Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: Last Film Show

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

Pan Nalin’s Last Film Show opens with a thank you to people the director has likely never met: the Lumière brothers, Eadweard Muybridge, David Lean, Stanley Kubrick, and Andrei Tarkovsky. Some of these names are familiar to the public at large, some less so, but all giants in the world of cinema, and Nalin’s thanks to them as the film opens sets the tone of love and reverence on display throughout Last Film Show, a beautifully shot ode to filmmaking and storytelling, told with care that practically bleeds through the screen (the irony that I watched this on my computer screen and not in a theater with a projector is not lost on me, don’t worry).

It’s hard, even knowing little about Nalin himself, not to view this film as an autobiography of sorts, but then again it could be an autobiography of sorts for anyone who has ever stared transfixed at a movie and wondered at what they were seeing. Last Film Show follows nine-year-old Samay (Bhavin Rabari), who, like so many of us before him, falls in love with the movies. Even if we can’t relate to his specific circumstances, we relate to the feeling, to the transcendence Samay feels as he holds his hand up to the projector light and watches the beams dance through his fingers. Samay’s father (Dipen Raval) disapproves, but Samay begins to sneak away from school and spend his afternoons with the Galaxy Cinema’s projectionist, Fazal (Bhavesh Shrimali), giving Fazal food in exchange for knowledge and free movies. (The love for food is also quite evident in the film; movies tell stories one way, and food another.)

Samay becomes fascinated by the inner workings of the projector: the lights, the reels, the reflections. He finds broken bottles with colored glass and holds them up to his eyes, the world now filtered through blue, or red, or green. He uses a mirror to create light, watching it refract and bounce. “I want to become movies,” he says. Eventually, Samay ropes his friends into helping him build his own projector, using the knowledge that Fazal taught him to bring movie magic to his friends. Cinematographer Swapnil S. Sonawane makes all these scenes as beautiful as possible, and fills them with homages to other movies, most notably 2001: A Space Odyssey. The monolith in Kubrick’s film awakens our ancestors’ consciousness; here, a movie does the same to Samay.

But Samay’s world comes tumbling down with the rise of digital photography, replacing his beloved film reels. There is a real melancholy here, the colors becoming stark and cold as the projector in Galaxy Cinema gets hauled away, replaced by a computer and a room with bleak white walls. The closeness that Samay felt holding the film in his hands, cutting it, winding it through the projector—it all fades. Last Film Show is all about transitions: Galaxy Cinema goes digital and Fazal loses his job, the train that runs through Samay’s town becomes electric and the town loses its train stop and thus Samay’s father loses his job, Samay goes from child to if not adult, then at least a child with his eyes opened to the uglier side of the world.

The gentle awe with which this film is imbued wanes somewhat in the third act, becoming replaced with slightly overwrought melodrama, and the pace quickens too rapidly from the steadiness of before. Yet Nalin crafts Last Film Show with such care and gentleness that even then you can’t help but feel like a kid again, watching a movie for the first time, or perhaps even those first theatergoers who believed the Lumière brothers’ train was going to come out of the screen and into their seats. It’s nostalgic, but not stuck in the past, as the ending voiceover reminds us: the film that Samay watched burn gets turned into bangles, and so the stories of Spielberg, of Ozu, of Eisenstein all live on, even as their medium changes. 

Maxim Gorky, upon seeing his first film—that famous train from the Lumières—cried that cinema was “the Kingdom of Shadows,” forever resting on the edge between real and unreal; Fazal in Last Film Show explains that “movies were invented to con people.” Yet even if the films themselves are lies, what we feel from them are undoubtedly, achingly true, and Nalin lets Last Film Show reminds us of that.

Last Film Show Trailer

Last Film Show was screened as part of the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: All My Friends Hate Me

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

55/100

All My Friends Hate Me is Andrew Gaynord’s directorial feature film debut. It tells the story of Pete (Tom Stourton, who also co-wrote the film) as he reunites with his posh university friends to enjoy a birthday getaway in a fancy country manor. What ensues from this mini-reunion is a series of strange and uncomfortable events as Pete and his friends try to live it up to the good old days when they were still at school. On the surface, this is a simple premise but as the story progresses things get a bit more convoluted. 

The most interesting thing All My Friends Hate Me has going for it is the discussion of classism in British society. These differences between Pete and his more affluent friends are hinted at throughout the movie. The dynamic among them made me wonder why Pete was even friends with these people in the first place. They seem to have nothing in common, or at least nothing in common anymore. These differences intensify as the film progresses and the friends grow more paranoid making the weekend incredibly uncomfortable. The tensions we observed on screen combined with the score helped set the tempo for their reunion. 

If you enjoyed the vibes of The Cabin in the Woods (2011) or Ready or Not (2019) this movie might be for you, although, I have to admit that those movies did it much better. For me, if the characters aren’t compelling enough it is hard for me to want to learn more and enjoy their story. This was the case as I watched this film. Perhaps if the film leaned into more of its campy aspects, as a way to explore what happens to friends when they drift apart and differences in social status, it would have been more effective. With those caveats aside, this was an okay effort for a debut director. I am sure it will find an audience somewhere but it wasn’t for me. In any case, I will keep my eye on Gaynord and Strourton’s next projects to see where they go from here. 

Recommended. 

All My Friends Hate Me was screened as part of the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival thru Tribeca at Home(available only in the USA). Further Distribution TBD.

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: Settlers

Written by Patrick Hao

33/100

In the past month there have been unprecedented heat waves and forest fires in the Pacific Northwest, a fire in the Gulf of Mexico from broken gas pipes(the ocean was on actual FIRE), and melting polar ice caps. With the hubris of humans on Earth causing these climate disasters, the uber-rich have begun imagining a way to travel and colonize Mars. Director Wyatt Rockefeller (yes of those Rockefeller’s) unsuccessfully tries distilling these current anxieties of unending resource consumption, greed, and colonization into the film Settlers, a grim neo-western set on Mars.

Set in the future, years after the Mars atmosphere has been made inhabitable for humans (the how is never explained) and settlements have come and gone, Settlers follows a family consisting of Reza (Jonny Lee Miller), his wife Ilsa (Sofia Boutella), and their daughter Remmy (Brooklynn Prince) on a farm, seemingly surrounded only by a vast landscape. Their anxiety soon ratchets up when it becomes clear that the family is not alone, as they begin to hear howls in the distance and the message of “Leave” is left on their window. It is revealed that the family had acquired the farm through violent means, as they begin to be terrorized by Jerry (Ismael Cruz Córdova), the son of the farm’s former occupants who wants to reclaim his land.

Rockefeller gets a lot of mileage from filming on location in the beautiful Vioolsdrif desert in South America. Filmed with the typical red hue to denote Mars, the homestead ranch juxtaposed against the miles of barren landscape really highlights the themes of isolation and loneliness that run throughout the film. Rockefeller uses the filmic language of the Classic Hollywood western to draw parallels between the old notions of settlements of the Western Frontier in the 1800’s and all the complications that comes with, and that of a possible Mars settlement.

However, the film’s allegories become muddled with its confused depiction of Jerry. The character seems to be an amalgamation of all the movie tropes of an indigenous character from an old western. He is, on one hand, in tune with nature as he is cultivates the homestead’s land for much needed resources, and, on the other hand, craven in his desires, especially sexually. His character design, as well, draws troubling comparisons to indigenous people. Any criticisms of colonialism and human greed are undermined by the shortsightedness of a depiction such as this.

Problematic depictions aside, the film quickly becomes dramatically inert after a tense first act. The film relies too much on long meandering stretches of brooding characters completing chores. While it creates a good atmosphere, there is not enough thematic underpinnings that warrant such long stretches. The film is never as thrilling or suspenseful as the opening third and premise suggests. Settlers ultimately feels like a first film, grand in ambition, but shallow in thought. Rockefeller certainly has the eye for a striking image and the ability to stretch a budget. The film is admirable in its earnestness in wanting to engage with the heady issues that underpins the film, but never seems to connect any of the sociopolitical implications of the film beyond humans having the capacity to be “bad.”

Settlers Trailer

Settlers is currently available to purchase and rent on most digital storefronts.

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

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: Wu Hai

Written by Anna Harrison

65/100

Yang Hua (Huang Xuan) has not been having a very good day, or week, or year in Zhao Ziyang’s Wu Hai. Hua has debtors tailing him at every corner after a failed investment into a dinosaur theme park, and his investment into his friend Luo Yu’s (Wang Shaohua) desert resort has so far coughed up nothing except empty promises. His wife, Miao Wei (Yang Zishan), has reached the end of her rope, and a surprise pregnancy doesn’t help things. In Wu Hai, money is truly the root of all evil; the characters may have flaws to begin with, but the debts they incur mercilessly bring out these flaws until the characters inflict misery both on themselves and everyone around them.

Thankfully, all this misery business does not make Wu Hai too dour to watch, due in large part to Huang Xuan’s performance. Given such a bleak script, it would have been easy for Huang to slip into melodrama, but instead he opts for a subtler approach; Hua fights to keep his encroaching sense of anguish clamped down, and so when he lets it out it becomes all the more powerful for the restraint shown before. The other actors turn in fine performances as well, but their characters largely stay on the sidelines, existing only to give Hua more grief and heartache.

Grief and heartache, however, are not enough to capture an audience, and Wu Hai often lags in spots and, despite Hua’s impending downfall, seems to lack much momentum. There are flurries of activity scattered throughout the film, such as a powerfully acted argument between Hua and his wife, but the lulls in between threaten to derail the film. More interesting parts of the film are left largely undercooked: the class insecurity that contributes to Hua’s crumbling mental state, obsession with status, the treatment and exploitation of women in order to climb the rungs of society. For a deliberately slow film that tries to be thoughtful in its handling of plot, these deeper aspects getting left behind is doubly frustrating.

Luckily, cinematographer Matthias Delvaux keeps the film looking good even as viewers’ interest in the plot might wane. Delvaux’s use of long takes builds tension in the film; instead of cutting rapidly to replicate a feeling of anxiety, he lets us linger as it slowly builds. This also allows the actors to play off each other without interruption, and we can watch Hua’s face run through the gamut of emotions all within a single take. One particularly evocative shot involves Hua climbing into the mouth of a T. rex statue, swallowed whole by capitalism, in the belly of the beast.

Wu Hai has enough engaging elements to elevate itself—namely, Huang’s performance and Delvaux’s cinematography—but those can only do so much. Had the script taken time to examine its components more in depth, Wu Hai could have been a searing commentary on China’s current economic system; as is, Wu Hai stands on the cusp of greatness but can never go over the edge. (In that, it might be a little like its protagonist.)

Wu Hai Trailer

Wu Hai played as part of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. Release Date TBA.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

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.

Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Interview: Producer Natalie Metzger Talks “Werewolves Within” and “The Beta Test”

Interview by Anna Harrison

Natalie Metzger is an award-winning director, writer, and producer based in Los Angeles and known for films such as Werewolves Within and The Beta Test, both of which had their premieres at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. Additionally, she has produced The Wolf of Snow Hollow and Thunder Road, which won the Grand Jury Award at SXSW.

Keep up with Natalie and her projects on Facebook, IMDb, Instagram, Twitter, Vimeo, and her website.

Werewolves Within and The Beta Test both premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.​ You can read Anna’s review of Werewolves Within here.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.