to figure out what kind of a film it actually is. The story moves forward, with a backstory that doesn’t really play a part, and a missing persons case, that brings out unimportant characters and information. When FBI Special Agent Daris Francis (Amanda Schull) and Deputy Conrad ‘Colt’ Salter (Shawn Ashmore) arrive at the rickety old farm, this potential missing person horror film transitions from a slasher to sci-fi to angels and then finally settling on aliens.
The timelines in Devil’s Gate and the information provided to explain the story were all jumbled together leaving viewers confused on what was going on and where the story was going – a group of people next to me voicing their confusion, with several “What?”s ringing throughout the theater.
The largest problem with this film is that there was no hope in saving it. The core problem was with the films script, a wishy-washy segment of events that never really connect, make sense or choice a solid direction to follow. The acting was as good as it could be. This was no acting challenge for Shawn Ashmore, whose performance resonated his previous roles , specifically his role in The Following. Milo Ventimiglia was good, and it was great to see the more villainous side of him, yet his performance was lost in the structural chaos of the film.
It was unfortunate that my final day at the festival would include such a misdirected film, yet it is nod to how far and how diverse the Tribeca Film Festival is willing to be in order to acknowledge filmmakers.
With the festival coming to a close, and my time here coming to an end, I reflected on everything that I had had the opportunity to experience this week – documentaries, narratives, short films, red carpets and even celebrity interviews. The Tribeca Film Festival had always been on my bucket list, and with it checked off, I can honestly say it was better than I had ever expected it to be.
Yet, just when you think it is over – a little unexpected email brings your entire week to a whole new level.
“The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it.” Read the Letter of Solidarity here. Make a donation to the legal fund here.