Cry Macho

Written by Taylor Baker

55/100

Cry Macho as much as anything else seems to be a lingering look at those sleepy border towns that Westerns like those Clint got his start in are so often framed against. The year is 1978 and shortly after Howard Poak (played dreadfully by Dwight Yoakim) fires his old ranch-hand and bronco buster Mike Milo (played by Clint Eastwood) he barges into Milo’s home. While he stands absently fondling the nonagenarian’s trophies and awards Poak begins hemming and hawing his way through a narrative spew that’s goal is to guilt trip Milo into going down to Mexico to save his son from an alcoholic mother and abusive living situation. This is all predicated on the premise that, “Milo owes him one.” Which holds as much water as a fishing net after previously watching a coffee sipping Milo get fired by Poak in the first 5 minutes of the film.

Ultimately Milo agrees to bring Rafo up from Mexico. And heads south of the border in his old manual truck. There are moments along the multiple road sequences that Ben Davis’ cinematography capture the beauty and illustrious ecology and topography of the region. As he also worked with Chloe Zhao on Marvel’s forthcoming film The Eternals, I suspect that Ben Davis’ name will bring more notoriety in November than it does right now. His exteriors which are what the film is primarily sewed together with bring an ephemeral and majestic look that doesn’t come across as forced, so much as a communication to the audience of the place our characters are in.

Ultimately Milo makes it down to where Rafo is staying and is confronted and propositioned by Rafo’s mother Fernanda Urrejola. After a quick back and forth Milo, saunters on confident he can find the boy. Which he does by capturing and threatening to wring the neck of Macho. Rafo’s fighting chicken. Which eventually leads to a fireside chat where Clint’s Milo utters the seemingly timeless line: “If a man wants to name his cock Macho that’s fine with me.”

These two like in any road movie form an unlikely friendship. One is a man in his 90’s doing a favor for his old boss who fired him, and is now being chased by gunmen. The other, a teenager dreaming of more, unsure of his place in the world, and unsure of his place within his family. Represented clearly by the delineation of a border between the two halves. Eventually the two after some roadside meals and stolen cars end up at a sleepy border town. Where Clint’s Mike helps the townspeople with various ailments to their animals, sets to fixing things that don’t work and begins to swoon for Natalia Traven’s Marta, a local mother and restaurant owner who has taken them in.

Like all road movies eventually what you’re escaping catches up with you and after a nice time with Marta and her family our central characters are back on the road with the police on their heels. Along a small dusty road their pulled over by two officers and their cars luggage is strewn on the ground. It’s seats cut into by a knife. The police officers say they have a tip that these two are running drugs and were ordered to stop them. Which conjures that image of Clint on the roadside behind his truck in The Mule to mind. Ultimately they let the two go, and like the film itself it’s all a bit understated. A bit unceremonious. 

Instead of a classic fetch quest narrative in which a renegade or run down lawman has to make one last trip south of the border to bring a person or object back to America and he along with it, Cry Macho opts instead, for Mike to show Eduardo Minett’s Rafo the North side of the border while he plants his cowboy heels firmly in Mexican soil. Cry Macho is slow road movie, about finding a new home when the old ones done in, and having the where with all to know it and return to it. I’m not ready for it to be Clint’s last film but of the last half dozen I’ve seen while he was an octogenarian it seems this first on the other side of 90 is the most contemplative and ultimately the most content.

Cry Macho Trailer

Cry Macho is currently playing in theatrical wide release and streaming on HBO Max.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: Ahed’s Knee

Written by Alexander Reams

86/100

A film that oftentimes wants to forget its heritage. Nadav Lapid’s sophomore effort Ahed’s Knee (also one of the stranger titles of a film in 2021), is possibly the most 2021 a 2021 film can be. Inspired by a story of Lapid trying to decide if the child he welcomed to the world with his girlfriend should be raised Israeli or not.

The film follows a filmmaker who is trying to make a film that condemns the government, while the film is being funded by the government. Am I the only one who sees the irony in that? No? Okay, good. It opens on a casting session, where we also find out why the film is titled its strange name, “Ahed’s Knee” in reference to the title of the film “Y” is making. No name, just a letter. I will admit it was disorienting at first but after 20 minutes I adjusted. While this is the surface level, what lies beneath is even deeper. Lapid is searching for any semblance of hope in his native land in a time of turmoil due to the government influence over the nation, as well as foreign policy, and the ongoing issues with Palestine. Lapid is as much a wanderer as his lead is, walking the earth like “Jules” from Pulp Fiction. These vignettes in the desert continue Lapid’s style of gorgeous cinematography, collaborating again with his Synonyms DP, Shai Goldman. Rarely keeping the camera static, propelling a sense of urgency and chaos, which just so happens to be the mental state of “Y”.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

Despite all of this, the film falters with a story that does not take the time needed to marinate on its heavy themes, and VERY unique storytelling. You could either blame the writing or directing. This is an issue that unfortunately falls on Lapid either way, as he is commonly his own writer and director. That does however lead to more creative control over what translates from script to screen, something that does help keep the film together. Even still, I found myself confused at multiple points in the film, particularly with one dance sequence that seemingly came out of nowhere. 

A film searching for hope in even the darkest of crevices is something this world needs right now in this season of COVID, political and social unrest, and the feeling of losing freedom. “Y” constantly is fighting something or someone, whether that be the death of his mother, and his denial of that, the continuing issues of casting this character of “Ahed” for his newest film, or the pushback he receives from the Ministry of Culture in Israel. Namely for making a film that condemns the government, under the guise of a warning to other insurgents to not rebel against the totalitarian-esque government.

Ahed’s Knee Trailer

Ahed’s Knee was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: Montana Story

Written by Patrick Hao

63/100

In just a short time, Haley Lu Richardson has become one of the most dynamic actresses in American cinema. She has an ability to adapt into whatever locale she is placed in, whether it is suburban California in Edge of Seventeen, a Hooters-esque restaurant in central Florida in Support the Girls, or even in the rough and tumble farms of Montana in Montana Story. Richardson’s naturalistic acting style brings so much life and authenticity beneath the surface of all the characters she plays.

Montana Story feels like it will become a minor work in Richardson’s promising career, but it certainly continues to be a showcase for her immense talent. She plays Erin, a 25-year-old who returns to her family farm in Montana to see her estranged comatose father. Also, there is her estranged brother Cal (Owen Teague), who has been handling the burden of their father alone.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

The childhood ranch is a lot like the fractured relationships of this family: rundown, hollow, with no farm animals but a few chickens and an old stallion. A deep rift fissured the family when Erin revealed to the newspaper that her father was covering up a toxic chemical spill at a local mine leading to their father beating Erin half to death, while Cal stood there frozen.

Large landscapes like Montana have always been used as a backdrop to intimate emotions. Half of the best westerns ever made were built on that. However, despite great performances from Richardson and Teague, who are able to create quiet intimacy, the script by writer-director duo Scott McGehee and David Siegel, often falls to the rote cliché side. This could be fine if the directors had taken the movie in a more melodramatic space like a Douglas Sirk western melodrama, but to stay quietly intimate hurts the film.

The movie also hints at other more interesting aspects of the inhabited surroundings that go strangely unexplored. The Keystone Pipeline protests, and controversy is mentioned on the radio, indigenous characters and actors populate the periphery, and a sweet Kenyan nurse (Gilbert Owuor) taking care of the leads’ father hints at an interesting backstory but never goes beyond. To populate the background with BIPOC characters certainly gives the world more depth but they never go beyond that function. What does it mean to them that Cal and Erin’s father is a man that would cover up environmental crimes? Whatever the case is, Montana Story is an engrossing drama on the effects of abusive parents. None of it is new or surprising, but we continue to see great work from Haley Lu Richardson. Owen Teague holds his own as well. And honestly, sometimes just setting a movie against the beautiful vast landscape of Montana is enough to make a movie worthwhile.

Montana Story was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: The Story of My Wife

Written by Alexander Reams

32/100

Love is a strange concept, those who watch Rick & Morty will know it as a chemical reaction in the mind, and there are others who disregard that definition and go for “you know it when you see it.” In Ildikó Enyedi’s The Story of My Wife, both concepts are thrown out of the window and instead our lead Jakob (yes, I notice the its the same spelling of John Cena’s character in F9, but even Jakob Toretto is far more intriguing than our Jakob here.) portrayed by Gijs Naber’s is introduced in the most masculine of ways, captaining a ship out at sea while dealing with some kind of sickness. He is suggested to go to town and find a wife, as that has solved this issue for many other men. Now have we seen any of these men? No. Is this just a plot device used to introduce Léa Seydoux into the film? Yes. From the opening shot of Gijs Naber, I questioned if he even was a ship captain, his mannerisms, speech, verbiage, was all that of an educated man, which he could very well have been, but compared to his compatriots on the boat, it didn’t make sense.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

As soon as Léa Seydoux enters the frame, the film dive bombs into another 150 (or so) minutes of absolute dreck. The film is presented, and clearly wants to be an odyssey of a man finding love, but is instead drowned by watered down dialogue that is bound to make you as sick Jakob was. The Story of My Wife is a film with a 169 minute runtime. Co-Writer/Director Ildikó Enyedi clearly let the pace get away from her and did not realize the scope of the picture she was making nor how to control it’s bow. Or perhaps she knew what she wanted to do, and unfortunately failed to do so.

The film suffers from an abhorrent script and direction, which caused it’s players to fail as well. The only gleaming note of kindness I can give this film is in it’s cinematography. Captured by Marcell Rév, a frequent collaborator of Sam Levinson, who shot the film with a mix of guerilla and steadicam style. Shooting angles that make the film stand out visually, along with its production and costume design. Unfortunately that is not nearly enough to save this bloated, wretch of a film. I can forgive a bad film, I cannot forgive a boring film, and this film is boring with a capital B. Film is supposed to sweep us away to another world and tell us stories that help us escape reality, here I wanted reality to come back after 20 minutes because what is going on outside in the world is so much more intriguing than this garbage.

The Story of My Wife Trailer

The Story of My Wife was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over

Written by Maria Athayde

65/100

Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over co-directed by Dave Wooley, making his feature directorial debut, and David Heilbroner immortalizes a legend, humanitarian, and artist we all know as Dionne Warwick. While there is nothing particularly innovative or different in this feature it still managed to capture the allure, talent, and heart of one Dionne. Punctuated with archival footage of Dionne, amateur nights at the Apollo theater, and “testimony” from the likes of Elton John, Snoop Dog, Alicia Keys, Gloria Estefan, Bill Clinton, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, and Smokey Robinson one can start to understand the magnitude and impact this woman had in the music world and beyond.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

While one can infer that influence Dionne has in American culture the movie does a poor job of contextualizing it for the audiences, especially those who are unfamiliar with her work. This is particularly true when the movie talks about her experiences in the racially segregated South. Likewise, the documentary also overlooked Dionne’s ability to read music, understand complex melodies, and how she did not fit into one box. Dionne always had this uncanny ability to navigate among soul music, R&B, and pop that I wish was further explored in the documentary. 

Dionne is much more than raw talent. She’s pure skill, technique, and a person who is in full control of her voice. As a person and artist Dionne was always sure of herself which surely contributes to her continued success. This documentary is the perfect introduction for those looking to learn about Dionne Warwick but it definitely lacks that something extra for die hard fans or those who are already familiar with her story.

Dione Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Written by Patrick Hao

45/100

In past thirty years, the famous televangelist, Tammy Faye Bakker, has gone through a rehabilitation of her image, especially in the gay community. A lot of that has to do with her openly talking and accepting gay men during AIDs epidemic on her show, something that would still be unheard of today in the evangelical community. Another reason might be the opulence of Tammy Faye. Her famous makeup, iconic Joan Crawford “eyes,” and high-pitched squeak of a voice are a heightened form of femininity in a way that makes her ripe to become a gay icon. Her status grew with the 2000 documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye, directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, two directors whose subjects are often gay icons.

It is with this context that brings The Eyes of Tammy Faye, an adaptation biopic of the famous 2000 documentary. The director Michael Showalter, a staple of sketch comedy groups the Slate, has been dutifully directing nice, easygoing dramedies such as The Big Sick and My Name is Doris in the last few years. When it comes to his direction of The Eyes of Tammy Faye, I couldn’t quite understand why her story needed to be told.

Told like a standard biopic (it even opens with Tammy Faye getting ready for one final big performance) the film portrays the Tammy Faye story with a pitying reverence.  We see Tammy Faye grow up in a religious home, one in which she is ostracized by the community because her mother (played by the always dependable Cherry Jones) is considered a harlot for having Tammy with her first husband. But this is presented as what fueled Tammy’s love of God.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

Eventually, an Icarus like class fall which permeates these types of movies begins to take place. At the height of their power, excess of money and materialism by both Bakkers begins to overtake their priorities. Tammy Faye, however, is all but exonerated from any misuse of funds – something that was also a problem with the original documentary. Instead, she is portrayed as being blissfully oblivious to any wrongdoing, choosing to stay silent instead of asking questions.

That is the biggest problem with both the original documentary and Showalter’s direction. It is too reverential to Tammy Faye’s story and confuses any messages or themes that a viewer might come away with. Showalter does not have the ability to be a satirist like Scorsese did with Jordan Belfort in Wolf of Wall Street. Nor does the film ever give reason for us to empathize with Tammy Faye’s choices. Any criticisms of American evangelicals or the cult of celebrity seems hollow and well-trodden. This is all done much better on HBO’s woefully under-seen The Righteous Gemstones, a satire with a more biting edge that does not have to pay deference to a cult icon.

If this movie offers anything, it is a vehicle for Jessica Chastain to get an Oscar nomination. Her performance as Tammy Faye Bakker is not embarrassing but is the type of unrestrained performance  that is fodder come Oscar time. She, like the real-life Tammy Faye is going to garner a lot of attention for her showiness but leans too heavily on makeup and prosthetics.

Only towards the end was there a sense that the filmmakers had any grasp on why this story is worth telling. But, by then it is too little too late.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye Trailer

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is currently screening in limited release and was feature at the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

Malignant

Written by Alexander Reams

73/100

I can see a young James Wan watching a Giallo film, and thinking “Oh I’m gonna make some weird shit” (kudos to James Gunn and Chris Pratt for giving us that line). Throughout his career, Wan has riffed on many genres, and now we can add Giallo to that list. The iconic Italian horror genre was made popular in the 1970s, particularly by Dario Argento. James Wan takes the iconic genre and mixes it with modern themes and messages. Maddy (Annabelle Wallis) is in an abusive marriage with Derek (Jake Abel), she begins to experience visions of a sinister force and fights to protect herself and her family. 

This is not Annabelle Wallis’ first collaboration with James Wan, she was the lead in the spinoff to The Conjuring. Given that previous history, it seemed to reason that they would work together down the line, and here they offer up a beautiful metaphor for abuse and toxic relationships. Wallis not only conveys the past of her character but also (quite literally) embodies this person who is haunted by past memories and trauma. While she does not fully elevate the script to the iconic female horror leads we know and love, she still does more than the previous female characters in Wan’s repertoire, which is a welcome breath of fresh air. 

Something Wallis and Wan both excel in is the brilliant horror sequences. Allowing for the pair, and DP Michael Burgess to present unique and original sequences which are unlike any I have seen. One in the early parts of the film mixes visual and practical effects to transform a house into another environment, and the metamorphasis is transfixing and spine-chilling. 

Wan’s relationship with Michael Burgess is a relatively new one, however, he has worked with Don Burgess, Michael’s father, many times, and with the younger Burgess just coming off another horror film, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, following it up with a James Wan original just makes sense. Michael Burgess takes the potential shown in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and flies with it, demonstrating his brilliance as a DP, and a master of framing and camera movement. 

Even with all of this greatness, rarely is a film without flaws, and Wan’s latest offering is not without its faults. Akela Cooper, whose credits include Hell Fest, Luke Cage, and 2 other pictures that struggled in their writing serves as screenwriter. Cooper took a brilliant premise by the husband-wife duo of Wan and Ingrid Bisu and unfortunately wrote in watered down dialogue, which should be heartbreaking and is instead laugh-inducing at times. This half-baked screenplay doesn’t take away from what is happening in front of us. Wan doesn’t need dialogue to convey emotion, and this shines in the final act. Transforming the film into someone mind-bending, and full of heart and emotion. In this writer’s opinion, this is Wan’s most emotionally charged film. From the mother-daughter relationship to the sister relationship, all leading to the most unexpected reveal. Which ends the film on a somewhat positive note that also leaves the door open to future stories in this world, which excites this writer to no end.

Malignant Trailer

Malignant is currently playing in wide theatrical release and available to stream on HBO Max.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Giraffe

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

Stimulating docu-fiction that contemplates the attachment of history and memory to physical spaces, and what’s lost when those spaces are ignored or destroyed. 

An ethnologist arrives in a seaside community that finds itself on the cusp of significant transformation. A collection of homes are about to be razed to make way for a tunnel that will connect Germany and Denmark, and the ethnologist, Dara, is there to document what the infrastructure project is about to relegate to history. Between interviews with people who have to relocate and visits to dusty, abandoned homes that still hold their previous owner’s intimate possessions, Dara strikes up a relationship with Polish construction worker, a younger man who, like her, is in the area only temporarily for a project. 

Hartman films from a studious remove that draws attention to her precise, often static framing. I was absorbed by her visual exactitude and the coldness in her craft, and love how long she lingers on character’s faces, allowing their humanity to really sink in. Schanelac regular Marren Eggert has a small role, but Hartman appears to have more in common with Helena Wittmann than Schanelac.

Giraffe Trailer

Giraffe is currently awaiting distribution and is not yet available.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021 Review: Baby Money

Written by Maria Athayde

50/100

Baby Money directed by Mikhael Bassilli and Luc Walpoth hangs on a simple premise, a couple down on their luck, facing eviction, and expecting a baby partake in a home robbery gone wrong. This was a competent debut feature and much more subdued than I expected. Like me, if you go into this expecting an all out end to end action packed crime thriller you will certainly be disappointed. However, if you go in with zero-expectations this character-driven suspense piece might be right for you.

What makes Baby Money work in part is Danay Garcia’s Minny. While the acting was competent throughout it is Garcia’s performance that really shone. Garcia carried much of the weight of this movie. The way she was able to expertly balance the emotion, thrills, and fear as the events unfolded were the most thrilling part of the film. Like I emphasized earlier the performances make this more of a character study than an action packed thriller.

Besides Garcia’s performance I also enjoyed how the events unfolded in almost real time. Baby Money would have been a more thrilling ride with a tighter script and additional character development especially in the storyline involving Taja V. Simpson’s and Vernon Taylor III’s respective characters. A good way to boil down and describe the essence of the film would be as Safdie-esque but without their budget, brains, polish, and style.

Baby Money Trailer

Baby Money was screened as part of the Fantasia Film Festival 2021.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: Neptune Frost

Written by Patrick Hao

60/100

Science fiction narratives have always been more a reflection of the present than about the future. Multi-media musician Saul Williams and Rwandan director Anisia Uzeyman use the genre in their collaboration, Neptune Frost, to make an Afro-futurist musical attempting to navigate the state of present-day Rwanda through the exploitation of First World capitalism in the age of modern technology. If that sounds like mouthful, that’s because Neptune Frost is filled with ambition and provocation but sometimes feels burdened by its capital “T” themes.

The film is set in a dystopic Rwandan village in which the population is being exploited by villagers to mine coltan for tech products. One of the miners, Malatusa (Kaya Free), rebels against the harsh treatment of the laborers and attempts a revolution. In this process, Malatusa forms a romantic bond through a cosmic internet-adjacent connection with the intersex leader of a hacker collective, Neptune (played by both Elvis Ngabo and Cheryl Isheja). The two actors playing Neptune are used as a physical manifestation of intersexuality and is one of the many manifestations of abstract concepts throughout the film.

The ideas in the film are rich and ripe for exploration. It makes sense that Williams and Uzeyman chose to tell the story in the form of a musical, in which the music allows its songs to bluntly state the themes. The musical scenes are didactic, but in a film that is swirling with ideas and abstraction, audiences may appreciate the directness.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

The way the interconnectivity of the internet is portrayed in the film seems especially astute. The chants of the protesting miners start a revolution through its reach. The internet is manifested as a world of metal wires and neon hues and serves as a possible utopia for those under global oppression. The world created is akin to an Electric Zoo festival buoyed by the electric synth soundtrack. But, just as soon as the internet is a tool for freedom, it becomes a tool of oppression as well.

The real asset of the film is the retrofuturist costume and set design that grounds the horror of this modern-day dystopia. The ruins of “future tech” are everywhere in the impoverished village and are designed in a way that grounds it to the modern age. This effectively creates a tangibility to this premonition the same way George Miller did in the original Mad Max. The design also speaks to the cyclic nature of the exploitation of the resource rich continent.

There is a palpable anger and frustration felt by the filmmakers that these cycles are still occurring to this day. But this is not necessarily a cynical movie. Rather the vitality of the music and of the performers point to the pride in perseverance of African laborers. Neptune Frost, however, is somewhere in the middle of being too abstract for a mainstream audience but too narrative driven to truly relish in its abstraction. The film does not always hold together, but its complications and richness points to the complexity of the problems it chooses to highlight. It’s hard to condense thousands of years of anger towards the global exploitation of a country into a 100-minute film.

Neptune Frost Trailer

Neptune Frost was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.