TFCA Friday: Week of Friday, December 8th, 2017

December 8, 2017

Welcome to TFCA Friday, a weekly round-up of film reviews and articles by TFCA critics.

Reviews and features by: Peter Howell (PH), Liam Lacey (LL), Chris Knight (CK), Barry Hertz (BH), Karen Gordon (KG), Norm Wilner (NW), and Susan G. Cole (SGC).

Opening this Week

Chavela (dirs. Catherine Gund, Daresha Kyi)

Can you believe there’s an iconic lesbian Mexican singer who many of us who should know better have never heard of? Remedy that situation by seeing this exceptional documentary about Chavela Vargas” — SGC

Key interviews include a former lover, the human rights lawyer, Alicia Perez Duarte, who helped rescue Chavela from drinking (though the singer credited a shaman). Perez is blunt about the struggle between Chavela’s “magical” allure and the challenge of living with someone “who didn’t need to be drunk to be violent.” But mostly the film downplays Chavel’s mean streak to focus on her artistic boldness and tragic mystique” — LL

Darkest Hour (dir. Joe Wright)

When the time comes for Oldman to deliver Churchill’s immortal “never surrender” speech to Parliament, all eyes and ears are upon him, as they should rightfully be” — PH, including an interview with Gary Oldman

Annoying as Wright’s flourishes may be, Gary Oldman keeps us engaged with an interpretation of Churchill that underplays the man’s bulldog resolve and instead leans into his self-deprecating humour, using it as a crutch or a distraction as necessary” — NW

AUDIO: “A terrific, absorbing movie” — KG

Dim the Flourescents (dir. Daniel Warth)

Every dejected job seeker fears these five words: “What are you up to?” … The situation is ripe for both hilarity and heartbreak, sometimes at same time, in this winner of the Best Narrative Feature Grand Jury Prize at Slamdance 2017” — PH

The kind of thing you need to see for yourself – a singular, fully engaged cinematic work and a cockeyed delight. Just go” — NW

Inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of corners, but Toronto filmmaker Daniel Warth may be the first person who can trace the creative spark to a bland corporate boardroom” — BH features the Slamdance-winning director

The final scene is a powerhouse; it jolted me out of my somnolence. But if the movie were 30 minutes shorter, I wouldn’t have been so sleepy to begin with” — CK

The Other Side of Hope (dir. Aki Kaurismäki)

The Silver Bear winner from Berlinale 2017 continues the refugees-adrift theme of his previous film Le Havre, with the Finnish auteur’s compassion and absurd wit once again abundantly evident” — PH

This film is just as warm and thoughtful as the rest of Kaurismäki’s body of work, and you might just feel a stab of regret that this story still needs telling” — NW

A sweet story, though occasionally lacking in subtlety; Kaurismäki seems worried we might side with the skinheads, and goes out of his way to make Khaled sympathetic in almost every respect. But given the lot of refugees around the world, you can perhaps forgive the filmmaker his caution” — CK

From the static camera, the deadpan characters, the curl of cigarette smoke to the faded colours on the walls, he takes you into a place where the humour is so dry it’s barely distinguishable from misery” — LL

Pyewacket (dir. Adam Macdonald)

The very last scenes don’t quite land, as Macdonald abandons his slow burn for a chaotic finale. But right up until then, Pyewacket maintains an uneasy tension rooted in believable human frailty” — NW

Asks and answers one chilling question: What if you summoned a demon and then changed your mind?” — CK

The Shape of Water (dir. Guillermo del Toro)

The deepest dive into romance this year of any movie — literally, figuratively and on both sides of the camera” — PH

There aren’t many filmmakers operating at this scale who put as much trust in their audience as del Toro does, and in a way this film is a direct response to vapid studio blockbusters like this summer’s reboot of The Mummy – feckless, empty products that ask nothing of you but your money and time. The Shape Of Water reaches out, hoping you’ll reach back. Just take care not to cut yourself on its claws” — NW

As much as The Shape of Water‘s disparate parts shouldn’t work – and as much as its “originality” is sourced from the thousands of other fables del Toro has consumed over his lifetime – it does, in the end” — BH

Hawkins carries the movie, letting us experience its wonder through her maid’s-eye point of view. Her character’s backstory, hinted at though never fleshed out, is truly tragic. But just as villains need a precipitous perch from which to tumble, so must a heroine start somewhere low. The Shape of Water opens and closes on a sub-aqueous scene, but everything else about it is buoyant and uplifting” — CK

AUDIO: “Has a strange and loopy romanticism” — KG

Wonder Wheel (dir. Woody Allen)

Woody Allen claims to ignore reviews, but you have to wonder with an anodyne effort like Wonder Wheel, set in 1950 on New York’s Coney Island. He seeks to please, like a carnival punter hoping for a kewpie doll, but his aim is cockeyed” — PH

Woody Allen is turning into the master of inconsistency. As his latest proves, there’s no guarantee that whatever emerges from his imagination is going to amount to much” — SGC

So the pieces are all present – marriage, infidelity, criminality, philosophy, even therapy – but the proportions are all wrong. On the other hand, Allen isn’t giving up. Movie number 48, A Rainy Day in New York, is scheduled to open next year. So maybe laziness isn’t the problem” — CK

Canada’s Top Ten 2017

PH on why you probably haven’t heard of any of the films playing Canada’s Top Ten