'Woman Walks Ahead' and 'General Magic' are eye-openers at Tribeca 2018

ScreenerBlog

As luck and scheduling would have it, this year the Tribeca Film Festival coincides with CinemaCon, the annual convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners. This writer would love to defy the laws of physics and be in two places at once, but until clones are perfected, choices need to be made, Fortunately, the Tribeca Fest offers a generous number of pre-screenings. Though I was only able to see a small fraction of the fest’s 96 features, I chose well and can recommend some Tribeca standouts.

On June 29, A24 will release Woman Walks Ahead, a compelling western directed by Susanna White and written by the estimable Steven Knight (Locke, Eastern Promises). Jessica Chastain stars in the true story of Catherine Weldon, a widowed New York socialite and gifted artist who ventures by train in the 1880s to North Dakota on a mission to paint the legendary Lakota warrior and leader Sitting Bull. With her East Coast hauteur, Catherine underestimates the pushback she’ll receive from antagonistic governments officials and military men plotting to steal more of the Lakotas’ land. But Catherine finds an ally in a young translator related to Sitting Bull and winds up living within the charismatic chief’s community, ultimately persuading Sitting Bull to sit for her and abetting his cause.

The chemistry between the feisty Chastain and charismatic Michael Greyeyes as Sitting Bull is palpable, and the film makes a righteous case for both its female crusader and the militancy of aggrieved Native Americans. But it’s no dry history lesson: The interplay between its antagonists (including recent Oscar winner Sam Rockwell) and allies is often witty and the film offers a refreshing new angle on the venerable western genre.

Another solidly entertaining Tribeca entry is The Miseducation of Cameron Post, an irreverent comedy-drama that should be compulsory viewing for our unenlightened Vice President, Mike Pence. Adapted by director Desiree Akhavan and Cecilia Frugiuele from the young-adult novel by Emily Danforth, the film centers on the eponymous Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz), a ’90s teen girl who is sent to a gay conversion-therapy camp after she is caught making out with another girl. The place is run by a Nurse Ratched type (Jennifer Ehle) whose brother (John Gallagher, Jr.) is a counselor and one of her conversion “success stories.” Ironically, the camp is a place where Cameron only becomes more invested in her sexual rebellion, thanks to the no-bullshit friends she makes there, particularly American Honey’s Sashs Lane and Native American actor Forrest Goodluck. By turns hilarious, absurd, angry and poignant, Cameron Post makes a fitting and equally engaging companion to 2018’s groundbreaking gay-teen movie Love, Simon—but with much more bite.

Other worthy Tribeca entries include Time for Ilhan, which follows the 2016 political campaign of America’s first Somali legislator, and Nico, 1988, a portrait of the later touring years of the iconic German singer from The Velvet Underground, with a riveting performance by Danish actress Trine Dyrholm.

But the biggest eye-opener is General Magic, a fascinating documentary about the doomed division of Apple that created the very first handheld, wireless personal computer—a smartphone—in the early 1990s! The eponymous General Magic was a hothouse of budding geniuses—they not only succeeded in producing a smartphone but conceived such concepts as emojis and the cloud. But, as they say, it’s all in the timing: The World Wide Web was still in its formative stages, and the public rejected the company’s device as not all that relevant to their daily lives. Sabotaged by Apple’s own competing Newton rollout and beset by marketing and capitalization woes, General Magic ultimately shuttered. But IDs over those ’90s faces at the end of the film tell a different story, a remarkable roll call of important inventors in the tech field and top executives at today’s eBay, Google, Samsung, Facebook, Linkedin and others. General Magic…who knew?