Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

Written by Patrick Hao

70/100

There is a sort of perverse curiosity when we watch a film about a famous public figure whose death came so prematurely, especially when the cause is suicide. The natural inclination is to ask, “Why?” Morgan Neville’s newest documentary, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, is fully aware that the question “Why?” would be in the heads of an audience who would watch a documentary about the famed chef, raconteur, and television presenter. Neville does not shy away from the why, nor does he hinge his film on answering that question. Instead he presents Anthony Bourdain’s humanity and public persona with great intimacy and respect.

Neville chronicles Bourdain’s professional and personal life starting with his breakout success as an author in 2000, with the publication of his memoir Kitchen Confidential. From there, the film progresses mostly linear–describing the development of his travel shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown, highlighting key episodes from them to perceive something deeper about the man and his ethos. Interspersed are talking heads made up of friends and colleagues who are candid about their experiences with Bourdain.

Like all of Neville’s films, Neville is dexterous with his use of the 10,000 hours of footage that he had access to. Because Bourdain was a writer who specialized in an open self-monologuing style, Neville can let the film essentially be narrated by Bourdain himself. Clever use of editing and juxtaposition cause the film to have a haunting quality, so that you fall in love with the zeal that Bourdain had for life without ever forgetting his end.

The footage that Neville uses really captures the appeal of Bourdain to viewers. In every way, the TV-version of Bourdain was an aspirational figure for the modern man. Smart, acerbic, deeply empathetic, and compassionate, with the right bit of punk rock edge to keep him cool. He had the literary stylings of Hunter S. Thompson and George Plimpton, and a voracious love of film that he was able to bring to the sensibilities of his shows.

Bourdain is a natural subject for Neville’s oeuvre. Neville’s previous documentaries on Fred Rogers in Won’t You Be My Neighbor and Orson Welles in They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead were also about famous figures with intensely crafted public personas that clashed with and bled into their personal lives. Neville similarly demystifies Bourdain’s public persona by delving deep into the ways that Bourdain’s personal life was hampered by his celebrity and work ethic.

Yet, all of the carefully crafted footage and intimate talking heads could not fully capture the intense personal turmoil without traversing salacious territory. The final act of the film portrays Bourdain’s final relationship with film actress/director Asia Argento and falls dangerously close equating the blame of Bourdain’s final moments as an act of romantic revenge (Argento was not interviewed for the film). Thankfully, the film never fully puts the blame on anyone but Bourdain himself, as Neville and talking heads point towards Bourdain’s past heroin addiction creating an addictive personality, as well as his past depression and suicidal thoughts. However, there is enough insinuation there to make one queasy.

The best moments of Roadrunner are the time devoted to how the people who loved Bourdain have reacted to his suicide. Suicide is such a rare topic for any film to grapple with, especially its aftermath. Neville is able to deal with the subject with sensitivity, bolstered by the talking heads’ candidness. The interviewees display a range of anger, confusion, and profound sadness. They also display a deep love for a friend who is gone and gratefulness to have known him. The scars are still there but that means the wounds are healing.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain Trailer

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is currently playing in theaters.

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

Cannes 2021 Film Festival Review: Invisible Demons

Written by Maria Athayde

60/100

Invisible Demons directed by Rahul Jain is an examination of climate change, the free market economy and, its consequences, in India. Jain’s documentary explores this by capturing images of visible particulates in the air that are perforating lungs slowly, breathing tastes where middle aged women break out in coughing fits, and crowded streets that give you a sense of the collective strain against the environment in India and New Delhi in particular. This story will resonate with anyone that is worried about our warming climate, growing amounts of refuse, and whether a habitable future on this planet will be possible. 

Jain’s unique camerawork and visual style really help dictate the pace of this doc. Most of the “talking” in this documentary is done visually. Jain sporadically breaks his visual narrative by featuring newscasts or first person accounts about what is happening in India and the effects of air pollution in Delhi. By doing so, Jain adds a bit of heart to this story. He examines a past, present, and future that is incredibly depressing as the citizens of this megacity experience the cascading and interconnected effects of climate change. 

Ultimately, this documentary works because it explores the mostly individual and collective experiences of climate change and what they mean for the country as a whole. In a place where air pollution is one of the most deadly killers (15 of the top 20 most polluted cities are in India) Jain’s storytelling never becomes cynical. Instead, he tries to offer us a visual representation of what the present and future hold as people live and learn to deal with climate change.  

Recommended

Invisible Demons screened as part of the Cannes 2021 Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.

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

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Capsule Review: Larry and Me

Written by Alexander Reams

92/100

Larry King has and always will be a radio and television legend and a hero of mine. His way of connecting with an audience with his demeanor and tone has always kept me coming back to watching his old interviews, especially the ones with his friend Herb Cohen. I have heard King talk about Herb Cohen countless times and it always is very heartwarming to watch. In director Lisa Melmed’s new documentary Larry and Me. Seeing Herb talk about his lifelong friendship with the iconic TV reporter was a joy, and made for one of the best documentaries of the year so far. Melmed makes this feel like King’s presence is still with us even after the credits roll. My only issue with this film is that this was that it is not a feature length documentary film. I would love to see a full length film on their friendship. I felt the genuine love and care these two had for each other and I think that condensing a 75 year friendship into such a short amount time is practically a crime. That being said I am very happy that this friendship is still being explored despite Larry King’s passing.

Larry and Me Trailer

Larry and Me played at the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival. Distribution TBA.

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

AFI Docs 2021 Film Festival Review: Stevie (2002)

Written by Taylor Baker

90/100

Stevie starts off with Steve James, the director of the film–best known for Hoop Dreams and Prefontaine; framing his guilty conscience of leaving his little brother Stevie(Stephen Fielding) from the “Big Brother” program as he went off the college and it taking 7 years for him to return. It’s roughly twenty years after the film’s initial release now, but the sense of place, isolation, and humanity that must have been ripe at it’s release are still laid wide today. Hearing Stevie’s Grandmother recount his mother whipping him when he was a little boy, his hip turning green, and him losing his ability to speak feels otherworldly. It’s untenable. She lays it out as plainly as she remarks on his difficulty with speech to this day. We revisit this and many other stories from the Fielding family as the Documentary progresses. It’s contents are heartbreaking, gut wrenching, painful, and seemingly insurmountable. To say Stevie’s lived a hard life, is just the beginning of his story.

The film takes a hard turn, after the initial visit we see in the introduction Steve once again finds ways to avoid coming back to see Stevie for two years. And when he finally does turn up Stevie has been booked with charges for sexually assaulting a minor. The minor is Stevie’s cousin. These charges are the backdrop of the rest of the film. Will Stevie go to prison or not? Should he go to prison or not? It’s hard to frame the previous minutes with Stevie after this revelation. The rug is not only pulled out from under us but we’re seemingly rolled up in it. How do we personally reconcile the previous time we spent hearing what happened to Stevie and his own abuse as a child now? This is a question that doesn’t go away but rather continues to perpetuate the film.

We meet Tonya Gregory, Stevie’s Fiance. She ponders occasionally at the prompting of others and sometimes at her own thinking as to who Stevie is and whether or not he’s a “good” guy. Her voice and how she sees him often frames him better than any narration Steve offers. Insightful, guilty, longing, and clear; the rivulets of thought she sheds through to the very end of the film often seemed as if they were my own. We discover that after Stevie’s initial foster parents left for better prospects he was sexually abused. And while meeting with those initial parents years later toward the end of the film we come to find they’d barely stopped multiple sexual situations from happening to Stevie before they’d left. We also learn that Stevie has hurt his own sister, though the events are never clearly described leaving us to wonder horrified at each interaction they share.

We meet some of Stevie’s friends during the film and people from town that have been around him his whole life. They go fishing, his sister helps with his Social Security money, he stops into the Post Office and talks with the clerk who’d been there since he was a boy. But likewise there is a dark side to Stevie of vitriolic hurt and anger, we learn he used to hit his first wife, that he has a lust to see someone dead before moving on when he feels he’s been wronged. He has a conversation with a White Nationalist Leader about getting protection inside prison if he’s convicted. There’s so much to the film that can’t be properly summarized in words. It’s better seen than explained, felt than read, experienced than heard. It’s a personal meditation of what friendship and family look like, and how you to stick by someone even when they’re in the wrong and show them love.

Stevie Trailer

Recommended

Stevie was screened as part of the AFI Docs 2021 Film Festival.

AFI Docs 2021 Review: Naomi Osaka: Episode 1

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

75/100 

Naomi Osaka is a phenom! I have been invested in Naomi’s story since her victory over Serena Williams in the 2018 US Open final. This first episode of a three part documentary series, directed by Garrett Bradley, is even more important after Naomi’s recent forced withdrawal from the Roland Garros after she released a pre-tournament statement saying she would not agree to post-match interviews because it was detrimental to her mental health. Subsequently, she has also withdrawn from Wimbledon so she can take time to focus on herself. However she still plans to represent her native Japan in the Tokyo 2020 summer Olympics. These decisions made me admire Naomi even more. 

In this first episode, we are able to see the growth of a young woman and athlete that is coming into her own both on and off the court. As Naomi puts it she is still trying to figure stuff out and keep adjusting to whatever life throws at her. This awareness is very clear when Naomi states that the amount of attention she receives is ridiculous. “This is the one aspect no one prepares you for.”, she says. Naomi finds this idolatry around her is really weird. 

Episode one also gives insight into Naomi outside off the court. We see her adjusting to living by herself, in California, after purchasing her first home. Her close relationship with her father, her first coach, her mom, and sister which will hopefully be explored more in subsequent episodes.

We also see the work Naomi put in to remain on top as she returned to defend her title among spectators like Kobe Bryant, a mentor which she would later form a strong bond with, Colin Kaepernick, and her musician boyfriend Cordae. Just as important, this episode starts to give us insight into Osaka’s relationship with the press and the fan fair that surrounds her. It is really incredible that through it all Naomi remains humble as she starts to understand when she should push her limits. Naomi also starts to realize what she means for young girls around the world and how challenging life in the limelight can really be. I recommend this first episode and am excited to uncover more about Osaka’s journey and offer a complete detailed write up once all 3 episodes are out. 

Recommended

The Naomi Osaka Limited Docu-Series will begin streaming on Netflix on July 13th.

AFI Docs 2021 Review: Storm Lake

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

60/100

Storm Lake directed by Jerry Risius and Beth Levison is more timely than ever. On the surface, it is a documentary about the struggling local news industry in the United States. But, in reality, it goes much deeper than that. While it explores the rising phenom of “news desserts”, as news shifts away from local newspapers to online coverage, it just as importantly explores the significance of community and family.  

In the doc, we are introduced to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Art Cullen, editor of The Storm Lake Times. The Times, as it is affectionately called by the locals, was founded by Art’s brother John in 1990 by delivering an essential public service to the people of Storm Lake, Iowa, by covering news from a local perspective. As eloquently put by Art “without strong local journalism to tell a community story, the fabric of the place becomes frayed.” 

It seems that The Storm Lake Times is much more than a newspaper. It’s family! Art’s wife, Dolores, is a photographer; his son, Tom, is a reporter; his sister-in-law, Mary, is in charge of recipe features. Even their dog, Peach “the Newshound”, is part of the Storm Lake Times Team. Beyond this incredible family dynamic we get to learn more about the community which gives the documentary a very “lived in quality” although it really starts to drag at the end. 

Spanning a period of 4 years, from 2017 to 2021, this documentary unpacks how civic and democratic processes work in Iowa and Storm Lake, in particular, through a local lens. Throughout this experience the primacy of local journalism is emphasized as news shifts online and becomes increasingly polarized. Risius and Levison do an exquisite job of making you feel like you are living in Storm Lake and sometimes even a member of the Storm Lake Times. In the end, The Times is almost like a key into the soul of the city. I recommend this one for news junkies out there or anyone who just wants to get reacquainted with the power of local storytelling. 

Storm Lake Trailer

Recommended

Storm Lake was screened as part of the AFI Docs 2021 Film Festival.

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

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: LFG

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

70/100

LFG directed by Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine tells us the story of the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) and their fight for equal pay. As someone who is deeply invested in football (or soccer as Americans call it) this was a must watch for me.  I’d say that even for those that aren’t football aficionados there is something for you here. Chiefly the fight for pay parity among footballers. 

The documentary starts with a warning. Outright it says that “the U.S. soccer federation declined to participate in any on-camera interviews for this film.” This quote sets the tone as we embark on a journey with the extraordinary women of the USWNT and their fight for equality on and off the pitch. Told in their own words the women of the USWNT are fearless and take matters into their own hands when they file a gender discrimination lawsuit against the United States soccer federation, who pays more money to the men’s national team who have no significant victories in the sport. 

This is a pretty standard documentary. There isn’t anything too fascinating to see with the exception of a few graphics that are used to demonstrate that players of the USWNT, at every single juncture, make less than money their male counterparts and have less access to resources even though they are multiple World Cup champions and Olympic Gold Medalists. Though I was not impressed with any of the stylistic elements I am/was in awe of the resilience displayed by these athletes. What these women want is simply to be paid fairly for doing the job they love. Personally I would go one step further and say they deserve to be paid more than the players of the USMNT. My personal mantra for these women is superior pay for superior play.  

Ultimately, this doc ends up being much more than just a film about football. Instead, it is a rallying cry for women everywhere. The players of the USWNT have no quit in them (even after their lawsuit was dismissed by a judge), they have an undeniable fire that allows them to overcome whatever obstacle is thrown at them and any of the dirty tricks the US soccer federation tries to play. These women are going to inspire people for generations to come. Their fight is much bigger than what happens on the pitch and I love them for it. 

LFG Trailer

LFG was screened as part of the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival thru Tribeca at Home(available only in the USA). LFG released digitally on June 24th via HBO Max.

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

Episode 111: Doc Talk Part 5: Hot Docs 2021 / Audible / Archipelago / A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces

“In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director.”

Alfred Hitchcock

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

On Episode 111 of Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: The Witches of the Orient & IWOW: I Walk On Water and the Hot Docs 2021 Documentaries: Audible, Archipelago, and A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces.

Streaming links for titles this episode

Audible will begin streaming on Netflix on July 1st.

Archipelago and A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces are currently seeking distribution and/or are not yet available.

Visit us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook or connect with the guys on Letterboxd | Michael Clawson on Letterboxd | Taylor Baker on Letterboxd

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

60/100

Jackie Collins is one of those people I just wish I knew about sooner. Laura Fairrie’s Lady Boss tells the story of British author Jackie Collins. It’s an inside look into a phenom who, as described in the doc, “created the ethos of the 80s.” What I loved about this documentary is that we got to know Jackie Collins, in her own words, through a series of diary entries and scrapbooks she kept meticulously. This made it compelling, knowing that we’re understanding and experiencing Jackie the woman and not just Jackie the author. 

Jackie’s relationships, especially her sometimes tumultuous relationship with her sister, Hollywood actress Joan Collins(Dynasty) were a focal point of the documentary. Jackie often felt an inferiority complex because she also wanted to break into Hollywood like her sister Joan. But destiny had other plans for her. She took what she saw in Hollywood and fictionalized it into books that became best sellers. Throughout the documentary we get reminded that what she wrote and who she was were two different things. Jackie’s external persona and novels exuded strength. Internally, Jackie overcame personal turmoil including the death of her first husband by suicide.     

Encouraged by her second husband, Jackie published many successful books. Because she was a woman writing about sex she was criticized and ridiculed unlike many of her male counterparts. But Jackie remained unflappable. Not only was she an author, she was a discerning business woman who created an international name for herself. Jackie Collins opened the door for other female authors to write about whatever they wanted and put women front and center in their narratives. She would eventually sell over 500 million books worldwide and become one of the most highly paid authors in the United Kingdom. This documentary, and Jackie’s writing in particular, are about the female gaze. It put female sexuality front and center in a time that was wholly uncommon. Thank you Jackie Collins.  

Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story Trailer

Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story is currently streaming as part of the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival thru Tribeca at Home(available only in the USA). On June 27th it will play in it’s entirety on the CNN television channel.

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