TFCA Friday: Week of Apr. 12

April 12, 2024

Civil War | Elevation Pictures

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


In Release this Week


All You Need Is Death (dir. Paul Duane)


“Flat-out horror scares are absent in All You Need Is Death, replaced with increasingly dark and worrying images steeped in atmosphere,” says Rachel West at That Shelf. “Anna and Aleks hunt for songs at night, which provides plenty of opportunity for Duane to pepper the film with shots of car headlights illuminating the immediate darkness, leaving Anna and Aleks blind to what’s ahead of them. Add to that an incredibly eerie and unsettling score by Ian Lynch, unsurprising in a film rooted in song, and there’s an all-encompassing sense of dread permeating every scene.”


“Billed as a horror film, All You Need is Death is in no hurry to play into the genre’s traditional tropes. Instead, Duane takes a steady and unnerving path that grows increasingly secluded until Anna and Aleks’ potential dangers can no longer be ignored,” writes Thom Ernst at Original Cin. “All You Need is Death is a film to experience. It requires some work from the audience. An impassive viewer is unlikely to piece together the fragments that make a cohesive whole. This is a film to be discovered, made by a director worth discovering.”


Civil War (dir. Alex Garland)


“In a career filled with memorable roles in everything from superhero movies, Sofia Coppola-directed dramas, to cult classics (Drop Dead Gorgeous, anyone?), Dunst may have landed her most compelling and complex role yet,” declares Rachel West at That Shelf. “Lee stands at a crossroads in life: Weary from capturing images of war for a public that seems indifferent to suffering, she has lost her humanity. Juxtaposed with young Jessie, the two characters are on opposing trajectories as the newbie learns to harden herself to the horrors she witnesses. The point at which these characters cross is gut-wrenchingly beautiful and delicately exquisite, a credit to Garland’s writing, and the terrific performances by Dunst and Spaeny who only build upon the excellent on-screen naïveté she cultivated in Priscilla.”


“The film shows more than it explains, which has been Garland’s way since he addressed artificial intelligence with Ex Machina, identity and self-destruction with Annihilation and misogyny with Men,” notes Peter Howell at the Toronto Star. “Garland maintains a mood of unreality that might be mistaken for satire or even indifference. The film would work better if the dramatic stakes were better defined. The acting is above reproach but apart from Lee’s regretful flashbacks about her wartime experiences and her fears that Jessie is following her down a dark road, there’s not much to relate to in simple human terms.”


“The parallels between Civil War and the current state of our neighbours down south are palpable, but Garland has been incredibly clear that he’s not taking sides with this film,” says Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “In doing so, though, he’s opened up his film to be revered and despised by everyone; and, inevitably, both left- and right-wingers will walk away from the film feeling incredibly upset or incredibly validated. This may end up being the crowning achievement of this film: it’s not an easy feat to have both ends of the ideological spectrum simultaneously think the movie is harmful for its centrist behaviour, liberal propaganda and use of archival footage from prominent conservative pundits/influencers.” Ho also speaks to Garland about capturing the story for in the moment: “Effectively, [the film] functions like old-school journalism, which is reporting without bias,” says Garland. “Obviously, modern news contains a lot of bias in its institutions, or whatever it happens to be.”


“For each good idea and sequence Garland is able to come up with in Civil War, there’s another that hits as being overly familiar and underwhelming, and in spite of the director’s well-honed ability to build and sustain tension,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate. “It’s clear that Garland has a grand, pointedly pretentious vision for what he wants Civil War to be, but the results on the whole are shallow and on-the-nose.”


Civil War never seems to amaze as director Alex Garland (King of dystopian society stories) has always a surprise or two up his sleeve as in his previous films,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Garland wrote the novel The Beach, which was made into the Tilda Swinton/Leonardo DiCaprio film and screenplays like 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, and Sunshine, also directed the 2014 film Ex Machina.  Forget the film’s flaws like the somewhat incredible premise or the unexplained reasons behind certain segments.”


“There is a failing at the heart of Civil War. One might even call it narrative cowardice. And it comes down to not knowing what political party is represented by President Nick Offerman,” observes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “One thing contemporary politicians can be relied upon to wear on their sleeves is their affiliation. It’s hard to imagine a civil war in America without party politics… More generally, the movie imagines that the schism that is ripping America apart runs along geographical lines and not political ones. California allied with Texas? Unless it’s a culinary bond I’m not buying it.”


The Greatest Hits (dir. Ned Benson)


“Harriet eventually shares her story with him and he asks to take him back in time with her so he can see his parents.  Sounds hokey but it stirs emotions; the ideas are familiar to us and strangely comforting,” notes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “We all mourn in different ways, and if you have supernatural abilities, this is your story! One important ingredient missing from The Greatest Hits is humour, which is often how we get by. But otherwise a thoughtful piece.”


“Nothing that arises in The Greatest Hits’ out there premise is all that new of an idea, and it’s even more arguable as to whether or not it works at all, but the cast is great and the streaks of endearment are genuine and amiable,” says Andrew Parker at The Gate.The Greatest Hits is coming from a genuine place and with a fair amount of heart, which doesn’t make it very good, but at least makes it somewhat forgettable and excusable.”


“The silliness of the film’s romance is matched only by the silliness and non-credibility of its premise,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“The high concept flick offers something of a multi-verse Spotify playlist or whatever. But The Greatest Hits errs more on the ‘whatever’ side. The execution skips more beats than a broken record as Harriet jumps from song to song,” writes Pat Mullen at That Shelf. “It’s one of those movies that seems crafted to deliver a soundtrack with songs that hold sentimental meaning for the filmmaker. Sure, The Greatest Hits offers perfectly Shazammable listening. It’s just too bad that the soundtrack is attached to this film.”


Housekeeping for Beginners (dir. Goran Stolevski)


“Despite lofty aspirations, director Stolevski has taken too much on his plate with one issue with one family member tossed in and out of another.  At times, it is difficult to follow all the members of the extended family,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Dita is also over-patient and over-kind, something that is quite hard to accept given the circumstances.  Despite its flaws, the saving grace is the performance of Anamaria Marinca as Dita.”


Housekeeping for Beginners taps into a wealth of cultural and sexual identities and customs, but forgets to build characters around them,” admits Andrew Parker at The Gate. “It’s a film of big ideas and tropes designed to pull at the heartstrings, but few ways of pulling them all together into a satisfying and coherent package.”


In Bed (dir. Nitzan Gilady)


In Bed, a sexually charged gay dramatic thriller with exhilarating party mixes by world-famous DJ Offer Nissim is a must-see for every gay partier!” raves Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


In Flames (dir. Zarrar Kahn 🇨🇦)


In Flames is an unusual and intriguing family drama with strong thriller elements, biting social and cultural commentary and an astounding ending,” observes Anne Brodie at What She Said. “There is much at stake on psychological, economic, emotional and other levels, an unbearable burden. Kahn’s mastery of the genre blend and his artistic expression is extraordinary.”


“A slow burn with a slow but effective build-up of tension and trauma for Marian,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “It does not help that she is living in squalor with broken and dirty walls and neighbouring dirty streets. Assad’s accident with her is only heard but not seen, an accident that occurs in the dead of night and so nothing is seen by the audience.”


Kim’s Video (dir. Ashley Sabin, David Redmon)


“The film also illustrates quite beautifully how it’s a crime to disrespect physical media,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “Housing one’s movies and keeping them away from mould and moisture is a must. Redmon takes this practice quite seriously as Kim’s Video evolves into a zany true crime caper. The daring do at the heart of the film shows the lengths to which geeks will go for love.”


Lost Angel: The Genius of Judee Sill (dir. Andy Brown and Brian Lindstrom)


“For the uninitiated, discovering American singer-songwriter Judee Sill must feel like what anthropologists felt at the discovery of the Cave of Altamira: sublime awe, and proof that something much greater was going on in a specific era than previously suspected,” notes Kim Hughes at Original Cin. “But her complex and elegiac music, despite its heavy themes and failure to capture the imagination of influential FM radio programmers, was mesmerizing. Lost Angel — with its engaging mix of animation, talking-head interviews, voiceovers, still photographs, and archival footage — ensures viewers understand the depth of her achievement over two albums released in her lifetime and a third issued posthumously.”


“Judee Sill is a name that many including many singer/songwriters have not heard of, not for want of talent but for her many misfortunes that prevented her genius from being famous,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “This biopic does justice to the genius and work of Sill and includes quite a few renderings of her songs that should help promote her fame in the music business, if never too late.”


The People’s Joker (dir. Vera Drew)


“In many sequences, the film is all over the place, grabbing at straws with regard to humour and inventiveness,” admits Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


Pure O (dir. Dillon Tucker)


Pure O, as expected is not an easy watch due to its subject.  In terms of educating the audience director Tucker, who himself suffers from OCD does a tremendous job,” writes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto. “Actor Daniel Dorr delivers a credible and nuanced performance.  But the film suffers from an ending in which director Tucker tries too hard resulting in a condescending tone that undermines an otherwise sincere effort.”


Sting (dir. Kiah Roache-Turner)


Sting clears a low bar, but clears it nonetheless,” observes Andrew Parker at The Gate. “One could either see that as praising mediocrity or as a genuine compliment. A viewer’s mileage comes down to how much they enjoy an old school creature feature. If you like them, you’ll probably like this well enough. If you don’t, you won’t. There’s not much else to say about Sting, but I am grateful that movies like this make my job somewhat easier.”


Stolen (dir. Elle Marja Eira)


“It helps that the story unfolds from a young indigenous girl’s point-of-view made even more pressing when her pet reindeer calf is killed right in front of her eyes,” says Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.Stolen also Dackels current issues like climate change the ecosystem and the infringement of rights of indigenous people including prejudice, colonization and the suppression of the Sani language in English colonized schools.”


What Jennifer Did (dir. Jenny Popplewell)


“[I]ntriguing for its content – a crime drama depicting evil in its vilest form, its good execution as a documentary and its immigrant family subjects,” notes Gilbert Seah at Afro Toronto.


“It’s a recognizable tale: parents who left home so that their children can have better lives and put considerable pressure on their kids to achieve said goals,” writes Pat Mullen at POV Magazine. “The film provides unique insight into the psychology, circumstances, and grievances that might drive one to murder. And in doing so, it provides chilling horror story in which the victim’s final words were a plea for the killers to spare her daughter.”


With Love and a Major Organ (dir. Kim Albright 🇨🇦)


“Albright does a wonderful job of constructing an oddly affecting science-fiction realm that sits at the emotional cusp of believable and enchanting. It’s there in the little details, like the fact that George’s address is on Avenue Road, in a city called Here, in the district of Larger Place, and with a postal code that starts with an F,” notes Chris Knight at Original Cin. “Maguire and Haq have some lovely chemistry, and Donna Benedicto is perfect as Anabel’s friend, workmate, and foil to her emotional outbursts.”


With Love and a Major Organ has moments of fantastical surrealism, including a whimsical dance sequence that is reminiscent of a bygone era of film, as well as the premise that hearts are inanimate objects that can be removed and replaced,” writes Rachel Ho at Exclaim!. “Albright grounds each of these elements with a down-to-earth production quality that grants audiences the ability to suspend disbelief easily, which is further aided by a humorous script by Julia Lederer.”


“A literal and metaphorical dissection of what it means to give one’s heart to another, With Love and a Major Organ makes the wise decision to take its fantastical and satirical premise at full value rather than trying to weave something overly quirky or twee around it,” adds Andrew Parker at The Gate. “Director Kim Albright and writer Julia Lederer walk a tonal tightrope with their collaboration, but they never waver in the conviction behind their concept.”


File Under Miscellaneous


At Classical FM, Marc Glassman catches up with The Old Oak (“The Old Oak is about hope, that the best parts of British culture and politics will rise again to defeat the forces of negativism in their society”) and Wicked Little Letters (I don’t want to sound churlish, but the story could have played out as a wicked satire on the Church, the class system, and anti-Irish sentiments, which were certainly a part of England 100 years ago).


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell tours Toronto with Guillermo del Toro and learns how the city inspires him and how the traffic irks him. “His drive-by scouting routine also served him well when he was shooting his 2013 sci-fi monster rumble Pacific Rim here, and wanted Toronto to double for Tokyo. He found a spot while going for dim sum downtown. ‘The Tokyo (scene) in Pacific Rim was quite literally me going to Lai Wah Heen (a Chestnut St. restaurant that has since closed). I was parking to go have some dumplings and I was walking from the parking lot to the restaurant and I saw that street and I thought, ‘This looks like Tokyo,’ [del Toro tells Howell].” The director also shares some of his favourite places in Toronto to eat, catch a movie, or find a good book.


At the Toronto Star, Peter Howell offers the top films to look out for this spring, including Caitlin Cronenberg’s Humane: “The Cronenberg dynasty continues. Following the cinematic trail blazed by her father, David, and like-minded brother, Brandon (Possessor), photographer Caitlin Cronenberg makes her feature directing debut with an exceedingly dark satire of Earth-hugging philanthropy taken to extremes,” writes Howell. “When a global environmental collapse prompts world leaders to seek a voluntary 20 per cent population cull, a wealthy retired TV newscaster (Peter Gallagher) invites his four children — played by Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Sebastian Chacon and Alanna Bale — to a surprise dinner to announce his civic intentions. What could possibly go wrong with such a noble gesture, especially with smiling facilitator Bob (Enrico Colantoni) on hand? Is it suicide or is it Succession?”


Also at the Star, Peter Howell reports on the Cannes line-up, which has some Canadian content including new works by David Cronenberg and Guy Maddin: “Winnipeg-born director Maddin, 68, is making his Cannes feature debut with the political satire Rumours, which he co-directed with his frequent collaborators Evan and Galen Johnson. It stars Cate Blanchett, Alicia Vikander and Roy Dupuis in the undoubtedly wild tale of a group of world leaders who become stranded in a forest during a climate crisis meeting,” writes Howell. “It will screen out of competition at Cannes, which is still a huge honour for an iconoclastic filmmaker whose avant-garde works such as My Winnipeg and The Saddest Music in the World have simultaneously saluted and mocked cinema conventions.”


TV Talk/Streaming Stuff: Don Goes Hollywood


At Zoomer, Brian D. Johnson chats with Don McKellar about collaborating with Park Chan-wook for The Sympathizer, his first Hollywood series: “We thought of ourselves as very much like the Captain, this two-headed show-running entity where he was the East, I was the West,” McKellar tells Johnson. “So we had this balance. Chan-Wook is the same age as me. So we remember the feeling of the seventies, the turmoil and cultural change that came out of Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War and the beginning of the disco era. When you’re making a [writers] room, you want to represent different, diverse elements in the room – obviously primarily Vietnamese people. But so many times I thought one of the valuable things that I brought was my age. My identity was forged in the seventies. And I found myself saying things like “there were no twist-top wine bottles then” or just explaining the politics of the time.”


At What She Said, Anne Brodie follows a very British affair with Beyond Paradise: “The series is appealingly out there, and a solid investigative procedural loaded with charm.” She says there’s more Britishness with the morning show Good Morning Britain: “What fun. I’m a big consumer of morning news shows, and noticed differences.” Meanwhile, Anne says you’ll want to clean your glasses off for Going Home with Tyler Cameron: “it’s an eyeful. I’m not just talking about the ‘after’ visuals of homes renovated for anxious couples with bucks to spare. Tyler Cameron is a good-looking young man with abs he’s not afraid to show.”


At Exclaim!, Rachel Ho reports on Fallout: “Joy and Nolan create a reality that’s easy to jump into, with thanks to the characters around Lucy who have a firm understanding of what happened after WWII. In particular, Goggins delivers a balanced performance of a devastated and heartbroken individual who lost his faith in humanity but still hangs onto the love for his family to keep him going.”