Friday, April 19, 2013

TFF Day 3: Demise of an American Way in 'At Any Price'

“EXPAND or Die.” These three words have resonated across the heartland of the United States like a wildfire, destroying much of the country’s breadbasket and contributing to the spoilage of the U.S. food supply.

This mantra is played out in “At Any Price,” which makes its New York debut tonight at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival (TFF). "The English Teacher," starring Julianne Moore in the title role as a dedicated and newly reinvigorated educator at a smalltown Pennsylvania school, will receive its share of notice. Martin Scorsese’s restored version of The King of Comedy is the festival closer, that is its last premiere. TFF shutters on 28 April.

At the center of “At Any Price” is the Whipple family of Iowa. The patriarch is Henry (Dennis Quaid). He’s running a prosperous farm and covets even more prosperity. Henry has no compunctions about selling Liberty Seeds’ GMO (genetically modified organism) corn to meet his ends. Any recording in his conscience that might suggest that GMO corn is not the way forward is being ignored. (See video above).

Henry wants his elder son to join him in the family business, especially since it's about to expand. Favorite son Grant (Patrick Stevens) will have no part of farming and leaves Iowa to see the world. Left at home is second son Dean (Zac Efron) who has NASCAR dreams. Henry sneers at his son’s choice of career and just about everything he aspires to; nevertheless Henry tries to pen his dream on a reluctant Dean.

From here, a web of drama unfolds in “At Any Price,” which sometimes throws the main thurst of the film off track. The main storyline is the death of the family farm at the grubby hands of agribusiness. To sex up the story, however, director Ramin Bahrani adds to it infidelity, a sex kitten, opportunism and destructive family traits.

Occasionally, the film is overwrought in making its point. Yet, it is an important story, additives notwithstanding. Practically, it may be able to tell this story better than a million documentaries along the lines of “American Meat,” “Food Inc., and others. (Additional screening on Tuesday).

“At Any Price, a window on the lowdown, dirty business of destroying an American institution, comes to a head at an annual picnic where Henry has to decide once and for all what kind of man he is going to be.

Also showing this evening at 6:30 (additional screenings on Monday and Tuesday ) is “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.” The doyenne of theater takes her show on the road, telling tall tales along the way about the way it was. ES staged her last show a couple of weeks ago at the Carlyle Hotel in New York. ES is retiring back to her native Michigan. “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” is not one to be missed.

The 2013 TFF features 53 world premieres, 15 North American premieres, eight New York premieres, seven international premieres and six U.S. premieres under various categories, including the competitive World Narrative and Documentary.

One of three documentaries to watch is “Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic,” making its world premiere. Director Marina Zenovich presents a touching, if disturbing portrait of the iconic comedian straight outta Peoria, then to the top, then to rock bottom, then through a cycle of self-reflection and redemption. Contemporary comics, particularly those who traffic in the expletive in and of itself as the joke form of comedy, PAY ATTENTION; learn from a master.

Elaine Stritch has some parting words in “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.” Photo provided by Tribeca Film Festival.

What would a film festival be without Shorts, right? Right. Meanwhile, Cinemania has been rechristened the Midnight section. Films shown late or ‘round midnight. Pretty creepy, horrific fare along the lines of Danny Mulheron’s “Fresh Meat.” Herein, city slicker lawbreakers hightail it to an uppercrust suburb where the denizens have a taste for human flesh. Yuck!

Movies that merge filmmaking with the latest technologies, creating interactivity and the newish transmedia are under the rubric of Storyscapes. Goes far beyond Web movies, but they figure in the mix. Storyscapes is the wave of the present that few are aware of. Thankfully though, the film industry is adapting to this new medium much faster than the print journalism industry cottoned to New Media.

The man from Peoria in "Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic." Photo provided by Tribeca Film Festival.

A one to watch in the Special Screenings” section and the second noteworthy documentary is “The Trials of Muhammad Ali.” Much notice over the years has been taken of the Rumble in the Jungle. Little attention, however, has been drawn to the price the boxer formerly known as Cassius Clay paid when he refused to fight in Vietnam. Director Bill Siegel shares his take on that chapter in this world premiere.

Another popular feature at TFF is the slate of “Tribeca Talks.” This year’s Directors Series stars Clint Eastwood jawing with Darren Aronofsky. I repeat: CLINT EASTWOOD. That has the potential to be some chat. Arrive early!

Sitting for one of the “Tribeca Talks: After the Movie” panels is Whoopi Goldberg to chat about her directorial debut, “I Got Somethin' to Tell You,” the third of the aforementioned documentaries. Relying in part on interviews with various funny folk and found footage, it is a love letter and moving tribute to one Jackie “Moms” Mabley.

She is the grandmother of all female comedians. In this documentary, making its world premiere tomorrow evening (6:30), is a piece of comedy history about a woman who broke many barriers and who uttered many quotable lines, including the film’s title. One other MM bon mot: "There ain't nothing an old man can do for me but bring me a message from a young one." (See video of Moms Mabley performance above).

Elsewhere, the 2013 TFF freebies are in play: Tribeca Drive-In (through 20 April), Family Festival Street Fair (27 April), Tribeca/ESPN Sports Day (27 April) and Family Screenings (21 and 27 April).

Visit to learn more about the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, including tickets and schedule. Rx.

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