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China’s Wine Lust; Tim Buckley; Drug Horror: Tribeca Best

Penn Badgley as Jeff Buckley in
Penn Badgley as Jeff Buckley in "Greetings From Tim Buckley." The actor did his own singing in the film. Photographer: K.C. Bailey via Bloomberg

April 30 (Bloomberg) -- Many of the films shown at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, which concluded Sunday, will be opening in coming weeks on local screens. These were among the best (or in some cases, just the buzziest):

Tim Buckley

Three years before releasing the sole studio album of his short career, Jeff Buckley took his place in the New York music scene with a show-stealing performance at a Brooklyn tribute to the father he never knew, ’60s troubadour Tim Buckley.

“Greetings From Tim Buckley” -- the film takes its title from the 1991 concert, which was itself a homage to “Greetings From L.A.,” one of Tim’s best-known albums -- focuses on the weeks before the show, as Jeff comes to grips with some serious absent-daddy issues.

“My father was a total phony,” the resentful Jeff (superbly played by Penn Badgley) confides at one point. “Maybe he knew I could out-sing him even then.”

Directed by Daniel Algrant, “Greetings” is more melancholy than necessary, as if anticipating Jeff Buckley’s sad end (he drowned in 1997 at age 30).

But the film’s minor-key recreation of New York’s burgeoning music scene feels authentic and Badgley nails the best scene: Jeff breaking into an impromptu record-store performance that’s as funny as it is desperate for attention.

“Greetings From Tim Buckley,” from Tribeca Film, opens Friday in select theaters. Rating: ***1/2 (Evans)

Drug Abuse

First-time director Sean Dunne’s devastating “Oxyana” examines the decimation of a West Virginia town from prescription drug abuse.

Nicknamed Oxyana because of widespread access to Oxycontin, West Virginia’s Oceana is a former coal-mining town all but laid to waste by addiction and crime.

In interviews with residents, Dunne (who won Tribeca’s jury award for Best New Documentary Director) presents a heartbreaking portrait of a miners’ culture long mired in fatalism, economic exploitation and reliance on painkillers. The arrival of the highly addictive Oxycontin was the lit match to a powder keg.

No opening date yet; the filmmaker is in discussions with distributors. Rating: **** (Evans)

Lovers Woo

Alix and Doug meet on the morning Calais-Paris train and are in bed together by the afternoon. Because they’re middle-aged, they feel a bit ridiculous, but they also know that the storm breaking inside them is real.

And so “Just a Sigh,” written and directed by Jerome Bonnell, darts between intense emotion and sudden jabs of comedy. It’s wonderful when it’s self-aware, and when it sinks into seriousness -- as when the director is ladling Vivaldi, Mozart and Verdi over the soundtrack -- it’s mortifying.

But the stars, Emmanuelle Devos and Gabriel Byrne, never are. She’s an actress in town for an audition (one of those bravura sequences in which she plays the same scene two vastly different ways); he’s an academic there for a funeral. Together they hit just the right notes of glamour and regret.

No U.S. release date yet. Rating: **** (Seligman)

‘Kill Team’

The soldiers were so eager to score kills that they set up Afghani civilians, leaving weapons next to the corpses so they could claim the victims were aggressors. In 2010, Specialist Adam Winfield tried to report the crimes anonymously, because (for good reason) he feared for his life.

By the time they came to light, he’d been implicated in a murder. Dan Krauss’s “The Kill Team,” which won the Best Documentary Feature award, gives an account of his 2011 trial.

Krauss interviews several of the soldiers involved but concentrates on Winfield and his suffering parents, leaving us in no doubt of their decency. You feel terrible for them.

Then again, what the families of the victims (whose ages were 15, 22 and 56) are dealing with today is doubtless much worse than having a son in jail.

No U.S. release date yet. Rating: ***1/2 (Seligman)

‘Red Obsession’

Warwick Ross and David Roach’s “Red Obsession” functions partly as a critique of China’s consumerist nuttiness, suggesting that the voracity for high-level Bordeaux is about prestige, not taste. A Lafite or a Latour has the same cachet as a garment from Gucci or Hermes.

Heedless spending has driven prices so high that some bottles are now “too valuable to drink.”

But there’s admiration, too, for the rising nation’s ambition and pluck. The Chinese are buying up French vineyards. Meanwhile, the Gobi Desert is seeing the beginnings of native cultivation.

The movie is cogently written, elegantly shot, occasionally dismaying and absolutely fascinating.

No U.S. release date yet. Rating: **** (Seligman)

Northern Quebec

In the snow-covered dark comedy “Whitewash,” Thomas Haden Church plays a man hiding out in the wintry woods of Northern Quebec, guilt-ridden and paranoid after a drunken snow-plow collision has left a pedestrian dead.

Was it murder? An accident? Director Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais parcels out information via flashbacks to clear things up, but the wickedly clever mystery takes a backseat to Haden Church’s hilarious, laconic performance.

Canadian director Hoss-Desmarais won Tribeca’s jury award for Best New Narrative Director, and deservedly so.

No U.S. release date yet. Rating: *** (Evans)

‘Gasland’ Redux

Josh Fox’s original “Gasland” documentary made “fracking” a household word and flaming drinking water a national concern, so it’s hard to begrudge him some crowing.

Still, at a slow two hours, “Gasland Part II” seems as much strut as update.

The sequel expands the original’s scope to examine fracking’s global impact, but does its best rabble-rousing in spotlighting the links between governmental regulatory agencies and the gas industry.

“Gasland Part II” will be shown on HBO this summer. Rating: **1/2 (Evans)


What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

Muse highlights include Broadway Box Office and Hephzibah Anderson on Claire Messud.

To contact the writers on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com. and Craig Seligman at cseligman@mindspring.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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