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.

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.

Fantasia Film Festival 2021 Review: King Car (Carro Rei)

Written by Maria Athayde

40/100

King Car is a Brazilian production, directed by Renata Pinheiro overflowing with style. The production elements really stand out chiefly the art design which brought the film to life. King Car also hints at a growing trend of creative freedom and wave of genre films for Brazilian cinema. Primarily billed as a Sci-Fi feature King Car also interpolates elements of political and social commentary, fantasy, and a coming-of-age story that make for a memorable ride. 

Anchored by the fantastic Matheus Nachtergaele, King Car tells the story of Uno (Luciano Pedro Jr.) a teen that has a special connection with cars and his uncle Zé Macaco (Nachtergaele) who transform junk cars into sleek vehicles with the ability to speak. As the cars are transformed the film begins to lean heavily into its social and political commentary that likely will mostly be lost to audiences who are not Brazilian. With three screen writers the movie would have clearly benefited from a tighter script that fleshes out the objectives and psyche of its protagonist Uno

Even so, it was still a joy to watch. This is the type of movie that has something to say despite getting lost in its own metaphors. Most importantly, King Car is a strong indication of a resurgent Brazilian cinema that is more comfortable dealing with contemporary themes and exploring different film genres. If this sounds like the type of narratives you are intrigued by I’d suggest watching Divino Amor (2019) and Bacurau (2019) who’ve recently helped pave the way for a movie like this.

King Car Trailer

King Car was screened as part of 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.

Fantasia 2021 Film Festival Review: Yakuza Princess

Written by Maria Athayde

50/100

Yakuza Princess directed by Vicente Amorim caught me by complete surprise. Based on the graphic novel Samurai Shiro, by Danilo Beyruth Yakuza Princess stars newcomer Masumi, a Japanese-American actress, singer-songwriter, and stunt performer, alongside Jonathan Rhys Meyers in what I consider one of the most commercial pieces of Brazilian cinema in recent memory. For starters the story is told predominantly in English which is somewhat of a rarity for Brazilians productions. 

Alternating between past and present day, in Osaka, Japan and São Paulo, Brazil predominantly Japanese neighborhood Liberdade (Liberty in English). The movie tells the story of Akemi (Masumi) an orphan living in Brazil who forms an unlikely alliance with an unknown and unnamed amnesiac man played by Rhys Meyers.  Both characters are bound together by a supposedly cursed katana that could hold the key to their pasts. During this journey, Akemi discovers her family was part of the yakuza, or Japanese mob, and vows to avenge those who killed her family. Yakuza Princess is full of style but little substance. The cool visuals, combat scenes, and desaturated color palette, with pops of neon every so often, were what kept me going. Story-wise the movie is shallow and lacked any meaningful throughline to keep me engaged. 

My biggest criticism is why did this story have to be told in English? Brazil has the largest Japanese diaspora in the world. So why not tell this story in either Portuguese or Japanese? I understand this was a choice to make the movie more commercial but by doing so the movie undercuts itself and misses the opportunity to explore the relationship between the two countries and cultures which dates back to 1908 when the first Japanese immigrants arrived in Brazil. In this picture we don’t even get to know why or how the characters wound up in Brazil in the first place. Yakuza Princess scores major style points and signals a new and exciting direction full of stylistic freedom that is being embraced by Brazilian cinema now, we just need an actual story to back it up. 

Yakuza Princess Trailer

Yakuza Princess was screened as part of the Fantasia 2021 Film Festival.

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

He’s All That

Written by Maria Athayde

30/100 

I’m a 90s kids and some of the vivid memories I have growing up in that era are associated with watching cheesy rom-coms like Clueless (1995), Can’t Hardly Wait (1998), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), Drive Me Crazy (1999) and, especially She’s All That (1999). So when I heard that a re-imagining of She’s All That, this time around, called He’s All That (2021) was coming out I wanted to give it a shot. After watching this I can say I was wayyyy too optimistic about its prospects.      

He’s All That is nothing more than a light reimagining of the 1999 version for Generation Z. The casual misogyny, fat-shaming, predatory jokes, and hetero-normativity that were in the original are gone in this version but the story remains very much the same. This movie sees a popular kid Padgett Sawyer, played by Tik-Tok star Addison Rae, accept a bet where she can transform “ugly duckling” Cameron Kweller, played by Tanner Buchanan, into prom king only to find herself and fall for him in the process. The essence of the movie is truly that simple and I am sure you can imagine how it plays out from here.

The movie adds elements that are familiar to Gen Z like making the protagonist an influencer with brand deals on the line. It also overstates that all of its characters are “social media obsessed”. Some of my primary gripes with this version were how little the supporting cast particularly Rachael Leigh Cook (the protagonist in the original) was used. Why not make her the same character as in the original?  Maybe add a bit of depth to the story? Another squandered opportunity was not having Kourtney Kardashian play herself. Having Kourtney play herself would not only have made the movie more meta but it would also have made it exponentially funnier. If you are familiar with the Kardashian’s even if it’s just a little bit you likely know just how funny Kourtney can be. 

Going into this I knew I wasn’t going to get a masterpiece, good cinematography, writing, or Oscar worthy performances. I went into this expecting some dumb fun but ended up just having a bad time. One thing is certain there is an ingenuity to Gen Z and people like Addison Rae who can turn an online career into something much bigger and bring her built in fan base to movies like this one. 

Next time, don’t get a 51 year old man, the same writer from the original, to reimagine practically the same movie 22 years later. Instead, try going for someone who is a little more in tune with the new wave of movie goers or in this case streamers. In the end, everything about He’s All That rings hollow.

He’s All That Trailer

He’s All That is currently streaming on Netflix.

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: Stockholm Syndrome

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

60/100

Stockholm Syndrome directed by The Architects is a documentary that tells the story of multi-hyphenate artist A$AP Rocky from infancy to world wide superstardom to his arrest in Sweden. Described by his friends and family as unorthodox, visionary, and ahead of his time Rocky is an artist in full control of his craft.  As an artist Rocky is never content until he can execute his vision at the most extreme level.  This apparent quest for perfection never comes off as cocky and instead it is just part of who he is. 

Born and bred in Harlem, Rocky started rapping at 8 years old–at influence of his older brother. This story culminates in Rocky’s 2019 arrest in Stockholm where Rocky and two of his friends were arrested for an alleged assault. While in confinement Rocky was alone with his thoughts, it gave him a lot of time to reflect on his life, especially his relationship with his father and the sacrifices his dad made that shaped Rocky into the man he is today. 

When recalling his treatment in jail Rocky said he felt that Swedish authorities wanted to make an example out of him. The most fascinating aspect of this documentary was understanding the differences between the American and Swedish legal system which has no bail system.  As Rocky remained in jail and his trial approached his arrest could have caused an even bigger diplomatic incident, between the countries, when former President Trump became involved and vouched for Rocky’s release. This was met with considerable push back from the Swedish government and former Swedish prime ministers that praised the independence of the Swedish judicial system. 

Rocky’s plight was also met with some criticism in the US by activists that were upset about arguments he made about the Black Lives Matter movement and Ferguson, MI in the past. When questioned about this, for the documentary, Rocky mentioned he still had a lot of learning to do and that his time in the Swedish prison made him “confront” his own blackness. The main takeaway from this doc, however, is this examination of criminal justice systems outside of the United States. Just as important, it highlighted how broken criminal justice is everywhere in the world and how problematic this idea of “guilty until proven innocent” is. 

It is almost as if Rocky’s story was a vessel to bring attention into systems of incarceration and racism in the United States and Sweden. Rocky and his friends were released on a suspended sentence. While this documentary did start to feel a little bit long towards the latter half, the creativity the directors interwove, particularly in the animation segments, helped drive Rocky’s story home. I’d say this is a must watch for Rocky’s fans and I’d highly recommend this to anyone else that is interested in learning more about the intersection of race, politics, diplomacy, fame, and the law in the US and abroad. 

Stockholm Syndrome Clip

Stockholm Syndrome 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.

Stillwater

Written by Maria Athayde

40/100 

Stillwater directed by Tom McCarthy and starring Matt Damon is one of the most uninspired pieces of media I have consumed in a long time. The movie “loosely based” on Amanda Knox’s story has been met with mixed reviews since its premiere at Cannes. As the movie receives its wide release in the United States Amanda Knox is hitting back at this notion in an essay published on Medium about being in the public eye, her relationship with the press, and being able to tell her story in her own words. I’d highly suggest reading Knox’s essay before viewing Stillwater as it helps put things into perspective.    

In Stillwater, Damon plays Bill an oil rig worker from Oklahoma who travels to Marseille, France to visit his estranged daughter Allison, in prison, after she was arrested for the murder of her girlfriend Lina. After exhausting all their legal options Bill takes matters into his own hands to get to the bottom of it and set his daughter free. What ensues from here is cliche and overdone. We “learn” about the differences between the French and Americans. Like the differences in penal code, culture, and social relationships between the two countries and their people. At the end of the day, in trying to dismantle cliches, Damon’s character personifies everything people from other countries hate about Americans so much.

That is really all there is to this movie. Nothing about it is memorable. It is the type of movie you will forget about the second you walk out of the theater. The script, cinematography, score, and performances were all pretty forgettable with the exception of the adorable Lilou Siauvaud who plays Maya. As a side note, my viewing experience was hindered by an audience member who decided to offer commentary throughout the movie. We really do not talk about movie going etiquette enough and I have a sense that I’ll be dealing with a lot more of these characters as theaters start to open back up. In the end, this really feels like the type of movie that should have come out years ago right around when American Sniper (2014) was released. I simply cannot understand how this movie received a standing ovation at Cannes but hey, maybe that’s just me.

Stillwater Trailer

Stillwater is currently in screening theatrically in wide release.

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

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.

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.

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.