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The search for star power at a film festival like Tribeca is always an interesting thing. Thus far, I've seen movies with John Cusack, Emma Roberts, Justin Long, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell (twice), Elaine Stritch, Zoe Kazan, and Evan Rachel Wood. Just as often, I've seen movies with complete unknowns that have blown me away. The search for breakthrough performances is a huge part of any festival experience, and it played into my enthusiasm to check out Penn Badgley in Greetings From Tim Buckley.
The role of beloved singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley was always going to be a daunting one, and Badgley is up to the challenge. He comes to the role with the baggage of the CW and Gossip Girl, but he overcomes that quite early on. There's a spark in his eye that makes it easy to believe that he would soon be a magnetic and beloved performer as Buckley turned out to be. Also, and more unexpectedly, I found myself captivated by the angelic face of Ben Rosenfield as Tim Buckley in flashback scenes. He'll absolutely be one I'm keeping my eye on going forward.
In other screening news ...
Director Josh Waller's Raze is remarkably effective on a visceral level. Dozens of abducted women are held captive and forced into a series of gladiator-style one-on-one brawls in order to survive, advance, and keep their loved ones at home from being murdered. It's an intense premise, and they chose the right leading lady to carry it. Zoe Bell made her bones in the film industry as primarily a stunt performer, but as of late she's been given more proper speaking roles. One of those roles was in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, a movie that I was often reminded of through Raze, very likely helped out by the presence of both Bell and Tracie Thoms, two of Death Proof's gleeful badasses here reunited as equally badass but by no means gleeful. I found myself incredibly engrossed by these women, stressed out by their fights, and thoroughly creeped out by Doug Jones (another actor who's made his name as a non-traditional actor, often playing monsters in makeup (think Pan's Labyrinth), who plays the director of this whole awful gladiatorial enterprise.
Easily of the most New York-specific of the films I've seen at Tribeca this year, Sam Fleischner's Stand Clear of the Closing Doors is a singular experience for anyone, but ESPECIALLY for any New Yorker. Young autistic Ricky finds himself running away from home and disappearing into the subway system. While he rides, for hours into days, his family searches his home neighborhood of Far Rockaway for him. That the film was set and was filmed last fall DURING the experience of Hurricane Sandy lends the events a heightened urgency and poignancy, but even with Sandy left in the background, Ricky's experiences and observations on the subway are conveyed with a lot of delicacy and heart. There are few films at the festival this year that I can compare Stand Clear to, and that's a good thing.